A critical investigation of the function of biomusicological elements in Wilken Calitz’s 2092: God van Klank (2092: God of Sound)

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Wilken Calitz’s play 2092: God van Klank is set in a dystopian South Africa in 2092. In the South Africa of the future depicted in the play the New South African Information Party (NSAIP) under the leadership of the dictator Isodore is in control of the country. The NSAIP had imposed the Ban on the Production of Sound in 2052. Under the ban, musicians had to sign the Celibate Clause promising that they would never make music again. Musicians who refused to sign the clause were executed. By 2092 there is only one musician left: Hernon Abel Freytag.

In my analysis of the play I use the unpublished script as well as a document handed out to the audience. This document is entitled “An Ode to Music” and is presented as a manifesto written by Hernon Freytag. In the play and manifesto numerous references are made to the biological evolution of music. The biological evolution of music is investigated in the disciplinary field of biomusicology, a relatively new field within musicology. The biomusicologist Brown (2003:15) defines the field as follows:

Biomusicology is a new scientific discipline whose subject matter is the evolutionary origins, brain mechanisms, and universal cultural properties of music and musical behavior. It is a synthetic discipline that sits at the interface between science and art, and between biology and culture.

As a starting point in this paper I make use of Brown’s (2003:15) statement that music evolved in humans to create social cohesion in a group. In the field of biomusicology there are different views on the original evolutionary function of music. Some consider the ability to make music as a function that evolved to improve sexual selection (see Miller 2000:329–60), while others see it as the development of a communication mechanism between mother and child (see Dissanayake 2009:21, 26). According to Brown (2003:15) making music as an individual does not contribute to survival: it is energy-consuming and can attract predators. If music is made together, though, social cohesion is created in a group and the protection the group offers the individual outweighs the costs of making music.

Then there is the theory that music is a “spandrel”, that is an evolutionary by-product of another adaptation, for example language. One of the most controversial advocates of this theory is Steven Pinker. According to him (1997:528) “music is useless as far as biological cause and effect are concerned”: “M]usic could vanish from our species and the rest of our lifestyle would be virtually unchanged.”

In his discussion Brown (2003:17) furthermore points to the emotive power of music: “music's ability to enhance, persuade, transform [and] motivate”. In dystopian blueprints this characteristic of music is often used by the oppressors to control the citizens in a society. On the other hand, it can also be used to encourage resistance against the oppressors. In this paper I explore how music and words about music function as weapons of resistance in 2092: God van Klank. I furthermore critically investigate Calitz’s portrayal of the ability to make music as an inherent genetic trait of humans, and the repression of this trait in a society.

Recalling censorship of the arts in apartheid South Africa, many critics see Calitz’s play as a warning about possible censorship in post-apartheid South Africa. Since 2092: God van Klank is an Afrikaans play set in South Africa, I also analyse the play within the context of cultural angst and disillusionment in post-apartheid South Africa, especially how it is experienced by the Afrikaner.

In the play Hernon is instructed by Isodore to entertain a group of special guests (the audience) in what could be his last performance. The guests must decide whether Hernon, the last musician in South Africa (or maybe even on earth; it is not clear), should be kept alive as “a life artefact” or executed. Hernon’s final act of resistance is not to adhere to Isodore’s request and he refuses to play music. Instead he recites long pieces from his manifesto. Considering the emotive power of music, it is strange that Hernon does not at least try to influence the audience by playing music. In the end Hernon is taken away by guards, presumably to be executed. In the play it is suggested that music will die along with Hernon. At this stage music has been banned for only forty years. If music is part of the genetic make-up of humans it is impossible that it can vanish from a society in such a short time.

There is a contradiction in the play: Calitz portrays music as an integral part of human existence, but he also refers to Pinker’s theory that music has no evolutionary function. In 2092: God van Klank there is a peculiar mix between biological evolutionary references and references to a godly creator. In the manifesto it is written that music has vanished from society because the “God of Sound” has left and that there will be sound again only if the God of Sound returns.

In Hernon’s last words in the play he says that the only chance for humanity to make music again is if the Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft is discovered by extraterrestrials and brought back to earth. In 1977 the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts were sent into space. On board each had a so-called Golden Record, a record containing different images, natural sounds, music, and messages from earth. One of the recordings is a symphony of Beethoven, which is described by Hernon as “one track for all the musicians on earth”. This focus on Western art music can be observed throughout the play. It can be compared with the outdated view in comparative musicology that music outside the Western culture is inferior. This is problematic in a postcolonial South African context.

2092: God van Klank is a fascinating play that offers various possibilities of interpretation. Calitz’s dystopian depiction is important in exploring the marginalised position of the Afrikaner in post-apartheid South Africa. A history of South African and worldwide protest music shows that it is in times of oppression that the power of music is at its strongest. In 2092: God van Klank, though, any possible resistance through music is completely suppressed. Music’s ability to create social cohesion is therefore never fully explored.

The biological evolutionary framework evoked in the play, with music as an inherent trait of humans, is undermined by the premise that the ability to make music can be completely suppressed in a society and can somehow vanish from the genetic make-up of humans. In Calitz’s dystopia there is no hope and music eventually have no power.

Keywords: biomusicology; dystopian literature; 2092: God van Klank; futuristic South Africa; Wilken Calitz

Read the article in Afrikaans: ’n Kritiese ondersoek na die funksie van biomusikologiese gegewens in Wilken Calitz se2092: God van Klank

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