In my travels, I have come across acoustic creations which have left me baffled. The ancient world was full of unsung sound engineers who produced absolute marvels without the access to technology that our designers enjoy today. How could they reach such levels of sophistication? How did they process the complex maths as well as materials that are essential for this art to flourish?
I have no answers but here is a list of my favourite acoustic experiences:
Piped music at Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur
The Taj Lake Palace Hotel is one of the most exquisite hotels I have stayed in my life. A 200+ year old heritage property set in a beautiful lake is a dream! No two rooms in this intriguing palace hotel are the same. As I closed my eyes lazing in my bathtub overlooking a beautiful part of the lake my attention was drawn to the gentle strains of flute. As I was getting dressed and subsequently heading towards the magnificent dining hall the notes seem to magically surround me wherever I went. I looked out for the music system when I was told that the engineering of the palace is such that the artist plays in the central courtyard and every corner of the hotel gets to enjoy the music! Apparently the sound waves travel through the channels carved out in the walls to every nook and corner of this ancient construction. Sublime!
Having a rock conversation at the Citadel at Amman, Jordan
Our guide took us to the ruins of an ancient roman theatre at the foothills of The Citadel in Amman. I have been to Roman theatres before and was happy to see the fact that this is a reasonably well maintained monument. All was well until the guide made me walk 100m away and asked me to turn away from him and speak into the stony walls of the theatre. To my utter surprise I started hearing my guide as I held my ear close to the walls. The engineering of this ancient construction (1000+ years old) was so intricate that the sound waves would travel through microscopic channels in the stone walls and carry across with complete clarity across a 100 meters distance and allow us to have a perfectly audible conversation. It is beyond my understanding how they could do this a thousand years back!
Clapping at Golconda fort, Hyderabad
The Golconda Fort in Hyderabad is amongst the biggest forts in India. It’s an ancient structure as well which was build almost a thousand years back. The fort runs along a mountain and hence has several levels to it. The sentry posts were at a distance and constructed such that the canopies work like the curvilinear base of our speaker systems and amplify sounds so that the sentries could warn each other incase of any danger. As we entered a sentry post we could hear the tourists in the other posts. While our guide clapped his hands to demonstrate this phenomenon I clapped too in sheer astonishment.
I have also enjoyed the musical pillars of Taj Mahal in Agra. Listened to the sounds of the Hindu Arti at the ghats of Benaras, a mystic experience that has layered chants and cymbals and bells that take you into a different world of trance. Not to mention the experience of a orator in Terragona Roman theatre where I delivered a grand speech to my family without a mike! I am not sure if they enjoyed my random afternoon sermon but I certainly felt like a Roman scholar!
I feel that sometimes when we have that breathless moment when we see a new technology we should not forget the notes from our past. The hills were always alive to the sound of music. It’s just that the tunes have evolved over time.