More (selected) correspondence on the
Neanderthal Flute Essay:

The VALIDITY of ETHNOMUSICOLOGY

[Last update May 2004]

The following sampling of correspondence is published
for the insight it provides into the field of ethnomusicology
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Subject: Re: Origins (of Music) Conference (Florence, Italy):
Date: Tue, 17 Jun 1997
From: trehub@erin.utoronto.ca (Sandra Trehub)
[Sandra Trehub is one of the authors of a noted study on musically untutored babies, showing that they prefer harmony to dissonance.]
To: Bob Fink
I just returned from Italy, having taken the opportunity to visit friends once I was overseas. The Florence meetings were very interesting but barely scratched the surface of music (unless bird "song" and whale "song" are accorded musical status, as many conference attendees were ready to do).
The meetings focused largely on the evolution of communication in general, with relatively little attention accorded to human language and music. Apparently, music will be at centre stage in subsequent meetings that are planned. I downloaded your fascinating article on the bone flute some time ago (from the Internet) and mentioned it in my presentation (even had transparencies of your illustrations). I also mentioned (and played a sample of) the Kilmer, Crocker, & Brown song.
Later, Bruno Nettl told me that ethnomusicologists reject the Kilmer et al. interpretation but I never learned why. Unfortunately, the meeting was dense with presentations and very light on discussion time, impeding the exchange of information across disciplines.
(Later June 17): I did receive a copy of your 1985 essay, which I enjoyed reading. Another finding in my lab (in collaboration with Glenn Schellenberg) that would be hard to explain on a straight learning basis: Infants heard transposed repetitions of either (a) the ascending-descending major scale or (b) the ascending-descending equal-step scale (octave divided into 7 equal steps). Their task was to detect a 3/4 semitone change in one note of either scale. Infants were able to detect the change only in the context of the major scale. I think it highly unlikely that 6-month-olds have induced the major scale from the music around them. Had such learning occurred, it would have to have a biological basis in any case. Sandra
University of Toronto, Erindale Campus Mississauga, Ontario, CANADA L5L 1C6
TEL:(905) 828-5415 FAX:(905) 569-4326 .
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To: Sandra Trehub From Bob Fink June 17 1997
Dear Sandra:
Thank you for your e-mail.
The reasons why ethnomusicologists are dismissive of Kilmer's results (tho' not all are, I'm sure) is because they are motivated by a laudable, but over-zealous, desire to avoid ethnocentrism. That is, they are always suspicious of any conclusions that tout the diatonic scale (or even the pentatonic) as having any "natural" foundation because:
a) They believe it may be a subjective attempt to justify "western" musical superiority by saying western music's scale foundations are the best, most "advanced" musical system (which is anathema to them as they hold each musical system must be judged exclusively from the internal standards of any culture, tribe, group, people or locale, and because they hate the term "primitive" and downplay almost any evolutionary stages to music), and
b) they are not very inter-disiplinary: They (generally) know very little about the physics of sound (Helmholtz and acoustics), physiology, biology, anthropology, and evolution. They tend to support cultural and psychological relativism and conditioning as fundamental processes of human behavior (and most human behavior is conditioned, but not all.)
In my opinion, both Kilmer's findings and the evidence that the Neanderthal flute may be diatonic is ALSO evidence that so-called "western" musical foundations are decidedly NOT western after all! So much for ethnocentricism.
And secondly, I cannot accept that the scale's historic development with its immense number of parallels to acoustics and mounting evidence in other disciplines (such as yours) is all coincidence.
In Kilmer's case, (as I understand it) the match-up of the number of syllables with the number of notes carved into the clay tablets (a match-up which resulted once they assumed a harmonic structure existed in the song) was too hard to accept as coincidence -- especially when it also led to finding the harmonies were mostly thirds [like ancient English gymel and various African music samples found in Nettl's own work, Music in Primitive Cultures] -- and (the assumption) led ALSO to the diatonic scale. How much "coincidence" are we supposed to ignore??
The only other explanation is that Kilmer consciously engineered her data with Crockett in order to produce pre-biased conclusions -- which, knowing Kilmer, is totally impossible to believe.
To me, ethnomusicologist's rejections are a die-hard phenomena. You can also check out the net again: http://www.greenwych.ca/natbasis.htm under the part called "An Evolutionary Process in Progress."
Like you, I think I find question and discussion often more interesting and enlightening than an overload of presentations. Thanks very much for writing.
--Bob Fink
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Subject: thank you
Date: Thu, 17 Apr 1997
From: Elliott Hansen
To: Greenwich
All of these rightous "musicians" who love constant atonality now have yet another piece of evidence which says that they are wrong. I'm a music major at Boise State University. When I told them about the November, I think it is, issue of Discover, which sights the Toronto study (See Sandra Trehub letter above) of babies responding to tonality, the teacher made a joke, laughed, and the whole class laughed at me. FOR TELLING THE TRUTH? A little knowledge is dangerous. Combine that with a lot of atonality and there's trouble. Thank you for the truth.
--billhelmke@hotmail.com
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25 Jun 1997 From: Dr. T. Temple Tuttle t.tuttle@bones.asic.csuohio.edu
To: greenwich
I have recently been forwarded your article on a Neanderthal flute, and wondered if you are for real, or a delayed April Fool's Day joke. There are so many ethnocentric and acoustical errors, I thought it must be the latter.
Why do you presuppose a seven-note system? Why do you construct your scales ascending? Why do you consider hole size but not their lateral placement? Other than the Hebrew gymel (vocal), what evidence do you have for instrumental harmony in early cultures? Why do you indicate that the major scale is generally the preferred mode, when even today it is not, internationally? Why do you consider the comma a measure of error, when it is part of some extant tuning systems (see India's 22-srutis)? When figuring pitches by ratios, how can you deal with the missing portions of your specimen?
If a joke, then "HA-HA!". If serious, let's tawk! [My current research deals with misinformation regarding the pitches and functions of 16th century lithophones in south India.] Best wishes, and no offense intended,
--Tom Tuttle
Music Department College of Arts and Sciences Cleveland State University
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Jun 25 1997 From Bob Fink To: "Dr. T. Temple Tuttle"
Dear Tom Tuttle:
You wrote: "Why do you presuppose a seven-note system."
The issue of the essay was whether the notes playable by the bone artifact would match any of the notes in the (widespread) scales we know of:
a) the whole-tone pentatonic,
b) the diatonic or
c) the equal-spaced scales that would be arrived at by spacing holes equally to suit finger widths.
Since the holes were unequally spaced, c) was ruled out.
The Pentatonic was ruled out because of the half-tone spacing.
The holes were spaced so that given the full length of the bone (attested by paleontologists), the notes would play 4 notes matching a portion of the scale we know as diatonic. This DOESN'T PROVE they had the whole scale nor that they intended to produce any part of such a scale. But the odds (worked out in the essay's appendix) are FAR LIKELIER THAN NOT, that it wasn't a chance arrangement nor intended to match some hitherto unknown or unusual scale.
You wrote: "Why do you construct your scales ascending?"
I construct only one scale (not scales), the standard modern diatonic, in order to have a mathematical model of the scale to which I compare the bone. There is nothing assumed about acending. I could have as easily written out the scale and the charts from right to left (mirror image) and the conclusions would remain unaltered.
However, in the match #1, the somewhat off-tuned "do" (I have to call it something) indicates the next note (re) could have been a flattened 2nd (as is found commonly in various cultures) due to a descending or downward "leading note." Therefore, I have not assumed anything about ascending nor descending, nor is it relevant to my asking if the notes could match our modern acoustic (non-tempered) diatonic.
You wrote "Why do you consider hole size but not their lateral placement?"
The holes are in line -- there is little lateral displacement. Nor are hole sizes given much consideration either. I have no idea what your point is nor why you ask this question.
You wrote: "Other than the Hebrew gymel (vocal), what evidence do you have for instrumental harmony in early cultures?"
There is nothing in the essay that I recall that refers to the existence of harmony in Neanderthal cultures nor in connection to this bone flute. However, aside from the bone itself, there is evidence of early harmony other than gymel.
See: http://www.greenwych.ca/evidence.htm and http://www.greenwych.ca/sherlock.htm.
You wrote: "Why do you indicate that the major scale is generally the preferred mode, when even today it is not, internationally?"
Statistically, by quantitatively considering ALL the music in the world played today (including popular music, rock & roll, etc. INCLUDING when it is played widely in counties other than its origin (e.g., sales of cassettes and records and 45 rpms in China, Africa, the Near East and etc.), I think it's pretty obvious that the major scale predominates over the minor far more today than it probably did in history, when perhaps (I haven't tried to study this quantitatively) the minor scale predominated.
However, if you say that the minor scale is "preferred" more than major, than that, if true, actually SUPPORTS my argument regarding match #2 being 4 notes that could fit into a minor scale (IF the Neanderthals had the whole scale, which cannot be known, except that there IS a good probability for it).
You wrote: "Why do you consider the comma a measure of error...?"
In the essay's appendix, a margin of error had to be given in order to work out the odds for the hole spacings on the bone to have occured by chance. If we assumed that a hole couldn't be off by any amount of error at all, that would impute to Neanderthals a state of workmanship equal to or greater than the 1/10,000 of an inch found in modern computerized machine shops. That would be absurd.
If we assumed a too large amount of error, than one could legitimately ask whether the hole would have been a non-match (out of tune) well within or long before this large of a distance error was reached.
Therefore, consulting with ear-testers, acoustic psychologists and other texts, we decided that the present-day common biological "average" for what an untrained (common) ear would notice was "out of tune" (from whatever note was intended) would be a pythagorean comma -- and even in this regard, "out of tune" historically (for the diatonic scale) has had different tolerances, depending upon what area of the scale was involved:
Namely, the third and seventh notes can be further out of tune than other notes in the scale before objections to the tuning occurred.
This would make an excellent subject for further direct physiological testing among people who are accustomed to the diatonic scale
However -- all that aside -- we felt safe with an error in the neighborhood of a comma.
You wrote: "When figuring pitches by ratios, how can you deal with the missing portions of your specimen?"
I have no idea what this question means. What do you specifically mean by "missing portions?" Notes? Bone length? Or? ---Bob Fink
See also: http://www.greenwych.ca/natbasis.htm.
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From: "Dr. T. Temple Tuttle" To: greenwich Date: Wed, 25 Jun 1997
Dear Bob:
I questioned a seven-note system, since much of early chant (and some present chant) involves only three or four notes...even when a full seven- or eight-note repertoire of notes is available. [Somehow, I would expect Neanderthal music to be nearer to chant than Schubert.]
From other examples, I tend to associate equally-spaced holes to suit finger widths with rhythmically-oriented flute playing.
The Pentatonic is not a single scale, but may be anhemitonic (but based on diatonic), or equitonic (where the scale is divided into five approximately equal portions). A hemitonic-pentatonic scale cannot be ruled out without additional holes being present.
So I not only agree with the majority of your scalar conclusions, I certainly embrace your statement that it wasn't a chance arrangement.
Is a four-tone scale, not including an octave of the fundamental (tonic) note, a "hitherto unknown or unusual scale"? Perhaps not then, as now with Vedic chant in India.
Your term "match" is appropriate, I believe, for one would expect a musical practice to become normative vocally first, then matched on an instrument.
I wrote: "Why do you construct your scales ascending?" to remind you that the Greek modes, for example, were conceived descending. One can construct a model based upon the highest note. (In the Greek example, the added "low" note [proslambanomenos] was held highest on the kithara. Several Eastern instruments, particularly pitched ideophones, are held with the highest pitch physically the lowest.)
I guess I have gotten over-sensitive about musicologists who do not know or present the debt of Western Art Music, to African and Mideastern precedents.
In the match #1, IF we presume "the somewhat off-tuned "do"" is indeed "in tune", the next note (re) is a flattened 2nd which is found commonly in various cultures, AS AN AESTHETIC CHOICE, NOT due to a descending or downward "leading note." [The raga determined to be the best to teach children and older beginners is Mayamalavagoula, consisting of T, 1/2,1-1/2, 1/2, 1, 1/2, 1-1/2, 1/2. This is the same is ascent and descent.]
Hole size is important, but lateral displacement is required to prevent nodes from occuring in the area removed for a hole. The holes being in line -- with little lateral displacement is to be expected.
I do say that the minor scale is "preferred" more than major, particularly in historical perspective. Yes, I actually SUPPORT your argument regarding match #2 being 4 notes that could fit into a minor scale. [Or could constitute a 4-tone scale for chant!.] The comma as a measure of error is rather common. But it has also been used in a positive way for constructing scale systems in the East. I prefer to use a non-aesthetic term, such as Hz., for scientific speculation about sound, since it avoids ethnocentrism and the "basic truths" of Western Arts Music.
In more realistic terms for the caveman: What sounds OK by accepted norms? The present-day common biological "average" for what an untrained (common) ear would notice was "out of tune" (from whatever note was intended) may be more or less acute than that of the caveman. (I wonder how much damage these young people do to their hearing in Rock Wheels? Once I wandered too close to a speaker tower, sitting in on a Chicago performance at Atlantic City, and I lost hearing in my right ear for over two days!)
I would accept the Pythagorean comma as a measure of being "out of tune". However, I have found that one may train their ear to an acuity which surpasses that standard. The 22-sruti system of South India requires accuracy to < +/- 1/2 comma.(Furthermore, I have been working with a recording engineer on my lithophone project, aiming at 1/3 Hz as a tolerance.)
You were safe with an error in the neighborhood of a comma.
I specifically meant bone length (=flute length). But not to flog a tired dog, so thanks for the chat. I would love to see the artifact in person. And any time you run across anything about lithophones (or phonoliths), do not hesitate to run to your keyboard! Best personal regards --
Tom Tuttle
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Jun 25 1997 From: Bob Fink To: t.tuttle@mail.asic.csuohio.edu .
Dear Tom:
You'll have to go to Slovenia, I'm afraid, to see the original bone.
I do agree the youth are destroying their hearing.
A copy of my book on the origin of music might be in the Cleveland public library (as The Universality of Music or The Origin of Music). In that book I have large tracts devoted to Greek music, modes, descending scales, et al. There may be copies as well (if not in Cleveland) at Columbus Publ Lib., Ohio State Univ. Lib., and U. of Cinncinati -- in case you really want to look it up.
Rest assured I am among those who believe that cultural conditioning represents the fundamental means of human learning. We are virtually clean slate-boards when we are born and society writes us as it will
But, that said, there still is a small base of natural influences upon our senses, including hearing, which I believe affect the development of the arts to greater or lesser degrees.
We are looking at Neanderthal ears -- which likely were like ours -- but we may never know. And we are looking at 43,ooo years ago -- that may as well be another planet!!
So the conclusions I've drawn are really based more on other issues than just on this bone, regarding any natural basis to the diatonic scale. Unless this bone flute is meant to reflect some unknown prehistoric pentatonic with semitones in it, then I tend to believe it may be evidence of natural acoustic influences pushing for the diatonic. But this bone is not proof -- just a probability of a reasonable magnitude. We could only know for sure if they ever find the rest of that flute -- or an intact one somewhere else.
--Bob
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Jul 08 1997 From: Langley langley@fenetre.co.uk
To: greenwich
Dear Bob Fink,
I have just read through your entries re: origins of music and ancient flutes, etc. There is so much I want to ask you and, I hope, contribute to your symposium.
But first may I ask: are you aware of the 'feline carved from reindeer horn' on page 7 of the 1962 edition of the Larousse Encyclopaedia of Prehistoric and Ancient Art? It is supposed to be from the Franco-Cantabrian Palaeolithic age, and the 5 visible holes in it are claimed to be symbolic spear and arrow holes. As a wind-instrument maker, it is obvious to me that this is a wind instrument, probably a vessel-flute.
I am in fact a maker of pottery ocarinas. An academic friend of mine researched ancient ocarinas in South America and found many unattributed vessel-flutes in museums. Ignorance of the musical nature of some ancient objects is widespread.
Now one reason I am contacting you is to ask if you have considered whether your flute fragment might have been end-stopped - i.e. a vessel-flute. If it was, then the pitch-changes produced by the holes will be completely different from those of a straight open-ended flute or whistle. If you have considered the possibility and rejected it, fine.
But if I can help at all concerning the extraordinarily complex science of hole-size, hole-position and interior form of vessel as these variables relate to pitch, then please let me know. I have conducted many experiments over the past 20 years, and know how little I know. But what little I know is at your service.
May I say how thrilling it is to find someone looking seriously at the origins of music? It's almost as if there has been some sort of taboo on the subject. Yours melodically, -- John Langley.
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Jul 08 1997 From: Bob Fink To: langley@fenetre.co.uk
Dear John:
I haven't heard of nor seen the horn you write about. I would love to see a picture of it, even measurements as well, if they are available. My fax # is 306-244 0795. I doubt if the Larousse book you mention is in our library. But I'll check. (I own only the Larousse Int'l Illus. Dictionary.)
What is "obvious" to us (I am frequently reminded) must be carefully examined for bias. Even whether this ancient bone is a flute has been denied. To me, it's obviously a flute. But I've been forced to defend the obvious as if it wasn't obvious. Perhaps the horn could be denied as a flute as well, unless we can defend the obvious there as well.
As far as the open-closed ends issue goes, Match #2 in the essay assumes an open-ended flute. Match # 1 in the essay considers that it could have been a closed flute.
The normal length of a femur is quite long. So we felt it was reasonable to assume that it was not part of a short ocarina type instrument. However, it COULD have been. We'll never know unless they find the rest of the object.
Where I deal with issues of "could have been" is where I tried my best to obtain reasonably accurate probabilities for certain statements in this essay.
What I have held as conclusive in the essay is that the holes are consistent with those of a diatonic scale scale (IF the flute is long enough).
What I held as probable is that the hole spacing reflects not so much an ocarina or 4 or 5 note scale with a half-tone (or other pitches if it was a short flute), but a larger scale, likely parallel to the diatonic. I can't conclude this, but hold it probable, for reasons in the correspondence (note: there are 3 web pages of it), and especially in http://www.greenwych.ca/natbasis.htm.
There I pointed to the widespread cross-cultural fact of pentatonic and 7-note diatonic scales in our own history (and the acoustic basis for these scales) as justification for the probabilities being higher regarding the Neanderthal bone matching a diatonic rather than matching a more obscure or hitherto unknown scale.
I held match #2 as probable (open-end minor scale) over match #1 (major, closed end), because removing marrow is easier when the ends are broken off (rather than drilling holes when marrow is still in the bone, and sucking it out). And also because the dimensions of the fit are closer to an acoustic scale than the dimensions of match #1.
In the intro/summary of the essay, I had to make decisions about all the other pitch-related factors you mentioned ["the extraordinarily complex science of hole-size, hole-position and interior form of vessel"] and as you read, I felt they were real factors, but possibly cancelling each other out and likely not significant enough to cancel our conclusion of a pitch-match to the diatonic (again PROVIDED the bone was from 32-38cm long).
Besides, how on earth could one measure these effects without the entire bone? Having said that, I and my partner, Mike Finley, nevertheless would be interested in receiving copies of the work and experiments you've done (or a summary of it) on these matters as we certainly have developed a need to understand this ever since we embarked on this essay.
Someday, I expect a replica will be made of the old bone (43,400 yrs old, current estimate). At various lengths, it will be blown, and we'll see what the pitches really are. The best I could do was to simply work with the hole spacings translated onto a straight irish flute (tin whistle) barrel.
And you're right: It IS "as if there has been some sort of taboo on the subject." I think there actually has been -- especially by those ethnomusicologists who are most prone to downplaying that music has undergone "evolution." They dislike that idea as it leads to what they fear most: That non-literate societies' music will be also be branded "primitive" or judged "inferior" against some evolutionary time-line of progressive change toward "final perfection." They prefer -- sometimes fanatically -- to "judge" a people's music only (or mostly) on its own culturally-internal terms, and avoid comparisons to any other cultures' music, especially to "western" musical scales. I try to point out that this Neanderthal find makes the diatonic (if that's what the Neanderthals had) NON-WESTERN!! But to little avail.
Anyway, the word "origin" implies an evolution and comparisons that they'd rather resist; And they also add: "why bother with origins? It's all speculative and we weren't there, and can never really know anyway." Of course, I've never agreed with all of that.
--Bob Fink
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EXCERPTS from AN ETHNOMUSICOLOGY
DISCUSSION LIST MAR 99
After reading material from the webpage on the natural bases of scales (http://www.greenwych.ca/natbasis.htm), the following excerpted exchanges occurred (with a few editorial additions for clarity for non "in-group" readers):
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Victor G. (names withheld) wrote to Bob Fink:
"But your whole approach seems impossibly amateurish to me, especially the way you have of ignoring a whole very long and very complex history, drastically oversimplifying an extremely subtle and complex set of problems...."
More recently, Chris W. wrote:
"There is perhaps a misunderstanding about 'evolution' as a scientific notion....An ever-ascending scale of complexity is not part of the theory; things just change. Evolution in the sense of 'upward development' is part of the misreading of Darwin beloved by Margaret Thatcher and her ilk...."
Bob Fink replied:
I also think there have been a number of misunderstandings in this debate about truth and universals and evolution.
First, concerning oversimplification:
Let's use an astronomy analogy: Ptolemy's complex planetary motions were in a figure-8 and other tortured paths because his view was based on earth as the center of the solar system. When Copernicus corrected this with a "sun-is-center" concept which provided simple circular orbits for the planets, clearly, Copernicus COULD be taken severely to task for being "facile" or for "overly simplifying matters" because it turns out the sun is NOT exactly in the center, nor are the orbits of the planets really simply circular (nor is the earth really "round," for that matter). But for purposes of the GENERAL correction of overly complex and convoluted Ptolemaic views or flat-earth concepts, a simplified overview represents an advance of knowledge and is justified.
ALL simplification is "over"-simplification -- and must always be inexact (therefore inaccurate), or at least an approximation. However, in human debate about broad concepts (universals; "big picture", etc) it would be impossible to avoid simplifications without being interminably verbose regarding details, qualifications, exceptions, etc.
Indeed, in ethnomusicology as in astronomy, any bad overview theory or approach can be made to "work" if it piles on a large enough number of "complex" exceptions to the underlying premises or adds numerous "subtle" side explanations, until it becomes clear its LACK of simplicity shows something IS wrong with the patchwork job.
Victor G. wrote:
"The notion of "dissonance" is relatively recent and very Western. Many societies clearly take pleasure in intervals that would have been considered dissonant and unacceptable by certain other societies....you...identify yourself as hopelessly ethnocentric...."
Bob Fink wrote:
Dissonance is NOT a recent notion. Athenaeus refers to it as do other ancient writers, although not exactly with the same term -- but the fact that cultures even tune their instruments or have rejected certain harmonies implies "out-of-tune"-ness as a kind of "dissonance concept." As I recall, the Greek philosopher Pythagoras described certain natural harmonies or intervals as being fundamentally pleasing more than 2,500 years ago. [You can't note pleasing consonances without also having a notion of dissonance any more than you can have a magnet with only a single pole. They come into existence together.]
What is simplistic is what many in this debate say "belongs" to the west ("our scale," etc). The diatonic scale is not "ours" and not modern nor western, as shown by being found in the modes of ancient Greek scales and elsewhere; by Kilmer's work on the oldest known song; and by the hole-pattern in the recently found Neanderthal Flute.
On Victor's point that many societies take pleasure in the use of what we call dissonance:
No kidding? How did I miss that? Actually, Westerners, too, gladly use dissonance -- which I suppose proves we eschew any notion of pleasant/unpleasant tonal combinations; or make no distinction between noisy and musical? Of course, it doesn't prove that, but then why does it get cited as proof for that same conclusion when discussing other cultures? Are they too simple for such similar dialectic finesse and multifacetness? The point is not that there are no dialectical, complex or contradictory practices in the world. The point is to understand how they play out over time, and if that process reveals universals at work, and what they are.
Writing about the experiment by Trehub, Schellenberg and co., showing babies prefer harmonies and dislike dissonance, Steven Strauss of the Globe & Mail reported: "The golden note combinations and octaves are everywhere. 'I haven't found a musical system which doesn't have a perfect fifth,' Prof. Trehub said in an interview. Even something as notoriously 'dissonant' as a bagpipe has perfect fifth tones droning underneath its sounds. In some music systems, notably that of Javanese music, the perfect fifth is a little less perfect than other places, but Prof. Schellenberg believes that it is close enough for the ear to perceive it as harmonious."
When you further consider the advent of harmony (in which there has been use of only the chords of the tonic, dominant(5th) and subdominant (4th)) to harmonize all the notes in most of the folk melodies known, this further underscores that these three notes and their overtones were fundamental influences in the formation of the scale's notes. Even the names that evolved for them are perfect representations of their acoustic role, even though the names ("dominant" "sub-dominant" & keynote/tonic) were also coined by people without acoustical knowledge.
The parallels between acoustics with the widespread pentatonic and diatonic scales is too much coincidence to be coincidence, and needs to be explained, not called names like that dreaded ethnocentric right-wing Thatcheristic Darwinism again. Or does that alone prove it's all untrue? [Or is it: screw the truth if Margaret believes in it too? Odd, I always thought I was left-wing and politically correct, too.]
Gage A. wrote:
"In case anyone has missed it, Bob Fink's basic shtick is that "atonal" music was a bad idea. Everything that I have seen of his in print seems obliquely aimed at combatting any kind of logic that would support decaphonic serialism."
Reply: What "obliquely"? I have never hidden my attitude about 2oth century atonal music.
Between Gage and Victor, I note the accumulation of a number of words applied to me as a person: "amateurish; ethnocentric; backward; hopeless; naive; specious; illogical;" and many other literary constructs designed to create ridicule and innuendo, and to "get" that "Badd Bobb" dude and give each other medals and commendations for guarding the gate. [They actually DID congratulate each other like old warriors back from some great and noble war:
["Splendid post," old boy, wrote Victor in response to Gage.
[And they probably wrote each other: "I say! Let's clean up & retire to the club for a well-deserved nightcap." I wouldn't be surprised if they consoled themselves for the horrible pain & suffering they endured at the hands of such a terrible threat to decency as myself:
["Hope your wounds weren't too bloody, old chap! Good show, brave lad!" After all, Victor DID really write that my heinous assault on truth and justice was "like a knife to my throat.... When you have a knife to your throat you fight back with all you've got."
[Gage had characterized my view thus: "I have to complement Victor G. for taking on the [ugly?] task of exposing the soft underbelly of this so-called 'research.' " Gage failed to add: "Dirty work, but someone has to do it." Probably thought it, though.
[Gage wrote that the views "Bob Fink prodigiously promotes...are, in my opinion, a house of cards employing facts, pseudo-facts, ideology, polemic, guesswork, and wishful thinking." But Gage never was willing to be speciific as to *what* "pseudo-facts" existed, what guesswork, what "ideology" he had in mind. I wonder why....]
I have refrained from replying with the same kind of personal attack, character-assassination techniques and outright falsehoods about me that are being used in place of arguments and facts. Ideas and facts is what I wanted to discuss, not ME. But you force the issue.
For example, Gage wrote:
"I have to stress that Fink is interpreting from commercial, valved, 20th century flutes back to Neanderthal flutes."
Reply: Now that is a *flat-out fabrication!!*
Gage cannot show anything I wrote anywhere that indicates that, but it sure makes me look silly to falsely claim it without a shred of evidence. Making me look silly seems to be the name of the game, as it is less work than rational argument or actually reading or understanding what I wrote. I used and made simple flutes exactly like Irish whistles and simple ancient flutes. There were no valves, and NEVER has the word "valve" appeared in ANY of my writings!! [I clearly explained all this several times in the correspondence on line after the essay and in the essay, but "thorough scholar" Gage never read enough to understand the truth before leaping to condemn and vilify.]
I note that, like TV commercials, which love to say "studies show" without naming the studies or quoting from them in some relevant manner, Gage claims that "studies have shown that babies have already internalized some elements of musical logic by the time they are born," and then proceeds NOT to name the study nor to quote from any of them. Well I don't deny that as a remote possibility anyway. The point is the shoddy meanness in the method of debate. So, WHAT studies, Gage?? And what DO they say?
Gage wrote:
"I am assuming that Fink is quoting himself in his own press release in which he is portrayed as the 'expert'...."
Reply: Why do you assume that Gage, when YOU CAN'T KNOW THAT!! -- and certainly when I never refer to myself with the word "expert," EVER.
How easy it is to create a straw man argument (that was never mine in the first place) and then proceed to tear it to shreds.
How convenient it is to dismiss all the archaeologists, psychologists musicologists and linguists whenever they come up with ANY evidence suggesting conclusions that Gage and Victor don't like [which doesn't fit their apparent socio-political line].
Like: Oldest known song was "diatonic"? Nah. Or "so what?" Meaningless!
Oldest known flute holes consistent with do re mi fa? "Nah, so what." Besides, you suggest, the holes were formed when the bone was bitten into randomly by animals (neatly all the same diameter, all in a neat lined-up order, and matching the do, re, mi fa spacings of simple flutes -- and this is RANDOM BITING? Gimme a break!!
The chances of that possibility being random were worked out mathematically in my essay by Mike Finley to be 1 chance in 600 [not counting the 1 in 1o,ooo odds for the holes to line-up in any scale-like formation]. And the holes couldn't have been made by the animals which critics suggested did the biting, according to Ivan Turk's monograph. A "Sherlock," Gage isn't!
Many acoustic parallels exist to widespread pentatonic and diatonic scales? "Ahh, So what?" you say.
I saw the holes and wondered how long the original broken bone flute was. If it was able to play do re mi fa from those holes, it had to be a certain length. Looking at a modern Irish whistle, the needed length (or mouthpiece extension to the bone) would have to total 30 or so cm. Could such a bone be that long? Paleo-museum people said yes. As the holes were in line, and like most other ancient flutes, it was a reasonable assumption of length, but I have always stressed CLEARLY for all to read that I had no "proof," just a likelihood. And that's "backward logic"?
Speaking of detectives, Gage, they all use what you call "backward" logic -- they "re-construct" from the present backward. Here is a dead body of Mr. Serialism. Who killed it? How did it die? Let's examine it to answer the quest for an explanation. Or: Here is a scale. How did it get those properties, spacings, etc? Over here are basic acoustic fundamentals, and they seem to cut the same tones out of the infinite continuum of possible tones as do the scales we see so widespread in history. What a coincidence!!  Or real clues? "But it can't mean anything," chime our scholars. Then why rail against it so hysterically?
By the way, the old bone could play the MIDDLE refrain's 4 notes of Danny Boy (or do, re, mi, fa). I was mistaken in referring to them as the "opening" notes in my original news release.
Enough!! Arguing with Victor and Gage is like swimming in tar. You guys read a few headlines, news releases or subheads of mine, and your knees jerked. What scholarship.
(Full texts of these exchanges available on request -- E-mail at bottom)
Bob Fink
See also: An ethnomusicology discussion sparked by 9,ooo yr-old flute find
 
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.
FINAL NOTES
(The notes below were written prior to the dates of the ethnomusicology discussion excerpt above. Note how all the conclusions below were amazingly borne out by that excerpt.)
 
Some ethnomusicologists in convention:
"Do," see, hear & sound no ethnocentric "evils"

This correspondence, and teachings over the years from ethnomusicologists, exhibit general similarities, especially these:
a) the aspect of habitually accusing others of "ethnocentricism";
b) reference to other scales, like pelog scales, Javanese gamelan, in which scale notes are not tuned to acoustic intervals, & references to flutes and scales (like the Slendro--see Appendix in book: Origin of Music) that contain equally spaced intervals (or holes) to refute any natural bases to scales;
d) some resistance to even acknowledge that the Neanderthal Flute is a flute; and
d) to deny the findings of Kilmer that the oldest song (Hurrian chant from Ur, 4,ooo years old) was diatonic and had harmonies of thirds, and to ignore the studies by Trehub, Schellenberg & Co, or any similar studies by anyone else. As pointed out in some of my replies, there seems to be an "official line" among them (indeed, among academic musicologists as well as ethnomusicologists).
e) to insist universally, and I believe incorrectly, that the diatonic scale is "our scale" or a "western" scale rather than a scale inherited from antiquity and from the effects of acoustics upon hearing and the development of music.
.
In my experience with the field of ethnomusicology since I was a student in the 1960's, not to mention the current correspondence, this line has become increasingly apparent to me.
Apparently based on a desire to avoid ethnocentricism, Ethnomusicologists have taken that desire to such an extreme, that anything that MIGHT seem to indicate a natural foundation to scales or that indicates a musical development that is outside of any culture, "above" culture or acting upon musical culture over time, -- cannot be true or acceptable on the face of it, or is at least suspect, as it subjugates (in the ethnomusicologists' eyes) the internal integrity and self-justification of the music within any cultural group or time period to the possibility that an external "judgement" or comparison, or that an evolutionary "placement" (e.g., "primitive"), could also be laid upon that culture's music (even if such judgement is never made).
They also seem to accept, with some variation, the Skinnerian concept that humanity is a totally blank chalk-board, and anyone can be conditioned to become or do anything as there are virtually no "instincts" or other pre-"wired" aspects to human behavior. Look at the wide variety of what humans are capable of and one could easily conclude that Skinner seems to be right.
However, even though among some ethnomusicologists this view has been tempered, by lip service to some natural "pushes" in the arts and music, nevertheless, whenever these admitted natural pushes are actually mentioned, or if confronted by specific or new findings, their resistance seems to remain obsessively and dogmatically entrenched. They legitimately warn of the danger of ethnocentricism, but rarely are willing to seriously test the truth of new findings.
This reflects on the ability of the discipline to advance and on the quality of scientific objectiveness or, at least, on their level of reasonable openness and control of biases (one should be one's own worst and most relentless critic to test one's own hypotheses).
We now know some (not all, to be sure) of our nature is inborn or innate -- and although this nature is very -- even mostly -- subject to modification by conditioning and upbringing, some natural inclinations do exist universally, and affect the development of the arts in very specific ways
It is not a direct effect, nor always obvious, except when seen over long time periods or through many societal changes. Natural forces may push, but social habits and conditioning do push back, or prevent natural influences from being quickly and wholly accepted. The resulting mix in a musical culture tends to hide the extent of what was "natural," and what was conditioned, certainly in any short-term look at the music within any culture or group.
The parallels of the natural forces of acoutics to the major-minor system are too great to be coincidence. (Unless our ethnomusicologists are prepared to claim that our knowledge of biological interfacing with acoustics is just "culturally relative knowledge", true only in the "west"?) It would be much easier to make the claim of there being no such serious acoustic influences or effects if the "west" had invented the scale based on prior knowledge of acoustics. But the diatonic system has existed prior to Helmholtz' discoveries of overtones and measurements of them. Even the Ancient Greeks had both the major and minor among its diatonic scales ("diatonic" is a word with a Greek origin). And did they invent those or themselves inherit them?
See http://www.greenwych.ca/natbasis.htm)
While history refers our basic "western" political and social culture as originating from the ancient Greeks, this is mere convenient terminology. The Greeks can be considered also as having their own traditions based in Eastern, Oriental and pre-historic social formations. The scale is no more nor less "ours, modern and western" than it is Greek, or from India, or Africa -- and this is even if we decide to ignore Kilmer's findings regarding the world's oldest song from Assyria, or if we ignore the Neanderthal Bone.
In denying Kilmer's work, many ethnomusicologists consistently cite "cents" variations in pitch, indicating tunings that were not acoustically perfect, and in my view, myopically fail to see the forest from the trees. Modern psysiological auditory tests indicate that human discernment of an interval being off-key (especially when it is performed melodically, rather than as an harmonic "chord"), is, on average, not very fine-tuned in humans, and this can be borne out when we listen to any high-school or public school band, where being out of tune is truly teeth-shattering. Yet if we, so "used to" our "true" acoustic scales and tunings, can as students, put up with that cacophony, shouldn't the ethnomusicologists-from-Mars (or Hell, whereever, who don't know enough about our planet to realize their mistake), be likewise claiming, based on those performances, that westerners "rarely" play perfect intervals, and proceed, as proof, to make highly refined "cents" measurements to show that student orchestras "prefer" the non-natural intervals?
It appears to me, when Kilmer may have had several possible tunings to choose from, that it was reasonable for her to choose the one which was also consistent with other findings and our broader knowledge of history and physiology.
UPDATE NOTES: Feb., 2ooo:
Most recently, the world's first fully-playable prehistoric flute (9,ooo years old) was announced to the west (discovered years ago by the Chinese), and it played a seven note scale similar to the diatonic. As more current correspondence I have saved would reveal, the resistance to even allowing an announcement of this find on musicology discussion lists was initially great, curiosity was even less than zero about it, and there is a very "loud" absence of links by musicology groups to any webpages on this or similar finds (not to mine, nor to Brookhaven labs, nor to scientific journals like Nature magazine).
Truly, it all reveals to me a serious see, hear, speak and do no "evil," if the evil is an event like the Neanderthal Flute or the Chinese flutes; or if the event implies conclusions or evidence that attacks the relativist premises of their field. They don't even want to openly debate it, claiming they have little "interest" in the matter, although when pressed, the rejection of such things is so strongly certain and vociferous, and so implacably rigid, that it is as if they had profound, studied grounds to be so seriously offended by it. If so -- why not debate it seriously? Or is really just a knee-jerk reaction?
Yonder ethnomusikite doth protesteth too much, as the Shakespearian quote goes (sort of).
The validity of this -- versus the validity of the current premises within ethnomusicology -- can be judged by the readers of all this correspondence.-- B. F.
 
Vz   x1.15.98
* Gamelan detuning -- Grounds to reject acoustic influences on scale evolution?
"Balinese Gamelan instruments are paired and detuned to create a shimmering or beating effect. One instrument of the pair is tuned to the true scale. The second is tuned slightly flat to produce a tremolo at a specified speed. The speed varies by region, taste, purpose, and ensemble type." writes a gamelan expert (likely Cliff DeArment). How old this practice is isn't reported (or perhaps not known).
However, it's clear from the quote that true tuning of the scale is known, recognized, used, and serves as a "reference" from which to create the "shimmering" effect mentioned, which likely is enjoyable not only to Balinese ears, but could readily be enjoyed by western-trained ears. This practice of the use of deliberate mistuning or dissonance to create a sound-effect or to offset or highlight consonance (by contrast with it) is a well-known esthetic practice in a very wide variety of cultures. We find deliberate mistunings from scale notes in Jazz (around "blue notes"; in country & western music (harmonica playing especially); in ("shimmering") trills, and in "suspensions" -- temporary "mistuning" (a poor term) is also classic western compositional device to enhance the resolution of dissonances. This esthetic (permanent or temporary off-scale tuning) is in use throughout Western music. (It seems to be unintentionally rampant in high-school bands).
Being so widespread, especially even in tonal, traditional western music, this use of dissonance can hardly be cited as something that undermines the concept that claims acoustics helps to influence the formation of scales or intervals on a universal scale. (Excuse the pun.) Otherwise, its use in western music would, just as logically as gamelan is used to conclude rejection of the scale in the "non-west"), be evidence that our own acoustic major/minor scale system is not "really" seriously accepted in the music of the west. (Return to place in text.)
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