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.