Talk Music to Me

When I discuss my work with others one of the first things I find myself mentioning is how interdisciplinary the project is. Although the project itself would be categorized under the larger genre of ethnomusicology the portion that pertains directly to music/musical analysis is actually quite brief. I find the majority of my discourse lends itself more to an audience of anthropologists or historians.

I recognize that if you haven’t read any of my previous posts you likely have no idea at all of what my project discusses. If you find yourself identifying with this, or any other similar blog-based exclusionary identities fear not, for i’m about to tell you what it’s about.

My project examines how the rise of western infrastructure such as radio, boarding schools, and churches in Navajo spaces altered traditional Navajo music. In other words, I am seeking differences in traditional Navajo music between today and the end of the nineteenth century.

Of course, proving a social phenomenon of this scale requires a great deal of work and demands more than mere musical analysis. This brings me to the interdisciplinary aspects of my research which include cartographic record study, oral history analysis, musical transcription analysis, social theory, psychological study, and most recently, linguistic study.

Many of these fields entered into my study relatively recently and I find that more come into play as new ideas are either affirmed or proven wrong. For instance, as I began analyzing traditional Navajo music and recognized an increase in diatonicism (western tonality) in the songs, I knew that something must be providing the spread of the western music. I began looking to various media infrastructures and when they first occurred on the Navajo reservation. This brought me to the first maps of the Navajo reservation — i.e. Cartographic records.

Some of the other disciplines that I utilize came about in less conventional ways but as Patrick Star so eloquently stated, “The inner machinations of my mind are an enigma.”

This brings me to the newest addition to my interdisciplinary family — linguistics. The more I study linguistics and more specifically, psycholinguistics, the more I see strong correlations between the way people learn/perceive language and how people learn/perceive music. Many linguists have already done a great deal of work to suggest that the parts of the brain responsible for both of these actions are highly correlated.

I seek to explore the processes responsible for native speech-sound recognition/familiarity in infants and compare that with the mind processes responsible for the establishment of normativity towards a particular system of tonality. It is my hypothesis that these regions of the brain will act in very similar ways when observed on the neural scale.

My hope would be to prove with quantitative data that humans establish normativity to a system of tonality much like they establish normativity to their native language. Although we are capable of understanding and learning a new system of tonality, we will at times be unable to avoid inserting inferences of our initially learned system.

Studies have shown that between the ages of 10–12 months, human infants lose the ability to differentiate between certain non-native speech sounds and that this inability is nearly impossible to counteract once the child is older than a few years. Humans perceive music in a very similar way and without training, are often unable to understand or perceive small differences in certain sounds although the larger system is identifiable as “different”.

I have quite a bit of work to do in order to prove this process and it may not be until a PhD that I have the resources to fully carry the study through. In the meantime, I plan on introducting new topics such as these in order to span as wide of a base possible.