CAN CULTURE EMERGE FROM SCRATCH?

March 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

March7

The forbidden experiment: Can culture emerge from scratch?”

Ofer Tchernichovski, Professor of Biology at CUNY, has been performing multi-generational experiments with songbirds. He writes:

“What would happen if human infants were raised in an isolated environment without any exposure to human culture? What would happen if we let such a naive colony evolve over generations? We performed the analog experiment with songbirds. Songbirds learn to sing by imitating their parents and neighbors, and different colonies vary in their song culture. Without exposure to parents and neighbors, birds develop abnormal songs. We performed a multi-generational experiment, and discovered that abnormal isolate songs evolve into normal songs within 3 to 4 generations. How does this happen, and what are the implications for human culture?”

Deborah Latz is one of Cornelia Street’s favorite songbirds. She sings in English, French and German, and these different languages and musical cultures inform her art. She has just returned from a European tour, where she played in Paris with legendary pianist Alain Jean-Marie, and in Livorno at Jazz Club Il Paradosso. Critics have called her “one of the finest balladeers of our time” (Jazz Society Of Oregon) and “undeniably unique” (jazzimprov.com). AllAboutJazz-NewYork says, “Her free vocal line is clear and perfectly centered. Her technical facility is most evident, however, when she sustains a pitch at a pianissimo for several measures”. She exemplifies the handing down of various musical and linguistic traditions, through iconic figures such as Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf to the legendary composers who contributed to the great American Songbook.

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