Sonidos de América is a research project of arqueo-musicology whose main objective is the study and di usion of musical instruments of American ancient cultures. The project is created in 2005 by Esteban Valdivia -Lic. in Music Composition from the Universidad Nacional de Villa María (U.N.V.M)- who dedicating in construction and execution of old instruments, and Carolina Segre – Lic. in Design and Production of Image in U.N.V.M.- who dedicating to audiovisual and graphic project area. The project makes trips to di erent Latin American countries to work with institutions and archaeological reserves, investigate the original musical instruments, build copies and make documentaries for di usion of this instruments accessible to the public. The group is composed of various specialists: archaeologists, musicologists, musicians, anthropologists and lmmakers.
Sonidos de América believes that di usion is essential in the transmission of American Cultural Heritage. To do this, the project develops various formats: concerts, workshops, exhibitions and conferences adaptable to audiences of all ages and specialties. Sounds of America has a long history of performances in America and Europe countries as Argentina, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Portugal, France, England and Poland.
Sounds of America has an extensive production of documentaries made in different countries of Latin America. Since the year 2014, a research project was started with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Culture and Heritage, which consisted in the investigation, replication and audio-visual recording of various prehispanic sound objects stored in national archaeological reserves.
Prehispanic musical Instruments
Sounds of America created the concept of “prehispanic sound gallery” an audiovisual format where people can see and hear the sound objects of the American past.
The whistle bottles are a group of prehispanic ceramics that stand out from the rest of ancient ceramics for their sonorous qualities. Composed of one or several vessels, there are two types:
Breath blowers, which work with the intervention of a person blowing through an open tube.
And those of water, which produce sound when liquid is introduced into it. These have a hydraulic acoustic system that works when you make pendulum movements with the piece, the water pushes the air deposited in the interior, activating a small whistle.
These instruments had an extensive temporal and geographical spread, were developed by cultures Mesoamerica -Mayas and Aztecas- and Sudamerican -Chorrera, Moche, Inca, among others. The oldest specimens, with more than 3000 years, come from the coast of Ecuador and belong to the Chorrera culture.
Fortunately, in the archaeological reserves there is a large corpus of whistle bottles, some specimens are in perfect condition keeping their acoustic capacities in good condition. This allows investigations to be able to test the original whistle bottles and hear the same sounds they produced thousands of years ago.
The sounds produced by the whistle bottles are closely related to birds singing, so it is common to find this type of animals in the ornaments of the vessels. Other ornamentations refer to high-ranking characters and supernatural beings, the complex decorations give the vessels a symbolic significance in addition to the sound. The presence of this type of artifact in funeral homes demonstrates the deep value they had for the old American cultures, considering itself an instrument of mortuary character.
The old American traditions maintain that the whistle bottle contains in a harmonious way the four elements: the earth that when being modeled becomes a vessel, the fire that transforms it into solid ceramics, the air that contains inside and the water that is the Medium to produce sound. Bearing in mind also that this type of instrument has occurred only in the American continent, the whistle bottle becomes one of the most representative musical instruments of America.
Anthropomorphic Sound Statues
A distinctive feature of the ceramic production of pre-Columbian Ecuador are statuettes with human (anthropomorphic) forms. The first archaeological records come from the Early Formative period (3500 BCE – 1500 BC) with the Valdivia culture figurines known as the Venus de Valdivia. The development of anthropomorphic figurines continued with the Machalilla and Chorrera cultures, and increased considerably during the period of regional development (500 BC – 500 AD) due to the intensive use of pressure mold technology. This technique of ceramic production was perfected by the Jama Coaque, Bahía, La Tolita and Guangala cultures who attached acoustic systems to the internal structure of the figurines. In this way a new type of sonorous object is introduced exclusive of the Ecuadorian coast, the anthropomorphic sound statuettes.
The main characteristics of these instruments are: The method of production, the type of sculptural representation and the sound qualities. Regarding the production, the figurines were manufactured through the use of molds under pressure, this technology not only represents a new type of ceramic production but introduces a new style of representation. The statuettes were made through the union of two parts; A front face that is manufactured through a mold that prints all the facial features, body, clothing and ornaments, and a back half that unlike the first is smooth, has no detail and is modeled by hand.
The type of representation of the figurines focuses exclusively on the human figure. The reasons for this preference are still unknown, however, through the analysis of the archaeological evidence two relevant data are extracted: The costumes and ornaments of the figures represented correspond to high-ranking characters, possibly linking the type representation with the Social use. On the other hand, the findings of this type of pieces in funerary dresses of elite personages show that it was a luxury object.
In relation to the sound aspect, in general the statuettes have two whistles that sound simultaneously. The sonorous-musical exploration in the creation of harmonies demonstrates the high degree of musical development achieved by the pre-Hispanic Ecuadorian cultures, which show a preference for the overlapping of simultaneous sounds generating specific acoustic phenomena, known by the name of beat or split sound.
The location of the whistles in specific areas of the body of the figures would indicate that these objects also produce musical sounds have an extra function. Whistles are often located in the belly area as well as in the area of the shoulder blades, neck and elbows, these positions could be related to the activation of certain energy areas of the body as well as healing people with both physical and spiritual health. One can see that in ancient times the sounds had a transforming power in the life of man, being a vital rites and development of spiritual life factor.
The intensive production of small whistles and globular flutes in pre-Columbian America was of such magnitude that there are now thousands of archaeological specimens. These flutes were constructed in ceramics and there are different sizes and types, having an extensive range of timbres that were used to recreate the sounds of various animal species coming into contact with the natural world. In the interpretation of these sonorous objects can be established a timbre relationship between the sound of the represented species and the sound expressions that these flutes manage to emit.
The search for the imitation of certain sound characteristics of animal and insect species could be associated in the first instance with the activity of hunting animals, characteristic of nomadic-collecting societies. The fact of being able to communicate with the animals through a small whistle was of great help to summon the animals and then to hunt them.
However, by analyzing the ritual and shamanistic customs of the American world, we observe that the imitation of certain characteristics of sacred animals – jaguar, snake and reptile – was related to a magical and animated conception of the animal world. Shamans were specialists in contact with other worlds, and the sounds were necessary to establish that connection. It seems that supernatural beings who inhabit supernatural worlds are sensitive to the vibrations emitted by sound objects. Hence the great quantity of globular whistles and flutes used in these rituals, where it is observed that each instrument is associated with an animal, meaning by symbolic association that the instrument is evocative of some sound expression of said represented species.
In the particular case of the birds, their association to the mythological world has been very close, the birds played a fundamental role in American spiritual life. They were the messengers of the gods, who through their flight to the world above, the sky, managed to establish a spiritual contact with the supernatural and tutelary beings that were of vital importance to the American spiritual world. For this reason it is understandable that globular whistles and flutes have occupied a central place in the creation of pre-Columbian sound objects, in whose forms there were motifs related to the world of birds.