9 November 2012

'Born with a kind of musical wisdom and appetite'

Sixteenth in a series of notes and comments on The Book of Barely Imagined Beings

Chapter 8: Human

page 125: something very much like music played a central role [in human evolution]. In addition to Steven Mithen and Aniruddh Patel see The “Musilanguage” Model of Music Evolution (pdf) by Steven Brown.

page 126: spiritual and religious practices. See Robert Bellah:
Musical performance is associated with powerful beings and is a means of communicating with them although it is not directly addressed to them...Communication may be said to occur not by singing to a powerful being but by singing it into being. Highly focussed mental images are created in the minds of the performers by means of their performance...There is a consequent merging of the self with what is sung about; just as in myth powerful beings participate in human speech, so in ritual humans participate in itseke [powerful being] musicality and thereby temporarily achieve some of their transformative power.
Because music is so powerful, it can also be applied to destructive ends. So, for example, while evidence suggests it was the British government which pioneered a particularly effective combination of torture techniques (stress positions, starvation, hooding, sleep deprivation and white noise), music rather than white noise has been used by others in attempts to break down psychological integrity. Examples include this by the Nazis and this by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

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