Making beautiful grunting, er, music together

1 minute read

A recent BBC story described one musician’s attempt to recreate the “Neandertal” musical experience:

A musical experience with a difference is being previewed at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff - an attempt to recreate the sound of the Neanderthals.
Jazz composer Simon Thorne was given the task of creating the "soundscape" to provide a musical backdrop to some of the ancient exhibits on display.
The musician says the work is "probably the most unusual" he has undertaken.

There’s an MP3 at the link, and I can say, it is indeed most unusual. It sounds like three dudes speaking Klingon at the other end of a storm sewer. It’s so unpleasant that Gretchen asked me to turn it off and use the headphones instead!

Well, nothing against Thorne – who it seems to me was given an impossible task – but this is some fugly music. I suppose that’s the point, to make the museum visitors feel like they’re in an alien environment.

I mean, suppose Neandertal music sounded like a blend of “O Danny Boy” and “How Great Thou Art”? OK, so that would work out great for the Ken Burns Neandertal special. But it wouldn’t have that air of mystery. As in, “Sweet Mystery of Life At Last I’ve Found Thee…”

If you ask me, any serious analysis of Neandertal music has to grapple with the findings of the classic master, discoverer of the Neandertal tuba, Oscar Todkopf:

Todkopf theorizes that the Neanderthals' fondness for music may explain why they vanished some 30,000 years ago. "Maybe their music scared away all the game. They would have produced an awful racket oompah-pahing all over the place. The Neander Valley was alive with the sound of music."

Yep. Well, the current composition does seem to have the “oompah-pahing” covered.