Artefact to Auditorium: aural agendas in the archaeology of prehistoric sound

Organised by

Paul Keene, Farès Moussa, Rupert Till and Simon Wyatt

(Partly supported by the AHRC ‘Beyond Text’ program) *

Theoretical Archaeology Group

32nd Annual Conference

University of Bristol

17th-19th December 2010


Call for Abstracts

The archaeology of prehistoric music has made a useful contribution to our understanding of prehistoric society.  But with few surviving musical artefacts or depictions and no manuscripts, the subject has been vulnerable to ‘open’ interpretations and cross-cultural analogies or stereotypes by archaeologists and researchers such as (palaeo-) musicologists or (palaeo-) psychologists and composers or performers who have been inspired by prehistory.  More creative and humanistic musical interpretations nevertheless have the power to inspire and unite people in contemporary society, whilst new scientific methods of reconstruction, such as archaeo-acoustics, can enlighten us about musical heritage and daily life in prehistoric society.

This session will explore the often complementary relationship between the ‘art’ and the ‘science’ of prehistoric sound and music.  It will question why prehistoric music reconstructions and compositions inspired by prehistory are represented in the manner and style we hear today.  What has led to the representation of prehistoric music; how do we understand the acoustic properties, tone and sound aesthetics of prehistoric instruments and performance spaces; how might we approach understanding the performative in prehistoric societies?; and why are particular forms of music and sound represented in classical and contemporary composition and performance rather than others?  In short, what are the knowledge sources, influences and constraints behind the music that is popularised as a reflection of prehistoric sound organisation and wider prehistoric society?

Papers and projects are invited which include one or more of the following:

  1. Provide a musical representation and an understanding of past soundscapes based on Archaeo-acoustic work, for example investigating or reconstructing the soundfields of archaeological sites;
  2. Examine the representations and the actual sounds available in different periods based on reconstructed models of excavated musical instruments;
  3. Provide a critical consideration of archaeologically inspired musical, compositional and performance structures or themes with a view to understanding how particular sounds, music traditions and performance practises are (or not) popularly associated with the distant past;
  4. Can demonstrate, intercept, modify, redefine or challenge the resulting insights through their own proposed compositional and/or multimedia practise and performance.  This may consider the importance of ethnomusicology’s notion of “Bimusicality” for a true reflection of musical performance;
  5. Interrogate how their methods and approaches may make a direct contribution to a contemporary audience’s reception, not only within an academic discursive forum, but also to a wider public, maybe with consideration of cognitive/experiential or political themes;
  6. Provide demonstrations of model instruments, perfomative practises or inspired performances, which may be included as a part of the session or informal sessions during breaks.

*AHRC Beyond Text funding opportunities

Funds are available to potential contributors who are interested in presenting a paper at the Bristol Session of TAG as a theoretical basis for a follow-up public performance event and workshop in Edinburgh in April/May 2011.  Projects must involve at least one PhD candidate and must particularly address points 2-3 for the TAG session paper and points 4-5 for the performance event in Edinburgh. Travel and accommodation costs to Bristol and Edinburgh for up to two collaborators and honorariums for up to three performers per project may be available for a total of up to five projects.

To submit a proposal, send an abstract of 2-300 words as a .doc file attachment to Simon Wyatt: Simon.Wyatt@bristol.ac.uk by 20th September 2010.