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Why Music and Shamanism for Orangutans are Similar


How do you get people to empathize with a species when you have no ability to get inside their heads? Today, orangutan conservation has become something that Indonesians do out in the forests. In service of these efforts, musicians and shamans have joined Sound For Orangutan, an annual music event held in Jakarta since 2012 with additional festivals in other locations in subsequent years. Within this frame of reference, I will argue that both music and shamanism exceed semantics that merely describes differences in things. On stage: musicians incorporate different primate “calls” in a single song that points to a location in which the orangutan and non-orangutan coinhabit. Through different styles (e.g., children’s song, rock, noise), they show a common interest in experiencing nonhuman emotions by singing like the primates. Backstage: shamans convince deities to prevent the rain from falling on the occasion. Through different religious orientations (e.g., Islam, Buddhism, Kejawèn), they conduct a similar set of rituals in which they produce smoke that looks like cloud movements.

With likeness as my object of inquiry, I ask: Given the prevalence of non-linguistic logic, what is being communicated? What enables that communication, and thus the relations among people who take advantage of its analogies? In their senses of wonder and beauty by virtue of the recognition of likenesses, what develops the sequence that leads to the absence of attention to difference? For this project, I have collected a diverse array of information on: (1) Why musicians play music instead of verbalizing their emotions on stage; (2) How shamans convince deities with deeds rather than words; (3) A simulation technology that enables guitarists to reproduce the same sound across different venues and seasons; (4) A couple of musicians who no longer speak with each other but still sing with each other in sync at the same place at the same time for primates.

Using a field research design that detects when likeness becomes more apparent than differences, this study seeks to articulate the limitations of linguistic models of communication for musical and shamanic phenomena. This entails an examination of the more basic and direct role of iconic and indexical processes in communicating emotions, establishing empathy, and communicating despite lacking shared language, culture, religion, on behalf of nature or deities. By processing concrete empirical data through Peircean semiotic and emergentist views that are capable of capturing how thoughts show up in the world spontaneously, my goal is to understand why shamanism and music in these instances are similar.

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