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The Musical Human by Michael Spitzer review – a wide-ranging global history of music

From the first rhythms and birdsong to Whitney Houston and Arvo Pärt – how music has evolved over 165m years

Music has been a lifeline during this year of Covid, but we haven’t all dabbled in drumming or taken up the trombone. Instead we’ve sparked up Spotify, soundtracking our constricted lives with a mood-changing playlist of uplifting beats or chill-out classical. This surge in listening has been little comfort to professional musicians, struggling while live venues are shuttered. Lockdown has boosted streaming by 22%, but with digital distributors keeping the lion’s share of the proceeds, some artists have found themselves delivering takeaways and stacking shelves.

As Michael Spitzer points out, this shift towards isolated listening is only the latest stage in a transition from active participation in music to our passive consumption of it that has been going on for thousands of years.

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