Ancient Greek music has emerged from a handful of ancient documents inscribed with a vocal notation devised around 450 BC, consisting of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of Greek words. Ancient Greeks composed music and verse meant to be accompanied by the lyre, reed-pipes, and various percussion instruments between 700 and 450 BC. These are known from paintings and archaeological remains, allowing researchers to establish the timbres and range of pitches they produced. Modern scholars have been able to reconstruct and perform these fragments.
As representatives of art, the science of acoustics, structural engineering and relationships with the human body, musical instruments are older than civilization itself. Musicologists speak of corporal origins and, in the words of André Schaeffner, define this as “musiques corporelles” (body music). Hand clapping to accompany singers or instrumental passages is depicted in numerous tomb paintings and reliefs. Egypt in particular employed musicians using carved wooden “clappers” from pre-dynastic times to the Hellenic period.
The first instruments in pre-Columbian cultures were probably those obtained from the environment and used in their natural states, without further modification. Seed pods or “cascabeles,” the conch shell trumpet, calcite stones that emitted pleasing sounds when struck and the tortoise shell played with deer antlers may have originated from organic materials that were gathered for utilitarian purposes. As New World religions became more complex, rituals demanded sacred music, dance and human sacrifice.
From these beginnings the sophisticated manufacture of musical instruments evolved. For example, the tortoise shell gave rise to the teponaztli. This is a hollowed out log, richly carved and/or painted, with two to four keys cut into the top that emit musical notes when struck with mallets. Clay flutes come in all shapes and sizes, requiring great skill and knowledge of acoustics in their manufacture. Trumpets are painted with images of gods, sacred events and animals, manufactured from clay, wood, stone and gourds in the Mayan tropical lowlands.
Urban centers such as Chicago have long been recognized for their affiliations with leaders in contemporary classics and jazz. Beat poetry during the 1950s paved the way for further experiments and interaction between authors and exponents of the avant garde, incorporating sounds of chaos, such as breaking glass and multiple radios turned on and off at random, with ethnic tonalities such as Afro-Caribbean musical traditions.
Among recent projects, Raíces y Sueños (Roots and Dreams) involved the talents of master percussionist Rubén Álavarez and poet David Hernández, a founding member of Chicago’s Latino Arts Movement. Described as “the city’s poet laureate,” Hernández uses the sounds, smells and textures of his environment, supplementing thirty years of experience as a writer with his collaboration in music ensembles.
The Classical era and flowering of the Romantics changed the face of Western society. Europe saw revolution, the Franco Prussian War, invention of the telegraph and internal combustion engine. Frederic Chopin enlarged the repertoire for solo piano, expanding the instrument’s range, as well as its impact on modern music. Franz Schubert’s personality and style exemplified the Romantic ideal.
Later Expressionist composers such as Schoenberg and Paul Hindemith took chamber music into unexplored territory and new directions. Schoenberg, evolving from his early tonal works to later use of dissonance, insisted that this new textural development was simply a logical evolution. Modern movements in classical genres, as well as jazz were classified using similar phrases, appearing in critiques by the establishment, that applied to visual arts and architecture.
Minimalism, for example, was characterized by the absence of adornments such as modulation, in pursuit of a stripped down functionality. This device is generally understood as a theory of major/minor tonality. Perceptually, tonality can express a migration and return to a hub, or central reference point. In relationships between sciences and post-tonality in music, processes of cognition take the form of principles that delineate our private responses to change, such as intuition.
Definitions of temporality in music may confirm or refute certain absolutes. Variable behavior as a range of modalities within societies has a visceral affinity with the liberal arts. In composition, properties of elasticity and resistance to standardization pertain to tempo, rhythmic and metric structures, allowing for the possibility of anti-narrative techniques, non linear motion, autonomic gesture and deliberate incoherence. These reflect choices we make based on philosophical and rustic considerations, idiosyncratic of content and style in the humanities of native cultures as well.
The supporting document; Music! Music! Music! is also available as a downloadable PDF at the Rhythm, Rhyme and Reason store.