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ABSTRACTS Pre-Hispanic instrument
Moche, Peru, AD 600-750


Pre-Hispanic instrument
Huetar, Costa Rica, AD 800-1200



West Mexican Warrior
West Mexican Warrior
Classic Culture



 
Prehispanic Abstracts
Susan Rawcliffe


Entrancing Sounds: Beats, difference tones and other sounds in prehispanic flutes,
Orient-Archäologie Band 22, Studien zur Musikarchäologie VI; Both, Eichmann, Hickmann, & Koch, Eds.; VML, Rahden/Westf. Leidorf, 2008, Germany

This article consists of photos, recorded samples, discussions, and sonograms of six double prehispanic flutes, plus a Rawcliffe double flute inspired by prehispanic concepts. Air pressure variations allow for increased performance possibilities through manipulation of intervals and difference tones on double flutes with fingerholes, and on double whistles, are the only performance variable. The manipulation of air pressure to adjust timbre, intervals and difference tones on some prehispanic flutes was surely more important than tonal range or potential melodies. Many high pitched double flutes are found in the organology of prehispanic flutes across many cultures. They frequently produce strong heterodyne/difference tones; these tones can be disorienting, deafening and entrancing. Both beats and heterodyne tones arise through an interaction between two source tones. Beats are a result of two tones of slightly different frequencies and similar amplitude levels being played together. The sonograms of these double flutes show lines that seem to represent combination tones; these tones probably have a physical presence in the air, not just in our ears. These tones can be produced either within the head, through a non linear response of the basilar membrane of the ear or auditory cortex, or externally through an interaction between two proximal sound sources such as presumably, the adjacent mouthpieces of these double flutes. Perhaps, when listening to difference tones, we are hearing what was once, in the prehispanic world, the voice of a deity.

Eight West Mexican Flutes in Fowler Museum,
Music Archaeology: Mesoamerica; Arnd Adje Both and Julia L. J. Sanchez, Eds. World of Music, Vol. 49(2) - 2007; Journal of the Department of Ethnomusicology, Otto-Friedrich University of Bamberg

It's remarkable that this small selection of West Mexican flutes has such a variety of body shape and scales. In addition, they have a range of distinctive timbres; perhaps particular timbres were associated with specific uses. After years of studying, making and playing clay wind instruments, it seems to me that within the world of these Pre-Hispanic flutes, exact pitch is a lesser value than the expressiveness offered by flexible pitch and timbral manipulations. There are no standardized body shapes or mouthpiece types, and thus, no standardized scales. To date, there is no evidence of consistent pitches or intervals, nor of great interest in the harmonic series, nor in maximizing the pitch range. Although flute families may share a timbral feeling, potential playing techniques, number of fingerholes, and some intervals, the actual pitches typically remain unique to each flute.

The builders of these ancient clay flutes were highly skilled and enormously creative, making through invention and traditional evolution a broad range of flutes, ocarinas and whistles for their use and delight. With intensive acoustic and psychoacoustic studies along with analysis of construction details, patterns are emerging which, together with ongoing archaeological investigations, will help us to construct more accurate categories for these instruments. The flute instrumentarium, which consisted primarily of airducted flutes, seems to have been constructed to maximize the expressive possibilities of flexible pitch, timbral variety and manipulations, and perhaps, whistle tones. I suggest that future research be done in this area, which should include detailed measurements of the mouthpieces as well as sound analysis. Expressivity may be the primary esthetic value functioning here.

Sounding Clay: Pre-Hispanic Flutes,
Orient-Archäologie Band 8, Studien zur Musikarchäologie III; Ellen Hickmann & Ricardo Eichmann, Eds. Verlag Marie Leidorf Gmbf, Rahden/Westf, 2002, Germany.

These ancient flutes of Meso-America are evidence of a unique musical sensibility. Instrumental concepts were widely shared: versions of the chamberduct flute are found among the Olmecs, the Maya, and the Bahia culture of Ecuador; and versions of pitch jump whistles & flutes in Veracruz, among the Maya, the Manteľo culture of Ecuador and the Moche in Peru. Although we see categories of instrumental types, some of great complexity, as well as shared symbolic content, each instrument seems to be unique. Perhaps their sight and sound echo their ceremonial usage, not an external sonic design. Many instruments are acoustically irregular, which allows for rich timbres and unique melodies, but restricts the capacity to be tuned to specific scales. Ceramics was a major technology in Pre-Hispanic cultures, readily available for instrument construction. The use of clay for so many musical instruments may have both reflected and influenced the apparent lack of standardization. Some acoustically complex instruments emerge naturally from the ceramic process, which engendered the amazingly diverse world of the ceramic Pre-Hispanic flutes.

Complex Acoustics in PreColumbian Flute Systems,
Musical Repercussions of 1492, 1992, Smithsonian Institution Press; Experimental Musical Instruments, Vol. VIII #2, cassette #VIII; National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts Journal Vol. 14, 1993-4

Over a span of 30 centuries, Mesoamerican Pre-Hispanic societies developed a unique flute organology. They made flutes, pipes, ocarinas and whistles in a great diversity of form, timbre, and tunings. As an artist-musician for about 25 years, I have been making ceramic flutes and sound sculptures, many of which were inspired by my explorations into these ancient and wonderful wind instruments. Because I wanted to build a better flute, I studied the patterns to be found in both the ancient and my own flutes. The laws of acoustics dictate the range of possibilities for instrument construction within which design decisions are made according to cultural and individual preferences. Some instruments are dissected to illustrate choices made by their creators in order to produce particular sounds. Many of the most complex and time consuming innovations of the Pre-Hispanic artisans resulted in instruments of restricted pitch but rich timbre.

For a copy of the complete text, images and, if applicable, CDs of any of these articles,
please send $10/article and title request to:

Susan Rawcliffe
P.O. Box 924
San Pedro, California 90733



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