Sunday, November 29, 2020

Pastoral Music Semiotic System (Alexsey Nikolsky, 2020)

In Frontiers Journal, Alexsey Nikolsky deals with the Indo-European "cow-languages", how they originally formed and how music has changed as a result.

This topic is hugely important for archaeology because it offers another dimension to understanding to the peculiarities of cattle management by the Corded Ware and later Bell Beaker groups, from gender roles to daily routines.

It is also, as Nikolsky asserts, a kind of connective tissue between PIE, music and myth.

Kulning and yodel form respectively Northern and Southern “dialects” of a cattle-directed “language”—a satellite of the proto-Indo-European.

semiotic system is a communication mode.   Humans generally have five large categories, which then splinter into various sub-modes and so on.  Pastoral cow language includes calling cow from a distance, sometimes a lead cow.  Communicating with other herdswomen from a distance.  Milking songs and other occasions.  

Nikolsky believes this language developed during Sherratt's "secondary productions revolutions" where we begin to see animals as producers rather than products.  As Nikolsky suggests, our falsetto mimics a tone that we use with small children, patronizing and neotenizing livestock from crazed beasts to the status of extended family.  Animals can be moved, relaxed and manipulated with "motherese".  

"The principal psychological trait of kulning is the “humanization” and child-like patronizing of cattle. Similar attitude characterizes reindeer pastoralism: animal is treated like a family member whose life is valued and its attitudes are respected (Ingold, 1986). Kulning, yodel, and reindeer-communication should all be regarded as various “languages of domestication,” generated by borrowing “acoustic traps and snares”—i.e., onomatopoeic decoy calls—from hunters and syntactically reorganizing them into “animal-directed” words to control the herd, its leader, and the individual animals (Alekseyev, 1995)."

Scandinavian Kulning is a more fossilized sister of Yodeling, which illuminates the Emperor Julian's complaint about the "wild shrieking sounds" that reverberated through the Alps.  Probably women calling their herds to safety from the war-machine chuckwagons.  They may have also served as lookouts, reporting the troop movements across the Alpine villages.
"Scandinavian, Icelandic, Alpine, Jurassic, Pyrenean, Apennine, Sardinian, Balkan, Turkish, and Caucasian mountains have sheltered singing styles that originated in the herding culture, and shared a peculiar singing technique based on a forceful high-laryngeal falsetto-like sound production (Wallin, 1991, 510). Wallin (pp. 511–23) summarizes the archeological, anthropometric, and genetic research to support the ethnographic findings of Carl-Allan Moberg (1971). Moberg outlines the core traits of the archaic Fåbodväsendetmusic: “head-voice” vocal technique, utilitarian function of long-distance signaling, and ideological roots in pagan magic."

The centerpiece of Fåbodväsendet tradition is its “maximal-distance” style—“kula”—that I distinguish from “kulning”—an umbrella-term for the entire Fåbodväsendet42.  Local names for kulning (e.g., lockrop) imply the alluring of animals by magic properties of sound to suggest certain behavior to the herd, avert evil trolls and predator-animals—following shamanic tradition of maiden singing (Mitchell R. W., 2001). In Swedish mythology, forest spirits possessed their own cattle, and herdswomen (kulerska) learned kulning from skogsrå, “sirens of the woods” (Johnson, 1990). Suggestive power of kulning was deemed so high that women lived in fåbods alone without any weapons. Folk beliefs attributed this power to beauty."

Gaelic Milking Song

"Similar to lullabies are milking songs (Nielsen, 1997)—used across Eurasia, from Scotland to Mongolia (Gioia, 2006b, 71). Remarkably, when milking, Mongolian herdsmen switch to motherese-like “musical talk,” based on animal onomatopoeia (Yoon, 2018). Known cases of male pastoral calling engage falsetto to imitate the female model (Uttman, 2002)."

St. Hilda

Before delving any deeper, the last part of the paper deals with more of the evolutionary nature of this music and the regression into "motherese" monophony versus are male-chorus polyphony.  I've been piddling with a paper by Jordina concerning Georgian polyphony and the male polyphonic traditions of the Circum-Mediterranean since last January.  

This subsequent post will concern another Pastoral Musical Tradition, probably introduced by the Western Steppe Herders, and how we hear the synthesis of these traditions in our modern music.

Nikolsky's paper is worth reading several times over if you can understand it.  I was a double bass performance major in college a long time ago and I found myself going through wikipedia a lot reading this.  If you have a musical background you'll appreciate his paper a lot, but there is something for everyone here; linguistics, evolution, genetics and economies.

Did ceramic cowbells precede metal bells in Europe?  I am remembering pottery fragments in cow manure piles...  Cowbell beakers?  pbbbbt 

Scandinavian Kulning is presented at Nordicvoice.

Author Alexsey Nikolsky"The Pastoral Origin of Semiotically Functional Tonal Organization of Music"
Front. Psychol., 23 July 2020 |  [Another Link]


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  2. Apollo ticks all of the boxes - cattle herder (patron of herdsmen), patron of seafarers, god of archery and god of music.