While new projects present themselves the current progress of the Wemyss Caves and the Pictish Drum project have advanced. Over the last 4 years an accumulation of over 4 hours of video footage and equal amounts of audio recordings have been started to be edited into something approaching a 40 minute edit. The intention to have a documentary film of the entire project presented chronologically. I hope to be able to present it here in the not too distant future. In the meantime here is another excerpt of friend and colleague/musical collaborator Ronnie Goodman entering Court cave with the reconstructed Pictish drum for the first time.
While the work around the Pictish drum and Wemyss Caves continues a recent project has literally fallen into my lap! Back in November 2018 an elder from St John's Kirk in the centre of Perth emailed me to discuss the possibility of recording the Carillon located in the church tower. A collection of 35 tuned bells, some date to the 15 century that are operated by an incredible mechanical structure played using a crude set of wooden levers laid out as a standard 2 and half octave keyboard. Having paid initial visits to scout out the church premises and meet with the key liaison personnel, I have again been invited back to meet the carillonneur, Ian Cassells and make some preliminary recordings of a Burns recital taking place the afternoon of the 25/01/2019. Whilst there impulse response recordings of the church were taken, it being a most impressive space, nearly on the scale of a cathedral. These newly acquired IR edit files are available ton audition or download from the Main Hub menu.
St. John's is one of the oldest churches in Perth with parts of the structure dating back to early Medieval times and as such is situated right in the centre of Perth only a block South of the river Tay.
I find this a fascinating potential new field and it has resonance with Archaeoacoustics...
Whilst on holiday in South West France in July 2018 I booked a cave tour of Niaux Cave, the last of the 'grand' caves left open to the public. The 'grand' caves are a collection of central European caves, most in France and Northern Spain featuring the largest concentrations of paleolithic rock art. Due to deterioration from visitors over the years the caves have been closed down to the public other than for research purposes with the exception of Niaux Cave.
As this was a public tour no research was undertaken other than the opportunity to listen and to marvel at the splendour of the paintings which are truly breath taking. Our guide did mention the acoustic properties within the cave and I was prompted to ask if any archaeoacoustic research had been done in the main painted galleries found in Niaux. Our tour guide told me that some years earlier Eigor Reznikof had made recordings of the human voice, having found nothing online so far about this I hope to be able to contact Eigor directly and ask if he has any write ups of his findings and observations. The main gallery did have a spectacular reverberation and acoustic properties and would be a space not only worthy of IR recordings, but should from a future heritage archival purposes MUST be recorded for posterity. The paintings inside Niaux have survived for over 15,000 years, there may not be the opportunity for future generations to experience these first hand. I am so pleased that my teenage boys not only saw the cave paintings but thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the caves and into the foothills of the French Pyrenees. As younger children we took them to see Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dream's, the first film Herzog shot in 3D and for good reason - a film exploration of Chauvet Cave before it was sealed to preserve the paintings within for posterity. I think my boys remembered this and made the connection realising the significance of visiting the last of the grand caves still open to the public. Incidentally no photography is allowed inside the cave in an effort to preserve the 15,000 year old paintings.
Here is a link to a research paper from the American Acoustical Society that features Niaux Cave as an example with reference to Eigor Reznikoff's research. Two of the papers authors are Rupert Till and Chris Scarre. You will find reference to their work elsewhere on the website.
Link to information on Niaux Cave.
Salon Noir, Niaux Cave. Copyright Wendell Collection, Neanderthal Museum
The Pictish drum reconstruction, played by Ronnie Goodman in Court Cave, at the Wemyss Caves site.
I have been very aware of how quiet things have been here recently, this has been due to the hours of video footage and location and studio recordings that I now have to sift through and edit into some kind of publishable copy. As a follow up to recording the Lethendy/Essendy Pictish drum in the recording studio earlier this year, July saw a group of us field recording the drum in situ. at Wemyss Caves, with rather impressive results. The finished video and audio recordings will be forthcoming hopefully by the end of the year. A journal paper around the research is also planned with a hoped for publication already in mind.
I will follow up this brief post with a few extracts from the Wemyss field trip. In the meantime I cannot thank Ronnie Goodman enough for taking the time to come and play the drum on the day, accompanied by artist wife Christine who also filmed with a second camera. Also there to assist and make their own recordings were my graduate student Keith Harvey and Hannah Rennie a member of his new archaeology research group.
Today, 22nd of June the Pictish drum reconstruction will be recorded in the Eastlake 1 recording studio with long time friend and colleague Ronnie Goodman agreeing once again to play the drum. The recordings today will be more acoustically controlled in the studio environment. This will allow the drum recordings to be effectively translated into the reverberation derived from IR's taken from various Pictish and early Medieval sites around Scotland. As a continuation of of a long term project with Wemyss Caves as the central focus today's recordings will also be documented in film. A site visit to Wemyss is also planned in the near future to record the drum in situ, these recordings when added to the acoustic analysis recordings taken at Wemyss Caves will certainly help to bring this valuable heritage sites past into a multi-sensory digital present.
"Explore a dimension of human experience that has been considered irretrievable. The ancient world was not silent! In songs to their gods, laments for their dead, celebration, performance and the universal human quest for the supernatural, ancient civilizations developed far more than artwork and monuments. Reversing the traditional conventions of specialization, scholars and researchers from a range of professional viewpoints look at the subject of Archaeoacoustics on an international scale. This third volume in the series presents new research, updates & expansions on earlier presented work, methodology, interpretation, opinion, instruction and just plain food for thought. Archaeologists, Anthropologists, Architects, Ethnomusicologists, Sound Engineers and more … Contributors include: Fernando Coimbra, Apela Colorado, Paul Devereux, Paolo Debertolis, Zorana Djordjevic, Dragos Gheorghiu, Annie Goh, Nicholas Green, Anne Habermehl, Keith Harvey, Alvin Holm, Ryan Hurd, Torill Christine Lindstrom, Iren Lovasz, Maria Cristina Manzetti, Claudia Martinho, Sarah McCann, Magdalena Ohrman, Vincent C. Paladino, Iegor Reznikoff, Etienne Safa, Christiaan Sterken, Katya Stroud, Hyun Soo Suh, Natalia Tarabella, Shea Michael Trahan, Matthew Tucker, Nelia Valverde, M.P. Saez-Perez, Michelle Walker, Steven J. Waller, Ezra Zubrow."
The Pictish drum reconstruction is now complete, at least mark 1 is. Reviewing the lacing tensioning technique it may not be identical to the one held in the Angus Museums archive. However the end result is most satisfying and tonally the drum compares very well. The construction method was as close to early medieval techniques as could be replicated. Dick Craig, greenwood craftsman, commissioned to build the drum has done a magnificent job and the building process has been documented throughout.
The next stage of the project will be to field test the drum in situ. Although no evidence exists that any instruments were ever used on the site of Wemyss caves, the playing and recording of the drum on site and within the acoustic environment of the caves will add an extra dimension to the auralisation project; that of musicology. It is hoped that percussionist Ronnie Goodman will accompany the field work team to play the drum.
Top left the carved out birch log ready for the heads and tensioning cords. The leather used on the drum are locally sourced (North East Scotland) Roe deer hides traditionally cured. The soaked tanned drum heads held in place with raw hide cords ready to be laced. Above right Dick Craig and I took a couple of attempts to get the lacing started in a manner that would resemble the archive artefact. Once we had the knack things came together quite quickly.
The drum was left at the Scottish Woodland Skills centre for initial drying, after a few days I was able to take the drum away to dry out and tension up properly.
Now compared to recordings taken of the artefact in the Angus Museums archive they sound remarkably alike. Field recordings and more controlled studio recordings are planned for completion with a film documentary scheduled for August. Please keep you eye on the main hub for an update.
A huge thanks to Dick Craig at the Scottish Woodland Skills Centre for his expertise and willingness to help.
The drum can be visually compared to the archive artefact in previous posts.
Many years ago as part of a sound design installation at Dundee University Botanic Gardens I was commissioned to devise various pieces which can be auditioned under the Garden of Light title under the main hub menu. The main piece features a recording of the Essendy/Lethendy Pictish drum, a recreation of a Pictish drum which was an exhibit at the now closed Pictavia museum in Brechin, Angus, Scotland. Recently I tracked this drum down to Angus museums archive, discovering it was stored in a basement archive at the Meffan Gallery and museum in Forfar, Angus, Scotland. After initial enquiries I was granted access to the drum by museum archive custodian John Johnston. It was a Saturday morning that I met my friend and colleague Ronnie Goodman, possibly Scotland's most experienced percussionist and ethnomusicologist at the museum. Ronnie played the drum experimenting with various techniques and patterns whilst I recorded the results with a pair of stereo Earthworks omni directional microphones and a portable Motu and laptop recording rig. A documentary of recordings and resulting research project will be forthcoming planned for completion summer 2018.
As a museum artefact the drum is of particular significance and value to the cultural heritage of North East Scotland. Whilst the custodians were happy for my access to the drum in the museum and under controlled conditions, the thought of requesting a loan of the drum for use in the field may have been pushing things. In response to this I devised a plan to create a reconstruction of the reconstruction! Friend and neighbour Dick Craig is a green woodworker craftsman specialising in traditional methods of woodworking and the added advantage of a breadth and depth of knowledge in field and woodland craft. Dick was approached early in the new year with the proposal to recreate the drum in the archive. Having agreed, another visit to the museum was scheduled for Dick to be able to examine the artefact for it's material construction. After some deliberation the body of the drum is of worked birch with raw deer hide for the drum heads and lattice worked sides. These would have been readily available resources to our Pictish ancestors and still in plentiful supply in our rural highland foothill location. By the end of January a dried section of timber was selected and a traditionally cured roe deer hide decided on for the heads and lattice cords along the drums sides. The process of construction has been fascinating as the photographs below show.
Dick has also found the process of researching and working the raw materials of interest. The depth of the drum, being more of a tom style drum than a shallow frame or shamanic drum, necessitated the construction of an extra long chisel to hollow out the birch trunk. As the process has progressed the raw materials are starting to take shape.
The completed artefact will be of use to my research in archaeoacoustics both in the controlled acoustic environment of the recording studio and for field work simulations/imaginings.... this will be continued.
The rambling thoughts and musings of an audio engineer/sound designer turned archaeoacoustician