Why do people make music?

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Sunday, June 16, 2024


Why do people make music?
Gakuto Chiba of Japan. In a new study, researchers found universal features of songs across many cultures, suggesting that music evolved in our distant ancestors. (Gakuto Chiba via The New York Times)

by Carl Zimmer



NEW YORK, NY.- Music baffled Charles Darwin. Humanity’s ability to produce and enjoy melodies, he wrote in 1874, “must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which he is endowed.”

All human societies made music, and yet, for Darwin, it seemed to offer no advantage to our survival. He speculated that music evolved as a way to win over potential mates. Our “half-human ancestors,” as he called them, “aroused each other’s ardent passions during their courtship and rivalry.”

Other Victorian scientists were skeptical. William James brushed off Darwin’s idea, arguing that music is simply a byproduct of how our minds work — a “mere incidental peculiarity of the nervous system.”

That debate continues to this day. Some researchers are developing new evolutionary explanations for music. Others maintain that music is a cultural invention, like writing, that did not need natural selection to come into existence.

In recent years, scientists have investigated these ideas with big data. They have analyzed the acoustic properties of thousands of songs recorded in dozens of cultures. On Wednesday, a team of 75 researchers published a more personal investigation of music. For the study, all of the researchers sang songs from their own cultures.

The team, which comprised musicologists, psychologists, linguists, evolutionary biologists and professional musicians, recorded songs in 55 languages, including Arabic, Balinese, Basque, Cherokee, Maori, Ukrainian and Yoruba. Across cultures, the researchers found, songs share certain features not found in speech, suggesting that Darwin might have been right: Despite its diversity today, music might have evolved in our distant ancestors.

“It shows us that there may be really something that is universal to all humans that cannot simply be explained by culture,” said Daniela Sammler, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, who was not involved in the study.

Databases of songs collected by ethnomusicologists sometimes lack important details. It can also be hard for researchers to make sense of the structure and lyrics of songs from other cultures. Computers, likewise, are not very good at recognizing many features of music.

“We thought we should involve the insiders,” said Yuto Ozaki, who earned his doctorate at Keio University in Japan by helping to lead the project.

Ozaki’s colleague, Patrick Savage, took on the job of recruiting the singers. “It was a combination of the network I’d already built up through the first decade of my career along with going to conferences and making small talk and meeting people,” said Savage, now a musicologist at the University of Auckland.

All of the team members picked traditional songs from their cultures to record.

In addition to singing, they recited the lyrics of the songs without a melody so that the team could later compare the music and speech. And for a further point of comparison, the researchers played their songs on a wide range of instruments, including sitars and melodicas.

In each recording, the researchers measured six features, such as pitch and tempo. Despite their variety, all of the songs shared a number of features that set them apart from speech. The pitch was higher and more stable, for example, and the tempo was slower.

Sammler cautioned that the singers in the new study were mostly academics, and that the songs they chose might have introduced some bias into the research. “It’s essentially academics singing material that may not be representative,” she said.

But she also noted that another study, not yet published in a scientific journal, came to a similar conclusion. In that study, researchers analyzed songs from 18 languages and pinpointed many of the same features.

It’s possible that songs have distinct features because they have a special role in human communication separate from speech, said Aniruddh Patel, a psychologist at Tufts University who was not involved in the study. What’s more, our brains appear to be sensitive to those features. In 2022, Patel pointed out, researchers discovered human neurons that only responded to singing — not speech or music played on instruments.

“There is something distinctive about song all around the world as an acoustic signal that perhaps our brains have become attuned to over evolutionary time,” Patel said.

What sort of evolutionary benefit would come from that signal is still a matter of debate.

“Maybe music was needed to improve group cohesion,” Ozaki said. Singing in choruses, sharing rhythms and melodies, could have brought people together whether as a community or in preparation for a battle.

But Sammler didn’t think that the new study ruled out other roles for music, such as helping parents bond with their children. “It could support a lot of theories,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










Today's News

May 17, 2024

Jenny Holzer shines new light in dark places

Lebohang Kganye wins the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2024

Dancing past the Venus de Milo

Francis Ford Coppola accused of trying to kiss extras on 'Megalopolis' set

First museum dedicated to Sufi art and culture to open in Paris this autumn

Friedman Benda opens a solo exhibition of works by Carmen D'Apollonio

The old-fashioned library at the heart of the AI boom

MCA Australia appoints Samantha Luck as Director of Development

JFK's handwritten notes from November 21, 1963 fetch $34,504 at auction

D'Metrius Rice's first solo presentation in New York City opens at Morgan Lehman Gallery

New details revealed for 23rd Serpentine Pavilion designed by Minsuk Cho

Hoor Al Qasimi appointed as Artistic Director of the 25th Biennale of Sydney

Katherine Porter, painter of intuitive expressionism, dies at 82

Photo London x Nikon Emerging Photographer Award 2024 winner announced

Recently discovered rare and unknown handwritten lyrics penned by Bob Dylan to hit the auction block

New board trustees appointed as construction starts on the future Vancouver Art Gallery

Parsons Dance spins and darts through Miles Davis

Why do people make music?

He thought he had bought a great apartment. The ceiling held a secret.

Too red, too vampiric, too sexy: A brief history of polarizing royal portraits

Cool off at Morphy's refreshing June 7-8 Soda Pop & Antique Advertising Auction in Las Vegas

National Nordic Museum acquires Ginny Ruffner's Project Aurora

Arooj Aftab knows you love her sad music. But she's ready for more.

In 'Invasive Species,' the acting bug bites, dramatically

Discover Vintage Bags Melbourne: Unveiling the Charm, History, and Where to Find Them

Seasonal Styling Ideas for Your Luxury Coffee Table

me88 Malaysia VIP Program - Exclusive for VIP Players

Enhancing Security with RFID: A Comprehensive Guide to RFID Gate Access Control Systems




Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .

 



Founder:
Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Attorneys
Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
produces:

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.
Hommage
       

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful