University of Cambridge
Life on Earth happened as soon as it could, taking what is still its most abundant form: the single-celled prokaryote. Our past, future and present belong to prokaryotes; we are simply a transient biological blip. Yet we can imagine something beyond the here-and-now and situate our biological and social selves at the centre of the universe, in part because of our extraordinary sociality.
Music probably also arose as soon as it could as something like the simple speech or song of the everyday communicative interactions of Homo sapiens — a form of "music" that creates and sustains our species' sociality by underpinning the sense of mutual affiliation that happens when we communicate with one another without seeking to dominate.
Music helped humans emerge from a prehuman past and helps humans manage their present-day social uncertainties. What remains open is whether music can help us retain our sociality as we navigate the indifferent algorithmic universe increasingly shaping our post-human future.
Ian Cross is based in the Faculty of Music at the University of Cambridge, where he is Professor and Director of the Centre for Music and Science. His early work helped set the agenda for the study of music cognition; he has since published widely in the field of music and science, from the psychoacoustics of violins, through the evolutionary roots of musicality, to the effects of group music-making on the development of children's empathic capacities. The two main strands of his current research involve testing ways of making musical notation easier to read, and the experimental investigation of common processes that underlie interaction in speech and in music. He is Editor-in-Chief of SAGE's new Open Access journal Music & Science, is a Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge and is also a classical guitarist.
Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester
For centuries, music has occupied a variable place between such broad domains of human experience as theory and practice, art and science, concept and percept, and language and number. More recently, music has been plumbed for insights into our species’ evolutionary heritage and harnessed to post-humanist realignments of human music-making with non human communication and the non-intentional dynamics of cultural transmission. The temporal logic of distant past and uncertain future that imbues the rhetorical pair pre-human and post-human seems altogether characteristic of an impending ecological disaster in which the humans responsible for climate change find themselves caught between too late and not yet. In dialogue with the philosophies of Giorgio Agamben and Alain Badiou, this paper navigates music’s complex geometry of betweenness (especially in regard to language and number) and inquires how that geometry might mutate in response to post-humanist temporalities—of which our own pandemic time is just one manifestation.
Holly Watkins is Professor and Chair of Musicology at the Eastman School of Music,University of Rochester (New York). She is the author of Musical Vitalities:Ventures in a Biotic Aesthetics of Music (Chicago, 2018) and Metaphors of Depth in German Musical Thought: From E. T. A. Hoffmann to Arnold Schoenberg (Cambridge, 2011). She has published articles on Romantic and modernist aesthetics, music and ecology, and intersections between music and philosophy in such venues as the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Nineteenth-Century Music, New Literary History, Women and Music, Opera Quarterly, and Contemporary Music Review. In 2010-11, Watkins held a Harrington Faculty Fellowship at The University of Texas at Austin, and in 2014-15, she received a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies to support work on Musical Vitalities.
Interest in comparing musicality in humans and other species has a long history. Scientific research on this topic has recently begun to pick up steam because it provides a powerful way to study the evolution of human musicality. Such research can also help us illuminate the cognitive worlds of other species. In this talk I will introduce this line of work and some of the insights it has generated, drawing on research with songbirds, parrots, monkeys, and sea lions. This work helps us test specific hypotheses about how humans came to be a musical species, and thus allows us to explore prehuman musicality in a scientific way.
Aniruddh (Ani) Patel is Professor of Psychology at Tufts University, USA, where he studies the cognitive, neural, and evolutionary foundations of music. He did his PhD in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard (1996) with Edward O. Wilson andEvan Balaban. He then joined The Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, a basic research institute led by the Nobel Laureate Gerald Edelman, where Patel was a Senior Fellow before joining Tufts. He is the author of Music, Language, and the Brain and a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. Dr.Patel has served as President for the Society for Music Perception and Cognition (2009-2011) and is currently working on a book on the evolution of human musicality.
This talk starts from a fundamental project of today’s Artificial General Intelligence, or AGI: building a machine that could create and understand meanings in a human fashion. This will take us on a quick tour of the requirements for meaningfulness in the world, including the evolutionary conditions that gave rise to it in some small group of earthly organisms. And this will lead us to musicking: to its origins and the special kinds of meaning it embodies. Posthuman AGI tends in the same direction that prehuman protomusicking once did, but it is not clear that human artifice can duplicate the outcome of an evolutionary niche construction “radicalized.”
Gary Tomlinson, by training a musicologist, has in recent years focused his attention on the musical and cultural evolution of Homo sapiens, leading to two books: A Million Years of Music: The Emergence of Human Modernity (2015) and Culture and the Course of Human Evolution (2018). His innovative view of this evolution models deep processual patterns in the interactions of culture and biology in hominins and other species, joining biologists' “niche construction” theory to the systematic analysis of Paleolithic cultures and an extended semiotics indebted to Charles Sanders Peirce. His current book-in-progress turns to meaning among non-human animals and is entitled Meaning and Non-Meaning in Animate Life: Signs, Information, Evolution. Tomlinson’s other writings include books on opera, Claudio Monteverdi, the role of music in Renaissance occult philosophy, and the place of song in the first meetings of Europeans with indigenous peoples of the New World; his essays explore many aspects of critical and post-critical theory. Tomlinson is John Hay WhitneyProfessor of Music and Humanities at Yale University, where for eight years he directed the Whitney Humanities Center.