Monday, May 28, 2007

16. A multiregional tree

To get a better handle on our old problem, let's take another look at the evolutionary tree I came up with back in 1966. You will note that, unlike the new one, which has a single root, this one has three: A. "Complex Group"; B. "Solo"; and C. "Simple Group." Believe me, I would have loved to trace all these different styles to a single source, but could find no way to make that work. The evidence available at the time suggested at least three more or less independent lines of development (the "X" I placed at the top was more wishful thinking than anything else). And, as I stated in the previous post, this interpretation seems more consistent with the "multiregional" rather than "replacement" (Out of Africa) theory of human evolution. To briefly explain, the replacement theory sees all "modern" humans -- homo sapiens sapiens -- as originating in Africa and then spreading to the rest of the world, where they replace all the various "archaic" peoples, such as homo erectus and neanderthals, who'd been living in Asia and Europe for millions of years prior to the African expansion. The multiregional theory sees archaic humans developing independently in Africa, Europe and Asia for millions of years and then gradually converging more or less in-place into modern humans through a long, slow process of adaptation.

Interpreting the 1966 tree in terms ofmultiregionalism, style area A, headed by "Pygmy Style," could be interpreted as representing Africa; B, headed by the solo, "Breathless Style" characteristic of the hunter-nomads of Siberia, could be seen as prototypical for Asia (and regions of Europe influenced by Asian culture); and C, characterized by a relatively simple, "hymn-style" type of group vocalizing in rhythmic unison, might be interpreted as accounting for Western and Northern Europe. According to such a scheme, one could argue that music might well have been invented independently at least three times, in Africa, Asia and Europe, by three different groups who had evolved separately into AMH -- Anatomically Modern Humans.

There are problems, however, with this interpretation. For one thing, style area A extends beyond Africa, to Europe, Southeast Asia and even South America and Oceania. And style area C extends well beyond Europe, to Oceania, the Americas and Australia. Moreover, at that time I wasn't aware of the very strong connection between P/B style and the music of certain groups in New Guinea and Island Melanesia, truly dramatic similarities of both vocal and instrumental practice, that, as I argue in my essay, make independent invention highly improbable. While one could argue that each of these very different types of music making might have had an independent origin, it would be very difficult indeed to trace the migration of each of these styles into so many widely separated regions of the world.

Shortly after my 1966 presentation, I left the Cantometric project for SUNY Buffalo, to pursue a Ph. D. in music composition -- and from then on concentrated much more on creative work than musicological research. From time to time, however, especially when teaching classes in world music, I would puzzle over that same venerable and vexing problem of the various style families of the world, how they relate to one another, and whether or not they share a common origin.

Which returns me to the new phylogenetic tree, inspired by the new genetic research -- and the new and very exciting possibilities offered by the Out of Africa (i.e., "replacement") model. We are now, I hope, in a better position to understand the "bottleneck" that appears therein, which I will finally address, in the next installment.

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