Some songs have a sort of immortality, or the nearest we can get to it, they’re like DNA, they just go back and back. They change the whole time, like water flowing into water, ripples cutting across ripples, but they still have their ancestry, different families, different nations. And no matter how far back they divided from the songs we know, the songs of our own ancestry and childhood, we human beings, as we listen, still recognise those alien vocalisations as song.
Songs are the only sure form of time travel, they take us back to an epoch before history, so far back that we were not yet quite human, we didn't yet have speech.
Robin Dunbar - the name should belong to a singer, and maybe he’s that too, but he’s a Professor of Evolutionary Psychology - speculates* that language did not evolve in the way usually supposed, by a proto-genius pointing at an elk and going “Ug”, and at a horse and going “Ug ug”. That’s a pretty unlikely story of the evolution of human language.
Instead, Dunbar thinks that language evolved from singing - not a romantic notion, there’s statistics and neuroscience in his argument; basically social apes sustain the peace and coherence of the group by mutual grooming; once feeding and sleeping has been done, there are only so many hours for grooming; and as the social group gets bigger, there is just no longer enough time for all the grooming needed to hold the group together. Yet human groups went on growing. What was the binding force that kept them from continually splitting into little apelike bands?Dunbar suggests that singing, way before articulate language, did what grooming had done before; but now the binding force was song; first choric contact calls, but transmuting over millennia, or maybe quite suddenly, over a few sunrises and sunsets, when that first one heard it inside her own head as well as through the ears, looked another in the eyes and repeated it, and so on, for ever, into music. Maybe it’s that distant music we can still hear in today’s song, way down beyond mere language.
I want to work on an opera, most likely a film opera, around the evolution of song and language. Dull? It won’t be. It will be moving, spine tingling, sometimes funny. I do know what I’m doing, I’ve had plays on already, among other places at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and West Yorkshire playhouse. So I’m looking for a composer of genius, but so far hardly known, maybe totally unknown. If you are such a composer, or know such a composer - not necessarily coming up through the ranks of a school of music, but one who knows what you’re doing - and you want to write an opera, get in touch and we’ll talk about it.
*The Human Story by Robin Dunbar, Faber
Oído en el mundo real
1 year ago