I know it’s early, but I expect it to be the best thing for a few days yet. David Byrne writes about his love affair with sound, and I came away from it feeling like I’d both learned something new and that it fit well with other ideas I already had — it was a revelation to see how well music and evolution fit together.
Because music evolves. Byrne’s thesis is that it evolves to fit its environment (sound familiar?), and that you can see the history of a genre of a music in its sound. It’s all about the spaces it was played in, which shapes the kind of sound can be used effectively…and he makes the strong point that you can’t fully appreciate the music of a culture or a time when you transpose it to a different space. He goes through all kinds of music, from medieval chants (cathedrals!) to hip hop (cars!). The iPod isn’t just a passive delivery system for generic music, it influences how music will sound — ear buds represent a completely different sonic environment from a cluttered dance club.
Apparently, David Byrne is an Ecological Developmental Biology kind of guy. I like him even more already.
Because that’s what eco devo is all about. Development and environment are all intertwined, with one feeding back on the other — species are products of the spaces they evolved and developed in, and cannot be comprehended in isolation. It’s one of the weird things about modern developmental biology, that we preferentially study model systems, organisms that have been able to thrive when ripped out of their native environments and cultured in the simplified sterility of the lab. My zebrafish live now in small uncluttered tanks with heavily filtered water; their environment is like iPods, simple, streamlined, focused with relatively little resonance. The zebrafish evolved in mountain streams feeding into the Ganges, in lands seasonally flooded by great monsoons, a vast and complicated opera hall of an environment. A wild zebrafish and a lab zebrafish are two completely different animals.
Oh, look. I have a new metaphor for issues I’ve been thinking about for some time. Thanks, David Byrne!
I might just make his essay part of the readings for my developmental biology course next term.