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Did Humans Invent Music? - Comments

IDLERACER's Avatar Comment 1 by IDLERACER

This article is long and dull, and does nothing to explain why the brains of most people in developed nations perceive major chords as light & happy and minor chords as dark & sad. THIS is the earliest composition I know of that utilizes an augmented dominant and I'd like to know how the composer came up with the idea, and what emotion he was attempting to project via the use of that previously unheard triad.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 06:56:08 UTC | #936203

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 2 by susanlatimer

I'm glad that this article was introduced here and found much of the conversation informative but have a hundred more questions, most of which, of course, are about definitions. I'm glad that the subject is being examined scientfically.

I also got an answer to a question that I've wondered about for a long time. Where do language and music exist in the human brain? It's always felt like music and language are at odds with one another but great songs are a strange dance between the two. And I could never see how it began with humans but that depends on how music is defined. And I don't see how instruments are necessary artifacts if we talk about music.

Great songs, by the way, don't go "When I look into your eyes, I get a feeling deep inside, And I begin to realize..." stretched over a 1-4-5- 6 minor sequence. But the people who sell songs know that of course they do. And too many of the people who buy songs seem to believe it.

IDLERACER

All he did was augment the fifth. Another form of plot tension. Maybe I shouldn't say "All he did..." but I wonder why you think that he came up with the idea. If it's the first time in history that anyone did that successfully (and I'm not sure that's true), is it not possible that it was the audience, not the musician that took that long to come around?

How many centuries back did you go? And how far around the earth?

I love the augmented seventh. It can have so much soul. And it can be so cheesy. That's the thing about great chords. It's all about what you do with them.

Sorry to get all geeky about our little western corner of music. That's not what the OP is about.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 07:34:27 UTC | #936208

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 3 by justinesaracen

No, of course they didn't invent it. Hundreds (thousands?) of birds species create 'songs' out into the air to attract mates. Whales do something equivalent to that for perhaps other reasons. But arbitrary variations in pitch and volume of sound for pleasure are not unique to homo sapiens. In the examples above, those 'songs' such as they are, evolve over time and vary in location, and so appear to be something we might even identify as 'culture'.

I found the article dull and unscientific.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 08:46:17 UTC | #936217

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 4 by ZenDruid

Is music a deep biological adaptation in its own right, or is it a cultural invention based mostly on our other capacities for language, learning, and emotion?

Both.

My opinion is that percussion may have preceded tonal music, or at least developed independently from it. Rhythms have a way of engaging the attention on a very visceral level. This is pure speculation on my part, but I think it is valid to say that the almost hypnotic boom-boom-boom of a palaeolithic Buddy Miles on hollow logs and such, served to ward off the real or imagined predators that lurked in the dark, and coincidentally served to comfort, entertain and stimulate his human audience. I imagine that the perceived 'magical' properties of fire in the night, coupled with the compelling 'magical' rhythms of the drummer, made for some interesting tribal rituals. There are many examples of shamanic drums and rattles from various cultures that lend credence to this notion. (The didgeridoo and bullroarer are also considered to be shamanic, or at least ritualistic, in their purpose. Not quite as melodic as we have come to expect, it is still protean 'music'.)

The cultural inventions or innovations followed in due course.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 09:03:13 UTC | #936220

Pete H's Avatar Comment 5 by Pete H

As usual, the answer is 'all of the above'.

The tritone always appears in warning signals, including those intended for humans. It's like the black and yellow stripes, which are a universal signal of poison for animals. And engineers who designed the original telephone ring tone or the steam train whistle, fire alarms etc are not commonly regarded as fully human, at least by most normal people.

It seems that there's some fundamental properties of sound waves and their intermodulation which make for easier mental processing for directional location and discrimination against other 'natural' noise sounds in the sonic background. It would be unusual, from an evolutionary perspective, if this available 'resource' were not exploited by various creatures for communication and other purposes. Human or not.

You'd expect that the effects of evolution would result in the most distinctive combinations of available sounds (combinations of harmonic intervals) would be assigned to the most urgent emotional needs. (Like the tritone always being adopted for emergencies in many different species) Which leaves the more subtle combinations to be available to be assigned according to various sexual selection needs or intellectual conventions which naturally emerge - like language.

Tonal intervals are not that different to things like letter shapes. Given peoples' eyesight and technological limitations, e.g. the 7-segment LCD display, there's only so many options for letters and numbers. The allocation is arbitrary and a historical accident but the potential set of available characters which are readily recognisable is very limited. Though as someone who regularly needs to discriminate serial numbers on electronic equipment I find it very difficult to tell the difference between a zero and the letter 'O' or an 'A' versus a '4', or a '2' compared to a 'Z', or an '8' vs a 'B'. Sonic 'characters' are much simpler and easier to distinguish with practice.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 09:24:12 UTC | #936221

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 6 by rod-the-farmer

I remember reading a science-fiction novel some years ago, which contained a premise I found rather interesting. Humans were (will be seen to be ?) the only intelligent race who "did" music. We Earthlings were famous for it, and exported a variety of musical groups on interstellar tours. Classical music performed by symphonies seemed especially popular, as I recall. I wish I could remember the title or the author.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 09:50:25 UTC | #936227

Zeuglodon's Avatar Comment 7 by Zeuglodon

Comment 4 by ZenDruid

My opinion is that percussion may have preceded tonal music, or at least developed independently from it. Rhythms have a way of engaging the attention on a very visceral level.

Perhaps you'd be interested to know that chimpanzees bang the buttresses of trees as a means of communication across the forest. And, of course, gorillas pat their chests to show dominance. Percussion provokes emotional responses or expresses it. I wonder if this is an attribute shared by common ancestry.

On-topic, I recently bought Musicophilia by Oliver Sachs, but I haven't read it yet. I'm looking forward to it. Music has fascinated me greatly for a long time.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 10:15:44 UTC | #936231

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 8 by Alan4discussion

Anyway, I'm betting the birds were singing long before humans.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 12:01:16 UTC | #936248

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 9 by QuestioningKat

Interesting, I was just reading about Pthagoras' experiments with musical stings of differing lengths and his discovery of the musical scale.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 14:17:16 UTC | #936277

RobertJames's Avatar Comment 10 by RobertJames

Music was invented by a little Dutch girl called Simone Simons and I have video evidence showing her actually inventing it. In this remarkable footage she not only invents music (notice how the male tribe member attempts to mimic her but fails) but if you listen carefully she also deconstructs all religion with elegance and grace, promotes reason and invents awesomeness. Epica - Cry For The Moon

Either that or she's a Siren who has put me under a spell.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 15:38:17 UTC | #936290

IDLERACER's Avatar Comment 11 by IDLERACER

Either that or she's a Siren who has put me under a spell.

Well, something has obviously put you under a spell. There is nothing in your link that even remotely resembles the description you gave of it in your previous paragraph. At least not to my eyes and ears.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 17:08:32 UTC | #936300

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 12 by Anaximander

susanlatimer: I love the augmented seventh. It can have so much soul.

Augmented seventh is an interesting chord. When played on piano, you cannot say if it is the augmented seventh or an octave. But maybe you can, after the next chord is played (from the voice-leadind.) So, at what time the chord was actually played?

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 20:50:10 UTC | #936348

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 13 by QuestioningKat

Where do language and music exist in the human brain? It's always felt like music and language are at odds with one another but great songs are a strange dance between the two.

I'd like this answer also. I'd like to know why art and language seems to be at odds with one another. I have known many painters/illustrators (myself included) who find speaking while creating art to be a challenge. The two can be done simultaneously somewhat, but it greatly slows the process down or there is a quick switching back and forth between the two. At some point during demos by "master" artists, they all comment that they need to stop talking in order to properly handle a particular phase of their work.

I also find that the creation of art and music tends to be very compatible. Some but not all artist cannot work without playing music. Frequently, musicians are artists or vice versa. Many painters have commented on the similarities between the two.

Language and music can seem to be incompatible, but math and music seems to go together like peanut butter and jelly. I have met several musicians that are accountants by day. Odd, but not untrue. From my understanding, much of the area of the brain that processes music is used for math. Several of the arts especially design and architecture also utilize the use of math. Language at times seems to be the odd person out. Anybody?

It seems as if language that has a rhythm or areas/words of emphasis to it - poetry, song, have that dance that you are referring to Susan. I wonder if language is then controlled by another area or additional area of the brain that would bridge the two seemingly incompatible areas. Straight forward, matter-of-fact expression doesn't seem to cut it in the arts unless your BSing about some postmodernist work.

As a side note, which may or may not be related. I recall learning if your brain is scattered with thoughts because of too much going on, depression, etc. to speak aloud because it gets you out of "your head" and focuses your thoughts. Try it, I find that it works. Perhaps language interrupts the flow that is needed to create art, music,etc.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 21:29:21 UTC | #936354

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 14 by susanlatimer

Anaximander

Are you talking about the augmented seventh chord (1, 3, aug. 5, min. 7) or the augmented seventh interval which is the same as an octave on the piano?

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 21:53:26 UTC | #936361

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 15 by QuestioningKat

"the function of music is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought." Thomas Beecham

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 22:40:44 UTC | #936368

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 16 by Anaximander

Are you talking about the augmented seventh chord (1, 3, aug. 5, min. 7) or the augmented seventh interval which is the same as an octave on the piano?

"Augmentend seventh chord" sounds to me (as a name) like a chord, that has an augmented seventh (1,3,5, aug. 7). Is there such a chord? Maybe there is in a strange modulation. From C major to, wait, G# major?

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 23:09:08 UTC | #936373

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 17 by susanlatimer

"Augmented seventh chord" sounds to me (as a name) like a chord, that has an augmented seventh (1,3,5, aug. 7).

It sounds like that, doesn't it? That's the trouble with chord names. They're short hand which makes them confusing. An augmented seventh is just a seventh chord with an augmented fifth.

Is there such a chord? Maybe there is in a strange modulation.

I have no idea. I'm dying to ask you how it works from C to G# but I'm not sure if we're getting off-topic.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 23:32:55 UTC | #936379

drumdaddy's Avatar Comment 18 by drumdaddy

That chimp looks a bit like Jagger.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 23:45:53 UTC | #936381

xmaseveeve's Avatar Comment 19 by xmaseveeve

This reminds me of the most embarrassing piece of television, ever: 'The Funky Gibbon', by the Goodies. Watch if you dare. I cringe into the ground. I always hated them.

Stephen Fry did a great programme once about music. Simon whatsisname - superb gay actor - Caddow? was on it. They talked about 'leading' and 'lagging'. Anybody see it? It was much better than this frustating, point-scoring dialogue. (A well-informed interviewer would have helped them to focus, in this case.)

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 00:33:23 UTC | #936384

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 20 by susanlatimer

Comment 13 by Questioning Kat

I typed a whole lot of stuff and ended up deleting it. There's too much to talk about but I really enjoyed your comment. It's the sort of discussion I would love to have in a different environment. That is to say, not on this thread. It would digress too much. Sort of like augmented seventh chatter.

Comment 19 by xmaseveeve

Anybody see it? It was much better than this frustating, point-scoring dialogue.

I read the interview again and have to agree. The question itself interests me but I found the approach to it frustrating. Still, I'm glad to see it posted.

Nobody even bothered to say what they meant by music when the question was posed and their examples seemed narrow and unconvincing. Male birds aside, what about wolves and whales?

And as Zeuglodon pointed out, male chimps bang the buttresses of trees across the forest.

I agree with esuther's Comment 3.

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 01:29:16 UTC | #936392

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 21 by QuestioningKat

Comment 20 by susanlatimer :

I typed a whole lot of stuff and ended up deleting it.

I hate when that happens. Yet, I realize that much of what I say here falls on deaf ears or I get comments about my anecdotal evidence. So it ends up being a cathartic process.

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 03:25:07 UTC | #936403

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 22 by Anaximander

susanlatimer: It would digress too much. Sort of like augmented seventh chatter.

Anyway, you'll never know where a theory could lead. In this case, when music was invented, people probably did not at first see that there exist the problem of modulating using an augmented seventh chord.

But in some sense that problem was there even if it was not noticed. Or was it?

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 09:43:30 UTC | #936431

harry jen's Avatar Comment 23 by harry jen

once upon a time the late, great doug hammond (legendary jazz drummer & composer) asked his students why they were making music.

this being a serious and fundamental question all of them gave some wishy-washy answers like "cause I want to express myself" and "music is universal" and stuff.

to which he replied: "bullshit. you're doing it for pussy!" which pretty much sums it up for me.

having said that not even I as a professional musician (and probably all the grey matter augmentation that goes with it) can believe that music is in any way hardwired in human brains. there is hardly any common denominator that makes it universal even within the same culture, as comments 10 & 11 illustrate, so I would also state that an ancient babylonian tribe would maybe not have much fun on a skrillex concert (though, who would?).

there's a nice comment about pattern recognition on the original page, which just about sums up my viewpoint on it. to me music is just sound that is a little better organized than ordinary noise, which makes it more appealing than ordinary noise. apart from that it's all conditioning.

also, I find it funny that the two guys debating are called "marcus & miller".

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 10:56:24 UTC | #936440

Skywatcher_3025's Avatar Comment 24 by Skywatcher_3025

I have no idea. I'm dying to ask you how it works from C to G# but I'm not sure if we're getting off-topic.

The augmented G#7 and augmented C7 chords both came from one row in the intervals meaning, and I think it must sound well. The G#7 augmented chord is on the -5th degree in the key of C.

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 11:22:53 UTC | #936441

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 25 by Anaximander

The augmented G#7 and augmented C7 chords both came from one row in the intervals meaning, and I think it must sound well. The G#7 augmented chord is on the -5th degree in the key of C.

I thought the question was how to go from the key of C major to the key of G# major, using a chord that has an augmented seventh (not the aug. 5th). Maybe we should add: according to some rules, like "it should not sound wrong in the style of Mozart."

As: how to evolve a brain (according to the rules of Darwinian evolution) that can understand and enjoy music, without using that ability in itself as an adaptation.

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 12:38:31 UTC | #936448

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 26 by Cook@Tahiti

I've lost count of the number of times I've heard the argument:

Animals can't write music Humans can compose symphonies Therefore we're different from animals Therefore... God exists

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 14:02:13 UTC | #936460

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 27 by QuestioningKat

Comment 23 by harry jen :

once upon a time the late, great doug hammond (legendary jazz drummer & composer) asked his students why they were making music.

this being a serious and fundamental question all of them gave some wishy-washy answers like "cause I want to express myself" and "music is universal" and stuff.

to which he replied: "bullshit. you're doing it for pussy!" which pretty much sums it up for me.

I say BS to that comment also. Not every woman wants pussy! Sounds like no women were in that room. I think some people understood music(art) in a way that most children did not. They realized that people make this and they can too. Being a social "in" is a side benefit it the person chooses to put themselves on display. If they were not good or successful at what they did, they'd do something else.

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 14:20:08 UTC | #936461

Skywatcher_3025's Avatar Comment 28 by Skywatcher_3025

Comment 25 by Anaximander :

The augmented G#7 and augmented C7 chords both came from one row in the intervals meaning, and I think it must sound well. The G#7 augmented chord is on the -5th degree in the key of C.

I thought the question was how to go from the key of C major to the key of G# major, using a chord that has an augmented seventh (not the aug. 5th). Maybe we should add: according to some rules, like "it should not sound wrong in the style of Mozart."

As: how to evolve a brain (according to the rules of Darwinian evolution) that can understand and enjoy music, without using that ability in itself as an adaptation.

I got used to see another chord description system, so, I'm sorry, I can't answer how it could be in the rules of Mozart, but I think, there can be several maj7 chords, that can lead from C to G# in non- classical definitions.

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 16:01:37 UTC | #936472

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 29 by Anaximander

I got used to see another chord description system, so, I'm sorry, I can't answer how it could be in the rules of Mozart, but I think, there can be several maj7 chords, that can lead from C to G# in non- classical definitions.

Using maj7 chords, yes. But maj7 (like a - g#) is not augmented 7 (like a - g doubly-sharp.)

By rules I mean that the problem is easy without any rules; it doesn't matter what chord sequence you write between the C and the G#. As long as there is one augmented 7th chord.

But if we have to use some voice-leading rules or the rule that it should not sound strange in some defined style, it seems to be more difficult.

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 16:31:48 UTC | #936476

Skywatcher_3025's Avatar Comment 30 by Skywatcher_3025

Yes, I understand this.

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 19:44:44 UTC | #936500