MADELON MOTTET — THE PLANET OF THE SINGING APES — 2016
I have just spent two days on this book. I have watched the pictures and read the captions, watched the videos, some of them and enjoyed the surprising communion and unison with nature, whales and many other aquatic and terrestrial animals.
I checked some info and read extensively but I cannot find what would make me dream or fear anything. I am a researcher in the field of the emergence of the Homo genus and Homo Sapiens in Africa with the development of language inherited from previous Hominins (Homo Genus) and even Hominids (the genus before: I have to specify this because there is quite some confusion even on Wikipedia about the two genera. And I did not find in the book the magic I could have enjoyed as a dream or as an escape from reality. When one has spent many years studying this emergence and then the migration s out of the nest(s) based on all that is coming up fast from anthropology, archaeology and DNA studies, one is surprised by some of the hypotheses.
I do not follow references to a blue angel, and to any angel anyway which is a religious reference particularly Christian and maybe Islamic, why not the Blue Fairy of Pinocchio or Stephen Spielberg and his AI film; to mer people as being real; to Jesus to prove I do not know what about the emergence of Hominins (the Homo genus) as opposed to Hominids (the genus before) when he is attributed the fact that he would have spoken of himself as the Son of Man, which in any Semitic language, Aramaic for example, is the son of “Adam” since “Adam” is “man” derived from “adamah” meaning the “earth” in Hebrew for example, knowing that Jesus spoke Hebrew and Aramaic and probably some Latin and some Greek. Those are plain circumstantial facts of his time.
But the reference or mixing of Jesus in these hypotheses implies Jesus had some divine dimension or what in contact with some divine communion to remember in a way or another what happened several hundred thousand years before if not even more. To invoke any divine dimension in these questions of the origin of Homo Sapiens is simply not scientific. One cannot explain a mystery with another mystery, and today the question is no longer such a big mystery. I must also say that any quotation from the Bible, be it Isaiah or the Evangelists has no scientific value for me, but maybe I am obtuse enough to negate the existence of any divinity as soon as I speak of the natural world and his evolution.
Ray Jackendoff (A Generative Theory of Tonal Music, MIT Press, 1996) due to his failure at inventing or discovering any kind of a generative syntax of music, admitted that he could not in any way see a connection between music and language. I am a linguist myself, working a lot in the phylogeny of language. The monkeys whose language has been scrutinized by many people possess about three or four vowels and three of four consonants. In human language that could produce two hundred words on the pattern CVC or VCV. These monkeys have about 8 to 12 calls. They do not rotate vowels or consonants. Their articulatory possibilities are limited physiologically and even so they do not have the combinatory power of a human language. Dentals for one example are not possible due to the structure of their palate, tongue and teeth.
But singing has been thought of by many, linguists or not, Steven Mithen for one (The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body, 2005, with a title that embraces too much), to explain tone languages, intonation, and many other musical elements in language(s) but no one can say that a child in our world that has received no music or singing lessons has learned an opera aria by himself or herself and developed his or her voice by himself or herself. First how did he or she learned the words? How many times have they heard the song, etc.? Last April in Napoli, Italy, in the taxi taking me and three colleagues from downtown to the airport (45 minutes) a local radio was on and we heard O Sole Mio twice and in very long local popular versions. For a child being highly mimetic (among other reasons because of his or her mirror neurons) listening to it once it could have been enough for him or her to arrive at the airport singing the song if he or she had had a perfect ear (about one child out of ten has such perfect ear up to the age of five or six and then it has to be cultivated in a way or another to be kept or developed.
But music is everywhere in our societies. So what? So what! If my figure of one out of ten is correct that represents one or two hundred million children in the world, in a world that is haunted and fully inhabited with music all the time. So one, two or three that can learn an opera aria, or a popular song is nothing, and certainly proves nothing except that if we educated all talents very early in life we would not have all the millions of Mozart’s who are lost before ever being detected. But we know all that and we also know that people who speak — and have learned early — a tonal language like Chinese, Japanese or Korean will have a higher level of perfect hearing and music or singing capabilities.
That is just to say the book is rich and debatable and I think the author would not pretend otherwise. I hope you will give it a try and you may find some really fascinating passages, videos or pictures and you should be incited to start swimming, but not in a swimming pool because of the chlorine and try to sing under your shower and in your bath. Some can’t sing. Then they whistle, or they hum, or they use their fingers or sticks to beat a rhythm of some kind. Hominins, and why not Hominids, are “musical” beings, provided we understand “musical” not necessarily with a perfect ear, singing and playing two or three instruments. I have seen in Africa quite a few people who can dance to a simple beating rhythm, often polyrhythmic tempos that they produce themselves with two sticks or their feet and hands. Maybe after all Madelon Mottet has it right in her mind. And I must say I like her predisposed name since her first name is a very popular song in France
Quand Madelon vient nous servir à boire
Sous la tonnelle on frôle son jupon
Et chacun lui raconte une histoire
Une histoire à sa façon
La Madelon pour nous n’est pas sévère
Quand on lui prend la taille ou le menton
Elle rit, c’est tout le mal qu’elle sait faire
Madelon, Madelon, Madelon ! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aqUNjG8PN0)
And everyone knows what a “motet” is.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU