ANCIENT MAYAN SUBWOOFERS

Maya temple ruins in Palenque, MX. Photo by Panoramic Images/National Geographic.

National Geographic just published an article presenting evidence that “Ancient Maya Temples Were Giant Loudspeakers.”

“Centuries before the first speakers and subwoofers,” writes Ker Than, “ancient Americans—intentionally or not—may have been turning buildings into giant sound amplifiers and distorters to enthrall or disorient audiences, archaeologists say.”

While the jab ‘intentionally or not’ gives me pause (did they accidentally build an underground rave cave with exceptional acoustics?), the thought of ancient Mayas carving out subwoofers in 600 A.D. is very 2012, very tribal guarachero. The temple ruins at Palenque in central Mexico suggests “a kind of ‘unplugged’ public-address system, projecting sound across great distances” — perfect for a post-oil dance party.

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? – Ritmo Maya

The article explains: “The ‘amplifiers’ would have been the buildings themselves, and their acoustics may have even been purposely enhanced by the strategic application of stucco coatings, Zalaquett’s findings suggest. . . ‘We think there was an intentionality of the builders to use and modify its architecture for acoustic purposes,’ Zalaquett said in an email.”

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? – Ritmo del Tambor

It goes on to discuss Chavín de Huántar, a pre-Incan maze-like space with similarly strange & disorienting acoustic effects. “For example, stone sculptures seem to show people in the maze transforming into animal-like deities with the aid of drugs.”


Celebratory Mural in the halls of Bonampak: wikipedia

Spaces of dance and celebration seem to be some of the most precarious pieces of urban real estate — hype clubs can fall out of fashion in a season, or, worse get shuttered overnight in capitulation to cop harassment, noise complaints, zoning shifts, all the various pressures of gentrification.

So I love the idea that some of the most enduring structures in the Americas are Pre-Columbian ritual spaces for heightened sound reception and communal celebration. Longetivity! Which Mexican tribal guarachero music also participates in. These MP3s provide some quick examples of the genre very intentionally invoking Aztec and Maya pasts via sound and language. Even the beats themselves underscore a communal function: listened to as stand-alone tracks, they can seem repetitive or simplistic in construction. But it’s music meant to be activated by a dancing crowd and mixing DJ, played, of course, over an appropriately huge soundsystem (with or without electricity).

As I wrote in my Fader feature:

When tribal (“tree-BALL”) first started bubbling out of Mexico City around 2005, they called it “tribal pre-Hispanic,” after Ricardo Reyna’s “La Danza Azteca”—the first tune to pull pre-Columbian samples into tribal house. This is what “tribal” now refers to: not tribal house, but Tribes—Aztec and “African,” which the music evokes via clip-clopping drum grooves and twee pre-Hispanic melodies. In Mexico City’s massive Zócalo plaza, which forms the new sound’s mythic home, Indians play flutes and drums in Aztec costumes, spicing the city’s unhealthy air with their burnt frankincense. The nearby pirate marketplace of Tepito stocks countless low-bitrate tribal CD-Rs. Rewind 500 years, before the Spanish arrived: Zócalo was the center of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec island-metropolis that happened to be one of the world’s largest cities.

The only reliable now, even one scattered on cheap street CD-Rs, has the weight of history close at hand. This sudden teen musical phenomenon self-consciously stretches back to the days of these Palenque raves.

Erick Rincon and Sheeqo Beat in Erick’s studio. photo by John Francis Peters for The Fader

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DJ Antennae – Nawy Kuahutli (anybody know what this Nahuatl phrase means?

“If you can create a mysterious sound that seems otherworldly,” says British archeaologist Chris Scarre, “you’ve created something that is a very powerful and intriguing element in the ceremony.” “3ball Monterrey, putos!!,” he added.

10 thoughts on “ANCIENT MAYAN SUBWOOFERS”

  1. hey, great article, i’ve got some comments. I used to live in the surroundings of Mexico city in a small city called Texcoco and i remember listening to 3ball since 1997, for example in any “Virgen de Guadalupe party” (december 12) or any saint party it was (still is) very common that the sonidero guy after playing and getting some drinks during the party usually at the end they let the younger guys, usually the sons of the sonidero people get control of the decks and they were playing this tribal rhythm alongside with hardstyle music that back then was called “musica industrial” (industrial music which is not). I remember some tracks like “El Arpa Tribal” “Hasta que salga la luna (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNtf11wW_j4)” “folklor (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OQXUwXpDIs)” the thing is that back then there wasn’t any register about djs/producers names, but still i’m sure that tribal came up to local sonidero parties in the 90s, actually there are some mechanic-games in “Ferias” called “Las Tazas (The cups)” were the people spin like crazy while there is a dj with a really loud soundsystem cheering up the crowd making a real party and usually those guys are sons of the sonideros and are also producers, i’ll try to upload a video.

    Ahh, also, that track “DJ Antennae – Nawy Kuahutli” is not from Dj Antena, it’s from Dj Abis also from Monterrey and the name is mispelled (by dj abis or dj antena) and refers to “Nahui Cuauhtli” that means “Cuatro Aguila” in spanish “Four Eagle”. According to the Mayan culture scripts we’re now living in the Sixth sun period which name is “Four Eagle” (Nahui Cuauhtli).

    Cheers!

  2. excellent info Lauro, thanks! It’s true that “tribal” has been around for ages (tribal house, tribal techno) with all sorts of slippery connotations. As I spoke w/ producer Erick Rincon + others in Monterrey, they settled around roughly 2005 as when the specifics of what would come to be called ‘tribal guarachero’ first started circulating.

    It’s fascinating (and confusing) how folk/viral it all is — i’d love to find the person who built the “folklor” track! especially if it was as early as 1997.

  3. I showed my Argentinian roommate this fascinating post. And a few minutes later, he came to my telling me, “My grandmother used to listen to ‘Pajaro Campana’ all the time!” “Ritmo del Tambor” remixes a Paraguayan folksong played on the harp (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7kpL5wk-XE). His grandmother is from Paraguay, where, few people listen to this kind of music nowadays. Paraguayan music is considered low class and only people in villages listen to it anymore. In cities it’s all Reggaeton and Mexican cumbia.

    And how did the folk rhythm turn 3ball? YouTube “research” says, blame the Mariachis.

  4. I got to visit Chavin in Peru in 2006. The underground maze carved in stone did indeed create strange aural effects; the placement of “The Dagger,” a giant sculpture that you can’t see fully from any one angle, also contributed to the disorientation visually.

    have to get all marxist here though, these structures were all created for the elite and any ravin goin on was for the benefit of those elite (even the communists wanted the proletariat to get drunk and party)….i hope 3ball doesnt suckle that teat too easily…

  5. from my dad:
    Nice stuff. Thanks!
    I wondered myself, in the old Mayan Ruinas visiting days, how come those totally secluded, windowless tiny rooms inside of the masive stone piles, with tiny little airholes; we hypothesized that the holes were skyports for recording specific celestial light movements and location’s fidelity, repetition…..The sound lens idea is obvious when rambling and shouting/whispering in the extant ruinas. A distal relation to singing in the bathroom/shower.
    We often panned the early looters’ insistence in calling these Maya Ruinas “Temples”, implying some arcane oppressive religious function with minimal fun and joyful celebrations. Why bother to invest so much human labour in the structures’ constructions just to assert dominance???
    I also have wondered for 55 years why the suppression of scruffy gathering/dancing places by the ruling oligarchies, especially in American history. Why the attack on celebrations?
    Especially homemade , bargain celebrations? I recall the ugly armed poilice attacks on rave(s) in Utah, and the bowling palace attacks in Providence. Who/what promotes the oppression?
    The difference bettween 100,000 foolish passive football paying fans and 100-1000 self-selected, self-entertaining and, DANCING is just that: passive captives vs actors, participants.
    Makes me twitchy at the PC.

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