chapter  6
53 Pages

Song as a Measure of Culture

W E HAVE shown in Chapter 4 that song style, considered in cantometric terms, defines the culture regions familiar to ethnologists and historians of culture. The taxonomic efficiency of cantometrics stems directly from the modesty of its aims and its methods. Cantometrics does not operate with min­ imal units or structural principles, nor does it pretend to exhaustive descrip­ tions. Its variables correspond, we believe, to the ways in which ordinary people make up their minds about the general tone of any conversation or any piece of music they hear. The individual's survival, his sanity, indeed his ability to interact moment by moment with his fellow human beings de­ pends, not only upon his knowing the meaning of words and his correct use of grammar, but even more on his response at a very subtle level to many qualitative aspects of the act of phonation. In effect he is continuously hold­ ing up a set of multiple scales to every bit of speech or song and rating its relative level of loudness, degree of forcefulness, tension, nasality, and the like. There is a good deal of variation among individuals on these paralinguistic ranges, and even these idiosyncratic patterns shift from situation to situation. Any listener, however, can orient himself instantly to these changes, judge them on a score of scales, and evaluate the output as familiar or new. Indeed, all human transactions depend upon a constant interflow of signals between individuals adjusted by such delicately shifting calibrations. In this context it is easier to understand the successful application of such crude tools as the three-to five-point cantometric paramusical rating scales to the extravagances of human song.