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.
This was prompted by the discussions and in some cases disagreements around the title archaeoacoustics which like it or not has come to be an established term. In order to remind ourselves a back to basics approach in terms of etymology and syntax seemed pertinent.
Archaeoacoustics, Sonic Archaeology, Acoustic Anthropology or Anthropological Acoustics, Sonic Anthropology - The study of sound in heritage and cultural development
plural noun: acoustics; noun: acoustics
Archaeoacoustics, Sonic Archaeology, Acoustic Anthropology or Anthropological Acoustics, Sonic Anthropology - The study of sound in heritage and cultural development
They all work! It can be easy to get hung up on a title if you are a traditional archaeologist or consultant acoustician. There have been attempts at a definitive definition for archaeoacoustics.... However due to it's multidisciplinary nature the term archaeoacoustics without getting too hung up works very well. It is interesting to note that the term archaeaoacoustics has also been added to the Collins dictionary as a newly recognised word with a definition thus -
"...a mix of systematic measurement and vocal experimentation ... has become formally known as archaeoacoustics, or sound archaeology. " It's not a perfect definition but it's getting towards the nub.
Several colleagues in the field have suggested as a formation title for a society "The Society for Archaeoacoustic Research" - I personally rather like this and believe the established term should be kept as it beginning to be understood and recognised in a wider context. It is certainly recongnised within my own academic institution and increasingly I am finding undergraduate research students under my supervision are increasingly coming to me with research project proposals based on initial findings around archaeoacoustics. Whatever is settled upon it has to work with a wider audience in mind and not just us niche researchers.
Having had a chance to let the dust settle and reflect a little I wanted to get some ideas down regarding the discussions, debates and disagreements within the various factions of archaeoacoustic research. The 'hard' and 'soft science' alliance as I believe it should be, this praxis has to considered. From an acoustic analysis standpoint, yes we can create empirical data, in fact we can generate this data in the field live with relatively accessible equipment. This has only been possible for the last 15 years or so and become very efficient in the last 5 years. I can literally set up a lab in a cave on my own; maybe it is this very factor that has reignited archaeoacoustic research in the same 5 year time frame and certainly since the first conference organised by Chris Scarre and Graeme Lawson?
In this regard I think archaeoacoustic research has grown into itself thanks to technological advances. But therein lies the dichotomy, our ancestors didn't do acoustic analysis I'm pretty sure and wouldn't have been able to perceive of acoustics the way we can now spectrograms, sine sweeps, IR's etc. Re-enter the old guard - step forward Iegor Reznikoff with the sensory observational powers that I hope may never be measured. Sometimes we need to sense a space, take time to inhabit it, try to understand it, see it the way it may have been, and lets face it we can accurately visualise the past thanks to archaeology and anthropology. We can't however listen to the past - at least not until the invention of the inter-dimensional ear trumpet or time machine, so we have to apply our imagination, our creativity and scientifically these are very hard things to quantify!
At best when we make an audio recording in an archaeological site it is a snap shot of now and we have to accept this. This recording can tell us many things, particularly in spaces that we know have remained relatively unchanged but there has to be an acceptance that we have not captured a moment in history other than the current moment; in too few generations we will become the ancestors and our legacy will be these historical snapshots in time (which photographs already are in barely 100years) and audio recordings.
It is interesting to note that many field recordists in archaeoacoustic research not only conduct sine sweep analysis and impulse response analysis, but augment these with performance pieces recorded in the field, soundscape recordings and the human voice in documentary. Impulse responses can, incidentally when played back spark the imagination as well as provide pure forms of data. You start to imagine the size of the room, or is it a cave? from the reverberation time, the pre-delay time, the frequency content. Reverberation is also incidentally one of the few components of sound to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records, as in the world's longest reverb time is... it just so happens to be a de-commissioned WWII fuel dump built into the side of a Scottish mountain in the highlands. It is also pure co-incidence that the previous world record was also measured in a space in Scotland, Hamilton Mausoleum. It is worth pointing out that this does not mean it is the longest reverb time, it's just that Trevor Cox of Salford university happened to record this one using a starters pistol firing as the IR. It happens to be a staggering one minute and twelve seconds in length, the average living room is less than a second! All interesting trivia, but pertinent none the less.
Another debate that was circulating, again raised by the acousticians was the title - ARCHAEOACOUSTICS. I shall share some thoughts in this regard in due course. The debate I was involved in included a long train journey and a bar in Lisbon, an anecdote that will need journalled in my next musing.
I am delighted to have been asked for use of my initial conference summary report below by the conference organisers, Linda Eneix and the OTSF.
Here's a link to Michelle Walker's, fellow Scot's archaeoacoustician and archaeology interim report of her research on the archaeoacoustics of a Bronze Age cave, Sculptor's Cave.