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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Museum of Sound

Did You See the Articles about the 35,000 Year Old Flute Found in Germany?

Here it is — and you can even hear music played on a wooden replica of the bone flute: Of course while we can reasonably estimate how a person blew into the bone, and we can see where the player put his or her fingers, we don’t know what rhythms were used — what clusters of tones humans were after so long ago. Everything about this find, though, is breathtaking — the pure aesthetic beauty of the flute itself; how carefully it was made; that it is from so very long ago — when Neanderthals were still alive; and that it survived.

My last blog was about how we ought to be able to create digital books to explain the now to our readers. I also think we ought to be able to create sound environments, so students can hear the past. I don’t mean listen to old music — although I’ll get to that in a moment. Rather, I have always wanted to recreate the ambient sound of different places and time periods. What would you hear in a medieval market? what would you hear in a castle? What would ten minutes in another time sound like? What would be missing? And as you experienced these audio environments you would experience change. How did the first railroad change the sound of the countryside (Thoreau writes about the train near Walden pond, that passage might read differently if you had just experienced that first train sound environment). 

Here is one example: You walk through the Austrian town of Eisenstadt in the 1700s — hearing the street life. You enter the great palace of the Esterhazy family — hearing the hallways, is that the rustle of silk? until you enter this room, and hear one of Papa Hayden’s symphonies in the hall where it was first performed. So, yes, you can hear compositions. But you hear them in the sound environment of their own time. You can see with your ears, because being immersed in the distinct sound environments of different classes, regions, social groupings would be as compelling as seeing those places depicted. In effect, the Museum of Sound, would give you the soundtrack of time. Might a blind person hear more, because he or she is already trained to pay more attention to sound as an indication of space?

And the beauty of it is this museum could be portable, it could live on an ipod, you could take it with you. Friends, imagine if we could make books out of sound, immersing kids in these (recreated) pasts. And that flute means we could start way, way, way back when the very first human-created sounds were thin, tiny, a frail but beguiling voice amidst the thunder of nature.