What do you hear when you imagine what the ancient world sounded like? Do you just imagine that caucuphony of modernity — cars, ringtones, televisions — aren't there? Maybe the sounds of birds and other animals are easier to hear?
But what about the music? Drums probably still sound like drums, but what does a carnyx sound like? (And what is a carnyx?)
The answer to these questions, and many others, are being answered by "Archaeomusica: The Sounds and Music of Ancient Europe," a traveling exhibit created by the European Music Archaeology Project, also known as EMAP. Sporting archaeological finds and recreated instruments, the exhibit digs deep into what ancient Europe's musical scene may have sounded like, tracking it from the Paleolithic Era to around 1,000 A.D. and the Dark Ages.
Rocking the ancient tunes
Currently in Valladolid, Spain, and Tarquina, Italy, "Archaeomusica" is the culmination of EMAP's exploration of Europe's musical history, work that began in 2013. Bringing together specialists from a range of fields, including archaeologists, musicologists, composers, sound designers and people who make musical instruments, they looked at various facets of European music culture. For instance, they witnessed and recorded a procession held at the Kivik Tomb, Sweden, that was accompanied by ancient instruments, including an ox horn.
They also unearthed various old instruments, including lyres, various metal horns and the aforementioned carnyx, which is a 4-foot-long Celtic Iron Age horn that has the shape of a fearsome creature at the end where the sound comes out. What instruments weren't complete were recreated by experts using the same methods and materials whenever possible.
It's one thing to create all these instruments, but it's another to listen to them. While "Archaeomusica" includes concerts in each of its cities, visitors to the exhibits can also toot their own oxhorn, or other instruments that are available to hands-on experimentation.
If you don't want to try your hand at being an ancient musician, you can still check out instruments from the Paleolithic period to the end of Classical Antiquity, around 600 A.D. There's also a room devoted to music and ancient religious rituals, if you're looking to trace the start of church choir group in some way. And if all that wasn't enough, the "Soundgate" exhibit is a multimedia experience with "four video projectors display[ing] a 180-degree surround cinerama effect, using a mixture of 3-D computer models and digital video" to experience what it was like to hear music in various ancient environments, including caves, Iron age stone ships and Scottish standing stones.
Bringing an exhibit to you
Since not everyone can jet off to Europe, EMAP has released one of the exhibits of "Archaeomusica" as an app. You may have seen it in the video above. People with video game controllers in their hands, staring at a screen. Well, that's the app.
Using the Unreal Engine — a popular video game engine — researchers created explorable renderings of Stonehenge at various phases of its development and during different times of day. A user can visit Stonehenge when it was basically just a circular ditch in 3,000 B.C. or instead visit a version of the site from 2,200 B.C. when all the stones were likely in place.
This jaunt through Stonehenge looks like something out of a video game, but researchers added what they believe to be appropriate soundscapes and music to the virtual tour. So as you click and tap through Stonehenge, you can cue up the sounds of animals that may have been nearby, and you can also summon music, including drums and a Wilsford flute, an instrument that was dug up near Stonehenge and is around the same age as the prehistoric monument.
As Rupert Till, one of the creators of the project, told Reuters, the sounds bounce off the stones, creating a strong echo. "You have a sense of reverberation, a bit like a gigantic bathroom."
In addition to Stonehenge, the app offers tours of the Cave of Altamira and the numerous additional caves that make up the Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain World Heritage Site. The app uses photographs of the actual caves stitched together. Users search for the paintings, adding an element of mystery to the virtual voyage. The third site in the app is the Paphos Theater site in Cyprus. You can hear the sounds of the ocean and sea birds as you explore this ancient Hellenistic-Roman site, as well as two Roman instruments, the tibia (think a double oboe) and the lituus (a curved trumpet with a bell at the end).
The exhibit itself is traveling around Europe until 2018. Click here for the cities, venues and dates.