Donnerstag, 16. April 2009

stone age soundtracks

I've finally finished Paul Devereux' fascinating book on the importance of aural perception in ancient history, and a rich acoustic archeological heritage we are only now beginning to uncover.

The first part of the book sets the tone by attempting to outline the inherent nature of sound and music in mankind, and the powerful effect it can have on body and soul. Many of the issues have been discussed here previously; infrasound and resonant frequencies, the rise of music in our species and its association with ritual and trance, synesthesia, and the mystical effects of sound on the physical world. He mentions the Rafai school of Sufis who are driven into states of trance by drumming, and perform apparent miracles... the link is not for the faint-hearted.

The second part explores real Megalithic sites, at which various experiments are conducted to analyse what acoustic properties may have been brought forth by the people who used them. Though interesting, the discoveries are at first glance perhaps not so unexpected. Ritual chambers tend to amplify the male voice, stone circles trap sound or amplify it in certain areas, echos and acoustic blind spots appear to have been deliberately utilised in many sites. Going as far back as the times when humans were cave dwellers, we see that particular caves, chambers or areas in these were often chosen for there acoustic qualities. In a world were the sounds of nature were the only thing breaking dark silence, where the less visually inclined stone-age people may have been particularly susceptible to minute aural changes in their environment, and where 1000s of years of ritual architecture would have developed a vernacular style pitched to perfection, it isn't surprising that sound plays such a great role. That is not to take away from the fact that this research has until now been lacking, and much of its hypothesis is disregarded.

The real surprise comes when scratching beneath the surface reveals just to what extent sound permeated through the culture and architecture of the time. The site which perhaps sets the standard is Newgrange in Ireland. Until recently considered not much more than a burial chamber with a clever alignment that permits beams of light to enter at certain points during the solstice, Devereux' team unlocked a pattern of standing sound waves when the barrow resonated to the pitch of the male voice. What's more, the cave art scrawled on to the walls closely resembled the wave patterns and concentric circles modeled by their complex 20thC computer programs and equipment. This was not down to chance. When filled with steam or incense smoke, and with the light entering the chamber at the right time, the sound became visible.

Further examples of seemingly highly complex relationships between sound, light and the built environment were discovered across the Neolithic world. Architecture according to von Schelling's maxim.

The above video in my opinion simplifies the matter. Sound is merely one way in which we percieve waves of energy. But the point is valid, and to the stone-age people who heard heard their voice echo back at them from a rockface, or stumbled upon a singing cave chamber, or associated the many voices of nature with spirits and other invisible phenomena, this was perhaps more apparent.

It is easy for us, with our scientific understanding of the nature of sound, and our various classifications, to believe they were acoustically ignorant. Perhaps it is us, having lost the holistic view (for want of a more sonic word), who are blind (or deaf). Once again nurbn is reminded of the wisdom that was lost in knowledge, and the knowledge that was lost in information.

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