Airdate: Jun 18, 2009
The Music Instinct - Music Origins
If it has no functional benefit, why did humans evolve to make music?
SM: “Well, music is surely one of the greatest mysteries in the world.”
JM: Why do we make music? Where does this impulse, this instinct, come from? I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Steven Mithen is an archaeologist at the University of Reading, in England.
SM: “Probably one of the most distinctive characteristics of humans. It's universal throughout societies. We were compelled to make music and listen to music and invest so much resources into music. And yet, unlike say language or intelligence or creativity, what's the point of it? You know, why on earth do we do it? What's the functional benefit to making music? And there didn't seem to be any clear answers to that. So that set me on a, I suppose, a quest really to try to understand how this capacity, this compulsion for musicality had evolved in our species.”
JM: One way to pursue this quest was to listen to the sounds of our fellow primates, like these gibbons.
[ambience: gibbons duet]
SM: “Strangely, in some of our more distant relatives, you find high degrees of musicality. You know, you could look at the gibbons and they duet together. That sounds fantastic, just like singing. We don't know what they're singing about. So I think in fact in primates there is some some degrees of musicality there. But it’s a rather complex picture.”
JM: But our closest relatives genetically, such as chimpanzees, are not particularly musical. What about the music of early man? We’ll hear more about that in future programs. And be sure to watch The Music Instinct, a two-hour special this month on public television stations.
Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.