Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The World in Six Songs

I love music, though in a completely amateur way because I can barely even read music. So I love books like this, that discuss music without using nasty terms like chord progression to explain themselves.
This book I half liked. The part about the songs we love as human beings, the types that run through all sorts of cultures and times. That was great as the author has a wonderfully diverse sense of music and really went to great lengths to insure he was well rounded in talking about songs the world over. There were some great comparisons and some new thoughts. You have to love a book that references the Bible and Lord of the Rings in the same paragraph.
But then the section the subtitle refers to just irritated me. Perhaps I shouldn't have been reading this book with a massive headache, but the evolution sections were annoying. Its not that I have anything against evolution, but using it to explain social phenomena always seems hit or miss to me. Sometimes the examples and assumptions are unlikely to the point of being silly. The one that comes to mind is the thought that groups who buried their dead found an evolutionary benefit because it was more hygienic-so they were a tiny bit healthier than other groups. But weren't these ancient groups nomadic? So there would be just as much hygienic value in leaving the bodies at the old campsite. Or just dragging them off where you couldn't smell them any more. Or what of cannibalistic groups? They wouldn't have to spend the energy digging a great big hole and they would get extra protein. I could come up with questions about this particular theory all day. It was mentioned in the book by the way, in the section on religious songs. I think that is another reason I didn't like the evolutionary posts, the author seemed to be bringing in a lot of behaviour evolution to support his thesis, whether it was relevant or not.
I might try the author's other book, This is Your Brain on Music, because it seems to be more what I would like to read. Maybe since it is his first book, it will stay on topic more.
On a slightly related note, I have been suffering in silence because my MP3 died. But my new one came in the mail and I am going to go play with it now.

The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature. Daniel J Levitin. Viking. 2008


jendoop said...

A little tongue-in-cheek when you say you have nothing against evolution? :) Any book that purports to be about one thing than slides in a hidden agenda about another makes my skin crawl. But his ideas about music do sound interesting. I woke up this morning with a classical Italian song in my head, guess I need to go to Italy.

readerMom said...

Evolution as a biological idea is fine, just don't mess with social things you have no way of proving.