Primordial Ooze of Sound


Recently, we’ve been digging on early music. Although most of the world’s early dalliances with organised sound patterns is impossible to date due to an absence of notation – many cultures developed with music as an improvisational tradition, rather than something it was necessary to record – the earliest examples of surviving musical notation date as far back as 1400 BC.

The oldest of these seem to the Hurrian Hymns – 36 odes to the Ugaratic goddess Nikkal encoded on stone tablets that were excavated in Syria during the 1950s.

Note: These are real things, we’re not making them up and it’s not from a Lovecraft story or Ghostbusters or anything! Look:

In the ancient music timeline, the next major surviving musical transcripts – the Delphic Hymns to Apollo – don’t appear on the scene for another millenium.

Depending on if our digital data survives into the next millenium, I wonder if the rapid fire of daily recommendations from the blogosphere will still exist, or if it will look like there was a curious deceleration of music production in our culture beginning about the time filesharing slithered into being.

This primordial ooze of sound is fascinating. Musical notation developed primarily to record hymns to our assorted makers, so it perhaps isn’t surprising that much of  our musical infancy seems to have been religious. But music has always existed for rituals other than religion.

It’s thought that La Quinte Estampie Real, for instance, was an early dance tune. Yep, ancient French House! In the middle ages, instrumental music was frowned on by the church, with musicians performing non-choral works being considered of a lesser social class, and who consequently weren’t schooled in notation, so little of this kind of music has survived the wrath of time. The composer of La Quinte Estampie Real isn’t known, but it seems to have been written for the King of France at the time of the Crusades. This kind of music would be performed at royal dances – with the notated structure seeming to be a loose platform for the musicians to improvise around.

Listening to this unusually (for its time) symmetrical tune performed on an ancient woodwind instrument called a shawm, bizarrely, the first parallel that popped to mind was Oneida, and their psychedelic scramble of organ notes. This version of La Quinte… is from the 1970s, recorded by the Early Music Consort of London.

The Early Music Consort of London – La Quinte Estampie Real

Whether the King’s royal house parties were quite as brain-cell-rearranging as Oneida’s face-melting shows is anyone’s guess, but they were surely the place to be in the 1200s. Kind of like the 13 Monsters of their time.

(Note: no, we have no idea exactly how to dance to this music either, but we’d like to see you try.)