An Ethnomusicologist's Reflections on "Complexity" and "Participation" in Music

October 1, 1977


"One of the distinctive facts about contemporary history is that it is world history and that the forces shaping it cannot be understood unless we are prepared to adopt world-wide perspectives; and this means not merely supplementing our conventional view of the recent past by adding a few chapters on extra-European affairs, but re-examining and revising the whole structure of assumptions and preconceptions on which that view is based."1

The work of twentieth-century composers and musicologists includes many approaches to problems of "re-examining and revising the whole structure of assumptions and preconceptions" that European and American musicians inherited from the theories and practices of the nineteenth century. The present essay is a sequence of reflections upon a few aspects of this work.

Some ethnomusicologists have treated music-making as one of the many sets of skills by means of which human societies have adapted to particular environments. Given the importance of "the advance of the peoples of Asia and Africa—and, more slowly but no less surely, of Latin America—to a place of new dignity in the world,"2 we may hope that ethnomusicologists themselves will make positive contributions to the adaptive strategies of Europeans and Americans in the present period of changing relationships among the world's peoples. As a field of inquiry that depends upon methods developed in societies with electricity (and, consequently, recordings), ethnomusicology may require and encourage musical skills that differ significantly from those employed by musicians and musicologists in "pre-phonograph" societies.3 Problems in assessing the extent to which an ethnomusicologist's skills both coincide with and diverge from those of the musicians whom he studies turn up in almost every type of ethnomusicological work. Needless to say, ethnomusicologists have defined and approached these problems in many different ways, depending upon the nature of their interest in the musics of "post-phonograph" as well as "pre-phonograph" societies.

The fact that the impact of the industrial revolution, extending outward from Western Europe, has taken quite varied forms in different parts of the globe justifies the existence of many (if not all) musicological methods. It would be naive to assume that one way of defining musical and social problems will prove equally useful in all situations. Clarification of the ways in which one or another method is or is not useful in a specific set of circumstances requires comparative discussion of different methods.

Although attempts to define "universal" principles of music-making run up against many (perhaps insurmountable) obstacles,4 at least one general statement seems necessary to any study of music from a multicultural perspective: a musician has learned to control a range of possible actions in such a way that he or she may make different responses at specific moments. Each of the important terms in this statement—"learned," "control," "range," "possible," etc.—glosses over a large number of problems; and examination of these problems in specific contexts might demonstrate that the statement is less valid than the present writer believes it to be. Nonetheless, the necessity for actions (or choices) on the part of a musician suggests that listeners as well must "act" differently (make choices among various different responses) at different moments, when they participate in a situation of music-making. In some instances, the choices of listeners lead to the production of sounds or gestures; in other cases, they do not. Ethnomusicologists attempt to understand the points at which their own responses (or "actions") coincide with and diverge from those that they might reasonably attribute to the musicians and listeners whom they are studying.

From this perspective, we might approach music-making as the exercise of skills that resemble other bodily skills as well as various types of thinking processes. In his pioneering attempt to study thinking as "a natural development from earlier established forms of bodily skilled behaviour," Frederic Bartlett made a number of observations that should prove useful to musicologists:

Nobody normally uses the term "skill" of the very simplest kind of behaviour, where what can without violence be treated as a single stimulus gives rise to what can be treated, equally without violence, as a single and isolated response. . . . We begin to use the term "skill" only when a good many receptor and effector functions are interlinked and related within an order of significant succession which possesses an inherent character of direction and moves towards an issue regarded as its natural terminus. . . . Skilled performance must all the time submit to receptor control, and be initiated and directed by the signals which the performer must pick up from his environment, in combination with the other signals, internal to his own body, which tell him something about his own movements as he makes them. These are the main reasons why all forms of skill, expertly carried out, possess an outstanding character of rapid adaptation. For the items in the series have, within wide limits, a fluid order of occurrence and varying qualities.5

The ways in which we may learn to remember and reorder a series of sounds depend upon our means of access to the series—the quality of our attentiveness on those occasions when we listen to or play along with the performers. The use of recordings alters our "means of access" far more than does any system of notation. By manipulating a recording, we can detach portions of the series from their original contexts so as to examine them from points of view not otherwise available. Milan Kundera's novel The Joke describes what has become a very common experience among ethnomusicologists:

. . . a professor . . . had asked several "folksingers" to perform, independently of one another, the same song, the rhythm of which resisted his attempts to notate it. Operations performed with the assistance of electronic devices allowed him to show that each performer had sung in an identical manner. The rhythmic complexity of these couplets, consequently, did not result from a lack of precision, or from the failings or the mood of the singer. It followed its own secret laws.6

The fact that recordings provide us with new perspectives upon the disposition of sounds in time, however, should not lead us to assume that we may examine a series of sounds independently of any temporal ordering. Our awareness of distinctions among sounds inevitably entails an awareness of distinctions in the ways that these sounds have been (or might be) distributed in time, as well as an awareness of some distinctions in the physical and social circumstances in which music-making transpires. Performance of music requires some control of distinctions along all three lines.

Many writers have claimed that the diffusion of recordings fosters "passive" responses to music,7 and some ethnomusicologists have cast nostalgic glances toward what appears to be the higher level of participation in music-making available to the members of many pre-phonograph societies.8 Although various statements along these lines may tell us a great deal about specific situations, it seems necessary to recognize that there are many types of "participation," just as there are many types of "complexity." Our sources of information on the ways in which people participate in music-making include the motions by means of which they produce sounds and the words that they use to describe musical events—but these sources of information are in themselves insufficient. We should not assume that observation of a listener's motions or analysis of his words will direct our attention to all of the connections that he draws between the sounds occurring in a particular series. By using recordings and notation to assist (but not replace) our memories, we may develop analyses of musical structure that point to possible types of connections among the sounds in one series, and that help us to grasp similar and different connections among the sounds of another series.9 Statements that a particular music is "simple" or "complex" often rest upon the musicologist's failure to specify several of the options available to musicians—an attitude of excessive detachment.

These considerations have made the present writer skeptical of some ethnomusicological attempts to provide ''as objective a picture of music sound as possible"—particularly when such attempts involve counting the number of times that a particular note or other "element" occurs in a piece of music.10 Only rarely do voices and instruments produce a fundamental tone with no partials. Even if we ignore the possibilities of links between the several partials of adjacent (and not-so-adjacent) tones, psychoacoustic research does not indicate that human beings perceive single tones (in musical contexts) as isolated entities. Tables that indicate the number of occurrences of a "tone" in one or more (notated) pieces are "objective" only in the sense that another scholar will arrive at the same result if he applies the same method. The method itself denies that music is at once a result of and an occasion for human actions. Perhaps musicologists who aim for "objectivity" will devise methods whereby their statements can be "intersubjectively tested"11 by persons whose training has equipped them to assign meanings to sounds with respect to their variable positions in time. The frequency with which two musicians who share a "similar" training may appear to apply quite different methods, however, leaves the likelihood of this result open to question.

Attempts to quantify "one's freedom of choice when one selects a message"12 run up against the very large (and perhaps unquantifiable) number of options available to musicians as they create and respond to connections among sounds on many levels. The commonplace notion that twentieth-century European and American "art" music is somehow "more complex" than other musics illustrates the hazards of an oversimplified view of "information" or "freedom of choice." Describing "the trends in the evolution of Western music, beginning with Pythagoras and terminating—open-ended—with the theories and experiments" of composers of computer music, Heinz Von Foerster writes:

They are most clearly understood in information-theoretical terms, namely, as a gradual reduction in the redundancy in works of music or, expressed differently, as a continuous increase in the complexity of sound and composition, hence an increase in the amount of auditory information transmitted during a given interval of time. Redundancy reduction has been achieved over the last two millennia by a steady abolishment of constraints on three levels: specificity of waveforms (sounds), selection of frequencies (scales), and rules of synchronism and succession (composition). With the invention of new musical instruments down through the centuries and their integration into an orchestra which originally consisted only of lyre and flute, musical sound acquired, by the beginning of our century the grandiose richness, depth, and variety of dimensions unthinkable a thousand or two thousand years ago.13

Von Foerster apparently believes that the lyre and flute produced sounds in "the Pythagorean seven-tone scale based on 'pure' frequency intervals with ratios of 2/1, 3/2, and 5/4."14 Analysis of present-day Near Eastern musics, as well as iconographic studies of ancient Near Eastern musical instruments, however, suggest that Near Eastern musicians have concerned themselves with control of partials, attack and decay time, and other interrelationships between timbre and timing at least as much as (if not more than) have composers of computer music.15 Ethnomusicological work makes it possible for us to acquire an understanding of the social and historical dimensions of human musicality that will greatly transcend the limitations of "unilinear" evolutionism.16



At some point in the near future, most of the world's peoples will have access to recordings, with the type of access limited by whatever social groups control the production and distribution of recordings in particular regions. The use of notation and of writing about music may or may not become equally universal; in any event, we should remember that members of relatively privileged minorities have developed the existing techniques for notating and writing about music. The work of ethnomusicologists has indicated many points at which current uses of notation and verbal theory fail to account for the musical behavior of most (if not all) social groups. In claiming that Near Eastern lyre and flute players have concerned themselves primarily with "Pythagorean" intervals, for example, Von Foerster apparently assumes that the traditions of written theory in Greece and the Islamic world have defined the interests of most musicians in these societies—an assumption that conflicts with the musicological evidence. We have no good reason to assume that notation and verbal theory define the principal choices available to any musician, although this may prove to be the case in one or another situation. The (musical and verbal) ways in which members of relatively privileged or cultivated groups have regarded the musics of "others" belong to the history of what William Empson has termed "pastoral" art—that which "though 'about' is not 'by' or 'for' the people."17

In a general paper on "Melody and Scale," E.M. von Hornbostel attempted to clarify the ways in which particular uses of notation have distinguished the development of European "cultivated" music from that of most other musics:

The antipsychological view that music consists of tones acquires strength through [the use of] notation. The latter frees the work of art from [the control of] producer and performer and makes it into an object that may be exchanged [bought and sold] like any other. Notation represents an abstraction from the living, moment-to-moment nuances which it can reproduce only from a distance, through painstaking approximation, or else not at all. So it lays greatest emphasis upon those matters most accessible to analysis and conceptual comprehension, on what is physically given—the tones and their acoustic and temporal relationships—which is simplified and schematized according to a theory.18

Human responses to "the tones and their acoustic and temporal relationships" are not "physically given" in the same sense, and ethnomusicological studies of human musicality become "antipsychological" when they accept the simplifications and schematizations of particular ("pastoral") theories as adequate descriptions of human responses.

Hornbostel observed that "we more readily inquire 'What scale provides the basis of a melody' than 'What type of Melos provides the basis of a scale?'" Formulated in 1912, his observation points to weaknesses in a large quantity of subsequent research. One might substitute other terms for "melody" and "scale," altering Hornbostel's statement: "We more readily inquire 'What formulas [conventions, genres, models] provide the basis of a music?' than 'What types of music-making produce formulas [conventions, genres, models]?'" Exclusive attention to questions of the former type results in non-sociological as well as "antipsychological" views; the concept of "learning by rote"—frequently encountered in discussions of orally transmitted musics—exemplifies this bias.19

Hornbostel's analyses of vocal melodies (selected from cultures that did not employ instruments in a "melodic" manner) indicate several ways in which we may describe "notes" and "motifs" without granting them the dubious status of "musical objects." Attempting to assess the function of each tone with respect to its position in time, he devoted particular attention to ways in which subsequent events change one's understanding of the initial moments of any melodic line. These changes may or may not result in the definition of a framework—a level of abstraction that Hornbostel apparently regarded as closer to the "living, moment-to-moment nuances" of melodic lines than the concepts of "mode" or "scale." In those instances where a melody does refer to a "mode" or "scale," it will do so in terms of more specific rhythmic and tonal frameworks. Hornbostel's method implies that singing and listening alike demand an active response to conflicts and realignments within whatever frameworks the music may propose to one's ear.

The concept of "framework" that I have extracted from Hornbostel's essay involves one or another way of linking two moments in time so that the sounds occurring within this "frame" (that is, between the two moments) may be compared with those occurring between two "analogous" moments. According to Hornbostel, a melody like Example 1 does not involve a tonal framework of one octave that "contains" a scale of six approximately equal intervals.


Example 1. Solo Song from Murray Islands (Hornbostel, "Melodie und Skala," p. 19).



Rather, the melodic impulse of the initial descent from A to G is projected forward through five additional descents, the second of which shifts the line to "the same tones in a higher register" and the last of which arrives at a pitch slightly higher than the starting point. A melody like Example 2, on the other hand, moves within stable framing intervals, creating relationships between "segments that are not palpably connected by means of immediate temporal proximity."20


Example 2. Group Song from Northwestern Australia (Hornbostel, p. 21).



According to Hornbostel, the entry of a second group of singers in bar 5 establishes the octave as a frame, just as the transposition of bars 2 and 3 in bars 4 and 5 sets up two analogous tetrachords lying a fifth apart. Because of their role in bringing about these analogies, the G in bar 4 and the D in bar 5 function as "crucial points (Schwerpunkte) that balance and articulate the Melos without interrupting its flow."21 Since Examples 1 and 2 both involve repetitions of a musical strophe, the transcriptions do indicate the presence of a rhythmic framework in both cases, although the internal tonal (and consequently rhythmic) articulation of the two strophes is very different.

In most cases, musicians deal simultaneously with multiple frames, making several types of comparison available to an active ear. The letters that indicate Hornbostel's analysis of "equivalent" bars within the two tetrachords of Example 2 should not prevent us from recognizing other aspects of the tonal framework. Consideration of the points at which the melodic line descends yields a rather different comparison of the eight bars, which are aligned in four groups (labelled A, B, C, and D) in Example 3.


Example 3. Timing of Melodic Descents in Example 2.



In Group A, the melody descends on the second triplet subdivision of the first quarter-note but does not descend any further until the next bar. The contour of the bars in Group B is identical to that of the bars in Group A for the first two quarter-notes but descends one further step on the third quarter-note. Group D retains the contour of Group A, except that the descent is delayed until the second quarter-note. In the single bar of "Group C" the descent is delayed even further but covers a much wider interval (a major third). Example 4 outlines the harmonic "equivalence" of the five bars in Groups A, C, and D, on the one hand, and of the three bars in Group B on the other.


Example 4. Harmonic Equivalences in Example 2.



Consideration of the range and the number of different tones in each bar (Example 5) indicates yet another aspect of the rhythmic-and-tonal framework: each group of two bars involves a progression to a wider range (until the final two bars), and the outer two groups (Roman numerals I and IV) balance a minor and a major second, respectively, against each other and against the descending pentachords of Groups II and III.


Example 5. Analysis of Ranges in Example 2.



Attention to these three aspects of the framework (Examples 2, 3-4, and 5) should prevent our reading Hornbostel's notation in terms of "the antipsychological view that music consists of tones." We should prepare ourselves to notice situations in which musicians manipulate several (overlapping) aspects of any framework; other performances by the same musicians may then confirm or challenge our initial analysis. Needless to say, attempts to define rhythmic-and-tonal frameworks with reference to distinctions among timbres as well as pitches will greatly increase our capacity to recognize multiple ways of linking specific moments in time.22

Several musicologists concerned with West African drum ensembles have explored the ways in which existing frameworks make specific demands upon musicians. Nketia interprets the high level of consistency in successive presentations of rhythmic-and-tonal frameworks as a result of the principle that "texture is an identifying characteristic of formal types" or genres. West African musicians succeed in "varying the complexity of this texture as well as its intensity through the preselection of instrumental devices and the structural molds into which the sounds are fitted."23 In separate discussions of the Ewe genre atsia, James Koetting and Hewitt Pantaleoni have offered valuable suggestions concerning our modes of perceiving and describing these "structural molds." Employing a system of notation that identifies all positions in which new attacks occur somewhere in the texture (compare Example 6), Koetting represents "a single frame of all the supporting instruments, which repeats every twelve time units as measured by the fastest pulse."24


Example 6. Rhythmic and Tonal Framework of Supporting Instruments in Tigari Ensemble (transcribed from tapes made by William Amoaku with the assistance of Robert Witmer and Bruno Nettl).



Koetting's concept of a twelve-unit cycle defined by different rhythmic and sonorous qualities at each of the twelve moments permits him to apprehend the "congruence and complementarity" of the sounds produced by several instrumentalists. Pantaleoni also emphasizes the notion of "a differentiated pulse" and describes the nature of this differentiation in terms of "three principles of timing": (1) "the voice of the bell is the basis for the system of timing"; (2) "every timing pattern is asymmetrical"; and (3) "against the timing pattern every pattern has but one placement."25

Despite the various areas of disagreement between Koetting and Pantaleoni,26 both men are dealing with frameworks that control the qualities of rhythmic and sonorous events at given moments within a cycle embracing twelve positions in time. In other words, the musical framework requires that participants actively respond to a series of demands, the nature of which varies according to the role taken by the onlooker, dancer, singer, or instrumentalist. A description of any such framework should attempt to indicate the rate at which these demands succeed one another as well as the range of options available at each point (although this may exceed our capacities for description), with the understanding that changes in the range of options affect the very concept of "rate of succession." The "rate of succession" in this sense should not be confused with an equal pulse. Mantle Hood has observed that "the fastest, regularly recurring pulse" may serve as a "Density Referent" as we listen to or perform in some types of ensembles (including atsia).27 If the sounds produced by members of an ensemble do not occur at equal intervals of time, a "Density Referent" established by a series of chords or combinations of timbres may prove useful. In the music of West African trumpet or horn ensembles, the extent to which a regularly recurring pulse and/or a regularly recurring series of "chords" provide a frame of reference varies greatly.28 A general concept of "density" seems to require the development of techniques for shifting our attention between rhythmic and timbral frameworks.

Descriptions of musical "forms" that do not specify some of the demands to which musicians and listeners respond rest upon an idea of "music" divorced from the world of human actions. In Nketia's words, "From a structural point of view . . . music is always an event: it happens as the result of the activities of the creative performer and those with whom he collaborates [including his listeners!]. Hence the processes of creation and structuring are part of the concept of music."29 Cecil Taylor, one of the most important musicians working in the United States at the present time has made the same point, defining a problem of method faced by musicologists as well as by other musicians:

Musical categories don't mean anything unless we talk about the actual specific acts that people go through to make music, how one speaks, dances, dresses, moves, thinks, makes love . . . all these things. We begin with the sound and then say, what is the function of that sound, what is determining the procedures of that sound. Then we can talk about how it motivates or regenerates itself, and that's where we have tradition.30

Cecil Taylor's music challenges any idea of rhythmic framework (defined by "regularly" recurring pulses) or timbral framework (defined by "regularly" recurring sonorities), by means of consistently "unequal" relationships among groups of attacks and sonorities.31 Musicological theory might approach the world's musics from a perspective similar to Taylor's—regarding the emergence of any stabilizing framework as useful for a period of time in some but not all situations.



As indicated by Cecil Taylor, an exploration of the ways in which rhythmic and timbral frameworks may be present or absent provides the basis for a comparative approach to questions of genre and tradition. A substantial body of musicological literature has made use of one or another form of a distinction between "spontaneous creation based upon existing frameworks or conventions," on the one hand, and "studied attempts to reorder a wide range of musical relationships," on the other. Much of this literature recalls Schiller's celebrated distinction between naive and sentimental poetry:

If, in the latter, the sign remains always unassimilable and foreign to that which is signified, in the former the [poet's] speech proceeds of inner necessity from [his] thought and is so closely bound to it that the material realization does not conceal the informing spirit. When we speak of "the fruits of genius" or of "inspiration," we commonly envisage such a mode of expression, in which the sign is wholly merged with that which is signified and in which speech allows the thoughts that it expresses to remain naked, while the other mode of speaking cannot represent thoughts without disguising them.32

Schiller, who considered himself a "sentimental" poet, believed that the relationship between the sign and that which is signified, matter and spirit, or form and content, is one of unity for the "naive" (or "classical") artist. These relationships emerge as problems in societies that no longer nourish the spontaneous flowering of naïveté, although a poet of "genius" in any time and place remains "guided solely by nature and instinct."33 Schiller assumed that most human beings confront processes of increasing disorder, whether we look back to the allegedly "naive" art of ancient Greece or to the harmony with nature that supposedly marked our own childhood; in such circumstances, "our culture must lead us back to nature by way of reason and freedom."

Schiller's essay on naive and sentimental poetry is an important document in the history of the classic-romantic dichotomy, a history that extends from Goethe's and Schiller's discussions of literature to a large body of nineteenth-century writing about music. In his survey of the most important moments in this history, Friedrich Blume lays particular stress upon Goethe's understanding of the concepts "classic" and "romantic" as "no irreconcilable opposites, that basically . . . form a unity"—a viewpoint from which Blume derives his own notion that "the antinomy of necessity and freedom is surmounted and conquered in the classic work of art through the analogy between inner feeling and outward form."34 With the loss of the capacity for dialectical judgment (noted by Blume in German Romantic literature), the polarity between "classic" and "romantic" points of view hardened into a fundamental opposition, and the relationships between form and content, listener and composer, turned into insoluble problems. According to Blume, the dialectical processes of classic art demanded and respected "the listener's autonomy as co-creator," just as the later insistence upon a separation between "form" and "content" resulted from and increased the composer's isolation from his society.35

Theories that "music consists of tones" (or other "elements") have served to diminish "the listener's [and the performer's] autonomy as co-creator." Descriptions of musical "elements" or "components" that do not respect the options exercised by musicians and listeners fail for the same reason as do social theories that rest upon similar assumptions. The progress of the industrial and democratic revolutions in nineteenth-century Europe depended upon both the expansion of exports to colonial and semi-colonial markets and "the exploitation of labor which kept its incomes at subsistence levels, thus enabling the rich to accumulate the profits which financed industrialization."36 In support of these needs, bourgeois ideologists developed a concept of "human nature" that deliberately excluded the working classes as well as the colonized peoples of the world:

The man who had not shown the ability to accumulate property was not a full man, and could therefore hardly be a full citizen. . . . The massive contempt of the "civilized" for the "barbarians" (who included the bulk of the labouring poor at home) rested on this feeling of demonstrated superiority. The middle-class world was freely open to all. Those who failed to enter its gates therefore demonstrated a lack of personal intelligence, moral force or energy which automatically condemned them; or at best a historic or racial heritage which must permanently cripple them, or else they would already have made use of their opportunities. The period which culminated about the middle of the nineteenth century was therefore one of unexampled callousness, . . . because the poor, like the outer barbarians, were talked of as though they were not properly human at all.37

The belief that "the human world consisted of self-contained individual atoms with certain built-in passions and drives, each seeking above all to maximize his satisfactions and minimize his dissatisfactions,"38 required a denial of the humanity of colonized and laboring peoples. Discussions of musical "elements" or "motifs"—like descriptions of single "rational economic agents"—frequently ignore the larger networks of relationships within which particular musical events (or social actions) occur.39 In view of our need for a broader understanding of human capacities, musicologists should criticize modes of thought that oversimplify the acoustic and conceptual complexity of the choices made by musicians in specific situations.40

Although Schiller's concept of "naive" art is linked to various notions of "the classical," many writers have viewed "folk" and "popular" arts in similar terms. In Northrup Frye's use of the distinction between naive and sentimental, the former term signifies "primitive or popular, in the sense given those terms of an ability to communicate in time and space more readily than other types of literature" or art.41 The history of Schiller's dichotomy also extends to Max Weber's exploration of the distinction between Gemeinschaft (social action) and Gesellschaft (rationally regulated social action), and to Durkheim's examination of "mechanical" and "organic" solidarity. The musicological correlates of these distinctions include many discussions of "improvisation" as opposed to "composition," "oral" as opposed to "written" traditions, "open" as opposed to "fixed" forms.

We must ask ourselves what the various ideas of naïveté, genius, Gemeinschaft, or "the folk" tell us about the constraints faced by actual musicians, insofar as we can reconstruct these from analysis of historical, sociological, physiological, and musical evidence. An examination of the music composed by Schiller's contemporaries will reveal the inadequacy of his idea that the "naive" artist retains a direct link to "nature," undisturbed by social constraints.42 At the same time, the related notion that music-making within "folk" traditions involves a similar reliance upon unquestioned social "norms" seems equally unrealistic. We must at least ask how and to what end we become aware of these alleged norms.

The standardization of one type of framework (the establishment of a "norm" on one level) may focus the interest of musicians upon more variable relationships, as Nettl has pointed out:

The formal designs and scales of Arapaho [songs] generally exhibit less variation from one song to another than do melodic formulas and rhythmic ideas; consequently, the latter [features] are probably used with greater effect [by Arapaho composers] in determining the specific character of an individual song.43

Nettl's suggestion remains useful even if one is not always willing to abstract a "scale" from the pertinent "rhythmic ideas." It is dangerous to describe some aspect of a performance as "simple" or "redundant" unless one explores the possible functions of this "simplicity." This problem becomes more complex if we recognize the possibility that the ways in which distinctions among sounds affect a musician's grasp of their distribution in time (and vice versa) may change in the course of a single performance. In the event that such relationships do change, we may find it difficult to distinguish between "simple" and "complex" rhythms, since our concept of rhythm will encompass all of the forms of symmetry and asymmetry that we experience in the music. An equal pulse is not simple if we draw links among sounds on many levels of time.44 Similarly, an unequal pulse (often described as "free rhythm") may facilitate an understanding of links between particular timbres (in which case it is not "free").

In his attempts to discuss "deep structures" in music, John Blacking has refused to divorce scales and tone-rows from their rhythmic (and, consequently, social) contexts.45 Robin Cooper, on the other hand, suggests that "the abstract harmonic schema that underlies the typical 12-bar blues . . . might be seen as some musical deep structure from which actual well-formed 12-bar blues may be derived."46 The present writer doubts that the choices made by a successful performer of blues can be reproduced by considering rhythmic structure as a result of the transformations that lead from "deep" (harmonic schemes or 12-tone rows) to "surface" structures. Hornbostel's argument in "Melody and Scale" remains pertinent to present-day concerns.

I have argued that musicologists stand in a good position to assess the convergence and divergence between hypothetical accounts of the ways in which musicians and listeners within particular traditions learn to respond to musical and social demands, and analyses of our own problems in recognizing and responding to somewhat (but never entirely) similar demands. Ethnomusicologists cannot confine their theoretical concerns to the difficulties of the project discussed by Arthur Mendel in a paraphrase of Croce:

Do you wish to understand the true history of the Missa Pange lingua? Try, if you can, to become Josquin Desprez composing the Missa Pange lingua.47

We must also consider our relationship to the choices made by performers, listeners, and other persons involved with any musical work or performance. We need not attempt "to become" a composer, performer, or listener in a particular tradition, but we must recognize that every participant makes a series of decisions, though not necessarily (or even ideally) the same ones.

The achievements of comparative musicologists make it possible for us to formulate a law that no society may violate with impunity: musical perceptions imply responsibilities. Failure to accept these responsibilities deprives an individual or a group of the opportunities to acquire those capacities for rapid (as well as longer term) adaptation that music opens up.

1Geoffrey Barraclough, An Introduction to Contemporary History (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1967), p. 10.

2Ibid., p. 198.

3This term is borrowed from William K. Archer, "A Quodlibet for Saraswathi: Some Observations on the Possibilities and Limitations of Scientific Methods Applied to the Study of Artistic Values in Traditional Music," in Artistic Values in Traditional Music, ed. Peter Crossley-Holland (Berlin: International Institute for Comparative Music Studies and Documentation, 1966), p. 69.

4See the reflections of Klaus Wachsmann and George List on this topic, in Ethnomusicology, XV (1971), 381-84, 399-402.

5Frederic Bartlett, Thinking: An Experimental and Social Study (London: Allen & Unwin, 1958), pp. 13-14.

6Quoted from the French translation, La plaisanterie (Paris: Gallimard, 1968), p. 152. This chapter is not included in the English translation of The Joke (New York: Coward McCann, 1969).

7See, for example, Jacques Chailley, "Niveaux psychologiques dans l'assimilation du langage musical," in Festschrift für Walter Wiora (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1967), p. 41.

8See John Blacking, How Musical Is Man? (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1973), p. 4 and passim.

9My concern with the many possible types of connections among sounds is related to William Empson's position in Seven Types of Ambiguity (3rd ed., New York: New Directions, n.d.): "The fundamental situation, whether it deserves to be called ambiguous or not, is that a word or a grammatical structure is effective in several ways at once" (p. 2).

10See Alan Merriam, Ethnomusicology of the Flathead Indians (Chicago: Aldine, 1967), p. 170ff.

11In The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965), Karl Popper affirms that "the objectivity of scientific statements lies in the fact that they can be intersubjectively tested" (p. 44).

12This is Warren Weaver's definition of "information" in The Mathematical Theory of Communication (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1949), p. 9.

13Heinz Von Foerster, "Sounds and Music," in Music By Computers, ed. H. Von Foerster and J.W. Beauchamp (New York: Wiley, 1969), p. 9.


15See Joan Rimmer, Ancient Musical Instruments of Western Asia (London: The British Museum, 1969); Rimmer's review of Bachmann's The Origins of Bowing, in Notes, XXVIII (1971), 45-48; and Laurence Picken, Folk Musical Instruments of Turkey (London: Oxford University Press, 1975).

16This term is borrowed from Julian Steward, Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1955).

17William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (paperback ed., New York: New Directions, 1960), p. 6. I agree with Empson's view that "pastoral . . . is permanent and not dependent on a system of class exploitation."

18E.M. von Hornbostel, "Melodie und Skala," Jahrbuch der Musikbibliothek Peters, XIX (1912), 13-14; my translation.

19See, for example, the articles of William O. Beeman and Karl Signell in Asian Music, VII/2 (1976), 12, 73.

20Hornbostel, p. 21.


22Two excellent works that examine problems of timbral organization from a broad perspective are Robert Erickson, Sound Structure in Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975); Robert Cogan and Pozzi Escot, Sonic Design: The Nature of Sound and Music (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976). The latter is perhaps the first introductory text on music in which consideration of non-European musics is not confined to "a few supplementary chapters."

23J.H.K. Nketia, "African Music," in Peoples and Cultures of Africa, ed. E.P. Skinner (New York: Doubleday/Natural History Press, 1973), p. 588.

24James Koetting, "Analysis and Notation of West African Drum Ensemble Music," Selected Reports (UCLA Institute of Ethnomusicology), I/3 (1970), 132. The system of notation used in my Example 6 is a simplification of that employed and explained by Koetting.

25Hewitt Pantaleoni, "Three Principles of Timing in Anlo Dance Drumming," African Music, V/2 (1972), 58-59.

26Koetting (p. 137) writes that "while the function of the gong as a basic ensemble timing center must not be questioned, it would be a mistake to analyze all the patterns of a piece as though they had a primary timing relation to the gong." Pantaleoni (p. 58) mentions Koetting as one of those who "suggest that Africans build their rhythms by putting together various totals of [a] common small unit of time." Pantaleoni does not seem to have understood the ways in which Koetting was also concerned with "a larger system of timing."

27Mantle Hood, The Ethnomusicologist (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971), pp. 114ff, 237ff.

28Listen, for example, to the Guro horn ensemble on OCORA OCR 48, side A, band 3, and the Dan trumpet ensemble on Bärenreiter-Musicaphon BM 30 L 2301, side B, band 5.

29Nketia, p. 591.

30Quoted in Gary Giddins," An American Master Brings the Voodoo Home," The Village Voice, April 28, 1975, p. 124.

31Listen to Cecil Taylor, Silent Tongues (Arista-Freedom AL 1005).

32Friedrich Schiller, "Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung" (written 1795-96), in Schillers Werke, IV (Frankfurt: Insel, 1966), p. 298; my translation.

33Schiller, p. 296. For a discussion of similar notions of "musical genius" in 18th- and 19th-century literature, see Edward Lowinsky, "Musical Genius—Evolution and Origins of a Concept," Musical Quarterly, L (1964), 321-32.

34Friedrich Blume, Classic and Romantic Music: A Comprehensive Survey (New York: Norton, 1970), pp. 107, 10.

35Blume, pp. 107-23, 188-91. Compare Paul Henry Lang, Music in Western Civilization (New York: Norton, 1941), pp. 623, 878.

36E.J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution: Europe, 1789-1848 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962), pp. 33-39.

37Hobsbawm, p. 198.

38Hobsbawm, p. 235.

39In her discussion of T.W. Adorno's writings on Beethoven, Rose Subotnick speaks of "the musical subject" in Beethoven's second-period works as "the musical analogue of the free individual . . . which has mastered external constraint and dissent and determined its own destiny"; see her article "Adorno's Diagnosis of Beethoven's Late Style: Early Symptom of a Fatal Condition," Journal of the American Musicological Society, XXIX (1976), 248ff. Just as recent historians have examined the development of the 19th-century European economy in a global context, present-day musicians may find themselves interested in more than the development of the "subject" in Beethoven's music. I agree with Subotnick's observation that "Adorno is . . . culturally narrow, and it is at least conceivable that answers to his most anguished existential questions are available in cultures other than those descended, literally or spiritually, from the European Enlightenment" (p. 274).

40For an excellent discussion of the developing interest of 20th-century European composers in the "acoustic specificity" of non-European musics, see Jean-Claude Eloy, "Musiques d'Orient, notre univers familier," in La musique dans la vie, II (Paris, 1969), pp. 183-215.

41Northrup Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1957), pp. 367, 35.

42See Hermann Abert's profound study of Mozart's responsiveness to a large number of musical practices, in his W.A. Mozart (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1919-21).

43Bruno Nettl, "Zur Kompositionstechnik der Arapaho," Jahrbuch für musikalische Volks- und Völkerkunde, II (1966), 118; my translation.

44Messiaen fails to take this point into account when he defines "a rhythmic music" as "a music that rejects repetition, squareness, and equal divisions," then refers to J.S. Bach and most jazz musicians as "poor rhythmists." See Claude Samuel, Entretiens avec Olivier Messiaen (Paris: Pierre Belfond, 1967), p. 66ff.

45John Blacking, "Deep and Surface Structures in Venda Music," Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council, III (1971), 91-108.

46Robin Cooper, "Abstract Structure and the Indian Raga System," Ethnomusicology, XXI (1977), 5.

47Arthur Mendel, "Evidence and Explanation," in Report of the Eighth Congress of the International Musicological Society, New York, 1961 (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1962), Vol. II, p. 15ff.

2680 Last modified on November 12, 2018