Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Sounds of Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a mysterious monument that has captivated the attention of laymen, scholar and researcher throughout the centuries…it is a wonder that pre-dates the concept of Jesus Christ and is believed to have been a place where the local druids came for religious rituals and practices. These practices were more often than comprised of chanting and rhythmic drum beats that could have possibly left its listeners to experience a trance-like state. These sounds that were created at Stonehenge left music technologist and composer Dr. Rupert Till to ponder the likely acoustic effects of Stonehenge after finding a pilot study on the subject. He came up with the theory that the famous ring of stone could have sung like a crystal wine glass with a wet finger rubbing the rim, stimulated in this case by percussion played in time to the echoes of the space.

With the help Dr. Bruno Fazenda, Till was able to use a reproduction of Stonehenge to analyze acoustic field measurements and search for evidence of acoustic features. Here it was possible to make the whole space resonate using a simple percussion rhythm, made by reconstructions of Neolithic instruments, which were tuned to the space. Strange acoustic effects appeared in the structure as if the stones themselves were singing. This research has suggested where people might have stood at Stonehenge, the sort of instruments possibly used, what kind of sounds could have been made and how fast people might have played. It has also allowed tentative steps towards suggesting that the music may have acted to entrain the body, encourage Alpha rhythms in the brain, and help achieve altered states of trance-like consciousness (Till, 2009).

According to Till, who has also reproduced the sound of someone speaking or clapping in Stonehenge 5,000 years ago, particular spots at the site produce unusual acoustic effects, suggesting that perhaps a priest or a shaman may have stood there, leading the ritual. Till's research ties in with previous studies carried out by Aaron Watson, an artist and archaeologist who specializes in the study of Neolithic monuments. Watson's research strongly suggested that the monument's builders knew how to direct the movement of sound. Indeed, the stones at Stonehenge amplify higher-frequency sounds, such as the human voice, while lower-frequency sounds such as drums pass around the stones and can be heard for some distance (Lorenzi, 2009).

The effect would have been a "dynamic multi-sensory experiences," according to Watson.

"An audience outside the monument could not have clearly seen or heard events within, perhaps creating a sense of mystery. In contrast, an audience occupying the confined interior of Stonehenge would have heard amplified sounds."

Below is a link which produces some of the sounds discussed in this article:

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