On the Sound and Musical Identity (An Alternative View)

  • Igor Cvetko


All too often, musicology seems to overlook the fact that music is a universal aspect of human behaviour (Nketia, 1962). Even ethnomusicology seems to forget that its basic object is the comparative study of the sound of musical cultures as integral systems. These, of course, include the sound (in its broadest sense) also as part of human behaviour (Nettl, 1974). It would seem that to speak of music as a universal category is a concept of the Western world and a result of the causative view of the world rather than the result of trying to give music its place within the framework of its objective environment. The fact is that, apart from the "classic" (ethno)musicological material, there are a number of sound conventions coming from all over the world that (ethno)musicology will normally overlook, or at least will not make them an object of systematic study. Only after it has ceased to exist as an object "on its own", sound acquires an additional dimension "inside" the architecture which is characterized as artistic or else ethnic. This new dimension makes the sound as a natural sign become a conventional sign – language. The "semanticity" of the sound as such a category of communication (for example in folk customs and rituals) will depend (also) on the environment and on the associations of individual sound elements within a particular system being linked up to it. Linguistic analyses (as, for instance, in the case of the meaning of the syllable ma in China) have confirmed that a word sounded differently may, or may not, acquire a new meaning. Instances of people from different parts of the world hearing the same sounds (e.g. those produced by animals) in different ways furthermore reveal that even the same sound may produce different sound images in different environments. Sound is therefore not an absolute category, and its symbolic semanticity should always be examined (also) in connection with the cultural (ethnic) setting from which it originates. Apparently, the sound quality of the surroundings and a number of rudimentary sounds do not fail to evoke some kind of response in the deepest layers of man's psyche. Moreover, by way of a series of sound engrams, they become a powerful former of man's "soundidentity". And, finally, the whole complex then acts, beyond any doubt, as a source of musical creativity. Music (sound) should therefore be studied primarily as a category of behaviour (Wachsmann, 1971), not only as a phenomenon as such but in juxtaposition with the anthropology of a musical phenomenon.


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How to Cite
CvetkoI. (1990). On the Sound and Musical Identity (An Alternative View). Musicological Annual, 26(1), 59-65. https://doi.org/10.4312/mz.26.1.59-65