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.
AN INSIGHT INTO ARCHAEOACOUSTICSNOVEMBER 28, 2017 SUSAN_S LEAVE A COMMENTNick Green, sector manager for audio engineering and theatre arts at Perth College UHI, recently attended the Third International Archaeoacoustics Conference in Portugal. Nick provides an insight into the emerging discipline of archaeoacoustics and discusses his experience at the event.
The field of Archaeoacoustics
Archaeoacoustics is a multidisciplinary practice requiring the knowledge of anthropologists and archaeologists, architects, acousticians, audio engineers and sound designers, historians and musicologists. As a sound designer and audio engineer, I came to archaeoacoustics through acoustic ecology (the study of the relationship between human beings and their environment, mediated through sound) and through conversations with archaeologists.
Anthropologist Dr Ezra Zubrow states in ‘Archaeoacosutics; The Archaeology of Sound’: “Indeed, many of its practitioners do not even realize that it is a field, albeit a very immature field. Nor do they think of themselves as archaeoacousticians. Rather they consider themselves to be sound engineers, architects, musical historians, ethnomusicologits and practicing musicians to name a few.”
My research is primarily concerned with the recording, analysis and archiving of impulse responses recorded in heritage and archaeological sites. Generally this requires man made or naturally occurring spaces used by our ancestors, such as caves.
Nick Green recording in Court Cave at Wemyss BayAn impulse response is the introduction of a relatively short broadband sound such as a controlled explosion. They can be generated successfully by bursting a balloon, firing a starter’s pistol or amplifying a short burst of random noise (white noise) through a loudspeaker system and recording the results.
Author of ‘Digital Signal Processing: An Introduction’ Tae Hong Park describes an impulse response as “agitating a system”. In this case the agitation is the introduction of the impulse, the short broadband sound; the system is the acoustic space, a room, a hall, a cave or even within the standing stones of an ancient Neolithic stone circle.
Once the recorded files are digitally processed and edited, they can be played back in a digital audio workstation and used to recreate the reverberation characteristics of the space in which they were recorded.
The field of achcaeoacoustics spawned from considerations around how and why our ancestors may have used spaces for their reverberant and resonant qualities. Sound designers and musicologists may imagine the soundscape of our ancestors and create compositions inspired by these spaces and places.
Excavation at the Ness of Brodgar, OrkneyA current and very exciting archaeological dig taking place at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney, is further expanding the number of Neolithic sites on the island archipelago. The site has given up evidence that it may have been a ritualistic site which was sometimes used for the mass slaughter and feasting on of large numbers of cattle. To a sound designer this paints an audio image that would be worthy of composition. There are so many potential angles to archaeoacoustics; it is the acoustic analysis of archaeology. Archaeoacoustics can give a ‘voice’ or soundtrack to our past.
To quote Kate Douglas of the New Scientist Magazine: “How do you listen to the past? Obviously there are no recordings from ancient times, so you need to think laterally. Luckily, the nascent field of archaeoacoustics is not short of creative thinkers… Not just that, they can create an acoustic fingerprint of a cave using a “sine sweep” – effectively recording the response of the space to a series of scans emitting a rainbow of all audible frequencies.”
The Third International Archaeoacoustics Conference
Nick Green at Tomar, PortugalHaving recently returned from the Third International Archaeoacoustics conference and paper presentation in Tomar, Portugal, I believe the field of archaeoacoustics is in rude health, but never so more scrutinised by its practitioners from within. Having begun so enthusiastically, it has now reached a stage of critical self-reflection, with many of its practitioners questioning the direction and way forward for this relatively new field of research. Indeed, the next logical progression would seem to be the formation of an International Society – the International Society for Archaeoacoustic Research?
I have decided as a field impulse response recordist that a study of field recording methodologies and techniques in archaeoacoustic research need to be explored further. There are enough researchers in the field across the globe engaged in audio field recording in heritage sites to justify a study to discover a mean approach which may lead to a standardised methodology. However, with exponential advances in digital technology, this needs approached with caution although risks and experimentation need to be made room for and encouraged. However digital technologies can help bring our archaeology and our imaginations alive, to paraphrase Dragos Gheorhiu; ‘digital and virtual reality technologies are the new shamanism – it can transport us’.
Nick Green with Prof Chris ScarreThe conference itself was a truly amazing experience. It included field trips and presentations by in the field archaeologists, museum curators and academics. We were also treated to a surprise visit by Professor Chris Scarre, co-editor of the first archaeoacoustics conference proceedings at Cambridge University in 2003, who coined the term ‘archaeoacoustics’. There was art inspired by culture, heritage and sound design and performances both impromptu and organised.
The programme of speakers featured long established researchers in the field and many new and younger researchers. The youngest presenter was Keith Harvey (22), a first class Honours graduate of Perth College UHI. I was delighted to see how encouraging the established voices in archaeoacoustics were and nurturing in their advice and help towards Keith and others. It bodes well for the future.
Archaeoacoustics in Scotland
The Scots were well represented at the event with myself, Keith Harvey and PhD archaeologist Michelle Walker all representing the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Keith spoke about his project which examined the acoustic properties from most of the cathedrals on mainland UK – an extensive undertaking. Michelle presented her PhD study on audio phenomena in Sculptors Cave on the Moray Firth. The cave was used by our Bronze Age and Pictish ancestors, with Bronze Age people using it as a burial site.
Carving at Maeshowe, OrkneyOur presentations inspired many of the delegates we spoke to express an interest for the next international archaeoacoustics conference to be held in Scotland. We certainly have a wealth of sites to explore. Professor Jane Downes from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has suggested the conference could be hosted in Orkney where visits to the archaeological sites of Brodgar, Maes Howe, Skara Brae and the Tomb of the Eagles could be arranged.
As part of my own work, I have conducted recordings at Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven, St. Andrews Castle and the Sacristy of Arbroath Abbey, a space well known for its impressive reverb.
On the topic of reservation, it’s interesting to note that the longest reverb time ever recorded (as evidenced by Guinness World Records) happens to be at a de-commissioned WWII fuel dump built into the side of a Scottish mountain in the Highlands. This does not mean it is the longest reverb time, it’s just that Trevor Cox of Salford University happened to record it using a starter’s pistol firing as the impulse response. It is a staggering one minute and twelve seconds in length, the average living room is less than a second! The previous world record was also measured in a space in Scotland at Hamilton Mausoleum.
It’s great to see the field of archaeoacoustics continuing to develop and that Scotland, with a range of acoustically interesting sites and an ever growing number of practitioners, can consider itself to be an important part of this evolving discipline.
Nick Green, Sector Manager for Audio Engineering and Theatre Arts, Perth College UHI, University of the Highlands and Islands
The train journey on our way home took us from Tomar to Lisbon, a 2 hour journey. Our carriage turned into an extension of the conference, on which Vincent Paladino and his partner Leigh from New York, Dragos Gheorghiu and his partner from Bucharest, Paul Oomen from Amsterdam and Etienne Safa – France, joined Aileen and I. Vincent and I immersed in philosophical debate and shared our collective passion for music production and recording studio design and acoustics. Swapping anecdotes about New York and British punk rock of the late 70’s and 80’s of which we were both involved in our youths... oh and archaeoacoustics!
Upon arrival in Lisbon we disembarked and made our way to the nearest bar to discuss as a group amongst other things the role of digital media technologies in bringing archaeology and archaeoacoustics to life, at least in a virtual sense. This is also a medium a whole new generation understand and will no doubt develop and manipulate to help understand our wider role in the world. The addition of work digitally archived and rendered for future generations by current researchers in the field could have a significant impact on our future selves in helping to understand our origins, our development of culture and societies. This is rendered even more significant by the rate at which our current society and culture seems intent to consume the very earth from beneath our own feet, not to be too dramatic about it!
Dragos’ research is fascinating in this regard. Taking artefacts, locations containing reconstructed architecture and using actors in authentically created costumes; rendering these into 3D virtual walkthrough environments. I took great delight in looking through the book he has created as an accompaniment to the website. I put it to the group that a lot of the presentations and developments within the blooming field of archaeoacoustic research were down to recent advances in digital technology.
In 5 short years digital technologies have advanced at an exponential rate and we are now able to do things virtually in a way only previously dreamt of. The ability to record, document, archive and create is enhanced to a super human extent thanks to digital rendering. Dragos put forward his idea that ‘digital technology is the new shamanism’ – ‘it has the ability to transport us’. There is evidence that psychedelic drug use in shamanist ritual still practiced in some parts of the world today, release similar chemicals in the brain as experiencing an immersive gaming experience on an X Box! It may be argued that current technologies are passive for the participant, however I believe they will become creator/consumer friendly, and beyond my own feeble imaginings.
Vincent discussed the idea that ‘digital’ is derived from the word digit and likened this to hands and fingers manipulating the environment and materials. This of course is the perfect correlation and true meaning in context. It becomes and extension of our ability to create and also reminded me of the field trip visit to Macao museum of archaeology. The exhibits here were all displayed in the usual way under lit glass cabinets, the cabinets were in places of key exhibits overlaid with the outlines of hands working the artefact. Vincent’s thoughts made me instantly think of this series of artefact displays and the digits of the hands manipulating the materials into artefacts.
Etienne also acknowledged the importance of the new technology that enabled him to perfectly create in a repeatable fashion his renderings of prehistoric bone flutes; this only possible thanks to 3D printers. Etienne was not the only archaeoacoustics presenter to use or mention the potential of 3D printing in archaeology. Shea Trahan a New Orleans architect used computer generated algorithms to design a transcendental acoustic space which he modelled into 3D rendered models thanks to these now accessible and efficient printers.
Paul Ommen was one of the few voices during the conference seminar who opined regarding making archaeoacoustic research widely accessible and how we as a community make our findings and research of interest to the general public. This is a duty of the researcher after all and it will be through our manipulation of digital media that this can be achieved. Whether through VR technologies and immersive environmental simulations to enhanced performance pieces and interactive museum exhibits, many of us are already working in these fields directly or contributing to them in some way. Indeed the creation and existence of this website is an attempt to bridge the gap between academic research and a wider audience.
As a conference closer this impromptu gathering couldn't have been a more fitting end to Archaeoacoustics III.