FW: Book Review - The Origins of Music
FW: Book Review - The Origins of Music
From: Danny Yee [mailto:danny@...]
Sent: Sunday, August 13, 2000 1:58 AM
Subject: Book Review - The Origins of Music
An HTML version of this book review can be found at
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TITLE: The Origins of Music
EDITORS: Nils L. Wallin, Björn Merker + Steven Brown
PUBLISHER: The MIT Press 2000
OTHER: 498 pages, references, index
_The Origins of Music_ brings together papers on subjects ranging
from birdsong to neurobiology to fossil flutes to musical universals.
Music rarely gets even a passing mention in work on human evolution,
while evolutionary approaches in musicology are even rarer, so such a
volume offers challenges to both musicologists and paleoanthropologists.
Indeed the editors hope to see the start of an evolutionary musicology,
a subfield of biomusicology "devoted to the analysis of music evolution,
both its biological and cultural forms". _The Origins of Music_ deserves
wide interdisciplinary attention.
After an introduction to evolutionary musicology by the editors, the
other papers are grouped into four sections. The first focuses on vocal
communication in animals. General papers by Simha Arom and Peter Marler
are followed by papers on birdsong repertoire (Peter J. B. Slater) and
its neural basis (Carol Whaling), perception and production of primate
vocalizations (Marc D. Hauser), gibbon songs/duets (Thomas Geissmann),
the role of social organisation in primate vocal communications (Maria
Ujhelyi), and creativity in the songs of humpback whales (Katharine
Any similarity between birdsong and human music is by analogy,
as vocal learning evolved quite differently in the two cases.
As there are around 4,000 species of songbirds with a rich variety
of vocal patterning, the occurrence of some with features also
found in our music does not necessarily imply a deep similarity
between the phenomena. (Slater)
The papers in the second section look broadly at music and language in
human evolution. Derek Bickerton suggests some lessons biomusicologists
can learn from the history of "language evolution studies". Jean Molino
argues that music and language (and dance, chant, poetry, and pretend
play) have at least in part a common origin. Harry Jerison explores
homologies in the paleoneurology of mammalian and bird brains, but
concludes that "the evocative role of music in human experience is
directly related to language as a specifically human adaptation".
Dean Falk looks at what the latest technology reveals about the regions
of the brain involved in music and language. And, in a long paper which
I only glanced through, Drago Kunej and Ivan Turk analyse a possible
"flute" from the Middle Paleolithic.
Because music and language are so neurologically intertwined, it
is hypothesized that they evolved together as brain size increased
during the past two million years in the genus _Homo_. (Falk)
The papers in the third section present different theories for the origin
of music. Steven Brown presents a "musilanguage" model in which music
and language evolved from a common ancestor; Bruce Richman argues that
both originated in collective repetition of formulaic sequences; and
Björn Merker suggests that synchronous chorusing was a key adaptation in
human evolution. Geoffrey Miller argues that music must have originated
through sexual selection and Peter Todd looks at simulation of coevolution
between "male song producers and female song critics". In contrast,
Ellen Dissanayake suggests music needs to be considered as part of the
"temporal arts" more broadly and that the key to their evolution lies
in interactions between mothers and infants under six months of age.
And Walter Freeman ranges from neurobiology and brain chemistry, through
altered states of consciousness, to cooperative action and links between
music and politics.
I took random samples of... jazz albums... rock albums... and
classical music works... [M]ales produced ten times as much music
as females, and their musical output peaked in young adulthood,
around age thirty, near the time of peak mating effort... [This
suggests] that music evolved and continues to function as a
courtship display, mostly broadcast by young males to attract
[I]t is in the evolution of affiliative interactions between
mothers and infants -- not male competition and adult courtship
-- that we can discover the origins of the competencies and
sensitivities that gave rise to human music. (Dissanayake)
Four papers at the end are grouped in a section "Musical Universals".
Sandra Trehub looks at human predispositions for processing music
and Michel Imberty connects the generative theory of tonal music with
innate competencies, while Bruno Nettl presents an ethnomusicologist's
perspective on universals and François-Bernard Mâche that of a composer.
I can only say, as a composer, that _Craticus nigrogularis_,
the pied butcher bird, is a kind of colleague. (Mâche)
%T The Origins of Music
%E Wallin, Nils L.
%E Merker, Björn
%E Brown, Steven
%I The MIT Press
%C Cambridge, Massachusetts
%O hardcover, references, index
%G ISBN 0-262-23206-5
%K palaeoanthropology, music, linguistics
13 August 2000
Copyright (c) 2000 Danny Yee <editor@...>
Danny Yee's Book Reviews http://dannyreviews.com/
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