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The Story Of Human Communication



How did we get here to the point where our ability to communicate is beyond comparison with any other species? Unravelling the roots of primordial sounds and pre-language communication is fraught with difficulty. The journey from our primordial ancestors' guttural grunts to the development of language, to the intricate tapestry of music, and other arts is a fascinating chapter in human evolution. This path reveals a continuous interplay between biological adaptation, environmental pressures, and cognitive advancements, all interwoven with the ever-evolving soundscape of human communication.

While pinpointing the exact origin of spoken language remains a captivating mystery, paleoanthropological evidence suggests early hominids possessed the anatomical capacity for vocalisations as far back as 25 million years ago. These proto-humans are likely to have relied on a repertoire of grunts, growls, and vocalisations primarily driven by emotional expression and basic survival needs. This primordial soundscape served as the foundation for further vocal development, paving the way for more nuanced communication.

Over time, social complexities and cognitive breakthroughs spurred the expansion of this communicative toolkit. Gestures, facial expressions, and even rhythmic body movements joined the vocal repertoire, forming a rich pre-language system. These multimodal interactions likely included proto-linguistic elements like shared intonations, rhythmic patterns, and vocal emphasis, laying the groundwork for the emergence of true language.

The exact timing and location of language's "invention" remain elusive. However, estimates suggest language emerged between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago, coinciding with the rise of Homo sapiens. This crucial leap involved the ability to link arbitrary symbols (words) with specific meanings (concepts). These early words were onomatopoeic, mimicking natural sounds, or iconic, resembling the objects they signified.

Crucially, these initial words were likely accompanied by rich vocal cues like pitch, stress, and intonation. These "proto-tonal" features served not only to differentiate words but also to convey emotional nuances and pragmatic functions, enriching communication beyond the literal meaning of spoken words.

While many modern languages have shed reliance on pitch as a grammatical tool, the influence of tonality on meaning persists in various forms. Consider languages like Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Thai, where pitch variations create distinct words even with identical consonant-vowel combinations. Even in non-tonal languages like English, subtle variations in pitch contribute to conveying sarcasm, doubt, or emphasis, demonstrating the enduring power of tonality in shaping meaning.

Furthermore, research suggests that even in non-tonal languages, listeners subconsciously pay attention to pitch variations, employing them to decode emotional cues and speaker intent. This highlights the universality of tonality as a fundamental aspect of human communication, transcending specific linguistic structures.

The journey from primordial grunts to complex languages exemplifies the remarkable evolution of human communication. Tracing this path reveals how biological adaptations, cognitive advancements, and social pressures intertwined with the changing soundscape, giving rise to the symbolic power of language. Even as some languages have moved away from explicit tonal systems, the legacy of pre-linguistic tonality lives on, subtly shaping our understanding and expression of meaning, reminding us that even in our most articulate moments, echoes of our primal past continue to resonate.

Fundamentally meaning is context dependent. When we consider the words we say and the words we hear from others, their meaning depends on the situation which surrounds the communication and at a very deep level the tonality of the way they are said.

Communication isn’t just about words. Think of a silent film and then add a variety of musical tracks. The visual experience remains exactly the same but the music changes the meaning. It can in fact change it quite drastically. It is the simple truth about tonality. Tonality changes everything.

Musicians of every kind practise. They not only focus on technical skills, they also aim to portray a message through their music. So how this message is created and what effect has the work needed to create the message had over the lifetime of the performer?

Keep in mind that music has by definition, inherent inclusivity. Our musical journey reflects a core human desire, one of connection – a desire that transcends cultures and social hierarchies. Mastering Chaos argues that the ability to create music is a fundamental human superpower, waiting to be awakened in everyone, regardless of bias or prejudice.

We are going to dismantle the idea of cultural superiority. Just as early humans used a variety of sounds to express themselves, all forms of music – folk, classical, jazz, pop – have the power to move us. 

We challenge the notion that classical training is the only path to "serious" music. Elitist classifications diminish this richness: Everyone's a Musician.  

We emphasise that musical participation isn't just about external validation or achieving virtuoso status. Like the West African communities music-making is a joyful, communal expression for anyone, regardless of skill level.

We need to steer away from viewing music solely through the lens of individual achievement and competition. Let's champion the power of collaboration, where the focus is on creating together modelled on the joy of creating music.  Just as our musicality evolved from simple sounds, artistic merit is found in all genres. Folk music, pop music – all hold the potential for deep creativity and emotional resonance.

Through the lens of Mastering Chaos: The Musician's Way, let's explore how our innate musical strength dismantles barriers to creativity. By recognising the musician within everyone, we can create a more vibrant and harmonious world, one song at a time.


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