On musical evolution: FWD

Subject: On musical evolution: FWD
From: Kevin Austin (kevin.austin@videotron.ca)
Date: Thu Mar 03 2005 - 07:44:53 EST


Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 17:00:04 -0500
From: Al Bregman <bregman@HEBB.PSYCH.MCGILL.CA>
Subject: Re: Pitch in a non-animate world

Dear Christian and list,

I completely agree with you. Like you, I have noticed the fact that
in the natural environment in which our ancestors evolved (no
machines or other human artifacts), almost all periodic sounds are
from animals. The exception might be wind whistling through tree
branches, or the examples you cited.

I also agree with you that it is likely that many of the behaviors
that produce such sounds co-evolved with communication and served
that function from early on -- I am thinking, for example, of the
mating calls of crickets. Of course, this evolution for sonic
communication went along with the evolution of visual communication
(e.g., the color patterns in squids, or the mating displays of birds
and possibly of earlier dinosaurs, or the displays of mammals such as
the size of the antlers of deer), chemical communication (insects,
scents of mammals in heat), and tactile communication (e.g., in the
communication between a mammalian mother and her nursing infants).

Auditory communication has a number of advantages over these other
forms. As opposed to visual communication, it passes around
interposed objects, such as trees or rocks, retaining most of the
important information (except, sometimes, for place of origin). At
low frequencies, such as those used by elephants, it can be heard
very far away. As opposed to tactile communication, it works even
when the animals aren't in proximity. As opposed to chemical
communication carried by scent, it is capable of forming rapidly
changing temporal patterns. These unique capabilities of sound have
probably affected the way in which its use has evolved.

The advantage of the use of pitch in communication is the very fact
that it is not likely to have arisen accidentally from
non-communicative events; so a pitch implies a communicative event --
not necessarily one involving your own species. So recognition
processes would have to sort them out. Of course, for any animal of
even modest intelligence, the recognition that another species
(predator or prey) is communicating close to you can also have vital



Albert S. Bregman, Emeritus Professor
Psychology Dept., McGill University
1205 Docteur Penfield Avenue
Montreal, Quebec
Canada H3A 1B1

      Voice: +1 (514) 398-6103
      Fax: +1 (514) 398-4896

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