[Smt-talk] Geno- and phenotype musical structures

Victor grauer victorag at verizon.net
Mon Jan 14 10:08:15 PST 2013

At 05:53 AM 1/14/2013, Nicolas Meeùs wrote:
>The concepts of genotype and phenotype can be 
>understood in many contexts. Shaumyan's Semiotic 
>Theory of Language, so far as I understand it, 
>is purely semiotic and does not engage 
>biological or other cognitive aspects. It is 
>mainly about language and grammar, which in this 
>case is not a metaphor. The analogy between 
>Shaumyan's "Applicative Universal Grammar" and 
>Chomsky's generative grammar may be closer, but 
>Chomsky is less concerned with semiotics 
>properly speaking, i.e. with sign functions. 
>Shaumyan's book specifically adresses this question. <etc.>

It seems to me that if one were really interested 
in exploring the "genetic" (i.e., biological) 
basis of language (and by extension music), the 
sort of structure to look for would be Darwinian 
rather than purely formal (as in, e.g., set 
theory or generative grammar).  In other words, 
it would be based on development from a common 
ancestor, potentially traceable via a 
phylogenetic tree. This topic caught my attention 
because my own research over the last several 
years has been focused on precisely that issue, 
causing me to move from a primarily semiotic 
(i.e., formal) to a primarily historical (i.e., 
"genomic") approach to the understanding of 
musical "language." As I see it, the fascinating 
possibilities of set theory et al. 
notwithstanding, what is most important in just 
about all music are practices based on long 
standing traditions, rather than purely formal 
criteria (though the significance of formal 
procedures in the work of certain composers cannot be denied).

For example, the sort of linear continuities 
emphasized by analysts like Schenker are hardly 
universal and can hardly be taken as standards of 
"excellence" outside a relatively narrow 
historical framework, within which such a 
standard developed as a tradition. The same is 
certainly true of any standards based on set 
theory, or any other purely formal procedure. On 
the other hand, I believe that, as fantastic as 
it may sound, thanks to the historical research 
of the real geneticists, supplemented by the sort 
of broad based comparative musical research 
pioneered by Alan Lomax, with some assistance 
from myself some years ago, it is now possible to 
speculate meaningfully on both the nature of the 
ancestral tradition and the meanings of at least 
some of the traditions stemming from it.

The most concise summary of my thinking can be 
found in my essay "Echoes of Our Forgotten 
Ancestors" (now freely accessible: 
and the most wide ranging and speculative 
extrapolation from it can be found in my book 
"Sounding the Depths" (freely accessible in blog 
format: http://soundingthedepths.blogspot.com/).

While for many reading here, this sort of thing 
might seem closer to ethnomusicology than music 
theory, I would argue that any enquiry into the 
origins and early development of musical thought 
should be of as much interest to theoreticians as ethnomusicologists.

Victor Grauer
Pittsburgh, PA

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.societymusictheory.org/pipermail/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org/attachments/20130114/fcb5ae37/attachment-0003.htm>

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list