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Meaningful Music, Unmediated Sound: An Evolutionary History

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Antonio M. M. Rodrigues.

I suggest that the conditions of representation that allow for music to be apprehended as socially and emotionally meaningful are biologically grounded in our evolutionary history. Specifically, I propose that music emerged from the evolution of the human capacity for culture (Tomasello 1999, 2005), and is a means of creating joint attentions and intentions in order to achieve social goals. The evolution of a uniquely human form of social intelligence resulted in human symbolic systems such as music and language that give rise to an inherent phonocentrism (Derrida 1976), a perceived immediacy of vocally communicative sound. Although decades of ethnomusicological research have debunked the myth of music’s literal unmediatedness, I maintain that the experience of music’s immediacy, indeed the experienced immediacy of any symbolic communication, is what allows it to be intelligible in the first place.​

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Science Society talks series.

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