NomadIT Conference Suite

TAG2010: 32nd annual meeting of the Theoretical Archaeology Group

Bristol, 17th-19th Dec 2010

(S37)

Artefact to auditorium: aural agendas in the archaeology of prehistoric sound (partly supported by the AHRC ‘Beyond Text’ program)

Location Wills 3.32
Date and Start Time 19 Dec, 2010 at 09:00

Organisers

Fares Moussa (University of Edinburgh) email
Paul Keene (University of Edinburgh) email
Rupert Till (University of Huddersfield) email
Simon Wyatt (Bristol University) email
Mail All Organisers

Short Abstract

This session explores the history, interface and development within and between the ‘arts’ and ‘sciences’ in our understanding, (re)construction and consumption of prehistoric music and musical composition inspired by prehistory.

Long Abstract

The archaeology of prehistoric music has made a useful contribution to our understanding of prehistoric society. But with few surviving musical artefacts or depictions and no manuscripts, the subject has been vulnerable to ‘open’ interpretations and cross-cultural analogies or stereotypes by archaeologists and researchers such as (palaeo-) musicologists or (palaeo-) psychologists and composers or performers who have been inspired by prehistory. More creative and humanistic musical interpretations nevertheless have the power to inspire and unite people in contemporary society, whilst new scientific methods of reconstruction, such as archaeo-acoustics, can enlighten us about musical heritage and daily life in prehistoric society.

This session will explore the often complementary relationship between the ‘art’ and the ‘science’ of prehistoric sound and music. It will question why prehistoric music reconstructions and compositions inspired by prehistory are represented in the manner and style we hear today. What has led to the representation of prehistoric music; how do we understand the acoustic properties, tone and sound aesthetics of prehistoric instruments and performance spaces; how might we approach understanding the performative in prehistoric societies?; and why are particular forms of music and sound represented in classical and contemporary composition and performance rather than others? In short, what are the knowledge sources, influences and constraints behind the music that is popularised as a reflection of prehistoric sound organisation and wider prehistoric society?

AHRC Beyond Text funding may be available to potential contributors, especially PhD candidates, interested in presenting a paper in this session as well as a practice or performance based contribution at a public event and workshop in Edinburgh during April/May 2011.

This session is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Stonehenge rocks

Author: Paul Devereux (Time & Mind)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

An audio-visual report on some of the findings of an acoustic survey of Carn Menyn, Preseli, by the Royal College of art project, 'Landscape & Perception'. It will focus on lithophone incidence at the location.

Long Abstract

Over a number of field studies the 'Landscape & Perception' project, under the auspices of the Royal College of Art , has been conducting an acoustic survey of the Carn Menyn ridge, Preseli, Wales, claimed source of Stonehenge bluestones. The survey conducted a range of field tests for lithophone and unusual echo incidence. A major field session in August 2010 completed the collection of an initial set of lithophone data for the location which will form the basis of this TAG report. Apart from providing a general overview of lithophone distribution at Carn Menyn, certain acoustic 'hotspots' have been identified, one of which coincides with an area identified by the Darvill and Wainwright field studies there as a probable bluestone 'quarry'. The report will include audio clips and is being proposed as part of the S37 session, 'From Artefact to Auditorium'.

Sound archaeology: the categorisation of sites according to their sonic characteristics

Author: Rupert Till (University of Huddersfield)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

It has become clear through the fields of music archaeology and archaeoacoustics, that in certain cases the sonic character of an archaeological site may be important. This paper provides a categorisation system that can be used to assess the importance of sound at a site, to illustrate the different kinds of sound evidence that may be present.

Long Abstract

Sound and music don't occur in isolation, but are always set in an acoustic context. Indeed in some cases archaeological sites act like music instruments, as objects that create sound when acted upon by human agency, or perhaps more simply as an object that can create musical sound.

It has become clear through the fields of music archaeology and archaeoacoustics, that in certain cases the sonic character of an archaeological site may be of as much or greater importance than its visual or material construction. The level of evidence for such significance varies widely however, from sites that may possibly have some kind of sonic interest, through to sites that we have clear evidence were intentionally built with sound in mind. This paper will provide a stepped categorisation system that can be used to assess the importance of sound at a site. As well as providing a way of differentiating between different types of example, this paper aims to illustrate the different kinds of sound evidence that may be present in an archaeological site, and to show why it is important that archaeologists and heritage professionals bear in mind the sonic as well as the visual and material. Examples of archaeological sites with various levels of evidence of sound archaeology will be given, in order for illustrative purposes. The paper will go on to discuss how varying levels of evidence and certainty may impact upon our ability and methodology when trying to reconstruct such sonic architecture.

Abstract aerophones and tangible tones: prehistoric imparsimony or Occam's mallet

Author: Simon Wyatt (Bristol University)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

Interpretation is laden with subjectivity. We consider interpretations of prehistoric flutes which while logical are not airtight. Experimental models may suggest different use patterns though by no means guarantee an infallible interpretation and call us to acknowledge our biases.

Long Abstract

Archaeologists have long considered that subjectivity has a bearing on our interpretations. Ethno- and chrono- centric attitudes abound and are able to creep into otherwise sound hypotheses. This paper will examine two early cases of perforated bone tube and consider the changing ways in which such objects may be interpreted. The Isturitz pipe has been deemed a flute for many years. The second, the most recent ancient bone wind instrument, was published in an article with a title "New Flutes..." prior to any discussion of the properties of the artefact or discussion of its function. Recently an alternative interpretation has been given for the Isturitz pipe which while maybe valid is not foolproof and may be argued differently based on the same criteria. This is where the question of bias appears and why we should be careful of invoking the simple explanation.

Here we will consider the biases of the author and how experiment intended to test theoretical view may lead us to think again and expand our horizons. Based on experimental models of both instruments we shall explore how ones own unconscious agendas may blinker our understanding and how these same models may lead to us becoming aware of unthought possibilities.

Both these objects may be flutes, or perhaps not. Experimental work has the power to test hypotheses and free our interpretations. It also has the ability to demonstrate that more than one interpretation and indeed playing style may work for the same evidence.

Deer antler whistles in Northern Iberian peninsula

Authors: Raquel Jimenez (Universidad de Valladolid)  email
Carlos García Benito (Unversidad de Zaragoza)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

In this paper we will try to clarify the use of whistle-like antler objects as sonorous-objects, confronting other theories through the constructions of replicas and the ethnographic comparison with nowadays Spanish goatherds’ horn flutes and whistles. We will also try to propose a function for these whistles considering the archaeological and cultural contexts and putting aside preconceived premises about Prehistory and sound. To conclude, we will discuss the importance of the whistles in protohistoric soundscapes taking into account the specific environmental conditions.

Long Abstract

The new finding of a 1st Century deer antler whistle-like object in the Celtiberian village of Los Bañales shows how widespread these artifacts were among the indigenous populations of northern Spain and Portugal, as these objects have appeared in Celtiberian settlements in the village of La Hoya in Alava, in the Roman village of Bilbinis in Zaragoza, and in Coninbriga in Coimbra, Portugal. A few examples of possible deer antler whistles have also been found in Iron Age settlements in Poland, the Check Republic, Germany and the Netherlands. Even if some of the whistles appear in Roman settlements of the 1st century B.C., it is more likely that they belonged to local populations settled in the newly built roman cities, as we don´t have examples of this kind of artifacts in Rome.

The northern European examples present a poor state of preservation and are incomplete. Instead, Iberian whistles appear in important numbers and are in an excellent state, so that a better acoustic study and better replicas can be done.

In this paper we will try to clarify their use as sonorous-objects, confronting other theories, through the constructions of replicas and the ethnographic comparison with nowadays Spanish goatherds' horn flutes and whistles. We will also try to propose a function for these whistles considering the archaeological and cultural contexts putting aside preconceived premises about Prehistory and sound.

To conclude, we will discuss the importance of the whistles in protohistoric soundscapes taking into account the specific environmental conditions.

'Primitive' sound, 'Ritual' performance and the origins of 'Music'

Authors: Fares Moussa (University of Edinburgh)  email
Paul Keene (University of Edinburgh)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper explores theoretical questions concerning the origins of self-conscious sound-making and music performance and its relationship with contemporary concepts of music production and performance.

Long Abstract

Through exploring the unique human-perceived nature of sound - in contrast to vision for example - this paper seeks to question the limits of the production and consumption of music as a uniquely recreational act and how that might affect the way we approach the probable functions of sound-making in the past. It posits that some understandings of ancient sound-making and sound-amplifying tools can be contextualized in a horizon of functional ritualised actions. Out of this, creative opportunities arise for contemporary music agendas which emphasise difference, discontinuity, spontaneity and everyday action as oppose to repetition, continuity, fusion, harmony and composition. Attempts to evoke the past through historically constructed aesthetic ideals are supplanted by associations with human embodied action and instinctive or physically reflexive re-action.

Open Circuit: the experimental sounds of prehistory in the present

Author: Claire Marshall (York)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This abstract details the exploration of context with reconstructed sounds of the past in the present. As an archaeologist and musical performer specialising in experiemental and improvised contingencies of sound, my contribution to this session will take the guise of a multi-sensory performance of visual projections and the exploration of reconstructed instruments which have been inspired by the epistemological dialogues of sensory experience of place.

Long Abstract

Working within the ideas of sensory engagements of sound and sound horizons, and what they mean for our understanding of an environmentally immersive experience of sound, acoustical phenomena and emergent novelty of experience, I will seek to explore the fusion of modern sound synthesis and samples from organically constructed instruments that may have been in use during the Neolithic of Britain.

My work in exploring the implications of sensory experience and the archaeological environments of the Neolithic of Western Europe has inspired a pilot project to reconstruct and use a number of sounding devices in the present context to underpin an exploration of potential engagements. My aim with this performance is not to attempt a reconstruction of how Neolithic music may have been represented, but rather a reflection of how archaeology attempts to tackle the wider issue and dichotomy of the past context and the present context.

This performance will combine both aural and visual elements and will be followed by a short discussion of some of the perceived themes.

Songs from the void

Authors: Aaron Watson  email
John Crewdson (Royal Holloway University of London)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

‘Songs from the Void’ is a multimedia performance that draws upon sound and vision-based research conducted at Neolithic monuments.

Long Abstract

The Neolithic 'sound-world' was transformed by the construction of monuments. Acoustic characterisation of open and enclosed sites, such as Stonehenge and Maeshowe, has revealed that they possess a rich spectrum of audible properties; echoes, resonance, filtering. These structures offered unique acoustic environments, and might even be considered as instruments in their own right.

The potential for monuments to generate rich and theatrical multisensory experiences compels us to explore these possibilities through audio-visual compositions. Their creation encompasses time-based media such as sound, video and animation, challenging the static, two-dimensional, and silent representations which pervade archaeological publication. They also focus attention upon qualities of sites which would be otherwise be unheard, or overlooked, by traditional fieldwork methods.

Our multimedia compositions are not attempts to reconstruct how Neolithic people would have seen or heard their monuments. Rather, they offer a present-day dialogue between acoustic measurement and archaeological interpretation which considers how monuments can be actively manipulated to generate powerful multisensory experiences. Critically, the performance of these experiences supersedes the sensory limitations of printed media, allowing an audience to be immersed within soundscapes which are both heard and felt.

'Songs from the Void' is a performance that draws upon sound and vision-based research conducted by the authors at a number of prehistoric monuments.

This session is closed to new paper proposals.