martes, 24 de noviembre de 2009

Musical origins...Origenes de la musica, musique,

1) Qué bueno, habla de la BIOLOGÍA DE LA MÚSICA

evolutionary theory;
human evolution (including early environments, ways of life, and social life)
paleoarchaeology (the archaeological and fossil evidence for
linguistic and musical capacity and their phylogenetic development);
anatomy of the brain and body (the ear and audition, the vocal tract
and vocalization; the location of musical abilities in the brain);
neurobiology of musical cognition and emotion (how listening and vocal
production develop and are computed; evidence of mental modules for
components of music as evinced in musical savants or in persons with
deficits caused by brain injury; how we recognize music, what we
recognize, and how it makes us feel; brain chemistry and neuroanatomy
of music and musical states);
origin and evolution of language (the similarities and differences
between music and language; gestural vs. oral theories of origin;
semantics, syntax, prosody);
music-like communication systems in other animals (including whales,
birds, and especially non-human primates) and arguments pro and con
their relevance to human communication;
developmental psychology of musical and linguistic behavior in infants
and young children;
ethnomusicology (the range of musical behavior in a variety of human
societies with differing ways of life; how music is conceptualized and
used in non-Western groups);
the art and practice of music itself.
Also relevant are findings from music therapy and psychology of music,
including the psychology of musical emotion.

1)Coevolucion de musica y lenguaje
2) The second is a completely original hypothesis of the existence
among Neanderthals of a peculiar proto-music/language that was
holistic (not composed of segmented elements), manipulative
(influencing emotional states and hence behavior of oneself and
others), multimodal (using both sound and movement), musical
(temporally controlled, rhythmic, and melodic), and mimetic (utilizing
sound symbolism and gesture)—what Mithen aptly if cutely terms "the
'Hmmmmm' communication system" (172), "a prelinguistic musical mode of
thought and action" (p. 267).

In The Prehistory of the Mind (1996) Mithen argued that pre-sapiens
hominids like Neanderthals lacked "cognitive fluidity" or metaphorical
thought—the ability to hold concurrently in mind information from
several different cognitive domains. Additionally, the absence of
symbolic artifacts in their dwelling sites implies absence of symbolic
thought and hence of symbolic utterance—i.e., spoken language (p.

5) PARECE ESTAR HABLANDO DE LOS PIRAHA (que no creo se atreva a nombrar):
Yet the challenging lives of Neanderthals—with their physically
difficult environment, large body size, and large but dependent
infants—required complex emotional communication and intergroup
cooperation. They developed a "music-like communication system that
was more complex and more sophisticated than that found in any of the
previous species of Homo" (p. 234), one that included iconic gestures,
dance, onomatopoeia, vocal imitation and sound synaesthesia.

6) LA MUSICA ES COMUNAL, and may even incorporate natural sounds:::
Mithen's hypothesis accounts for important aspects that are usually
excluded in the majority of discussions of music: he appreciates that
it typically includes bodily movement (toe-tapping, head-nodding,
hand-clapping, and dance) and that "music-making is first and foremost
a shared activity, not just in the modern Western world, but
throughout human cultures and history" (p. 205). Although he does not
describe musical behavior of Mbuti or Ba-Benjellé pygmies in Central
Africa or Kaluli villagers in the Southern Highlands of Papua New
Guinea, such small-scale societies amply illustrate the ubiquity (and
complexity) of communal singing during most daily activity—"woven
tapestries" (Meurant 1995) of sound that may even incorporate natural
sounds of the forest (Feld 2001).

Especially welcome to communication and cognitive studies in general
is Mithen's emphasis on the importance of acquiring "emotional
intelligence"—the ability to communicate one's feelings with face,
voice, and body and to decode the emotional signals of others in
increasingly complex social interactions. Mithen proposes that "vocal
grooming" (Aiello and Dunbar 1993) would have been initially musical
more than verbal (pp. 135-36)..

Rather than emphasizing the Machiavellian competitive advantages of
comprehending the intentions and desires of others, Mithen points out
that the emotional content of musical vocalizations would have been
more 'honest' than words—contributing to social commitment and
expressing, inducing, and sharing emotion, especially happiness,
thereby promoting
selectively advantageous cooperative behavior.

Not cited by Mithen is a provocative supportive observation made by
Steven Brown (2000b, p. 297) that the two most salient features of
music, compared to any other form of vocal communication in nature,
are its use of temporal synchronization and pitch-blending. This leads
Brown to propose that these cognitive capacities may have evolved
specifically for coordination and emotional unification among
individuals in a group and thus may be adaptations specifically for
group selection.

Mithen appreciates that musical behavior may have had more than one
adaptive function—and admits that, at least in Homo ergaster (a common
ancestor of both neanderthals and sapiens), "singing and dancing may
have provided both indicator and aesthetic traits for females when
choosing mates" (p. 187).

11) PUTEA AL PINKER para el que la musica es poco más que estética...

The book is a sizable, impressive achievement and I found it
thought-provoking and informative on every page.

Mithen pays more attention than most other evolutionary thinkers to
(and bases much of his hypothesis on) the musical qualities and
effects of "baby talk":adult speech directed at prelinguistic infants,
with its characteristic undulant "melodic" and dynamically varied
vocalizations, exaggerated facial expressions, and rhythmic head and
body movements. Although he considers infant-directed speech (IDS) to
be evolutionarily important, claiming that it provides evidence that
musicality has a developmental if not emotional priority over
language, he does not make as much as he could of the implications
that inhere in the close behavioral and emotional attunement and
exquisite temporal coordination that mother-infant interaction enables
(Miall and Dissanayake 2003; Nadel et al. 1999).

EXTERNAL PULSE (seguro que NO, los gatos bailannn, y habrá que
rastrear más, ya que la musica deriva de los sonidos de la naturaleza,
es lo que a la ciudad permite llevar esas sincronicidades del campo)

It is not farfetched to propose that the human capacity for temporal
synchronization to an external pulse—not known to exist in other
mammals or other primates— derived from a capacity that evolved in
ancestral mother-infant interactions and then developed further in
proto-music, whether in neanderthals or even earlier in H.

Mithen thinks that modern humans are relatively limited in musical
abilities compared to Neanderthals (p. 245).

He suggests that the evolution of language has inhibited the musical
abilities that modern humans have inherited from the common ancestor
that we share with Neanderthals. Yet here I think he inadvertently
slips into the Westernized assumptions about music that he decries
elsewhere and reveals his own (relatively) weak spot—insufficient
acquaintance with the ethnomusicological literature. It is not spoken
language itself that overlays or stunts musical ability, but the
factors in modernized societies that have made music a
specialty—individuality, competitiveness, compartmentalization, and
institutionalization— reinforced by the high degree of literate (not
oral improvisatory) training required to read (and compose) musical
scores as well as literary texts. In small-scale pre-modern societies
(and in any large modern sub-Saharan African city, as well in children
anywhere who are customarily exposed to frequent communal musical
activity), everyone participates in music—regularly, spontaneously,
and wholeheartedly—and benefits thereby from the many adaptive
advantages Mithen recognizes and so expertly describes.


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Empirical Musicology Review Vol. 3, No. 1, 2008
Steven Mithen, The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind,
and Body London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2005 (hardcover), 2006 (paperback).
ISBN13: 9780297643173 (hardcover) £20.00. ISBN13: 9-780753820513
(paperback) £9.99.
Sundry speculative accounts have been written by both amateurs and
discipline-specific experts on the
origins of music and language. However, in the last thirty years and
with advances in science, technology,
and in human "intellectual" creativity in general, researchers have
sought to broaden the scope and sites of
evidence that would better explain the supposedly "common" origins of
music and language. Two of these
additional sites—mind and body—are indicated and elaborated, in
varying degrees, in Steven Mithen's The
Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body
(2006). It is important to note in
this opening that Singing Neanderthals is a welcome relief from the
many haphazard, undocumented and
"pre-scientific" suppositions and casual statements of recent years
and which address, for example, the
influences of music on fetuses, the contributions of music to the
acquisition and refinement of skills in
mathematics, etc. Debates also continue on existence—and thus
traits—of neural, cultural, and biophysical
constitutions of the "modules" "hemispheres" of the human brain. In
addition, the term "evolution," which
recurs almost ad nauseam throughout Singing Neanderthals, evokes a
certain nervousness and
suspicion—the reasons are many and here are two: First, attempts and
some progress have been made in
pruning down some of the ethnocentric and paltry scholarship
associated with earlier studies (especially in
Vergleichende Wissenschaft of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early
twentieth centuries) which focused on
origins, evolution, and diffusion of human life, material culture,
geophysical phenomena, musical practices,
languages, aquatic and botanical lives. However, today's scholars
(especially those of postcolonial
backgrounds and whose cultures were denigrated in those early
accounts) and advanced students continue
to demonstrate, in various guises and overt ways, the subtle
persistence and perpetuation of the vestiges of
Vergleichende Wissenschaft. And second, the contemporary and yet
lively claims and counter-claims on
Evolution and Creationism "sciences" (especially in regard to American
public school systems) are
significant developments that reinvigorate, albeit indirectly,
vestigial conceptions of "evolution,"
"primitive" and "tribe." This is not to discredit totally contemporary
scholarship which often would, in
attempt to be politically correct, adopt "ethnic" in place of "tribe,"
for example.
It is very clear that Mithen transcends many of these vestiges, both
pragmatically and meticulously
through his reliance on recent evidences, even when these are better
supported in specific disciplines such
as psychology and prehistory. However, since the book locates and thus
confirms the origins of man on the
African content, Mithen often is predisposed to naming "Africa" and
"African apes." It is clear Africa was
a major victim in the early studies and thus no matter how careful we
are in our more elegant scholarship,
the frequent mention and linking of Africa where the subject of
evolution is discoursed would naturally
raise some eyebrows. A clear statement of both sensitivity and an
awareness of the possibilities of readings
of "Africa" and "apes" in this new scholarship would, therefore, have
been very appropriate and
commendable. (This is not to dispute Mithen's locating of human
origins in Africa; even as late as July 11,
2007 the media, worldwide, reports of a new fossil find in Ethiopia,
i.e., Africa, the most recent fossil
evidence of human origins of almost 5 million years.)
What is in this book, what are the major arguments and evidences, what
are the author's
qualifications and what are the main or new contributions? I do not
pretend to answer these questions in
detail but will offer a generous sampling of my impressions but which
are anchored in the supportive
There are seventeen chapters, organized in two parts: "Part One: The
Present;" and "Part Two: the
Past," which carries the moniker subsection, "Singing Neanderthals."
The specific chapter headings, which
indicate the scope of the book, include the following selections:
1. The Mystery of Music: The Need for an Evolutionary History of Music
2. More than
Cheesecake? The Similarities and Differences Between Music and Language; 4.
Language Without Music: Acquired and Congenital Amusia; 5. The
Modularity of Music
and Language: Music Processing Within the Brain; 6. Talking and Singing to Baby:
Brain Maturation, Language Learning and Perfect Pitch; 7. Music,
Emotion, Medicine
and Intelligence; 9. The Origin of 'Hmmmm' Communication; 10. Getting
into Rhythm:
The Evolution of Bipedalism and Dance; 12. Singing for Sex: Is Music a
Product of
Empirical Musicology Review Vol. 3, No. 1, 2008
Sexual Selection? 15. Neanderthals in Love: 'Hmmmmm' Communication by Homo
Neanderthalensis; 16. The origin of Language: The Origin of Homo Sapiens and the
Segmentation of 'Hmmmmm'; and 17. A Mystery Explained, but not Diminished:
Modern Human Dispersal, Communicating with the Gods, and the Remnants of
The author's expertise is in "prehistory;" he explicitly acknowledges
in the preface his lack of
formal training in music, which would have important implications for
his limited musicological sources
and their treatment (especially those from "Comparative Musicology,"
i.e., the pioneering years of what is
now known as ethnomusicology). Unfortunately, there is no consistency
in which his field of expertise is
identified in some sources: for example, he is referred to as
"cognitive archaeologist"
(, or as "professor of early prehistory"
Accessed July
23, 2007).
A book of this grand interdisciplinary scope and about a
music-centered subject cannot afford to
overlook the ideas, methods, and tools of comparative musicologists
such as Carl Stumpf, Erich
Hornbostel, Curt Sachs, Marius Schneider, Alexander Ellis, Edith
Gerson-Kiwi. There are important
reasons why a familiarity with these pioneers in "origins" would
significantly embolden and thus raise the
explanatory power of this brave, inter- and multidisciplinary project.
For example, Carl Stumpf, the first
musicologist to publish a full volume work on musical origins, Die
Anfänge der Musik (The Origins of
Music, 1911) was fully involved in pioneering studies in phenomenology
and psychology, two important
components of Singing Neanderthals. Phenomenology is, however, the
least investigated in Mithen, and a
background in this field and in the works of comparative musicologists
would have thus allowed him to
approach and attain the levels of sophistication and breadth
implicated in this multifaceted project. A casual
remark such as the following actually suggests an element of frivolity
which would undercut the author's
expertise on which the work partially rests: "Writing this book has
been an attempt to compensate for my
musical limitations." (P. vii.) The overall quality and scope of the
Singing Neanderthals can be summarized
along major strengths and weaknesses.
Major weaknesses include extensive reliance on secondary sources; lack
of expertise in the related
disciplines, especially psychology and music; reliance on psychology
and music sources that privilege
Western tonal music parameters (there is very little consideration of
non-classic music of the West and
non-Western musical traditions); frequent, indirect disclaimers:
hypothetical, speculative, inconclusive
words/phrases such as "may be," "might," "perhaps," and "would have
been"; lack of familiarity with
recent developments in cognitive ethnomusicology; lack of detailed
attention to specific cultural processes,
contextual factors and general ethnographic details from varying times
and places; lack of primary
sources—e.g., insufficient examples from personal investigations,
field observations; unclear
determinations and uncritical assumptions about the nature of
music-language continua; inadequate
perspectives on defining "musicality" in relation to the general
musical object, including appropriate
investigative tools; and theories of music perception under-explored
and not clearly identified in relation to
music cognition.
The book has strengths, as well: extensive supportive secondary
literature; balanced critique and
originality in reviewing and resolving differing perspectives,
paradigms, and methods (such as the Fodor's
modularity and some psychological experiments); persuasive arguments
and important updates on debates
about time, place, conditions and patterns of human evolution; and the
identification of basic linkages
among important cultural, biological, physical, psychological,
communicative and musical traits (e.g., as
summed up in the subtitle, "Music, Language, Mind and Body" although
these traits are often limited to
Music and Language).
I take initial issue with this lack of background in comparative
musicology as stated above,
especially in its broader scope embracing psychology and
phenomenology. For example, Carl Stumpf
receives a full complement of coverage along with Edmund Husserl, the
phenomenology pioneer, in
Herbert Spiegelberg's The Phenomenological Movement: A Historical
Introduction. 2nd ed. Vol. 1, 1976).
Further, both Stumpf and Hornbostel were part of the Gestalt
psychology movement, an important research
field in which the "mind" (cf. Mithen's subtitle, "…..Mind, and Body")
was the main object of inquiry.
Similarly, numerous subsequent publications by Curt Sachs (e.g., The
Rise of Music in the Ancient World,
East and West,1930; The Wellsprings of Music, ed. Jaap Kunst, 1961;
and World History of the Dance,
1937), notwithstanding the lack of direct field contacts or
observations and their general ethnocentric
Empirical Musicology Review Vol. 3, No. 1, 2008
framework, these seminal works showed concern for broader sites of
evidence, including gesture, even if
this is limited to bodily movement and rhythmic motion. Any serious
debates, for example, on whether
language or music came first must necessarily include at least the
idea of "logogenesis" (i.e., "word-born
melody"), as expounded in Sachs and Hornbostel. In this way, Mithen's
conclusions and speculations on
pitch, tempo, language and music and their origins in a "single
system" and their later "independence"
would thus resonate with much appeal.
Mithen would clarify his own hypothesis of origins at the beginning of
the book but only after
reviewing Steven Pinker (2003) who proposes that language came first
and music second:
The remaining possibility is that there was a single precursor for
both music and
language: a communicative system that had the characteristics that are
now shared by
music and language, but that split into two systems at some date in
our evolutionary
history. (Mithen 2005, p.26)
Yes, these comparativists with significant inter- and
multidisciplinary leanings were not privileged
with the new and updated tools and ideas we have today, but a detailed
explication of their basic
assumptions, hypotheses, and methods of inquiry is necessary in
establishing the originality of our
"revolutionary" ideas and instruments and in preparing for their
positive reception, both in the world
scientific community and in the public space.
The holistic 'Hmmmmm' utterances of Homo ergaster would have been as
much musiclike
as language-like. We should envisage each holistic utterance as being made from
one, or more likely a string, of the vocal gestures that I described
in the previous chapter.
These would have been expressed in conjunction with hand or arm
gestures and perhaps,
body language as a whole, as I will describe below. In addition,
particular levels of pitch,
tempo, melody, loudness, repetition and rhythm would have been used to create
particular emotional effects for each of these 'Hmmmmm' utterances…. The key
argument of this chapter is that both the multi-modal and the musical
aspects of such
utterances would have been greatly enhanced by the evolution of
bipedalism. (Mithen
2005, pp. 149-150)
As shown in the quotation above and drawing mainly on experiments and
conclusions from
psychology, speech and hearing, and evolution studies, Mithen works
arduously to sustain his initial
suggestions of close interrelationships and thus further suggests
common origins of music, language,
gesture, etc. The arguments and their supportive evidences would have
been much persuasive had the
author first devoted attention to a critical examination of the extant
literature in basic musicological
(including music cognition, cognitive ethnomusicology, and related
fields) studies. For example, the author
misses important details by limiting his references to older
foundational work by John Blacking (1973) in
the discussions of the linkages among music, body movement, and
emotion (p. 153). The discussion would
have been improved with an examination of other Blacking sources
(e.g., 1977, 1984, 1988) and coverage
of Kippen (1987).
The very brief mentioning of "musical instruments…as an extension of
the human body" raises
several questions and doubts, mainly because the statement has no
larger reference in the literature (or in
specific personal research contexts) to qualify it as a useful one:
Here we must note the importance of song – the combination of music
and language. Song can be
considered as the recombination of the two products of 'Hmmmmm' into a
single communication
system once again. But the two products, music and language, are only
being recombined after a
period of independent evolution into their fully evolved forms….
Moreover, that music is often
produced by instruments which, as an extension of the human body in
material form, are
themselves a product of cognitive fluidity. And that is a further
consequence of the segmentation
of 'Hmmmmm.' (Pp. 273-274)
Instead, I must again refer readers to a few of the pertinent sources,
not to mention Blacking, et al.
above. Three sources, which also address cognitive dimensions of the
musical instrument and body
Empirical Musicology Review Vol. 3, No. 1, 2008
connections are Baily (1992), Davidson (1994), and Ray Birdwhistell's
classic text, Kinesics in Context:
Essays on Body Motion (1970). The notion of and approach to
"communication system" does little to
advance the arguments about music-language-mind-body relations since
it was not sufficiently explored
beyond its rudimentary conceptions. In this case, one would have to
turn to, for example, Harwood (1976)
again, who demonstrates the active, interactive, and "constructive"
nature of communications through the
adoption of an "information-processing" perspective.
What is this "Hmmmmm" about? Mithen's idea is that music and language
have origins in a form
of "holistic" communication among early hominids and which he
describes as "Manipulative," "Multimodal,"
Musical," and "Memetic." (Holistic, manipulative, multi-modal,
musical, and memetic. See also
exegeses in quotes above.)
Further, the fuzzy distinctions between music and language
acknowledged by Mithen should, in
essence, become useful resource rather than a deficit, which exposes
his limited grasp of the existential and
hence more encompassive definitions of music in world cultures:
Some cultures have forms of vocal expression that it neither our
category of music nor
that of language. The most evident are the mantras recited within
Indian religions. (P. 12)
In fact, a clear and broader understanding of the complex
relationships between music and
language is stunted, first by our insistence on a priori categories,
limited range of examples, and lack of
sensitivity to everyday articulations beyond the Indian example. For
example, in what world epic (another
example of problems with naming—categories) traditions, it is this
fuzzy status that is explored for various
artistic, aesthetic, and ritualistic purposes. Even the Indian example
alluded to is exemplified in numerous
world contexts where artificial and practical means are constructed to
ensure the "proper" performance and
ritual efficacy. Such strategic but contextual validation of chant,
epic, recitation, sing-song, declamatory
speech, incantation, etc. serve as working categories that conjoin and
at the same transcend music and
language dichotomies; they also serve as performance constructions of
local genre categories designating
ensemble (or song) type and function.
Essays by George List (1963), Anthony Seeger (1979), and Carol
Robertson–De Carbo (1976) are
basic examples that would appeal to any serious researcher interested
in the dialectics of music and
language. Another expressive form that complicates the music-language
dichotomies is the lament. Since
this peculiar human expression is closely related to issues and
generation of emotion (which occupies a
central portion of the Mithen's discussions as far as the origins and
emotional attributes of music and
language are concerned, including those identified with "apes"), a
more critical and expansive treatment of
the subject of music and language/speech boundaries is thus required,
an indispensable task in establishing
a firm foundation for Singing Neanderthals's primary frames of
reference and assumptions.
Without a clear understanding of the what, why, and how of the deeper
and yet bewildering songspeech
continuum, the whole project rests on shaky ground, no matter how many
psychological tests,
language and musical experiments are cited. Even in the case of
lament, which is included in Alan Lomax's
stalled cantometrics/parlametrics/
choreometrics (Lomax 1968) project's
examples of world "music"
traditions, there are significant parameters and contextual
employments of the lament which would
illuminate the nature of music-language interconnections, for example
as explored in Margarita Mazo
essay, "Lament Made Visible: A Study of Paramusical Elements in
Russian Lament" (1994). Mazo
highlights the timbral characteristics as well as resources and
techniques of embodiment (body is very
important here, too) that identify the lament in various contexts of
performance. I hazard to say also that
whether we are dealing with lament, chant, or song but in relation to
the mind and body, there are very
important questions that will always remain unanswered. For example, a
lament performed/sung in
ritualized context such as wedding, or re-enactment of it in a
contemporary stage will present specific
challenges that our modern tools cannot access or describe. For
example, how is it possible to study the
performer in a real and yet dynamic funerary context? What are some
differences and challenges in a
staged lament and the one occurring in a funerary context? While it
may be possible to "control" the
performer in a staged version (assuming such "control" mechanism and
its tools will constitute part of the
dramaturgy, the entertainment aspect of the performance); I leave the
problems in the example of an
ongoing funerary situation to the readers' imagination. At what level
of precision are we able to determine
"faked" and "natural" emotions and which sites (language, music visual
cues/display, historical memory,
individual biophysiology, etc.) are responsible? Finally, the
investigator must be clear about not only the
limits but also fascinating possibilities that await us when we
formulate operational definitions of the
Empirical Musicology Review Vol. 3, No. 1, 2008
"mind" and the brain; the main challenge is in trying to discover
their individual statuses as well as their
mutual engagements in the context of musical, verbal, and motional
operations. For example, to what
extent is the mind independent of the brain, and what is the mind's
constitution and manifestations in
relation to the "soul," if such incorporeals are, indeed, easily accessible?
Maybe with a hidden camera that is able to scan with precision the
brain wave, inner workings,
locations and interactions of musical, speech and paramusical
communications and processings, we can
arrive at some temporary indicators of the boundaries of speech and
music, including the of qualities of
lament. (I must confess here hat proper research protocol will not
encourage the idea of a "hidden"
camera.) In sum, lament seems a very propitious area where the
intersections and feedback processes (and
the whole idea of origins and evolution) involving the mind, brain
body/gesticulation/gesture, music and
language can be examined in very meaningful ways, if the right tools
become available.
It is worth noting that later and with that brief discussion of
chant/mantra Mithen prematurely
suggests an earlier stage in human evolution (i.e., for chant):
Finally, we should recall that form of vocal expression I referred to
in chapter 2, that can
be defined neither as music nor as language, while it exhibits aspects
of both: Indian
mantras. ……As relatively fixed expressions passed from generation to
generation, they
are, perhaps, even closer than IDS [infant-directed speech] to the
type of 'Hmmmmm'
utterances of our human ancestors. (P. 277)
This suggestion, when seen in the larger discussion in chapter 12,
especially the subsection titled,
"From birdsong to human music" (pp. 178ff.) and in the light of the
following conclusion will carry much
weight and positive impressions but only if, for example, the case for
the lament (and related performance
acts) elaborated above is given fuller attention:
We have already seen that Miller's last assertion is quite wrong: the
musicality of our
ancestors and relatives did have considerable survival values as a means of
communicating emotions, intentions and information. (P. 178ff.,
reviewing the works of
Darwin and Geoffery Miller (1997; 2000).
There is no doubt that Mithen's ideas are firmly anchored in
evolutionary premises and such
unwavering commitment—especially in the light of several areas that
either lack discussion altogether or
are wanting in sufficient evidence—mutes the impact of some of the
more exciting examples presented. For
example, the following excerpts, which should not be seen as redundant
or space-wasting, support my
We should first note that the anatomical differences between the early hominids,
especially Homo, and the modern-day apes would have provided the
potential for a more
diverse range of vocal sounds The key difference is the reduction in
the size of the teeth
and jaws because of the dietary trend towards meat-eating. This would
have changed the
shape and volume of the final section of the vocal tract…
The changes to the teeth and jaws, and hence the potential movement of
the tongue and
lips, are important because we can think of sounds emitted from the
mouth as deriving
from 'gestures', which created by a particular position of t he
so-called articulatory
machinery—the muscles of the tongue, lips, jaws and velum (soft palate)…
As motor actions, such gestures ultimately derive from ancient
mammalian capacities for
sucking, licking, swallowing and chewing. These began the neuroanatomical
differentiation of the tongue that has enabled the tongue tip, tongue
body and tongue root
to be used independently from each other in order to create particular
gestures, which in
turn create particular sounds, some of which involve a combination of gestures.
As the size of the dentition and jaws in the early Homo species became
reduced, a
different range and a greater diversity of oral gestures would have
become possible
Empirical Musicology Review Vol. 3, No. 1, 2008
compared with those available to their australopithecine ancestors,
Although we do not
know exactly how the potential range of vocalizations would have
varied between the
australopitheticnes, early Homo and the modern African apes, one thing
is certain:
hominids would have been more sensitive to high-frequency sounds than are modern
humans. (Pp. 128-129)
Finally, the firm commitment to evolution is defended further with
gusto (but hidden in a
footnote) and in the light of two different orientations from
"forthcoming" literature (I have supplied full
bibliographic information where the source is now in public domain):
Some scholars such as Bickerton (1990), Arbib (in press) [available:
Michael Arbib,
"From monkey-like action recognition to human language: An
evolutionary framework
for neurolinguistics." Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28/2(2005):105-124] and
Tallerman (in press) [Tallerman, M. (2005). Language Origins: Perspectives on
Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.] argue against any
direct evolutionary
continuity between human language and age vocalizations, claiming, for
instance, that all
ape vocalizations are involuntary and rely on quite different parts of
the primate brain
from those used in human language, While there are undeniable and significant
differences, to argue that these invalidate evolutionary continuity
strikes me as bizarre.
Seyfarth (in press) [Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth, Baboon
The Evolution of a Social Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007] has
succinctly summarized the case for continuity citing studies that
demonstrate continuity
between the behaviour, perception, cognition and neurophysiology of
human speech and
primate vocal communication. (P. 304, Note no. 3.)
In the interest of fairness, it is important for me to put in context
at least one of the sources,
especially the "pro" for Mithen; conclusions from this work update
Darwin in very precise and provocative
ways but which ignore new or emerging culturally and contextually
sensitive paradigms. Here is an excerpt
from a summary of Cheney and Seyfarth:
Some of the most striking evidence for an innate predisposition to
learn one's own
species' communication comes from children who are born blind or deaf.
Although they
cannot see the objects in the world to which spoken words refer, blind
children develop
language at roughly the same age and in the same manner as children
who can see. Data
from children born deaf are even more striking… Although raised in
loving, supportive
environments, these children were deprived of any exposure to
language. Nonetheless,
they spontaneously invented a sign language of their own, beginning
with single signs at
roughly the same age that single words would ordinarily have appeared.
And during the
following months and years, as they developed more complex sentences,
the children
produced signs in a serial order according to their semantic role as
subject, verb, and
The songs of sparrows, the calls of monkeys, and the language of human
children could
hardly be more different, yet they all lead to the same conclusion:
Each species has a
mind of its own that, like its limbs, heart, and other body parts, has
evolved innate
predispositions that cause it to organize incoming sensations in
particular ways. The mind
arrives in the world with constraints and biases, "prepared" by
evolution to view the
world, organize experiences, and generate behavior in its own
particular way. And
because each species is different, the behavior of different species
is unlikely to be
explained by a few general laws based entirely on experience… This
conclusion from the
laboratory is important, because it encourages us to believe that
Darwin was right: we can
trace the causation of thought in different species, study its
structure, and reconstruct its
evolution. [ ]
Empirical Musicology Review Vol. 3, No. 1, 2008
Mithen acknowledges the complex interdisciplinary nature of his
research by briefly mentioning
an important, developing research that takes into account the brain,
the body, the mind, music,
language—that is, entrainment. As is common throughout the text, this
where, unfortunately, we encounter
the usual "may be" refrain:
It may, indeed, be in this connection that the phenomenon of
entrainment – the automatic
movement of body to music – arose. Experimental work with chimpanzees seems
essential since, according to this hypothesis, their lack of full
bipedalism should mean
that they also lack the phenomenon of entrainment to music. (p. 153).
The title of chapter ten, "Getting into Rhythm" is an express
reference to entrainment but which is
not developed or explored in depth by the author. It is important,
especially for the subject of musiclanguage-
body relationships, to broaden and update expert sources with those
from emerging fields of
study and new technologies such as in entrainment where serious
collaborative research is being pursued.
Cognitive ethnomusicology is one such field which integrates
neurobiology, MRI, psychology, music
cognition, and various cultural factors. For example, the October 24,
2007 Pre-Conference Symposium on
Cognitive Ethnomusicology of the Society of Ethnomusicology focuses on
"New Directions" such as
"Music and the 'Cultural Brain'" and "Music, Movements, and
Entrainment." In his latest work, Udo Will,
a leading figure in cognitive ethnomusicology, is able to offer a much
broader, incisive perspectives and
persuasive arguments and evidences, including his open support for
contextual and cultural factors, as seen
in the following excerpts from his recent essay, "In the Garden of
Cultural Identities: On the Logic of
Culture, Race and Identity in Postmodernist Discourse":
In Turner's essay nature and culture do indeed meet, but they are
still separate domains.
At the time Turner took an interest in brain sciences, research in
this field was largely
dominated by a 'cognitivistic'-computational orientation (the human
brain works like a
computer). This direction has been and still is criticized for
neglecting or omitting the
affective-emotional and the bodily existence of humans as well as
eliminating contextual
elements – a direction not well equipped to overcome the
nature/culture dichotomy.
However, during the last few decades cognitive sciences saw the
emergence of new and
powerful paradigms - connectionism, autopoiesis, enaction/embodiment –
as well as new
orientations like neuro-phenomenology, that offer promising
alternatives to the standard
cognitivistic approach…. In both these approaches, the anthropological
as well as the
neuro-phenomenological one, there is an essential link between the
cultural and the
biological domain, each cannot be understood without the other, and
there can no longer
be a question of either relocating one domain in the other or defining
one in isolation
from the other. The cultural domain is no longer conceived in
opposition to the biological
and its grounding in action seems to preempt its reification.
What is needed is an anthropological reconceptualization of 'culture'
along those lines
proposed by Tomasello and Becker, one that takes into consideration
the basic aporias of
the old one and integrates insights and perspectives forwarded by
neuroscientists like
Varela and Freeman. (Will, in press.)
As briefly indicated in the beginning, phenomenology remains one of
the important fields that has
been under-explored and two main reasons are: there is an enormous
complexity involved in
phenomenological research in terms of methodology and relevant tools;
and the level of erudition and
sophistication demanded of the researcher, not counting
interdisciplinary challenges inherent in any such
research enterprise. It is, therefore, both interesting and at the
same time very superficial to see how Mithen
intimates and thus implicates "phenomenology" without any sufficient
explication, as shown in the context
cited above.
It is totally unacceptable to label chapter fourteen "Making music
together: The significance of
cooperation and social bonding" and provide a large body of discussion
around this theme without
acknowledging the prime influential source, Alfred Schutz's classic
essay "Makin Music Together" (Schutz
Empirical Musicology Review Vol. 3, No. 1, 2008
1962). Even Will could not advance his more avant-garde techniques and
perspectives without situating
the phenomenological imperative:
In both these approaches [phenomenology and scientific materialism], the
anthropological as well as the neuro-phenomenological one, there is an
essential link
between the cultural and the biological domain, each cannot be
understood without the
other, and there can no longer be a question of either relocating one
domain in the other
or defining one in isolation from the other. The cultural domain is no
longer conceived in
opposition to the biological and its grounding in action seems to
preempt its reification….
The orientations developed by neuroscientists like Varela, Freeman, or
Nunez clearly
point toward a phenomenology of embodiment that is of outmost
relevance to the social
sciences and humanities. (Will, in press)
There are, however, some important common sense observations and
examples drawn from
psychological tests with prisoners in William McNeill (1995) on
"cooperative behavior" and "boundaryloss"
(blurring of self-awareness and the heightening of fellow feeling with
all who share in a dance'" (p.
209) and which work Mithen summarizes as "communal music-making is
actively creating, rather than
merely reflecting, that pleasing sense of unity." (P. 208) The common
supposition underlying this chapter
is found in Mithen's own words: "That joint music-making forges social
bonds and group identity is the
'common-sense' understanding with which I began this chapter." (P. 217)
Although he does not go into all the necessary details, the author
makes effort to link group music
making to its social, neurological, emotion, and general cognitive
apparatuses. The example from William
Benzon (2001) who the author describes as "jazz musician" and
cognitive scientist discusses further the
idea (and some processes) of synchronization (or "coupling") in
relation to emotional and nervous states is
probably the ideal space where the author could situate in useful
perspective the extensive work by Paul
Berliner, Thinking in Jazz: The Fine Art of Improvisation ( 1994) ).
There are other important insights and
benefits that might accrue from relating to this work, for example,
the basic participant-observation
method, focus interviews, multiple field contexts, performers'
semantic differentials, etc., all provide
important materials that would guide an arm-chair researcher about the
relevance of field and general
ethnographic details in researching the cognitive dimensions of music,
language, and gesture from
phenomenological perspectives.
A mere mention of "contextual" and "cultural" factors will not provide
sufficient evidence or
support and cultural and individual contexts are just as crucial as
any biophysiological and cognitive
processes. Thus, Mithen's case for "culture" is even more repressed,
as seen in the following position on
biology-nature-culture (my reformulation):
Indeed, some would argue that the type of environment within which the
brain develops
is the principal determinant of its neutral circuitry. Babies are born
into and develop
within cultures that have language as the dominant form of aural
communication, and this
influences the neural networks that are formed within their brains.
Nevertheless, the
genes we inherit from our parents derive from our evolutionary history
and must channel
that development; it is the extent of this channelling that remains
highly debated among
psychologists. My own view is one gives equal weight to evolution and
culture as regards
the manner in which neural networks develop. All I expect is a broad
between evolutionary history and brain structure – and this is indeed
what appears to be
present. (Pp. 274-275)
Again, Will's essay seems to make a clearer and stronger statement on
the nature of the biologyculture-
nature debate and advances made up to the present. An attempt to
secure some of the arguments in
"cultural" contexts remain open-ended, at best, as seen in the
incomplete argument about maternal care,
lullaby traditions and a problematic identification of the "expression
'Yuk'" and its associated gestures as
"found in all cultures," "inbuilt" and that "parents in all cultures
are frequently saying 'Yuk' to their babies
while making the appropriate facial expression..." (p. 203) Or when he says,
Empirical Musicology Review Vol. 3, No. 1, 2008
"[d]emand-feeding – feeding whenever the baby cries for food – is
pervasive in all
traditional societies and requires close contact between mother and
infant all day and
night; its approved absence in modern Western society is quite
peculiar." (P. 201)
A serious reader is very likely to catch up with many of these flawed
areas, especially those that
are patched up to "explain" environmental, cultural and individual
variations or impacts. A case for gesture,
gesturing, and general synaesthesia and kinesthetics would consider
also, in our times, the impact of
repeated tasks and new posture-mobilities that have been facilitated
by human adaptive mechanisms and
creativity in response to new challenges from digital and cyberspace
technologies. How are our brains and
neuro-acoustic sensibilities evolving as we adapt physically,
neuro-psychologically, and mentally to several
forms of earphones, headphones, surround sounds, television watching,
nonlinear-browsing/reading, riding
(as opposed to walking) to work, text-messaging in the dark, and so on?
Of course, in the midst of many conflicting ideas in past and present
researches, it is almost a
pyrrhic victory for Mithen to quickly take middle grounds in many of
such unresolved research issues; his
slouching toward and away from Jerry Fodor, La Mente Modulare (1988),
one of the controversial scholars
in cognitive studies, is an example:
In general, an evolutionary approach to the mind leads to an
expectation that the mind
will have a modular structure. In accordance with the specific
evolutionary history I have
proposed, we should expect pitch and temporal organization to have the degree of
independence that Peretz suggests, because the latter appears to have
evolved at a later
date, being associated with the neurological and physiological changes
that surrounded
bipedalism. Similarly, we should not be surprised that Peretz found
that the root of
congenital amusia lies in the ability to detect variations in pitch,
because from an
evolutionary perspective that appears to be the most ancient element
of the music system
within the brain.
The fact that the music and language systems in the brain share some
modules is also to
be expected given the evolutionary history I have proposed, because we
now know that
both originate from a single system (my emphasis). Conversely, the
fact that they also
have their own independent modules (my emphasis) is a reflection of up to two
hundred thousand years of independent evolution. The modules relating to pitch
organization would once have been central to "Hmmmmm' but are now recruited only
for music (with possible exception in those who speak tonal languages) (my
emphasis); while other "Hmmmmm' modules might now be recruited for the language
system alone—perhaps for example, those relating to grammar. This
evolutionary history
explains why brain injuries can affect either music alone (chapter 4),
language alone
(chapter 3), or both systems if some of the shared modules are
damaged. ( P. 274)
Critical readers must turn to Laura Bennet (1990), Richard Samuels
(1998) and Okasha (2003), for
example, in order to locate firm anchoring of convictions and
arguments that contest and caution Fodor.
First, the following recent conclusion from an unpublished
"preliminary results" of an ongoing
study of speech/prosodic and musical rhythms in tonal language systems
provides a very reliable basis and
context for the yet-to-be-examined, parenthetical (yet significant)
remark about "tonal languages" (see bold
face above):
Such a close correspondence of prosodic components in music and speech
does not exist
in all tonal languages…. Though in actual performance sung and spoken
versions may
differ in the time and/or frequency domain, the tight link between
them seems to be
established through the interaction of verbal recall, recall of toneme
patterns, phonetic
articulatory constraints and syllable duration patterns. (Udo Will, unpublished
preliminary research conclusions involving Ewe and Chinese examples)
Empirical Musicology Review Vol. 3, No. 1, 2008
Mithen's secondary sources and conclusions on neural processing of
melodic contour and speech
prosody are also very important, especially with the focus on the
brain and in light of Will's findings.
According to Mithen,
…a study published in 1998 by Isabelle Peretz and her colleagues
[Besson et al. 1998] is
particularly important because it explicitly attempts to identify
whether the same neutral
network within the rain processes sentence prosody and melodic
contour, or whether
independent systems are used. (P. 56) The results were very striking indeed. CN
performed as well as the control subjects at identifying whether
paired sentences and
paired melodies were the same or different, for each of the three
classes of sentence
(statement-question, focus-shift and timing-shift)… As CN was able to
process both
speech prosody and pitch contour, while IR was able to process
neither, Peretz and her
colleagues conclude that there is indeed a stage at which the
processing of language and
of melody utilize a single, shared neural network. From IR's speech
deficits, they
concluded that this network is used for holding pitch and temporal
patterns in short-term
memory. (P. 58) [Subjects CN and IR: "Both suffered from amusia and
had brain damage
in left and right hemispheres…But IR was entirely unable to sing even
an isolated single
pitch." (P. 56)
I believe the experiments and results cited (including additional ones
in which different subjects
with varying music and language conditions were involved were also
reported and discussed) increase the
number of questions that Jerry Fodor continues to encounter. The more
rigid modular approaches (massive
modularity) of Fodor and the more artificial, neural-network and
transformational grammar approaches of
Chomsky, et al. (including the oft-cited Fred Lerdhal and Ray
Jackendoff, Generative Theory of Tonal
Music, 1983) have since been tempered by varying emphases on
information-processing paradigms (for
example as preferred over "information theory" in Dane Harwood's 1976
essay, "Universals in Music: A
Perspective from Cognitive Psychology."). Even when both Mithen and
Harwood acknowledge input from
culture and environment, these do not receive any significant analysis
or argumentation. For example,
Harwood defines and prefers "information-processing" along and within
parameters of "perceiving,
remembering, understanding and using musical information in culture"
(Harwood 1976); the "mind" is also
carefully positioned together with "language," thus:
[A]ll people 'construct' their worlds; we impose categories on our perceived
environment, and this "categorical perception" is as indicative of
musical behavior as of
vision, language—indeed, all human thinking. (Harwood 1976)
Harwood's constructivist's perspectives are, however, a significant
advance in appreciating and
integrating individual contextual factors in cognitively oriented
research. The clearest statements on the
music-language-brain debates are found in Mithen's' review of Isabelle
Peretz's studies (referenced above),
for example:
Her final point, about the apparent overlap between the neural
networks used for speech
and music tasks, is one of the most important, but still unresolved,
Patel has noted a curious result emerging from these studies: although
the lesion studies
have shown that music and language capacities can be partially or
entirely dissociated,
the brain-imaging studies suggest that they do share the same neural
networks. This
apparent contradiction remains to be resolved. (P. 65)
New and ongoing research work in the cognitive ethnomusicology
laboratory at the School of
Music, The Ohio State University is opening new avenues in regard to
our understanding of the human
brain and in relation to the processing of speech and music within
various individual and cultural contexts.
In addition, the laboratory employs advanced technological resources
and novel techniques, including MRI
and EEG and in collaboration with experts in the fields of medicine
and psychology. It is also within this
innovative research setting that the "tonal languages" alluded to by
Mithen (see bold text in quote above)
Empirical Musicology Review Vol. 3, No. 1, 2008
are being examined in relation to communication of verbal and musical
messages, drawing on research
with both Chinese and Hmong languages.
It is critical that we recognize the intersection and hence the
problematics of meaning, cognition,
perception, communication strategies, and notions of ineffability, for
example. It is at this point of this
review that the Diana Raffman's Language, Music and Mind (1993)
important work must be
acknowledged, for it provides succinct, clear and authoritative
positions on the various issues and subjects
covered in Mithen. (Unfortunately Raffman is among the list of very
significant works missing in the final
bibliography.) For example, Raffman critiques and resolves issues of
differences between music and
language; emotion and musical meaning, Fodor's modularity,
ineffability, etc.., exposing the major flaws in
those works that are premised on extensive similarities, fixed or
machine- structures/operations, and on socalled
universal prototypes. Of course, Raffman's samples, just like most
other researchers on the subject,
are limited to Western tonal music.
Meaning, affect, emotion and how these are qualified in various
musical contexts in relation to the
mind, brain and body are presented but the discussion is limited to
the older perspectives, including the
very controversial and outmoded ideas of Deryck Cooke (1959). (See,
for example, John Shepherd's
vigorous and critical review of Cooke in Whose Music? A sociology of
musical languages, 1977).
Sections of Singing Neanderthals on emotions are important but
half-baked, especially when they are
proffered to support the premises and speculations about evolution.
Thus, no further argumentation or
critique is provided beyond the summative dictum: music influences our
emotions. A main question,
however, remains unanswered: Which musical types or structures evoke
which emotions and why?
Singing Neanderthals is a recent addition to the literature on
music-mind-language-body discourse and has
revitalized debates and interests in issues of origins, idiosyncracies
and interactions of music, language,
mind, and the body. The wide and sustained discussions generated by
this publication can be seen in
Listervs and from general Internet sources that advertise speaking
engagements involving the author,
Steven Mithen. Truly consistent with his beliefs that Neanderthals
were not capable of making musical
instruments, Mithen vigorously contests the notion that the widely
publicized "Neanderthal bone flute"
discovered in 1996 is a flute, after his personal observation of it in
the National Museum of Slovenia in
But I wasn't convinced, and concluded that the bone's resemblance to a
flute is simply
one of chance. So we lack any evidence that the Neanderthals
manufactured musical
instruments. My own theoretical views suggest that they were unlikely
to have been able
to do so, although I suspect that unmodified sticks, shells, stones
and skins may have
played some role in their music-making. (P. 244).
Mithen's personal opinions here are, however, not closed; similar
conclusions by independent
researchers are necessary in validating and updating them. The case of
the bone flute nevertheless
represents a significant relief from the overwhelming dependence on
secondary sources.
Singing Neaderthals definitely is a courageous compilation and
discussion of .a huge literature on
very complex subject; it brings to light many of the unresolved
questions and tentative conclusions on the
nature and operations of the brain, particularly how it processes
music, and language information. The
motional dimensions and the general ontological statuses and
relationships among the brain, mind, body,
and language will remain beyond the reach of our minds, body, and
investigative tools, at least not until we
have a better understanding, in concrete ways, of the "mind." The
disciplines involved in this project are
plural and necessarily so due to the nature of the subject. Continuing
team research across the disciplines
will be one surepath in which to make reasonable progress toward the
quest for understanding the most
complex aspects of our humanity, especially when pursued in the
context of a larger variety of cultural,
individual, and musical traditions.
Daniel K. Avorgbedor
The Ohio State University
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