This essay originally appeared in Journal of Social and Evolutionary
Systems 16(3): 273-296, 1993.
Stages in the Evolution of Music
After emancipation . . . all those people who had been slaves, they needed the music more than ever now; it was like they were trying to find out in this music what they were supposed to do with this freedom: playing the music and listening to it-- waiting for it to express what they needed to learn, once they had learned it wasn't just white people the music had to reach to, nor even to their own people, but straight out to life and to what a man does with his life when it finally is his.
1. IntroductionThe story is told of E. M. Forster that, once when asked why he wrote, he replied he did so in order to find out what he thought. So it is with expressive culture, though the object is not so much to discover thoughts as it is to discover feelings. We dance and sing, enact and tell stories, create images and statues, to make our feelings known to one another, and thereby to ourselves (see Geertz, 1973, pp. 79-82).
We are indeed our bodies, that motivation and emotion are intimately implicated in bodily existence. Yet our bodies, and their inner states, are as external to the brain as the outer world of earth, air, water, and fire. Just as we must learn to sense and act in the outer world, so we must learn to read the messages of our bodies and to couple those meanings with effective action. Just as cultural evolution has given us ever more sophisticated conceptual tools (Benzon & Hays, 1990) with which we reason, so it has given us ever more elaborate and coherent expressive tools so that our feelings encompass more of ourselves and the world.
Much work on expressive culture assumes that it is ultimately to be accounted for in terms of the benefits it provides to our activity in everyday life. Thus storytelling might be deemed valuable because the stories embody conceptual strategies which can be used in a wide variety of situations. And ritual might be esteemed for providing occasions for releasing psychological energies built up in everyday life, but which cannot be released there. Such explanations have validity, but they reflect a restricted view of human nature.
In arguing a control theory approach to understanding human behavior, William Powers (1973, p. 196) suggested that we have an intrinsic need "relating to the quality of control systems". Abraham Maslow (1968, p. 153) was much interested in higher needs, allowing that we have a need for general self-actualization. David Hays (1992, p. 194-196, pp. 209-210) has suggested that the four quadrants of the human brain are organized to seek truth, love, beauty, and justice. If we take such suggestions seriously then we must abandon the notion that the only value of expressive culture is located in its services to everyday life. Expressive culture no doubt provides services to everyday life. But it has a value of its own and must be understood on its own terms.
This essay takes music as its example expressive domain. In the first section, I introduce the general notion that expressive culture works by projecting bodily experience into some expressive medium, then follows a brief argument that we perceive music holistically, with distinctions between rhythm, melody, and harmony being secondary. Then we arrive at the main thesis. First comes a general account of the development of world music up through the end of the nineteenth century, then we follow jazz in the twentieth and, finally, conclude with some general remarks on the current flux in musical development.
2. The Projected BodyWe understand art by identifying with it. That identification works through our capacity for metaphor, which is built into the fine structure of our nervous system (Benzon & Hays, 1987). A work of expressive culture is the tenor of a metaphor in which our body is the vehicle and the ground is the feeling which binds the two together.
It is easy enough to understand that acting and dancing are the projection of the body into an aesthetic medium--for in those cases the body is, in some way, the aesthetic medium. Nor should we have difficulty understanding that we apprehend an actor's or a dancer's performance through our own body. Not only do we use our eyes to see and our ears to hear, but we also employ these perceptions to identify with the actor and dancer, and therein comprehend and respond to their artistry.
What about painting and sculpture? Where the people are the subjects of such art, the artist and the spectator alike are in the same position that one has vis à vis a play or a dance: they can identify with the bodies they see. In the case of visual art, the bodies they see are only representations, but the mechanism of identification works anyway. Yet the subject of visual art need not be human. Adults can project themselves with no more difficulty into a landscape than children can to pretend they are trees or a rocks or the fluid sea. In a similar way, we can grasp Jackson Pollock's swirls and feel them in our backs and shoulders.
The literary body is perhaps more subtle. Yet the rhythms of poetry echo those of the beating heart, the breathing lungs, and the many gaits of a person on the move. And, in Death in the Afternoon , Hemingway was able to describe the motions of a bullfighter's cape in phrases which, in their interplay, felt like those very motions. Through style the writer anchors the story in the body.
The point I'm getting to is that the works of expressive culture are always embedded in some medium and that the manipulation of that medium is central to expressiveness. This is quite different from cognitive culture. Cognitive culture advances though inventing ever more sophisticated conceptual tools for abstraction (Benzon & Hays, 1990). The thoughts are always encoded in some medium--speech, written language, mathematical and scientific notations. But the physical form of those notations is separated from the conceptual content. The physical mark is sometimes called the signifier while the concept it designates is called the signified (Saussure, 1966). The relationship between the signifiers and signifieds is purely conventional; any set of conventions will do as long as we all agree on them. Cognitive culture does not advance by creating more sophisticated and ingenious signifiers. Moving from black ink on white paper to various colored inks on colored papers does not give the thinker a greater conceptual range, though it may increase the options open to the graphic designer.
But the graphic designer is working in the expressive realm, albeit a highly constrained one. Manipulation of the medium is central to expression. To some extent such manipulation involves purely physical advances--new instruments open up new musical possibilities; the invention of oil paints allowed Renaissance artists a new range of colors and effects; more sophisticated and rigorous training extends the dancer's range of movement and the choreographer's compositional vocabulary.
Advances in understanding how to project experience into the medium are perhaps more significant. The Renaissance artist's conquest of perspective was not a matter of better brushes, pigments, or surfaces. The classical composer's development of the sonata form did not depend on advances in instrument design and playing technique. The romantic poet's use of prose rhythms had nothing to do with the type of pen employed. These achievements all have to do with a deepening understanding of how to use the medium. The evolution of expressive culture depends on advances in understanding how to use the medium.
The work Manfred Clynes has done on essentic forms provides perhaps the most important clues on the projection of the body into the works and occassions of expressive culture. Essentic forms are biologically given patterns by which we express and communicate emotion. Clynes guesses that there may be about twenty basic essentic forms (Clynes, 1977, p. 141). Most of his reported work concentrates on the forms for joy, hate, anger, grief, reverence, love, and sex. His basic research technique is to have subjects press on a small pad to express these emotions. By measuring the pressure, Clynes has discovered a distinct spatio-temporal pattern for each emotion and he has discovered the same patterns in several different cultures. Clynes calls these patterns essentic forms. The expression of essentic form is accompanied by changes in heart rate and oxygen uptake, suggesting that the neural system governing essentic form is also affecting the autonomic nervous system.
There are two reasons why the existence of essentic form is important. In the first place, they are clearly biologically given. They do not represent cultural conventions. In the second place, they can be encoded directly in the physical medium of an expressive work.
Much of Clynes' work has been done with musicians who would play a work over in their minds while expressing the music's pulse on Clynes' experimental apparatus. More recently, Clynes (Clynes and Nettheim, 1982) has shown how essentic forms can be expressed in appropriate patterns of pitches. Clynes has offered a more subjective analysis of the essentic significance of line and form in visual art (1977, plates 4 through 8 between pages 38 and 39; see also Ehrenzweig, 1971, pp 28-29), and I have speculated on how essentic forms could be embedded in poetry (Benzon, p. 1978, pp. 270-281).
Beyond the fact that essentic forms can be directly embedded in the physical medium, there is the fact that each essentic form is associated with a particular "virtual body image" (Clynes, 1977, pp. 148-150). Thus "For love there tends to be a sensation of flow appearing to come within the torso, flowing outward to the limbs and through the neck" (pp. 148-149) while "with joy there is a specific sense of lightness and floating" (p. 149) and "anger feels as if the body is tending to be torn apart" (p. 149) and so on. Clynes notes that these sensations are "very specific and consistent" but "do not correspond to physiologic visceral processes" (p. 149). Thus, while one's body may be still while experiencing some essentic form, there is a sense of a virtual body. Clynes concludes that these sensations are programmed into the nervous system.
The central point in bringing up Clynes' account of essentic form is that it suggests how affective states can be more or less directly embedded in an expressive medium and how those states are associated with body images. While cognitive culture extracts ever more abstract patterns from objects and activities, expressive culture develops ever more powerful and comprehensive means of controlling the patterns in physical media which bear the impress of bodily experience. As we develop our capacity to control and elaborate the media of expressive culture, we develop our capacity to perceive and identify, and thereby to elaborate and control our inner experience. Not only can we express more of that experience, but the expressive means is a way of constituting that experience. Thus our basic task in understanding the evolution of musical form is to understand how we get more differentiated control over musical sound. What aspects of that sound can we control and pattern?
3. Basic MusicWhen analyzing music we generally talk of rhythm, melody, and harmony. We are so used to thinking of those three parameters of musical sound as being the elements of music that we need to step back a bit. I submit that our basic experience of music is, like all our basic experience, holistic (see Benzon & Hays, 1987, p. 64; Benzon & Hays, 1988, pp. 306 - 308). This was brought home to me a number of years ago when a friend asked me to teach her about jazz. We would listen to records and talk about what we were listening to. I would call her attention to what the alto sax, or the bass, or the trombone was doing and I discovered that she couldn't even discriminate one line from another much less follow whatever point I was making about what was going on in that line. She could get a sense of the whole, but analyzing the whole into the discrete contributions of various instruments was initially difficult.
Beyond simply discriminating different instrumental contributions, she had difficulty hearing the chord structure (harmony) of a piece independently of the melodic line. Without being able to distinguish melody from harmony it is impossible to understand that, for example, Thelonius Monk's "Bright Mississippi" is based on the harmonic structure of "Sweet Georgia Brown," or that Charlie Parker's "Thriving on a Riff" is based on "I've Got Rhythm." To hear the derivation you have to ignore both the jazz melody and the melody of the source tune; once you do that and attend only to the chord changes, the derivation is obvious. As an experienced musician I had no trouble doing this. But this was difficult for my friend--a difficulty we dealt with, in part, by singing the melody of the source tune while listening to the jazz tune derived from it. The melody, though quite different from the jazz melody, seemed to fit. And why not?--the jazz tune had the same harmonic structure.
In thus asserting a holistic basis for music I'm saying that we don't hear rhythm, melody, and harmony and then combine them into a musical whole. Rather, we apprehend the whole first and only gradually become able to differentiate that whole into rhythm, melody, and harmony. Developmental linguists talk about the holophrastic utterance of the child (McNeill, 1970) in which the child uses one brief utterance to designate a whole situation without being able specifically to designate aspects of the situation (e.g. the actors and their actions). So, our basic sense of music is undifferentiated. As I will argue shortly, only through the long process of cultural evolution have rhythm, melody, and harmony become clearly differentiated.
Thus, instead of talking about rhythm, melody, and harmony, I want to take the motif as the basic unit of analysis. The motif is recognized and defined through repetition. According to Schenker (1973, pp. 4-5)
The motif is a recurring series of tones. Any series of tones may become a motif. However, it can be recognized as such only where its repetition follows immediately. As long as there is no immediate repeititon, the series in question must be considered as a dependent part of a greater unity. . . . Only by repetition can a series of tones be characterized as something definite. Only repetition can demarcate a series of tones and its purpose. Repetition thus is the basis of music as an art.Consider a single drummer playing a certain motif on two drums of different pitch. Only one drum is hit at a time and there is some alternation of notes from one drum to the other. Depending on timing and loudness, at least some of the notes sounded on the high drum will be perceived as being in a high line and the notes sounded on the low drum will be perceived as being in a distinctly different low line (this is sometimes called "streaming" in the psychological literature, see Jones, 1976). One might also hear a third line consisting of notes from both drums (in this case some notes, obviously, will participate in more than one line). We thus have a motif consisting of two or three interlocking lines of drum notes. If the drummer then switches a note or notes from one drum to the other, but leaves the timing unchanged, the motif will be perceived as different. The high, low, and mixed lines constituting the motif will also change.
Using the concepts of rhythm and melody, we can say that the alternation between high and low drums is melodic, whereas only the timing of the notes, regardless of pitch, is rhythm. Moving notes from one drum to the other changes the melody but not the rhythm. However, because one hears the motif as a time/pitch gestalt, shifting notes from one pitch to an other alters the whole gestalt, and it may well alter one's perception of the motif's timing. Thus, other percussionists who may have been playing with the drummer may be thrown off when the drummer changes the pitches of some notes. They are thrown off because they are coordinating, not just with the drummer's timing of the motif's pitches, but with the motif's total gestalt (see Chernoff, 1979, 51-53).
Thus, when Curt Sachs says (1965, pp. 49-76) that melodies in the simplest cultures are of two different types--tumbling strains and horizontal one-step melodies--we should understand him as talking about types of song or musical line and not about melody as distinct from rhythm and harmony. Tumbling strains use vocal cries (pp. 51, 68, 72) as the basis for musical motifs while horizontal songs use the phrases of ordinary speech (pp. 68, 72). These two types of song thus represent two basic strategies for creating musical motifs. These motifs exist fundamentally as holistic musical expression. Only as culture develops will the elements of rhythm, melody, and harmony be differentiated from the gestalt flow of music.
4. The Evolution of World Music
I propose, building on discussions in Wiora (1965), Sachs (1965), and
others, that what we can call Rank 1 music is oriented toward rhythm. Rank
2 music strongly differentiates the control of melody from control of rhythm
and creates techniques for elaborating melody. With Rank 3 music harmony
is, in turn, differentiated from melody and elaborated.
We'll discuss phasing, leading, and architectonics in the sections devoted
to each rank.
Given an analysis of musical sound into rhythm, melody, and harmony,
we can say that Rank 1 music employs all three. But harmony is least developed
while rhythm is most developed, with melody somewhere between. Yet, as
I argued above, to assume that this tripartite analysis, so obvious to
us, is obvious to all, is a bit misleading. We would make more sense to
say that, at Rank 1, the harmonic and melodic aspects of the motif was
not clearly differentiated from the rhythmic. At Rank 1, musical elaboration
focused on rhythm.
Rank 1 music is fundamentally the projection of rhythm into sound, whether
of voice, or of a musical instrument. Melodic devices often function primarily
to articulate rhythms. Let us return to the two basic types of song Curt
Sachs (1965, pp. 49-76) has identified: tumbling strains and horizontal
one-step melodies. Tumbling strains are derived from vocal cries (pp. 51,
68, 72) and are thus rooted in the social call system we inherited from
our primate ancestors. Horizontal songs, however, are derived from recitation
(pp. 68, 72) and thus have their roots in the specifically human neurobiology
of language. The development of music within Rank 1 involves getting rhythmic
control over these types of song. Let's consider them in a bit more detail.
With Rank 2 the control of melody becomes differentiated from the control
of rhythm. I speculate that, with Rank 2, the two types of Rank 1 melody
have converged and undergone a transformation such that melody itself has
become separated from its dependence on either type of vocalization--the
cry of tumbling strains or the recitation of horizontal songs. In Rank
1 music melodic pitches exist as modulations of something outside of music
as such-- vocal cries and/or measured speech. In Rank 2 music melodic pitches
have become intrinsic to the music itself and are no longer dependent on
pre-existing vocal mechanisms. This doesn't, of course, mean that Rank
2 music cannot be sung, but only that the control and manipulation of pitch
relationahips has become an end in itself.
From melodic elaboration in Rank 2, we move to harmonic elaboration
in Rank 3, which happened in post-Renaissance Europe. In the simplest sense,
harmony is the simultaneous sounding of two or more different tones. In
that sense, harmony exists at all ranks. Societies in Ranks 1 and 2 have
choral singing where different singers will sing different melodic lines,
with harmonies arising in the relationships between those lines. Harmony
can similarly arise in the interaction of instrumental lines. However,
the manipulation of these simultaneous occurances is not organized into
a constitutive principle. That only happened in the post-Renaissance West.
Remodelling European structures into blues tonalities, hot intonation, swing rhythms, and using European instruments to quite different effect through a speaking, gesticulating, sometimes grotesque manner, it brought into play not only something specific to the Negro, but also something of a universal archaism. Primitive and refined at the same time, fusing the spirit of prehistoric man with that of today's civilization, jazz has spread irresistibly over the whole world.While this passage mistates the relationship between European and African elements in jazz, implying that jazz musicians started from European models rather than from African models, it makes the very important point that jazz is a hybrid between, in my terms, Rank 1 and Rank 3 music.
This means that, in its evolution toward Rank 3, jazz took a course which is somewhat different from that taken in overall musical history. We know that basic elements of jazz melodic, and, above all, rhythmic practice have African antecedents (Schuller, 1968, pp. 3-62; Collier 1978, pp. 3-42). However, in its development, jazz was able to call on the sophisticated harmonic and melodic practices of Rank 3 music, the concert music of Europe, which was freely available to the jazz community (Collier pp. 57-71). Returning to the point made when we first discussed the concept of rank, we should recall that a high rank society will not be completely homogenous. Turn of the century America was a Rank 3 culture, meaning only that its major institutions were run by people using Rank 3 modes of thought (Benzon & Hays, 1990, pp. 304, 313-314). But most Americans of the time would not have had deep exposure to Rank 3 modes of thinking, feeling, and acting. In particular, the African-American sub-culture was denied access to Rank 3 education and employment. Jazz was to become one of the ways in which African-America established its claim on Rank 3 culture (cf. Murray, 1970, pp. 171-188; 1976).
In dealing with jazz we do not have the benefit of an existing study which breaks it into cultural ranks in the way Wiora did for world music. The standard historical periodization of jazz--traditional, swing, bop, cool, hard bop, free-- isn't made by rank. Our goal is to reanalyze the evolution of jazz in terms of cultural rank. To begin with, we cannot easily tell whether there was any Rank 1 jazz. The early history of jazz is obscure and we have very few recordings (Schuller, 1968, pp. 63-64). In tracing jazz from its antecedents in the blues, spirituals, ragtime, and brass band music we have to rely on verbal reports and on such inferences we can make from the few recordings we have. Traditional jazz, the earliest recognized style, certainly had more melodic and harmonic resources than Rank 1 music in primitive cultures. This is, of course, because jazz evolved in a context where devices from Rank 2 and Rank 3 music were readily available; sophisticated resources were thus available to jazz musicians from the start. The question is whether or not, on the one hand, traditional jazz uses these resources in a Rank 1 way while swing (the next recognized style after traditional) marks the emergence of a Rank 2 usage, or, on the other hand, jazz has its beginning in a certain Rank 2 deployment of musical resources with traditional and swing being two phases in the evolution of Rank 2 jazz.
At present I am inclined to think that traditional jazz is Rank 1 while swing is Rank 2. Much of the action in traditional jazz comes from the polyphonic "front line" generally consisting of a trumpet, clarinet, and trombone. The range of improvised variation for each instrument is quite small, with no instruments taking a solo role. One instrument will play the melody, perhaps with some embellishments, while the other instruments will support and surround the melody with standard "riffs" (motifs). The primary emphasis here is likely on rhythm, with the interaction of those instruments being roughly analogous to the interaction of different percussionists in a West African ensemble. However, as individual musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet begin taking on prominent solo roles, the overall texture of the music changed. By the late twenties the basic configuration of swing jazz had emerged, based on the interplay between improvising soloists and ensemble background.
Whatever my reservations about identifying traditional jazz as Rank 1 music and swing jazz as Rank 2, the emergence of bop in the 1940s clearly marks jazz's transition to Rank 3. The transition between swing and bop is recognized as a major one (Collier, pp. 341 ff.) which Gunther Schuller (1989, p. 845) describes as "a gigantic tugging and pulling and shoving, wrenching jazz apart and then fundamentally and excitingly reshaping it, putting it together again." Perhaps the strongest clue is that "bebop led jazz into the arena of art " (Jones, 1963, pp. 188-190, 199-202; Carr, 1982, pp. 117-118; cf. Hobsbawm, 1993, pp. 43 ff.). The musicians began to think of themselves as artists rather than entertainers, as playing for themselves rather than for an audience (see, for example, comments by various musicians in Gitler, 1985, p. 69, Biddy Fleet, p. 313, Red Rodney, p. 315, Buddy De Franco). As Hays has noted, art, as a category of expressive culture, is Rank 3 (Hays, 1992).
The nature of improvisation underwent a fundamental change between swing and bop. The big band of fifteen or more players was the primary performing ensemble in swing (though smaller groups were also used; see Schuller, 1989, pp. 806 ff.) A jazz piece consisted of composed sections for the ensemble with one or more sections where a soloist would create a solo. The soloists tended to create a standard solo which they used every time the piece was performed (see Berendt, 1973, p. 128). If you listen to several versions of a swing musician soloing on a particular song, you find that the solos in each version use the same general musical strategy (Berendt, 1973, pp. 132-133, Schuller, 1989, pp. 162, Note 5,pp. 173-176, 445, 481). The general structure and placement of phrases will be the same from version to version and, in some instances, individual phrases will be repeated exactly. Given that the term "improvise" tends to imply free creation, it might be better to think of pre-bop soloist practice as unnotated composition. The musician would work out a general approach for handling each solo situation and employ that approach on all occasions [endnote 7].
Bop musicians changed that. The primary bop ensemble was a group of four to six players and, unlike the highly arranged composition of the swing bands, formal arrangement was minimal. Typically, the front line (generally horns) would begin by stating the theme and conclude by repeating the theme. In between the musicians played a succession of improvised solos. Now, if you listen to several performances of a bop (and later) composition, you will find that the soloists take a different approach for each version, even with different versions made at the same recording session (Berendt, pp. 132-133). The requirement is now to invent a different approach with each performance rather than to give a new rendition of a previously worked-out approach. This is not to imply the pre-bop soloists were incapable of inventing new approaches to a song--indeed they were, and some of the best did so, especially in competitive "cutting" sessions where they tested their mettle against one annother. But such invention was not a requirement before bop; it was not routine performance practice. With bop, constant invention became a routine requirement.
Along with free invention, bop saw the emergence of the extended solo. In the words of Billy Mitchel, a tenor saxophone player from Detroit:
Bird [Charlie Parker, premier bop alto saxophonist] and them brought in different things, they brought in the time of the extended soloists and so forth. For example, in those days it was almost unwritten law that you played two choruses and then sat down. Whereas today, two choruses, ain't nobody took a deep breath yet [Gitler, 1985, p. 262].Thus not only did improvisors have to invent anew each performance, they had to invent more of it. Routine improvisational practice changed so radially with bop we seem safe to say that a new mode was required, just as the compositional mode was required in European music to accomplish the Rank 3 organization of harmonic structure. With bop almost the entire substance of a performance lay in the improvisation. The arranged elements which were so important to swing performances all but disappeared.
This difference between swing improvisation and bop improvisation has to do with which decisions about the content of a solo are made prior to performing the solo and which decisions are made only at the time of performance . Regardless of musical idiom, the jazz improvisor faces a musical situation which affords a range of possibilities; this situation dictates certain very general aspects of the performance. For one thing there is a sequence of chords which establishes a framework for pitch selection. If the song is a blues, the chord sequence will usually be twelve measures long and be divided into three phrases of four measures each. If the song is a so-called "standard" it will generally be thirty-two measures long and be divided into four phrases of eight bars each; the first, second, and fourth of these phrases will have the same chord sequence while the third phrases will have a contrasting chord sequence. Many other forms have been used. But, all the forms serve the same purpose: to establish a framework for pitch selection. Each song will also have a particular meter--most jazz is based on a four beat meter--and a tempo. Finally, each song has a given melody. The improvisor may want to base all or part of the improvisation on the melody or may choose to abandon the melody completely and work directly from the underlying chord pattern.
To construct an improvisation the musician has to decide how to handle a given musical situation. While I'm not aware of any explicit analysis of the improvisor's decision making process, it seems obvious enough that we have a hierarchy (see Powers, 1973; Hays, 1981) with some of the decisions made at relatively high levels, others at intermediate levels, and still others at the lowest levels. The recorded evidence suggests that, in the course of practicing and peforming a composition, traditional and swing musicians worked toward finding a set of high-level strategies which give pleasing results. Once found, the performer used the same choices for each performance. Only low-level and middle-level decisions remain to be decided at the performance time. The result is a performance practice where different performances are the same in general approach but differ in details.
In contrast, bop musicians gave up the practice of using the same set of high level choices for each peformance. Instead, each performance required a new set of choices at even the highest levels. The bop improvisor must be able to manipulate high-level variables during performance--variables which are fixed for the swing and traditional improvisor. The challenges inherent in each musical situation have to be met anew every time.
Despite the vagueness of this discussion about levels of musical decision, we have to remember these decisions being made by a physical organism, the human brain. Consequently, these different levels, whatever they are, are realized in different chunks of neural tissue. If high level decisions have been made prior to performance, then the tissue implementing those decisions has relatively little work to do during performance. The tissue responsible for lower level decisions must work harder since its decisions aren't predetermined. If high level decisions haven't been made prior to performance, then the tissue implementing them must be active in performance. Thus we would expect different patterns of brain activity for the swing and the bop improvisor since the bop improvisor must make more decisions during performance. We would expect a similar difference in neural activity for people listening to various kinds of jazz since, in order to understand the improvisation they're listening too, they must imitate the decisions the improvisor embodies in the solo.
Now, given that certain decisions must be made in performance, on what basis are those decisions made? On the one hand the decisions have to satisfy the formal requirements of the musical situation. But they must also satisfy the emotional needs of the moment. If high level decisions have been made prior to performance, then those decisions cannot be affected by emotional needs at the time of the performance. If, however, those decisions remain open at the time of performance, then they can be affected by current emotional needs. That, I speculate, is the significance of the bop revolution. Bop improvisation is more globally and pervasively affected by current emotional need that is swing improvisation.
Given that swing musicians created the improvised solo and bop musicians transformed the nature of jazz improvisation, how did they do it? That is, what is the change in the musical language which made these advances possible? In the case of world music we have seen evolution work by first elaborating rhythm (Rank 1), then melody (Rank 2), and then harmony (Rank 3). Jazz, however, originated in a context where Rank 2 and Rank 3 practice was available to the musicians--Rank 1 jazz shows some Rank 3 harmonic movement and some melodic sophistication. However, the fact that all the elements are there at the beginning, doesn't necessarily imply that jazz, in its development, doesn't recapitulate the overall process of musical evolution.
That process is one of getting increasingly differentiated control over musical sound, with rhythm being the most prominent element in the Rank 1 musical gestalt, and melody and harmony coming under control at ranks 2 and 3. The standard analysis of jazz's evolution delineates simultaneous changes in rhythmic, melodic and harmonic practice, with some emphasis on rhythm. What changes is the overall gestalt of musical elements.
In this change of the overall gestalt, we can see without too much difficulty that the emergence of the swing solo results from differentiating control of melody from control of rhythm. The solo developed as an extension of the "break" in traditional jazz (Schuller, 1968, p. 79). The break was a short space, generally two or four bars long, between ensemble passages in which one musician improvises improvise a connecting phrase. As players became more skilled in doing this--Louis Armstrong in particular--the break became extended to a full improvised solo rather than being punctuation between ensemble passages. The break gave players an opportunity to get free of the melody and standard accompanying riffs--the mainstays of traditional jazz--and the best of them used this freedom to develop melodic as well as rhythmic patterns. The mere requirement of playing something other than an embellished melody or standard accompanying riffs requires melodic control in addition to rhythmic control. Pitches must be chosen so they form interesting and coherent patterns withing the song's tonality.
Similarly, the greater freedom of the bop soloist requires differentiating control of harmony from control of melody. Bop improvisors differ from swing improvisors in that they moved toward rhythms based on eighth notes rather than quarter notes, could handle more intricate and angular melodies, were far more flexible in placing phrases, and used more complex chords than their predecessors (Hodier, 1956, pp. 99-115, 210-223; Collier, 1978, pp. 350-354; Williams, 1983, 141-142). In fact, bop musicians moved toward polychordalism (see Coker, 1964, pp. 66-69), thinking in terms of superimposing one chord structure on top of another. This kind of complexity meant that, at any given moment, the improvisor could relate the evolving melody to one of several possible chord sequences. Doing this requires independent control over melody and harmony. It also requires that the bass and piano player, who sound the harmonic background for the soloist, play a spare and rather "open" accompaniement which is harmonically ambiguous, implying several chordal possibilities. The soloist chooses one of these possibilities by playing notes which resolve the ambiguities inherent in the accompaniement. Thus pitch choice can be independently responsive to both melodic and harmonic considerations.
Much as been said, and still remains to be said, about these various changes. The overall effect, however, is to create an improvisational situation which is richer in possibilities. The range of valid choices the musician can make at every moment is wider. Mastering this broader range of choices is more difficult than mastering the range afforded in swing compositions, but, upon mastery, there is more freedom to create. The same holds for the listener. Following the bop soloist through a rhythmic-melodic-harmonic field of possibilities is more challenging than following a swing soloist through a rhythmic-melodic field. Resolving the coherence of the improvised bop solo is more difficult than apprehending the swing solo. Thus, with the advent of bop, some felt that jazz was too cerebral, that you could no longer hum the tune.
Bop was quickly followed by cool, hard bop and modal, operating in much the same Rank 3 musical universe. Then, in the early sixties with Ornette Colemen leading the way, jazz began moving "outside", abandoning previous conceptions of rhythm, melody, and harmony and looking for other ways of organizing improvisation. Jazz had now reached much the same stage which European music had reached by the turn of the century. The most adventurous musicians found Rank 3 conceptions limiting and began searching for a new musical land.
Yet it is difficult to isolate and describe Rank 4 music. It is not,
in fact, entirely obvious to me that we have a substantial body of Rank
These questions strike at the very heart of the issues lurking in the
currently fashionable term "multicultural." One can only hope
that Rank 4 music will help us to a fuller expressive life in which all
can move beyond the senseless antagonism which animates too many to see
their particular cultural forms at war with someone else's cultural forms
[Editor's Note 2].
Endnote 2: In addition to reading and listening, I have some direct experience with West African rhythms. For almost a decade I have been collaborating with Ade Knowles, an African-American percussionist who has studied with several African-born percussionists, including Jacub Tetty Addy from Ghana. [Back]
Endnote 3: The musical situation which brought this lesson home was a specific one in which I was a participant. There were four of us, as I recall, with Ade Knowles leading. Each of us had a bell with two or more heads on it. Ade assigned three of us simple interlocking rhythms to play. Ade then improvised over the interlocking parts. Once it got going melodies would emerge which no one was playing--that is, the tones of a melody weren't all being played on one set of bells. Rather, the tones came from one bell, then another, and another, and so on. No one person was playing the melody; it arose from the "cohesions" which appeared in the shifting pattern of tones played by the ensemble. Depending on the patterns he played, Ade could "direct" the melody, but the tones he played weren't necessarily the melody tones. Rather, they served to direct the melodic "cohesions" from place to place.
(Note this is quite different from the bell-playing act that shows up on TV variety shows. In this act you have a set of bells all tuned to different pitches and a group of bell players, each responsible for 2 or 3 or 4 or whatever bells. The ensemble then proceeds to play ordinary tunes, with the melody line moving from player, etc.)
In Ade's session, the tones which were in the foreground, i.e. the melody, shifted from bell to bell depending of the pitch and temporal relationships between the tones. Since three of us were playing the same thing over and over again, the relationships which obtained between our tones stayed the same from cycle to cycle. However, Ade's patterns were improvised; they were not the same from cycle to cycle. And the tones he played didn't simply "float on top" of the tones the rest of us were playing. They existed in the same tonal space, and, because of this, they affected the moment to moment gestalt of tones in that space.
This sort of interaction is, in fact, typical of any African percussion ensemble I've heard, not just bell ensembles. But the effect was most striking with the bells. The point is that the interaction is such that patterns move into the perceptual foreground which aren't being played by any one musician. The melodic stream, the foregound, moves from musician to musician. If you break the perceived music into perceptually and functionally distinct parts, those parts will be different from the parts being played by individual musicians. This ensemble arrangement is a perfect metaphor/realization of group consciousness. [Back]
Endnote 4: Meyer certainly includes African music, and, I would assume, all Rank 1 music within the compass of his theory. It is my sense, however, that the type of play on expectations he's talking about really only comes into the foreground with Rank 2. If we consider African music, all but one of the musical lines in a given performance are fixed. The course of individual lines, and the interactions of several lines, is thus completely predictable. The only line which is not fixed is the improvised line of the master drummer. And those improvisations really aren't intended to set up expectations which will either be thwarted or, utlimately, fullfilled. The improvisations take place within a relatively narrow compass and are intended to increase and lower tension depending on whether they work against or in concert with the background patterns. Any play on expectations is a secondary effect.
Beyond this, I'd like to suggest that this play on expectations gives Rank 2 music its effect on the mechanisms of psychological defense which Hays (1992) attributes to Rank 2 expressive works. Psychological defense requires constant vigilance, attending to one's inner state to anticipate, and block, unwanted impulses. The mutual anticipation of musicians playing with melodies may exercise this mechanism is a less threatening context. [Back]
Endnote 5: In this context, but not generally, "key" has much the same significance as "scale", "mode", or most generally "tonality"--the terms generally used to designate the sets of tones which form the basis of melodic and harmonic structures (see Reti, 1958 on tonality in general, pp. 8 - 13, and on melodic tonality, pp. 15 - 18). In Rank 2 music most performances stay within a single key or mode; even where there is movement from one key or mode to another, it doesn't have the structural significance of modulation in Rank 3 music. My sense is that much Rank 1 music doesn't even have its pitches organized into coherent scales (see Sachs, 1965, in particular, the discussion of chains on pp. 148 - 149). [Back]
Endnote 6: Hays (1992, p. 203) has speculated that Rank 3 expressive culture supports psychological reorganization; a person must expended considerable effort, must grow in some way, in order to experience the work's coherence. Possibly the deliberate shuffling of the relationship between melodic and harmonic material just described is the basis of reorganization in Rank 3 music. The "meaning" of a given note is established by the relationship between that note and its tonal center, which establishes harmonic relationships. By implication, the meaning of a phrase is established by the relationship between the notes in the phrase and their tonal center. Modulation from one tonal center to another proceeds by setting phrases so that the implied tonal center is ambiguous; it could be the tonal center we've been using up to this point, but it could be something else. The modulation is achieved when the ambiguity is resolved in favor of "something else".
In the structure just described a first modulation to a second key also brings new melodic material. The reorganization occurs when the association between melodic material and key is restructured, first when one hears the old melodic material in the first key, and then when the modulatioin leads one to hear the new melodic material in the first key. If we think of the relationship between key and melody as involving a particular affective commitment, then the restructuring of that relationship will require a restructuring of that commitment. That's what reorganization is about. [Back]
Editor's Note 1: Nonetheless, complex a capella vocal harmonies have been created and sung in American urban areas since the 1950s by people by and large illiterate in musical notation--indeed, I was one such example. Perhaps this is another expression of McLuhan's global village--the media of radio and recording, in this case, providing what Benzon might way is a synthesis of pre-literate and literate stages. For a fictional account of street-corner harmonization in the 1960s with accurate musical details, see my "The Harmony" in Xanadu 3 , edited by Jane Yolen, NY: Tor Books, forthcoming. See also Benzon's thoughts below about jazz as hybrid music.--PL. [Back]
Endnote 7: This point is surely tentative and would be questioned. For example, Eric Hobsbawm (1993) would be likely point to the effects of recording. On the one hand, early recordings were up against a three minute limit set by the available technology. That would force the artists to work in a more limited compass than they normally had in performance. The existence of recordings meant that fans could pressure musicians into repeating the recorded solos, as happened to Coleman Hawkins with his 1939 recording of "Body and Soul." Thus, I may well be forced to abandon my current formulation. The deeper point, that bop not only changed the rhythms, motifs, and harmonys of jazz, but the process of improvisation itself, is likely to admit of a different formulation. [Back]
Endnote 8: Now, in the process of dealing with tonality, some composers will do things which suggest another organizing principle. Jonathan Kramer (1988) calls this vertical music. He finds elements of verticality in, for example, the last song of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde , in much of Debussy (who was strongly influenced by a gamelan ensemble he heard at the 1889 Paris Exhibition), Charles Ives and others. Vertical music flourished in the third decade of this century and it feels to me like verticality is at least part of what Rank 4 music is going to be about. But verticality, as far as I can tell from Kramer's discussion, is not a fourth facet of musical sound. There may be some fourth facet of musical sound which composer's manipulate to create verticality, but Kramer hasn't isolated and named this element. [Back]
Editor's Note 2: For reasons too complex to detail in a Note, I view rock music--specifically, the music that came to fruition with the Beatles and Bob Dylan in the 1960s, based on the rock 'n' roll of the 1950s, and continuing in influence and popularity through the 1990s--as what Benzon refers to as Rank 4. The prime characterizing musical element--the "succesor" to rhythm, melody, and harmonic manipulation--is electronic recording technology, more particularly the advent of multil-track recording that began with Les Paul and "overdubbing" in the 1950s, reached its first creative peak with Phil Spector's four-track "wall of sound" in the early 1960s, and then went on with the Beatles and eight-track recording to establish a musical mode as different from bop as bop is from swing. In other words, I view this technology not just as a new way of recording music, but as engendering a new kind of music. (See Benzon's Note 7 for the impact of recording technology on jazz.) The high-profile tuning and integration of lyrics in this new music--lyrics played a distant secondary role in jazz and classical--is another distinguishing characteristic. For a bit more on this, see my essays on rock in my Electronic Chronicles , Tallahassee, FL: Anamnesis Press, 1992; but most of what I need to say about the hegemony of rock in the second part of the twentieth century, and, I believe, in the 21st and maybe even beyond, I have yet to write.--PL.
Author's response: I find this unconvincing. Rhythm, melody, and harmony are all aspects of sound. An acoustician can analyze a "chunk" of sound and say, there's the rhythm, and that's harmony, and melody is there. You can't do that with recording technology; recording technology isn't sound itself. Thus to think of recording technology as a fourth structuring aspect of musical sound is a category mistake.
Rightly or wrongly, this particular theory requires some aspect of sound itself as the fourth element to be brought under control by a Rank 4 musical paradigm. Timbre, for example, is an aspect of sound other than rhythm, melody, and harmony; and it certainly is manipulated to one degree or another in all musical traditions. There are traditions which depend heavily on it--I'm thinking about some music by Tibetan monks which seems to keep coming in in various things I read, though I have no direct familiarity with the music myself. But it is not clear to me that timbre has entered into combination with rhythm, melody, and harmony in a basic structuring dynamic yielding a routine Rank 4 musical practice. Perhaps, though, that Tibetan music is Rank 2 music built on the independent control of rhythm and timbre, or melody and timbre.
As for what rock music is, I think it encompasses a variety of Rank 1 and Rank 2 styles paralleling the Rank 1 and Rank 2 styles of jazz. Beyond this, most popular music, or "non-high-brow" music, is Rank 1 or Rank 2.
[Note: This author's response did not appear with the original published article.--WLB.] [Back]
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Over the years David Hays has been a valuable sounding board and critic
for some of these ideas. More recently Martha Mills has brought her knowledge
of several musics to bear on my drafts. Paul Kelley tested my ideas against
his drummer's ears and hands. Finally, through over a decade of musical
collaboration, Ade Knowles has taught me about African and Afro-Cuban rhythm.
The remaining defects are mine and I will claim them, sometimes coolly,
sometimes contentiously, as they are brought to my attention.
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