Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

The Origin and Sound of Music

My blog of 21 March 2015 was about the origin of languages and stated: “There is a lot of literature about the use of music as an important tool in learning new languages”. There is however little info about the origin of music. The only interesting item was a 2005 book by Steven Mithen: “The Singing Neanderthals: the Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body.”

“While there has been considerable discussion and debate within palaeoanthropology regarding the origin and evolution of language and art, that of music and dance have been neglected. This is as surprising as it is unfortunate as these behaviours are universal amongst human communities today and in the historically documented past.” Quote by Steven Mithen from his book review.

Even the question why we like music is a difficult one. BBC: “We like music because it makes us feel good. Why does it make us feel good? In 2001, neuroscientists Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre at McGill University in Montreal provided an answer. Using magnetic resonance imaging they showed that people listening to pleasurable music had activated brain regions called the limbic and paralimbic areas, which are connected to euphoric reward responses, like those we experience from sex, good food and addictive drugs. Those rewards come from a gush of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. As DJ Lee Haslam told us, music is the drug”.

BBC: “But why? It’s easy enough to understand why sex and food are rewarded with a dopamine rush: this makes us want more, and so contributes to our survival and propagation. (Some drugs subvert that survival instinct by stimulating dopamine release on false pretences.) But why would a sequence of sounds with no obvious survival value do the same thing? The truth is no one knows”.

In my view, the reward system relates to the transfer of information – by means of music (and dance). Before there was language, there was music and dance as a means of communication. Music (and dance) was used for celebrations, rituals – and war. In essence, nothing much has changed since.

I suppose music became important to human beings after they started using tools such as knives and spears and later also drums and horns. I suppose the main reason is that low frequencies (eg, drums, horns) carry farther than high frequencies (eg, voices). (Physics)
The world’s oldest stone tools were unearthed from the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya, and date to 3.3 million years ago. They are 700,000 years older than any tools found before, even pre-dating the earliest humans in the Homo genus (BBC). The earliest music instruments are flutes, made from bird bone and mammoth ivory, and come from a cave in southern Germany. Scientists used carbon dating to show that the flutes were between 42-43 thousand years old. (BBCsource)

If rather sophisticated flutes were already used 42-43 thousand years ago and in Germany, than ram’s horns (eg, shofar) much have been in use in Africa and/or Middle East but much earlier. Wiki: “The shofar was used to announce holidays, for signifying the start of a war. Later, it was also employed in processions, as musical accompaniment and eventually it was inserted into the temple orchestra”.

HistoryNet: “The function of music in war has always been twofold: as a means of communication and as a psychological weapon. Among the oldest references to the latter role appears in Chapter 6 of the Old Testament’s book of Joshua, with an exceptionally detailed description of the deployment of ram’s horns against Jericho, the oldest fortified human settlement known to archaeology”.

Music was my first love and it will be my last. Music of the future and music of the past. To live without my music would be impossible to do. In this world of troubles, my music pulls me through.

John Miles – Music (1976) – artist, lyrics, Wiki


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