The sound of angels’ wings

Moving away from politics for a change, here’s a very interesting article from The Atlantic, “Hearing the Lost Sounds of Antiquity,” explaining how researchers are melding cutting edge technology with historical research to recreate the sounds from history, even sounds from the fourth century:

“History is mostly silent to us now.

Thousands of years of human stories have been told in paintings, and sculptures, and sheet music, and text; in shards and shells, and other fragments of things left behind. But because the history of recorded sound is only 160 years old, the original sounds of the distant past are lost to time.”

The article explains the technology used to recreate the lost sounds from history, but also offers some exciting ways the researchers believe their work could lead to new ways to understand history, beyond reading dry old histories or studying crumbling architecture:

“The data showing what happened to the chirp in each part of the church is fed to a computer, which then registers the impulse response for the unique space. And here’s where it gets really interesting: Once you have a building’s impulse response, you can apply it to a recording captured in another space and make it sound as though that recording had taken place in the original building.

“So you can take chanters with the original [Byzantine era] music and put them in a studio that has no acoustics,” Kyriakakis said. “They can sing a chant, and then we can process it … and all of the sudden we have performances happening in medieval structures. It’s like time travel to me.”

The implications go far beyond the ancient world. Kyriakakis, Donahue, and Gerstel imagine creating a catalog of impulse responses for historic buildings, then recreating the sounds of those structures in what would be, essentially, a museum of lost sound. With an integration of virtual reality technology, visitors could even get the experience of how the sound would have changed as people moved through a given space. (Theoretically, they could share these recordings online, too, but both Kyriakakis and Donahue say it’s harder to render the sound authentically over headphones. They talk more about the idea in a USC Engineering podcast.)

The museum they’re envisioning would include churches, like the ones they’ve already mapped, but other structures, too—everything from ancient theaters and the Parthenon (an experiment that would also require mathematical modeling to bring back the missing part) to modern baseball stadiums and train stations.  “If we open up this idea,” Kyriakakis told me, “there’s no limit as to what can be measured and recreated.””

Now, consider researchers in a free society devoting energy to something that benefits everyone, while in other parts of the world we have a retrogression taking place where all the worst horrors of barbarism and depravity are embraced by religious zealots and their view on preserving history is to loot and then destroy ancient sites:

“So why is Isis blowing to pieces the greatest artefacts of ancient history in Syria and Iraq? The archeologist Joanne Farchakh has a unique answer to a unique crime. First, Isis sells the statues, stone faces and frescoes that international dealers demand. It takes the money, hands over the relics – and blows up the temples and buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of what has been looted.”

Okay, I promised this wasn’t going to delve into politics, so let me end here before launching into a foreign policy rant and let’s think about how these researchers recreating sounds from antiquity have actually come up with a sound in ancient cathedrals referred to as:

““They also discovered something that we call slap echo,” Donahue added, “when you have walls fairly close to one another and the frequencies go back and forth. It goes ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta. [In the ancient world,] they described it as the sound of angels’ wings.””

The sound of angels’ wings…….. now that’s pretty amazing!


1 Comment

Filed under Food for Thought, General Interest, History

One response to “The sound of angels’ wings

  1. Minta Marie Morze

    Wild, wonderful, and wise!

    I truly love this post, Liberty! Including where you went with it, and the transcendent close.

    A lot to think about, and some of it is joyous!!

    Thank you!

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