What's Involved in Sounding Human?

in The Music between Us

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780226333281
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226333274 | DOI:
What's Involved in Sounding Human?

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According to ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl, humans are capable of almost always recognizing other cultures' music as music, and thus are recognizing the so-called musical universals. What is it to sound human? Is there a generic way of sounding human the way a gibbon or a humpback whale sounds? Is it possible to use sound to recognize other members of the human species, as many songbirds do? In his groundbreaking book How Musical Is Man?, John Blacking raised the issue of whether there is a universal way of sounding human and argued that musicality is a basic part of our human inheritance. Blacking is essentially emphasizing the centrality of musical capacity in humans. This chapter considers how it is to sound human by focusing on acoustics and musical universality, the quest for universal musical characteristics of human beings, the difference between universals of musical perception and universals of musical structure, and musical perception and hearing activity in music.

Keywords: music; humans; musical universals; musical perception; musical structure; John Blacking; musicality; acoustics; musical universality

Chapter.  8284 words. 

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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