Listen to the world’s oldest musical instruments in “Overheard at National Geogtaphic”
The recorded sound was still relatively new when Walt Disney first synchronized it with the first Mickey Mouse short film released, Willie Steamboat. Patented in 1877 by Thomas Edison, the recorded sound was only 63 years old when the concert Fancy has been freed. For context, the film turned 80 last year. I mention this because this week’s new episode of Heard at National Geographic talks about some of the first musical sounds mankind ever heard. Here is a recap of the fourth episode of season eight, “Ancient orchestra. “
Host Amy Briggs is joined by podcast producer Brian Gutierrez, who is embarking on an ambitious audiophile’s dream. He assembles the sounds of the oldest instruments found by archaeologists in order to create with them a song that spans tens of thousands of years. The dream is fulfilled at the end of the episode, so it really is a dream to listen to.
An artifact from ancient Greece called the Seikilos Stone contains a song, but it was not written in modern musical notes. It is considered to be the oldest musical score in existence and by using a lyre replica similar to the tortoise shell ones of the time, Brain was able to get it played. The lyrics include a theme that is very relevant to anyone who has ever lived: the brevity of life.
An archaeological find from the Bronze Age in China known as the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng featured a full orchestra from the era, including 65 bronze bells that included notches indicating where to strike with a mallet to reveal a tone different. They are more oval than modern bells and are part of the Smithsonian collection. These instruments date from 433 BC.
Around the same time in Peru, a series of temples known as Chavin where underground tunnels lead to galleries that appear to have been designed to distort noises and make them closer than they are. During archaeological excavations, twenty complete conch trumpets specially cut to emit sound were discovered, as well as many broken trumpets. The sounds produced by the conch trumpets also correspond to the frequency range of a conduit discovered in the underground chambers.
In the Serengeti, wildlife cameraman Jahawi Bertolli was on set when his team found a unique boulder that one of them recognized as an ancient gong. Archaeologists believe that these types of rocks, which are about four feet in diameter and weigh about two tons, were used by ancient people to create sounds. In fact, the Hadza tribe living in the area do not use them, but the oral history tells the story of a tribe predating them who played them. Rock gongs were also found in the tomb of Marquis Yi.
The oldest man-made instrument ever discovered is made from vulture bones and played like a flute. It was found in a cave in southern Germany and dates back 40,000 years. This dates back to a time when Neanderthals and woolly mammoths still roamed the earth.
With the recorded sounds of ancient flute, conch, gong rock, bells and lyre, Brian Gutierrez uses modern digital music production to create a song. As he explains in the episode, we don’t know if these instruments were necessarily meant for music or just to produce amplified sounds, but he also took an unconventional approach to creating a song, eschewing the conventions of the song. western music and adding polyrhythms. You can listen to it as the episode finale.
Click here to listen Heard on National Geographic.
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).