Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sousa on Mars.

Man Walking - Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904)
I had a nice dinner with E & D last night. E is a retired executive who was born in Chile. They are very hip and practice buddhism and both possess very facile minds. It was a great circuitous conversation that travelled here and there and landed on some very interesting turf which I will try to partially reconstruct.

E told me that Chile was largely constructed on a germanic model in the 1800's. Much of Chile's culture, political system and underpinnings was influenced by early immigration from the Rheinland. Readers of McCullough's John Adams will remember that America was caught in a tug of war thirty years earlier between a francophile model espoused by Jefferson and Franklin and the anglophile one that was favored by Adams. Things got so bad that Adams suggested that his cohorts were guilty of treason.

Anyway, I never realized that prussian culture had so permeated our latin neighbors, I knew that Paraguay and Argentina were favored spots for Nazis to relocate after the big war, all with the help of the OSS of course, in case they needed them to fight our new enemy, the reds. But I had never considered the early immigration and cultural exchange. They adopted all the tappings of der fatherland whole hog or should I say "whole shwein?"

"I wonder if that is why mexican and latin music has those horrible polka horns and accordions?" I said aloud. "That Banda music I dread so." D looked at E and then me and laughed. "E loves that martial music." I had put my foot in my mouth once again and looked for a quick recovery.

We started talking about marches. Do you realize that this music directly correlates to the average length of a human stride? A six foot tall male averages a 28.5" stride. Which also relates to the average length of the human femur, 18.9 inches. Of course gravity comes into place as well. The average specific gravity of the earth is 5.5 g/cm cubed. So our music is directly related to both our particular anatomy and our ability to ambulate. If you lived on neptune for instance, the specific gravity is about 1.19 times greater than earth's and your average salsa band number might sound more like a fugue. On Mercury, it is probably more apt to sound like gerbils huffing helium.

E took up the conversation. He told me that the average number of beats in a german march is 112 bpm. The French Foreign Legion march at 88 bpm. The French are always placed last in the parade because they slow everybody down. Further research I have undertaken tells me that the Scottish Highlanders are even slower, kilts and all, they roll at about 80 bpm.

I started reading up on marches and martial music this morning. An Australian named Joseph Jordania has written two thought provoking books about music and early man. From Wikipedia:

Jordania suggests that "the initial function of human music (in the form of loud rhythmic singing, coupled with stomping and drumming on external objects) was to induce a specific altered state of consciousness, battle trance, where early hominids and humans were losing individuality and were acquiring collective identity. In this state they did not feel fear and pain, and were religiously dedicated to the interests of group to the point of sacrificing themselves[1]. Apart from special military bands and orchestras, military personnel also often uses listening to loud rhythmic music in order to prepare themselves for the combat situations[2]."

Jordania wrote the book Why do People Sing? Music in Human Evolution in 2011. This is a continuation of his 2006 book Who Asked the First Question? Origins of Human Choral Singing, Intelligence, Language and Speech. He postulates that "the fundamental force behind the evolution of hominid/human morphology and behavior was the original non-contact defense strategy from predators, based on intimidation of predators and competitors through visual, audio and olfactory messages." 

Again from Wikipedia:

"Jordania notes an effect of the change of environment on hominid behavior, primarily after early hominids descended from the safer environment of tree branches to the ground. According to Jordania, singing is a dangerous activity, as it can attract predators. At the same time loud vocalization is used by many species to scare away predators and competitors. The three-dimensional nature of tree branches and the two-dimensional nature of the ground is discussed in the context of the absence of a singing species on the ground and the presence of over 5000 singing species living in tree branches all around the world. Jordania suggested that the central function of group singing was to organize the defense against big African ground predators. Similar idea of singing used as a tool for the defense from competitors and aggressors was expressed earlier by Thomas Geissmann."

According to Jordania, "early hominids were not using the most popular defense mechanisms used by most large mammals. They were very conspicuous with their upright posture to use crypsis, were too noisy to stay unheard, were very slow to run away from predators, could not use their teeth to fight back, and did not have a tough hide to withstand even a moderate predator offense. Instead, Jordania suggests that early hominids developed a non-contact form of defense and offense, AVID (Audio-Visual Intimidating Display, or AVOID – Audio-Visual-Olfactory Intimidating Display). Hominids were intimidating predators and competitors with their size, upright posture, loud united sound, and threatening movements."

Again according to Jordania, "early hominids became also masters of throwing rocks and other objects. Aimed throwing as a means of hunting has been proposed by William H. Calvin.[4] Jordania proposes that early hominids were using throwing primarily for defense, not hunting. He formulates several advantages of defense throwing against hunting throwing: (1) easier to aim at the object when it is running towards the thrower, (2) the distance is closer, (3) as the distance is closer, heavier rocks can be used (even thrown by two hands), (4) the rock more likely to hit the head of the attacking animal, (5) the speed of the attacking animal adds to the speed of the rock and thus the overall impact. Besides, if is widely known that defense throwing (but not hunting throwing) is used by African apes in the wild[5]."

The central adaptive function of music, according to Jordania, was to put hominids into a specific altered state of consciousness, which he calls the battle trance. In this neuro-chemically induced state humans do not feel fear and pain, do not question orders from the group leader, and act in the best interests of the group (even to the point of sacrificing their own lives). In this state humans lose individuality and are united in a shared collective identity. According to Jordania, this state was achieved by early hominids through vigorous group rhythmic singing and dancing sessions which were affecting hominid brain chemistry through chemical agents on a very deep emotional level. The state of battle trance was used in order to defend hominids and humans from predators, and to help them to obtain protein rich food via chasing away predators from their kill. Jordania proposed that preparation for the confrontation with lions and other big predators with the use of ritualized rhythmic dancing, body painting and group singing became the basis of the future religious ritual practices. The use of listening to heavy rhythmic music, and even singing and dancing in groups before going to combat missions by warriors is widely known from historical sources and tribal societies all the way through to contemporary Western military forces.[6] This phenomenon is regarded by Jordania as a direct descendant of the ancient function of music and the phenomenon of the battle trance."

Jordania also introduces the concept of aposematic defense. He proposes that "in order to look bigger early hominids started to use bipedal posture. Unlike temporary use of bipedal posture by many animal species when facing predators and competitors, hominids started using bipedalism habitually, gradually adopting an aposematic strategy of defense (bigger and more visible body, slow walking speed). Longer legs were also favored by natural selection in order to achieve higher body. Jordania also suggested that the primary function of long and tightly coiled human head hair was to increase the height of hominid body."

I find it fascinating to think how our particular atmosphere, gravity, heat and environmental conditions have conspired to give us this biped form. Whether music and singing evolved to keep the sabre tooths away is another matter entirely. It is a total interstellar conceit to think that other advanced life forms would have similar physiologic tendencies as hominids; bipeds, nostrils, hair. Might as well look like centipedes or amoebas or bacterium. Perhaps other beings run on some other gas besides oxygen and that consciousness can be imbued in beings that are not carbon based at all. It would be remarkable, even in an ever expanding infinite universe, for a life form to undergo an evolutionary flight plan that could summon martial music from it's particular ingredients. While our greeks wrote prose saluting "the rosy fingered dawn", paeans directed at five hundred degree solar storms have an entirely different cachet.

In any case it is evident that most of our creative endeavors will have a limited audience in interstellar space, resonating from our  physical evolutionary template whose conditions for creation are probably quite particular to our very unique status in the universe.

Just don't be expecting any horns or accordions.


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm..... I have my doubts about the whole idea of "battle trance" as a goal of musical activity or dance. I suspect a fair of number of anthropologists would have doubts too. There are two reasons for this. One is the style of warfare of pre literate people. It tended to place the emphasis on the valor of the individual and was generally chaotic in comparison to modern armies. Following a leader was not critical as it is now. The Greeks and their post literate fellows figured out that groups acting in concert under a leader were more effective than uncoordinated heroes on the battlefield.
The other thing is the business of dance and music. Preparation for warfare was one purpose but far from the only one. Connecting with and pleasing ancestors was important as was harmonizing with the cosmic order in order to make game available. Later on getting the crops to grow and influencing climate were important.
Essentially we know very little about these people and I suspect is really easy to project modern values on to people who lived long ago, not to mention present day people who preserve ancient tribal cultures.

Blue Heron said...

I suggest that you adjust your time frame Jon. Homo Habilis, the earliest relative of our genus, was extant approximately 2.3 million years ago. Modern humans started evolving about 700,000 years ago, Neandertal and Floriensis took their exit about 12 to 25 thousand years ago, depending on which scholar you believe.

I think that Jordania is talking about the earliest stages of hominid behavior and evolution rather than the more recent "ancient" greeks.

I think that he is on to something with the trance state hypothesis. Not that such behavior as singing would necessarily be exclusive to warring and hunting but the march cadence can certainly stir the passion for violent behavior. You rarely see the troops girding for war listening to Rachmaninoff.

grumpy said...

speaking of Rachmaninoff, his second piano concerto is being performed today, right here in Fallbrook, at the Burton auditorium at the high school, 3:00 p.m., by the Redlands Symphony; plenty of seats no doubt still available.

Anonymous said...

White folks was wild once too. Restless natives