Monday, July 14, 2008

Further Notes on Agbagbaɖoɖo

Agbagbaɖoɖo, is, it will be recalled, as Kathryn Linn Geurts tells us, the Anlo-Ewe term for the vestibular sense, also known as a sense of balance or equilibrioception (Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community). Now I've started reading some of the laboratory research into the sense of rhythm being done by people such as Laurel Trainor, Sandra Trehub, Geoff Luck and Neil Todd. Initially I was drawn in by the question of the development of a sense of rhythm in infancy (or the rhythm of development), but when I saw evidence pointing to the vestibular system I found it remarkable that the Anlo would distinguish agbagbaɖoɖo from azɔlizɔzɔ (a sense of walking, movement) and from nusese (hearing).

I don't know if we're each born with what Carolyn Drake calls an oscillator, that is, "a periodic regularity in the temporal distribution of attentional energy," or a "subjective tempo" (Drake et al., "The development of rhythmic attending in auditory sequences: attunement, referent period, focal attending"); I do suspect there's a connection between the vestibular system and an experience of rhythm, but I can't be sure that there aren't different kinds of experiences of rhythm that merit scrutiny. Perhaps people have multiple oscillators, as has been theorized. Perhaps having multiple oscillators wouldn't even begin to describe a natural heterogeneity of rhythmic feelings.

Phillips-Silver and Trainor, on the basis of their recent study (pdf) of how movement shapes what we hear, say that "because movements of the head alone affected auditory encoding whereas movement of the legs alone did not, we propose that vestibular input may play a key role in the effect of movement on auditory rhythm processing." Is this enough to say that music and dance not connected primarily through azɔlizɔzɔ but through agbagbaɖoɖo? I'm not sure. Phillips-Silver and Trainor conclude that "vestibular and auditory information are integrated in perception." (In what sense is a signal "information"?) Perception is a crucial issue here. Is it perception itself that is observed in these experiments allowing one to conclude that the vestibular and the auditory are integrated, or, rather, are we observing the recollections of perceptions, or the recollections of processings, which one might expect to show evidence of integration for reasons related to recollection rather than being directly related to perception? Is the integration of music and movement a fait accompli or must it be accomplished? Have you already decided how you will listen to music that you have not yet heard?

Trehub says (pdf), "Infants’ interest in maternal speech, while considerable, does not match their interest in maternal singing. Indeed, the music in speech seems to underlie its attractiveness to prelinguistic infants." Saying "prelinguistic" is even more prejudicial than saying "infant." How do we appreciate rhythmicity for what it is? At what point in the development of the young person do we recognize his sense of rhythm? Does it form? Does it ever cease to form? If we suspend judgments about form and language we see an unwarranted bias in thinking about brain activity as the transmission of "information." We should attend to the rather obvious fact that infants are more interested in song than in speech, as if rhythm were a path they intended to follow in life. Do they know something science has somehow forgotten? What does the central nervous system–a more communitarian localization of synchronicities, if such they be, will be the topic of an upcoming post–not have to do with agbagbaɖoɖo?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:19 PM.


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