In an attempt to justify studying man as is, neurologist Erwin Straus makes an analogy to cars and carriages. He fleshes this out in his paper The Upright Posture:
“No designer of an automobile would try to explain its present form and shape by mere reference to its forerunners. It is true that a modern car has some basic traits in common with the old buggy, but just that which gives an automobile its characteristic shape is not learned from the old form. It is the automobile’s own function and dynamic structure that determine its shape”.
We hold on to these basic traits in comparison. They serve as a point of reference, a sort of origin, to articulate the present form. What Straus emphasizes is that these traits are of little consequence to what makes the present form what it is. Hence, we should study the present form as is.
Take dance music for instance. We could try to explain the present form of dance music at clubs today by referencing its forerunners. Let’s take 18th century Baroque dance. Sure, there are bodily movements and music involved in a social ritual. Is that enough to make this argument? Could 18th century Baroque dance, for instance, explain the use of disc jockeys and recorded music for dancing? It would be quite a stretch.
And one cannot describe the automobile without describing the engine and all of its moving parts. There are technical and social innovations which cannot be described by the past. The disc jockey is loaded with such innovations, especially in regards to recorded music and its industry, that could not be explained by the 18th century.
What we are left with is explaining a music as it exists within its own context and environment; that, as Straus wrote, it is a music’s “own function and dynamic structure that determine its shape”. If developed and explored further, this could be one strategy to deal with music history in a way that is not hinged on influence we have talked about before (here).