Monday, 9 March 2015

The sound of the carnyx

French reconstruction of the carnyx
photo (cropped): CptKeyes
Past Horizons blog recently had an interesting post, "Reconstructing the Deskford Iron-Age Carnyx. A YouTube video of the sound of the carnyx being played by trombonist John Kenny is included and you will note that he used a couple of didgeridoo techniques while playing the instrument including a voiced growl. John Kenny is the first person to play a reconstructed carnyx.

While he says "I have been at great pains to disclaim any notion that the carnyx was some kind of bronze age didgeridoo", he adds:
"It is worth noting that the characteristic sound world of the didgeridoo derives in part from the speech patterns of Aboriginal language and accent, as well as from observation and imitation of their natural environment. I believe that the zoomorphic nature of the carnyx likewise invites the incorporation of vowel and consonant colours drawn from Celtic tongues and our own northern natural environment. Indeed, Nigel Osbourne’s piece Forest-River-Ocean makes extensive use of precisely this sound palette, deriving material based upon phonemes of the Gaelic language as well as nature sounds taken from the find site at Deskford on the shores of the Moray Firth."
The main didgeridoo connection is, I think, in the use of so-called "circular breathing" which is really using the air stored in the mouth to make a continuous sound while "sniffing" air through the nose. It took me a little while to learn how to do this, but I'm not ready for the stage just yet! When I first encountered the didgeridoo, I got the idea that the bagpipe might be a workaround for the "circular breathing" thing and there is something about the sound of the drones which reminds me of the didgeridoo.

Irish late Bronze-Age horns. The bottom example
has the side-opening mouthpiece. Ulster Museum.
photo: Notafly
Supporting the idea that the carnyx and the didgeridoo shared similar techniques, late Bronze Age Irish horns were of two types: the familiar horn design with the mouthpiece at the end, and one where the mouthpiece hole is much larger and oval-shaped rather like the opening of the beeswax mouthpiece I made for my didgeridoo which seems to get the best sounds for me (It's a bit like blowing a raspberry into the tube).

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