Thursday, June 18, 2009

160. An Update

The past year has been particularly eventful for me, I've been preoccupied with various projects and people, and have consequently been neglecting this blog. At this point I'd like to update my readers on what's been going on, and also think out loud about where I'd like to take the blog in future posts.

There have been several interesting developments:

1. After a considerable delay, my collaboration with geneticists Sarah Tishkoff and Floyd Reed is back on track. To refresh your memories, here's a link to an article in Nature News dealing with an earlier phase of our work, as reported by Dr. Reed at the 2007 annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association: Music is in Our Genes. (You'll need to subscribe in order to read the entire article, unfortunately.) The title is misleading, since our research has nothing to do with the genetics of musical ability, but focuses on population genetics, a completely different matter. Since this presentation, there have been some frustrating delays in our collaboration, due largely to Tishkoff and Reed's preoccupation with their major study of African lineages, finally published last month in the journal Science: The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans. Now that this monumental work is complete, our comparative study of the population genetics and musical stylistics of Africa, based on a comparative analysis of the genetic and musical data, should move along more smoothly.

2. Over the past year or so I've been working as consultant on yet another project, headed by cognitive scientist and musicologist Steven Brown, of McMaster University, co-editor of the path breaking book, The Origins of Music. Brown's project, funded through a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, concerns a question that has fascinated anthropologists for years: the origins of Austronesian languages, culture and people. We're currently working together, along with ethnomusicologist Ying-fen Wang and geneticist Jean Trejaut, to determine whether the musical data can shed some meaningful light on this problem.

3. My paper, "Concept, Style and Structure in the Music of the African Pygmies and Bushmen," was accepted last year for publication in the journal, Ethnomusicology. After several months of frustrating delay, it looks like it will finally appear in the upcoming Fall issue. This paper is significant for at least two reasons: 1. it constitutes, as I see it, a definitive refutation of widely circulated claims, by Susanne Furniss and Emmanuelle Olivier, that Pygmy and Bushmen music represent "radically opposed" musical conceptions; 2. it draws on the insights of several different field investigators, including Furniss and Olivier themselves, to develop a more complete and comprehensive view of Pygmy and Bushmen musical structures and traditions than has been heretofor available.

4. I had the honor of being invited to participate in the the Fourth International Symposium on Traditional Polyphony, to be held in the Republic of Georgia last Fall, an invitation I accepted with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, however, the political unrest that developed in this region over the summer was so unnerving that several of the invited guests, including myself, felt forced to cancel -- also known as "chickening out." All I can say in my defense is that I hate long distance traveling, am easily worn out by all the complexities and frustrations of modern air travel, and the added anxiety of having to worry about possibly being trapped in a foreign country suddenly at war with a much more powerful neighbor (Russia!) finally tipped the scales in favor of cancellation.

5. Nevertheless, I did write a paper for the conference, which the organizers were gracious enough to accept for publication in their upcoming "Proceedings," due for publication sometime next year. The paper, based on ideas and materials posted in the "Music of the Great Tradition" sections of this blog, has a somewhat lengthy and awkward title: "Some Notable Features of Pygmy and Bushmen Polyphonic Practice, with Special Reference to Survivals of Traditional Vocal Polyphony in Europe." This paper is also of special importance to me, as it builds on the "Concept, Style and Structure" paper, demonstrating, to my satisfaction at least, certain highly interesting and unusual features of Pygmy/Bushmen style that make it even more significant to the history and evolution of music than even I had suspected.

In future blog posts I plan to summarize some of the major points of both new papers, along with some additional points made in an earlier article, also focused on P/B style, my paper on the musical implications of the Kalahari debate, published a couple years ago in the anthropological journal Before Farming. These three papers taken together are especially important to me, as they constitute the beginnings of a whole new approach, not only to the history and evolution of music, but the evolution of certain key aspects of social structure and culture generally.

I've noticed, by the way, that this blog has continued to attract visitors despite my shameful neglect over the past year and is now up to a grand total of over 40,000 hits, which is quite gratifying. Thanks so much for your continued interest. For the benefit of those wanting to explore the blog in more detail but confused by all the many posts, I've recently added a Table of Contents, which should always be clearly visible at the top of every page.