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Published June 7, 2022 | Version v1
Conference paper Open

Reconstructing Prehistoric Music Technologies: Archaeological Explorations of Humans as Designers

  • 1. Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), Stanford University


Despite ubiquitous references to human curiosity and experimentalism across cultures, narratives about life in prehistory (before writing) tend to oversimplify our physiologically equal ancestors. Compounding the tendency to primitivize ancient humans and discount their experimental and expressive capacities is the archaeological practice of material categorization, which has privileged singular definitions of artifact objects. Far more likely than such neat explanations is the proposition that humans encountered sonic properties of materials, objects, and places while in the midst of non-musical activities –– and noticing sounds, found them to be compelling and useful in particular ways. As in the present, prehistorical experimentation with how things work to make and shape sound –– engineering design –– would have led to the creation and refinement of sound-making tools (mechanical music technologies), and also to the use and modification of environmental settings with notable acoustical reinforcement and thus generative of sonic sensory feedback.



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