Apparently, Rupert Till, an expert in acoustics and music technology at Huddersfield University in northern England, knows where to find a good party. Till took a second look, or rather, a second hear, at the 5,000-year-old Stonehenge and discovered that its huge stone slabs reflected sound perfectly, making the site the perfect place to listen to repetitive, trance-like music.
Stonehenge’s functionality has been discussed endlessly, but these days, people in the know are down to essentially two theories: 1) it was a healing site; 2) it was a place for the dead. Both of these scenarios are conducive to Till’s case, as both are rituals and would have likely involved music.
To test the plausibility of Stonehenge being a prehistoric Madison Square Garden, Till and colleague Bruno Fazenda crunched some numbers first. The math created some predictions as to Stonehenge’s acoustic possibilities, but the key would be understanding the complete Stonehenge as it was in its heyday, not the remnants that are left today. In order to do that, the two hopped on a plane and visited a full-scale replica of Stonehenge across the pond in Washington state.
A combination of sophisticated software, computer simulations, calculations, and on-site tests created an accurate picture of what sound at the original Stonehenge would have sounded like. The incredible echo Till and Fazenda discovered provides an excellent acoustic background for rhythmic music. Till explains that the music likely consisted of a simple rhythm played in time to the echoes in space, either in time with the echo or at a multiple of it: “This would be at a tempo of about 160 beats per minute, a fast tempo. It is interesting that this is the tempo of fast trance music, of samba…It is at the top of the range of musical tempos. It is also at the top end of the range of the human heartbeat, the same as the heart might beat if you were doing really vigorous exercise, or dancing really energetically.”
The space also would have worked well for clapping or chanting, meaning a shaman or other holy man may have stood at some point in the circle leading whatever ritual was occurring. Additionally, the monoliths amplified high-frequency sounds, such as the human voice, while low-frequency sounds, like drums beating, would pass through the stones and be heard for miles around. Though the builders of Stonehenge obviously did not have any acoustic equipment, Till’s findings suggest that they did have an excellent understanding of how to move sound.
Stonehenge is located in Amesbury. That’s about an hour and 45 minutes from London. I’ll grab the strobe lights, you get the DJ, and tell everyone you know to come party like its 3000 B.C.