Sunday, 30 May 2010

Lunacharsky on music

Extract from Lunacharsky: ‘Taneyev and Scriabin’ from On Literature and Art, 1925.

Music originated as an expression of human emotions. We cannot for a moment doubt that it was born of man’s cries of emotion. We know wherein the “music” of the animal world originates. Erotic music is the most objective example since, besides its cries of naked passion, it includes some elements of enticement, attracting the female by a sort of serenade. In the nightingale’s song we find not only the emotions of the male, but an art that is self-contained, unfolding in the mating process and reaching, not in the individual, but in the species as a whole, true perfection.

Every other type of song has apparently developed along similar lines: sobbing gave rise to lamentation, which in turn became a dirge; the wild shrieking of warriors before battle resulted in military marches, and so forth. The whole significance of transforming emotional cries into music, or, more probably, into singing, lay in the fact that a purity of form was acquired, that there gradually evolved clear tones and their set combinations, the skill of producing melody, etc.

In following this course, music eventually became most complex. Man gained helpers, the most varied instruments, to express the personal or social emotions that burned in his breast.


Sunday, 23 May 2010

The origins of music, part 5: Summary

Given its existence in even the most isolated human cultures, it is highly likely that our musical capacities were already in place when we emigrated from Africa. Music is universal, participated in by everyone as a community, not just for entertainment but for practical and social purposes. As observed by Brown, Merker and Wallin:

Even the most cursory glance at life in traditional cultures is sufficient to demonstrate that music and dance are essential components of most social behaviours, everything from hunting and herding to story telling and playing; from washing and eating to praying and meditating; and from courting and marrying to healing and burying. Therefore the study of music origins is central to the evolutionary study of human cultural behaviour generally.[1]

Music is yet another of the many ways in which human beings fulfil their creative impulse — objectifying their human essence through the ordering of aspects of the material world.

Despite the new wave of research, the precise origins of music remain opaque. Charles Darwin concluded that “as neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to man in reference to his daily habits of life, they must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which he is endowed.”[2] Like language, music clearly draws upon diverse variables: the formation of the vocal tract and auditory system, hominid brain expansion, symbolic gesturing, the development of syntax, cultural transmission and many more evolutionary, cognitive and social aspects. Depending upon whom you ask, music is a form of sexual selection; a means of group bonding; a way for parents to communicate with their infants; or conversely a ‘spandrel’ drawing upon capacities that formed for other purposes, with no evolutionary value at all.

Trying to locate music in this or that part of the brain, or such and such an adaptive advantage, is probably futile. A Marxist reading of the evidence suggests that music arose as part of a complicated interaction of processes predicated upon the qualitative uniqueness of human consciousness. Music (and dance) cannot be reduced to a single function, and many of the processes crucial to its formation will have had no direct relationship to musicality at all.

Let us take one example. The physiology of music depends in part upon bipedalism, which allowed a lowering of the larynx and a greater control of sounds in the oral cavity. It also encouraged a 90-degree rotation of the labyrinthine capsule of the inner ear, which affected the morphology of the semi-circular canals responsible for balance and body coordination. In other words, bipedalism (as we touched on in the previous post) had implications for dance, breath control, and vocal expressiveness. Yet bipedalism is not an adaptation ‘for music’ but to life on the African savannah. It is not difficult to see from this that the totality of human music-making is dependent on a great web of evolutionary and cultural processes. Some of these processes will have been far more powerful determining forces than others, and establishing which were most important is the key to understanding music, but this does not mean the others can be ignored. So to explore the origins of music, we must also research the development of language, mind, and body through various scientific fields. This is the dialectical and materialist approach best placed to advance our understanding.

One of the most important characteristics of music is that it is primarily a social and collective activity. Attempts to explain it as a form of individual selection cannot account for why it has predominantly been created by groups. Adaptive theories only work when they are able to explain how music-making humans would have had an advantage over non-music-making ones — the only satisfactory account is that the former had advantages from stronger group cooperation, i.e. music as an adaptation can only work at the level of the social group. Therefore I find Steven Brown persuasive when he argues that “music making is not only about within-group cooperation, coordination, and cohesion, but it is principally about these things.” [3]

This does not mean of course that we cannot listen to music in solitude. But such behaviour is probably very unusual in the history of music, especially in its prehistory — and even listening in solitude requires, in usual Western practice, a set of musical equipment, such as MP3 players supplied with digital sound files, which has to be manufactured and therefore involve the solitary listener in a network of social labour.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding its origins, on one level music simply follows the same pattern as all the arts. We take the materials we find in nature and transform them through labour into a humanised object. Just as we use minerals to create pigments and make paintings, we take the naturally occurring phenomenon of sound and organise it, transform it and impose an order upon it to create a new ‘object’ in which we see ourselves objectified. Only humans do this. The study of gorillas beating their chests and animal mating calls, etc, is important and interesting, but social communication, group bonding, parent-infant interaction and so on are behaviours displayed by many animal species. Humans bring a particular qualitative ingredient to such activity which allows something new and unique to take off — it is in the extraordinary creativity of human consciousness that music really begins.

My own expectation is that music as we know it was probably a result of the cognitive leap that produced the Human Revolution. We may have had the capacity for making musical sounds for thousands of years, just as we had the capacity to make images on cave walls using tools long before we actually did so, but this could not become true music until our species underwent the enculturating process that made possible the flowering of art. Hence the absence of musical instruments until the Human Revolution was already underway — presumably there must have been other, cruder instruments at the outset around 60–40,000 years ago. How our basic musical capacity developed is still disputed, but whatever that process was, and whatever forms the earliest manifestations of musicality took, only with behaviourally modern, creative Homo sapiens could music flower.

[1] Wallin, Merker and Brown, ‘An Introduction to Evolutionary Musicology’ in The Origins of Music (2000).
[2] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871).
[3] Steven Brown, ‘The Musilanguage Model of Language Evolution’, from Wallin, Merker and Brown, op. cit.

Tony Babino: The Internationale

While we’re on the subject of music, readers may enjoy this swinging version of the Internationale sung by Tony Babino. It was commissioned for Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story and used over the closing credits.

Or you can watch it with a more interesting video, also on YouTube.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The origins of music, part 4: Movement and dance

Music is not just about sound. Wherever you go, it is accompanied by movement, from Western nightclubs to African drumming or children clapping in the playground. Even infants can match their body movements with the rhythm of voices, and we may see the germs of musicality in their desire to communicate with adults through gestures of voice and body.

This behaviour, found in all human cultures, is known as bodily entrainment, defined by W. Tecumseh Fitch as “the capacity to move one’s limbs or body to a complex external ‘beat’.” [1] Music can compel us to tap our feet, click our fingers, or swing our whole bodies in circles. This movement can be purely spontaneous and unconscious or it can be highly organised. The phenomenon seen in classical concerts of people listening to rhythmic, emotive music in complete stillness is highly exceptional, and has its origins in the elite culture for which that music was originally written.[2] In almost every society, music and movement have explicitly belonged together. Just as we can’t properly understand language if we ignore gesture, we can’t understand music without exploring its relationship to movement.

Of course, movement and music can exist independently of each other. But there is a strong relationship between the auditory system and the motor system, producing the bodily movements that seem to be an instinctive part of our response to music and become part of how we make it. This relationship is expressed most comprehensively in dance, which takes an immense diversity of forms: tribal dances, ballet, the tango, figure-skating, breakdancing and many more. And if music is a means to communicate individual and collective experience, so is dance. This is why dance therapy is possible: by sharing a series of gestures, the client and the therapist can communicate their emotions and build a relationship.

ancient Egyptian dancersFlutists and dancers in an unusually animated Egyptian wall painting from a tomb in Thebes, c. 1400 BCE.

Why we do all this is surprisingly hard to explain. Like the earliest music-making, movement to music has not left archaeological traces. Dance has certainly been practiced since at least the early civilisations: there are illustrations of dancers from Egypt dating back to the predynastic period, and from Mesopotamia dating to the eighth millenium BCE. But none of this goes back nearly far enough.


Steven Mithen suggests that a hugely important development in both music and dance was the hominid shift to walking on two legs (bipedalism) approximately four million years ago. Our cousins the great apes struggle to stay upright on two legs, and have an anatomy adapted for both knuckle-walking and tree-climbing. Unlike humans they cannot lock their leg into a straight position, and must walk by shifting their weight from side to side on legs that are relatively wide apart. Mithen observes:

We avoid this waddling gait by placing our feet relatively close together on the ground and using strong hip muscles to counter any side-to-side movement.[3]

Australopithecus afarensisA reconstruction of Australopithecus afarensis

Humans developed bipedalism as early as the australopithecines, as evidenced by the skeleton of Lucy and the 3.6 million year-old footprints at Laetoli in Tanzania that have been ascribed to Australopithecus afarensis. These species would not have walked as efficiently on two legs as we do. One of the archaeological clues to this is the morphology of the inner ear, which assists our sense of balance: that of the australopithecines was still ape-like, reflecting ways of moving around that included tree-climbing and hanging.

By the advent of Homo ergaster (which had an inner ear morphology much like ours), hominids had developed a bipedalism much like that of modern Homo sapiens.

Anatomical adaptations for bipedalism continue up through the body: a broader pelvis, a curved lower spine, and a head held vertically. With such anatomy, humans have a striding, fluid gait, in which each leg alternately has a swing phase followed by a stance phase.

As argued by the anthropologist Leslie Aiello [4], it is likely that the increase in brain size in Homo ergaster was necessary to handle the more complex motor control required by bipedalism, an increase that may have given impetus to more general intelligence and language development (and thereby also to singing). It was also significant that a large proportion of our body, most obviously our hands, was freed from being used for locomotion, allowing us to make not only tools but complex gestures.

There has been plenty of debate about why we adopted bipedalism. It was not to free our hands to make tools — although that was certainly useful subsequently — because fossils show it predates tool-making. No adaptation ever takes place in anticipation of some future development. Nor was it to allow us to see over the grasses of the savannah, because australopithecines lived in wooded landscapes. Most likely is that it was a mixture of things, above all to reduce overheating and energy use. As we spent more and more time on open plains, an upright posture exposed less of our bodies to the sun and was a more efficient method of movement. This increased our range for scavenging — our ability of long-distance running is unique among primates.

Whatever its causes, bipedalism had implications for expressive movement. Mithen lists “new degrees of motor control, independence of torso and arms from legs, and internal and unconscious time-keeping abilities” as contributors to our potential for dance. Even though it did not evolve expressly for the purpose, our anatomy enables us to make an immense range of flexible and athletic movements. This may have “initiated the greatest musical revolution in human history.” Mithen notes approvingly the work of the musicologist John Blacking, who wrote:

Many, if not all, of music’s essential processes can be found in the constitution of the human body and in patterns of interaction of human bodies in society.[5]

There seems to be a close connection between the areas of the brain responsible for complex vocalisations and for complex muscular movements. If these evolved together, it might help explain why rhythm, music and dance are so closely related in human cultures. If musilanguage existed, uttered holistic phrases may have been accompanied by gestures of the body such as the head and hands.


Our sense of rhythm, one of the most important aspects of music, begins with a sense of time, something human beings share in both perception and motor behaviour. Brown, Merker and Wallin observed:

One of the most distinct features of music, with reference to both animal song systems and human speech, is its use of isometric rhythms. The human ability to keep time should be distinguished from the ability of most animals (including humans) to move in a metric, alternating fashion.What is special about humans is not only their capacity to move rhythmically but their ability to entrain their movements to an external timekeeper, such as a beating drum.[6]

This ability to entrain is effectively unique to human beings, as the testing carried out so far tells us that animals do not naturally demonstrate this ability; even in the rare exceptions that have been observed, their ability is severely limited compared to ours. Mithen relates this to bipedalism:

Rhythm... is essential to efficient walking, running and, indeed, any complex coordination of our peculiar bipedal bodies. Without rhythm we couldn’t use these effectively: just as important as the evolution of knee joints and narrow hips, bipedalism required the evolution of mental mechanisms to maintain the rhythmic coordination of muscle groups.[7]

We still don’t quite understand how our auditory system links up with our motor system to produce synchronated movements, although they are very clearly connected. It is likely that the evolution of bipedalism had a profound impact on our association of movement and rhythm. The existence of rhythm awareness in newborns — even blind ones, who cannot be imitating their parent — proves that it is not culturally acquired but hereditary. Infants show strong emotional associations too, being able to recognise a difference for example between approving and scolding tones of voice, and this union of emotion with tone and movement lays the foundations for music and dance.


As we all know, our bodies can be highly expressive of emotional states, even unconsciously. The evolutionary changes in Homo ergaster — greater motor control, a strong sense of time and rhythm, the independence of the arms and hands — meant a dramatic increase in hominids’ command of body language. Together with vocalisation, emotional association and a possible musical proto-language, we were equipped with powerful tools for communication in the complex social life of our species.

Gesture works differently to words because it does not rely on any form of grammar. As Mithen puts it:

the majority of spontaneous gestures used by modern humans are iconic, in the sense that they directly represent whatever is being verbally expressed... So if I were describing something big, my gesture would most likely involve placing my hands together and then gradually moving them apart; whereas when describing something as small I might gradually move the finger and thumb of one hand together until they are almost touching.[8]

Not only do such gestures back up what is communicated verbally, they add additional layers of meaning, i.e. they are complementary rather than merely derivative. But gestures can also be made independently of verbal meaning, or convey information that contradicts it. A measure of the communicative power of gesture to illustrate our inner life is that when we are being dishonest with our words, our body language can sometimes betray our true feelings.

Some of the earliest gestures may have been acts of mimicry. As Merlin Donald has explored [9], our ancestors probably used acting, song and dance to metaphorically recreate certain emotions and experiences in a narrative form. Donald suggests that such mimetic acts would be an early stage in the evolution of the human mind: miming everyday events like hunting, stripping a carcass, etc required us to understand metaphor and so prepared the way for symbolism. Later, dance may have been a means to recreate and preserve tribal wisdom and stories in an age before written records.

Another aspect of mimicry is that by imitating the posture of another person, we imply an empathy with their emotions. When consoling someone, we adopt a similar sad posture, facial expression and tone of voice. Music and dance provide a culturally defined framework for recreating emotional states through synchronicity and cooperation. Understanding how certain facial expressions, for example, communicate certain emotions, we may then adopt those expressions metaphorically, pretending to be sad, happy, and so on to elicit an emotional response from others. The responses elicited then, in turn, have an impact upon the dancer.

Mithen refers to the work of the dancer, choreographer and theoretician Rudolf Laban, widely considered one of the most important figures in the history of dance:

Laban gives the simple example of the expressive range of gestures that can accompany the word ‘no’. He explains that one can ‘say’ this with movements that are pressing, flicking, wringing, dabbing, thrusting, floating, slashing or gliding, each of which ‘says’ ‘no’ in a quite different manner. Once such gestures are integrated into a sequence of body movements and vocalisations, once some are exaggerated, repeated, embedded within each other, one has both a sophisticated means of self-expression and communication, and a pattern of movements that together can be observed as pure dance alone.


Our capacity for music and dance expresses a need to communicate with other humans through co-ordinated gestures in time, a skill we seem to possess to some degree even before we are born. Like musilanguage, gesture and movement as means of communication predate language. It depends upon our ability to recognise others as intentional and sympathetic human beings like ourselves. Like language and music, dance is a means of symbolic communication — because of our differing personal experiences, symbols are never entirely fixed but have differing meanings for individuals, which may help to explain why a certain piece of music can provoke wildly different responses in its listeners.

In music and dance we act as social beings, using a shared cultural framework to share experience through drama and metaphor.

[1] W. Tecumseh Fitch, ‘Biology of Music: Another One Bites the Dust’, Current Biology (2009). In this essay Fitch observes that entrainment is not strictly unique to humans, reporting evidence for its appearance in some bird species.
[2] This cultural elitism persists in classical music because of its history, but no one should let that drive them away. The music may be appreciated by anybody.
[3] Steven Mithen, The Singing Neanderthals (2005).
[4] L. C. Aiello, ‘Terrestriality, bipedalism and the origin of language’, Evolution of Social Behaviour Patterns in Primates and Man, ed. J. Maynard-Smith (1996).
[5] John Blacking, How Musical is Man? (1973).
[6] Wallin, Merker and Brown, ‘An Introduction to Evolutionary Musicology’ in The Origins of Music (2000).
[7] Mithen, op. cit.
[8] Mithen, op. cit.
[9] See Merlin Donald, Origins of the Modern Mind (1991).

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The origins of music, part 3: Social bonding

We have already expressed some scepticism about the idea that music’s origins lie in sexual selection. That does not mean that natural selection has not played a part in some other form.

Plenty of thinkers across history have decided that the arts have no practical use whatsoever. Adaptive value may lie in other processes which make music possible, rather than in music itself. If that is so, then in evolutionary terms music is a tremendous waste of time and energy.

We may more or less agree with the musicologists Cross, Zubrow and Cowan that “from a cognitive-scientific perspective, music is inescapably material, being evidenced in musical behaviours; behind human behaviours lie human minds, and behind human minds lie embodied human brains.” [1] In order for music to originate in evolution, even if only partly, it must be demonstrated to have given our Pleistocene ancestors some kind of advantage in natural selection: that is, in survival and procreation. The sheer ubiquity of music suggests to many thinkers that is not a mere by-product or accident. At the same time, recognising an evolutionary heritage does not require us to be reductive or deny creative freedom. Our palaeo-anthropological past is one thing, post-Human Revolution creative practice is another. Human consciousness has allowed us to go beyond our evolutionary inheritance.

We referred in the last post to the ideas of Dissanayake and Mithen on infant-directed speech. In this post we shall look at another significant adaptive theory centred upon social bonding. Our task is two-fold: to ask whether music does in fact reinforce social bonding, and if so, to work out if it does so as ‘evolution’ or as ‘cheesecake’.

Music as a collective activity

When we are infants we are very effective at creating non-verbal sound that communicates a solipsistic need. In babies, this is usually a demand for something, such as food, drink or reassurance. As we get older, we are forced to come to terms with the existence of others who have their own intentions and demands, and must relinquish our infantile egotism. Part of this involves learning the structures through which our self-objectification is normally expressed. Learning to hum and sing along the lines of what is considered music in our culture, and in combination with others, rather than producing noise to please ourselves, is an essential socialising process.

Music in modern Western society is often a passive activity, in the sense that the listener becomes a non-participating audience for the work of professional musicians. This separation of ‘artist’ and ‘audience’ is unusual — a product of the compartmentalised, commodified society of capitalism — but even then, the relationship between artist and audience creates a collective experience. Mithen notes that “music-making is first and foremost a shared activity, not just in the modern Western world, but throughout human cultures and history.” [2] This doesn’t mean that music can’t be created or enjoyed by just one person, or a couple of individuals, but it was and is normal in most societies for music to be a group activity in which everyone may take part.

In this, music is different to most other arts. It is not inconceivable for people to paint, sculpt or declaim poetry simultaneously with other practitioners in one creative event, but it is very far from usual practice. Music and dance therefore are peculiarly suited to the active expression of a collective identity.

In doing so they call upon responses which go beyond the arts. The historian William McNeill, recalling his basic training as a US conscript, commented on his experience of military drill:

Words are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in collective ritual.[3]

McNeill concluded that there was “something visceral at work”, a satisfying sense of social cohesion and solidarity through rhythmic and musical group movement that he terms “muscular bonding”.

Paleolithic bone flutes show we were making instruments at the time of our cultural flowering 40,000 years ago, and non-instrumental music must have long predated that. So not only are music and dance used in various forms to encourage group solidarity across the world, they probably always have been. The biologist Walter J. Freeman has pointed out that “anthropologists and ethnopsychiatrists have documented the prevalence in preliterate tribes of singing and dancing... during religious and social ceremonies.” [4] In these ceremonies, the members of the social group gather together with shamans/priests and musicians, and dance themselves into a trancelike state to the accompaniment of clapping, drumming, chanting etc until they collapse with exhaustion. In the trance, individualism is broken down, with each individual repeating a set of rhythmic movements to the unifying glue of music. “There is no reason to doubt,” writes Freeman, “that these activities give great pleasure and catharsis to those caught up in the communal spirit of the events, and that immersion in the dance is followed by a refreshed sense of belonging to the tribe.”

For similar reasons, music is regularly used throughout social life: wedding marches and parties, military parades, funerals, religious rites and so on. There is plenty of evidence that the “strange sense of personal enlargement” described by McNeill is a genuine phenomenon. But if music can help encourage social bonding, what evolutionary advantage might it have conferred?

The possible adaptive value of music

On this question we are limited to educated speculation. Certain clues do suggest an adaptive explanation: the universality of music to all human cultures, its likely great age, the possession of musical skills by infants, its use to mark key stages in our lives, and its ability to rouse emotions and give pleasure.

The anthropologists Hagen and Bryant have proposed that music and dance evolved as a ‘coalition signalling system’ that allowed cooperative alliances between social groups. [5] Humans are unique among primates in being able to form such alliances between groups even when there is no kinship relation. Originating in territorial signals, music and dance could have communicated information about the group’s quality as coalition partners, through such means as co-ordinated vocalisations to signal group strength.

A slightly different approach was taken by another anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, who claimed that the difficulties of communicating and alliance-building in ever-increasing social groups may help to account for the origins of language. For our hominid ancestors, group cohesion was encouraged by social grooming, but once the group grew bigger than about 80 members it was no longer practical for individuals to spend half their day grooming others. Language was a more efficient means of communication, and music — or musilanguage — may have been its precursor, arising out of cooperative primate behaviours.

Encouraging greater cohesiveness may have had its own adaptive value. As human groups became larger, organising a functioning society required co-ordinated and collective behaviour. Solipsistic individuals could never have built a functioning tribe, let alone a civilisation. As Mithen put it:

Music-making is a cheap and easy form of interaction than can demonstrate a willingness to cooperate and hence may promote future cooperation when there are substantial gains to be made... Those who make music together will mould their own minds and bodies into a shared emotional state, and with that will come a loss of self-identity and a concomitant increase in the ability to cooperate with others. In fact, ‘cooperate’ is not quite correct, because as identities are merged there is no ‘other’ with whom to cooperate, just one group making decisions about how to behave.[6]

During the Ice Age, an increasingly complex human nature and society demanded social, collective action by human groups. The advantage may have resided in the ability of some groups of (musical) hominids to outperform other (non-musical) groups through superior group morale and cooperation.

Critics such as Steven Pinker contend that music is linked to domains of human experience that are connected to survival, such as vocalisation, emotion, auditory skills and motor control, but that it is itself only a tantalising by-product of these adaptations. To this we might reply, with musicologist Ian Cross, that music actively exercises those domains. “If the faculties that it exercises are necessary for survival, then the availability of a competence such as music that gives them a periodic workout and is fun into the bargain would seem to be highly adaptive.” [7] By affecting a number of aspects of experience, musical skills could actually promote general development. An infant rocked by a parent singing a lullaby has a complex experience that is sonic, emotional, symbolic, motoric, spatial, social, etc. Bringing together multiple domains on multiple levels, music allows for social interaction within agreed cultural norms, encouraging the flexibility of the mind. It’s for this reason that Cross thinks it may be “the most important thing that we humans ever did”.

Another possible criticism is that music provides no advantages to the social group that are not met by language, which is a more effective form of communication. In reply, we might refer to the musical competences of infants — shared emotional states, stress and rhythm, etc — which predate the ability to talk. One need only attend a concert to experience how music’s power to express emotion is highly effective in bringing people together without requiring any words at all.

For reasons such as these, a strong case can be made for the importance of social bonding in the evolution of music, and that such bonding offered adaptive advantage.


Evolution is a very slow process, and adaptations require millennia. To be an adaptive behaviour, music needs to be immensely old. If we accept the musilanguage theory, which allows musicality to predate our own species, it probably fits this criterion. It is also conceivable that music will have encouraged the propagation of the genes of those who practiced it, e.g. through a variety of benefits resulting from closer social cooperation.

There is however a danger in stressing adaptive models, because we are dealing not with animals but with self-aware human beings. When we discuss music’s ‘evolution’ we must consider both biological and cultural evolution. It is because so much of our musicality is not genetically but culturally transmitted that we see such variation in musical form and content. We are not slaves to biological programming — lots of human sexual practice, for example, has nothing to do with procreation. (It is for that reason that Freud referred to sexuality as a ‘drive’ rather than an ‘instinct’.) In the same way, we can enjoy music in ways which don’t obviously accord with the processes by which it originally arose — even if music did evolve partly as an aid to bonding a group of participants, that doesn’t stop us enjoying it in solitude.

The scientific debate between music as an evolutionary adaptation and as ‘cheesecake’ is still open, and Marxists possess no magical insight that can resolve it either way. I find the arguments for music’s adaptive origins persuasive, but there is no such thing as a ‘correct’ Marxist view on this intriguing question.

[1] Ian Cross, Ezra Zubrow, Frank Cowan, ‘Musical behaviours and the archaeological record: a preliminary study’, Experimental Archaeology. British Archaeological Reports International Series (2002). I would prefer an extended concept of the mind that embraces all our body and partly includes our environment — the mind cannot be constrained to the brain alone.
[2] Steven Mithen, The Singing Neanderthals (2005).
[3] William H. McNeill, Keep Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History (1995).
[4] Walter J. Freeman, ‘A neurobiological role of music in social bonding’, from Wallin, Merker and Brown (eds), The Origins of Music (2000).
[5] Edward Hagen and Gregory Bryant, ‘Music and Dance as a Coalition Signalling System’, Human Nature (2003).
[6] Mithen, op. cit.
[7] Ian Cross, ‘Is music the most important thing we ever did? Music, development and evolution’, Music, Mind and Science (1999).