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Prospective readers of this tremendously authoritative book should note that it is distributed by MIT Press. Although it just about qualifies as a book about music, it is primarily anthropology – concerned with human evolution. I can best express this problem by quoting from the blurb: ‘What is the origin of music? in the last few decades this centuries-old puzzle has been invigorated by new archaeological evidence and developments in the fields of cognitive science, linguistics, and evolutionary theory … Gary Tomlinson draws from these areas to construct a new narrative for the emergence of human music.’ It is important to note that these ‘fields’ may be less than attractive to musicians. Also, we should note the words ‘the emergence of human music’. This emergence, in terms of Tomlinson’s book, is slow. I was more than one-third of my way through before I began to feel a tangible link between speech ‘pitches’, rhythms, etc, and music. The titles of chapters 2, 3 and 4 may further illustrate what I mean – 1,000,000 Years ago: Acheulean Performances; 500,000 Years ago: Lower Paleolithic voices; and 250,000 Years ago: Neandertal Digitalization – and this fourth chapter ends at page 172 out of 300 pages of text. The reader who will fully appreciate this deep and difficult book will be a student of anthropology who is also interested in the gradual evolution of music, not a musician with a secondary interest in anthropology. If I quote from page 263, it is simply to give an example of the level of understanding required: ‘Both relied, after all, on the panoply of sapient cognitive capacities, and, once an epicyclic impulsion had created a symbol system and its advantages on the taskscape were evident, weak coevolutionary pressures would have selected those brains that, though minimally different from others around them, were best at assimilating the system during their octogenetic development.’ Whose idea was it to render half of the dust-jacket (the blurb and extracts from reviews) unreadable by covering it with a Pech Merle cave drawing? it’s very messy.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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