Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"They want the forest to be happy"

Q. What aspects of the music did not prompt a universal response? 
A. We looked at whether the music evoked happy/joyful or sad/scary feelings, and got a positive/negative rating. We used music from three films: the melancholy theme from Schindler's List, the scary shower scene from Psycho and the upbeat Cantina scene tune from Star Wars. The Canadians reacted as you might expect.  The Mbenzélé...found all the music negative.
Q. Why might the Mbenzélé not like the Western music? 
A. All the pygmies' own music is highly arousing and positive. They feel negative emotions disrupt the harmony of the forest and they depend on the forest and so they want it to be happy.
from an interview with Stephen McAdams regarding his research into universals in music.

Mbenzélé music is mostly vocal, McAdams explains, with some clapping and beating on log drums. But is "of a sophistication comparable to Western symphonic music, with extraordinary polyphonies and polyrhythms."

For the Mbenzélé, music is functional. "They don't sit around and consume it. Music accompanies various kinds of activities."

I wrote briefly about the music of Mbenzélé (Babenzele) on page 128 of The Book of Barely Imagined Beings.