Natural Music

 

Most musicologists think that music began within a human culture. Another idea is that our love of music has biological roots, perhaps mimicking the sound of heartbeats in the mother’s womb. Now there is scientific evidence to support a cultural origin, though the biological influences are not entirely discounted.

Deep in the Bolivian Amazon, the Tsimane Tribe make their own kind of music. It has a strong contrast between consonance and dissonance, sounds that have interested musicologists since the culture of ancient Greece.

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JH McDermott et al write in today’s Nature (July 28) that the Tsimane perceive consonance and dissonance differently to westerners. Their harmonies are simple, only played one at a time, while there is an indifference to dissonance. In the west this is used for background texture or to express tension: not so in Bolivia.

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This is distinctive cultural variation in music perception. Some observers also say that the new conclusions are confirmed by the observation that the Tsimane prefer laughter to unpleasant gasps.

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