A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Is Sacred Harp religious or saccular music?

Neil P. McAngus Todd and Bjorn Merker, in Siamang gibbons exceed the saccular threshold: Intensity of the song of Hylobates syndactylus, states:

While evolution has produced in all classes of vertebrate a great diversity of vocal courtship displays, loud synchronous chorusing employing amplitude summation of multiple voices may have played a special role in human evolution.

The abstract from Todd and Merker’s paper:

Measurements are reported of the intensity of the siamang gibbon loud call obtained from the vocal bouts of three family groups at Twycross Zoo, UK. Across 25 samples the maximum intensity ranged from 95 to 113 dB SPL (linear frequency-weighting and fast time-weighting) and exhibited three frequency modes of 250–315 Hz, 630–800 Hz and 1.2–1.6 kHz. The lowest frequency mode, which may correspond to the “boom” sound produced by resonance of the siamang inflated vocal sac, had a mean maximum intensity of 99 dB SPL. These values, which are in excess of the saccular acoustic threshold of about 90 dB at 300 Hz for air conducted sound, suggest that primate loud calls recruit a primitive mode of acoustic sensitivity furnished by the sacculus. Thus reproductive vocal behavior of primates may be influenced by a primitive acoustical reward pathway inherited from a common ancestor with anamniotes. In humans such a pathway could explain the compulsion for exposure to loud music.

The sacculus is part of the inner ear, and is part of the system that keeps us from falling down more frequently than we do. But Todd and other researchers have discovered that people (and other primates, perhaps) seem to enjoy sounds which are loud enough to cause the sacculus to respond–perhaps by connections to the hypothalamus (where hunger, sex and pleasure take up their major residence in our brains).

Anyway, one way to describe Sacred Harp music is “loud synchronous chorusing employing amplitude summation of multiple voices,” but this is perhaps not as useful an introduction as the audio slideshow that I mentioned on Sunday.

One response to “Is Sacred Harp religious or saccular music?

  1. ---dean January 18, 2006 at 12:54 am

    I suppose it was worth it just for the title.

    So continuing the behavior, if one had Fasola’d at the feeding of the 5,000, might it have been Shared Carp and Sacred Harp ?

    Such wordplay contributes to the loss of decorum sacculorum.


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