£3.5m project to research ancient music

MODERN Europeans will hear again the music and the instruments of their distant ancestors – from dwellers in caves to audiences at Greek and Roman amphitheatres – thanks to a £3.5 million project in which a University of Huddersfield lecturer plays a key role. 

Dr Rupert Till  – who is already renowned for projects such as a recreation of the acoustics of Stonehenge – is one of a team of researchers throughout Europe who have devised the European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP).  Its aim is to seek a common European musical heritage rooted in antiquity.  Dr Till himself will oversee the creation of a special record label, which will feature the project’s findings.

Using a wide range of evidence – including archaeological survivals and ancient pictures – the EMAP researchers will attempt to reconstruct primitive musical instruments from as long ago as 40,000 BC and as “recently” as 400 AD.  Specialist performers will then experiment with the recreated instruments and reach conclusions about the type of music that was played on them. 

“The project is not really designed to recreate ancient music as such,” says Dr Till. “You can’t really know what music sounded like thousands of years ago.  But you can produce music that demonstrates the instruments and some of the techniques used.” 

Dr Till – already established as a researcher of ancient acoustics and music – was invited to join EMAP more than two years ago and he and his colleagues worked hard on an application for funding via the EU’s Cultural Programme.  The efforts paid off spectacularly. 

The panel that scrutinised applications gave the EMAP submission 99 out of 100 points, the highest score of any of the applications for EU Culture Programme grant funding this year. 

A principal goal of EMAP is to create a travelling exhibition that will display – visually and aurally – the results of the research.  The exhibition will be accompanied by concerts and workshops. 

One of Dr Till’s roles will be to direct an EMAP record label, which will issue demonstrations of the ancient instruments.  His plans include visits to historic venues in Rome, Greece and Pompeii in order to make on-site recordings. 

‌Also, he will create a “digital time machine” as part of the exhibition. 

‌“You will enter this space and start with a cave in Spain, hearing a bone flute. Then perhaps you will travel to Stonehenge and see someone playing instruments there.  You will go forward in time to Greece and hear instruments played in reconstructed acoustics and spaces.” 

“EMAP is going to be a high quality, high impact project and it’s expected that the exhibition will be seen by one and a half million people,” said Dr Till. 

‌‌In addition to his central role in EMAP, Dr Till – who is Senior Lecturer in Music Technology at the University of Huddersfield – has recently  received funding of £100,000 from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council for a project entitled “Songs of the Caves: acoustics and prehistoric art in Cantabrian caves”.

He will study the Altamira prehistoric cave system in Spain – a World Heritage Site – and research the relationship between acoustics and wall paintings, leading to reconstructions of historic instruments.

Prof Jim Al-Khalili made a programme for BBC Radio Four called 'Hearing the Past' in which he featured Dr Till's recreation of the acoustics of Stonehenge.

Attached files
  • The Altamira prehistoric Cave system in Spain
  • Dr Rupert Till

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