HOMININ MUSICALITY AND MUSICAL EXPRESSIVITY: Revisiting Davies’ Contour Theory

Anton Killin, Australian National University

ABSTRACT:  Stephen Davies defends an analysis of musical expressivity dubbed the ‘contour theory.’ In other work, Davies argues that hominin music could be as much as 500,000 years old. The musical expressivity debate is typically concerned with ‘pure’ (or ‘absolute’) music, taking examples from the Western art music canon as paradigmatic. I register some reservations about applying contour theory to musical expressivity in hominin prehistory, even though we might have reason to think that early musical activities were ‘pure’ insofar as they were wordless (e.g., utilising vocables, not lyrics) and not programmatic.

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