Something About Sound……..

By Bernie Bell

A few years ago, we’d just been on a holiday to Ireland, mainly in the Bru Na Boinne area.  On the way home, we visited the Grey Cairns of Camster, in  Caithness, and this is what happened……………..

Mike went into the round cairn ( my stiff old bones, didn’t allow me to do so).

Grey Cairn of Camster  B Bell

photo B Bell

He made what I refer to as ‘didgeridoo’ noises – deep toning.  I could hear him, from outside.  When he came out, he said that he saw herringbone patterns on the wall, while he was toning. This reminded us of the herringbone carvings, and pattern of laying stones, at some ancient sites. There has been much written on the theme of sounds in enclosed spaces,  maybe with smoke, producing shapes, which were then carved.  But, in this case,  there was no smoke, and he  hadn’t been drinking, smoking, or eating cheese late at night!

So, we then walked along to the long cairn

Long Cairn B Bell

Photo B Bell

 Mike first went into the first chamber, on the right hand side.  He says he found higher resonances, but didn’t see any patterns.  Then, he went into the second of the chambers in the cairn.  He did deep toning again, which he says produced shifting patterns on the rock. Depending on the tone, these patterns went from broad diagonal bars, through to finer ‘diamond’ shapes, and also herringbone and ‘chequerboard’ shapes.  Again, familiar motifs at many ancient sites.  He says that the toning also ‘brought out’ the natural features of the rock, including a skull shape.

stone  with skull shape B Bell

Photo M Bell

Of course, a skull may have a different connotation, today, to what it may have had to the folk who built the cairns.  Still however you look at it, it is the holding place, or vessel, of the brain, and the eyes, and the ears, and the mouth, and the nose – the senses!

He says he could only see the shapes, when he was actually toning.  He took some photos, whilst toning, and there’s also an extra-ordinary light effect/phenomenon, in one of them.

There is a glass bit, in the roof, to let natural light in, and Mike had taken a couple of pics. of this big stone, and they just show the light, coming down from the roof.

light on stone B Bell

Photo M Bell

The photos didn’t reproduce the patterns which he’d seen – did show the colour/light phenomenon – but only on this particular one. Why? – we don’t know!

 “Curiouser, and curiouser, said Alice”.

 For myself- though I couldn’t go into the cairns, I felt very excited, as I approached the round cairn, and even more so, when walking round it.

Conversely, I felt very peaceful, at the long cairn, very peaceful indeed.  I sat on the wall at the end of the cairn, and….just……..was.

All in all, a very friendly, comfortable place to be.

Cairn close up B Bell

Photo B Bell: Sometimes I sits and thinks – and sometimes I just sits…………

A couple of months later, we were invited by a friend, to an open evening which was part of a spiritual retreat being held at Woodwick House, here on Orkney.

I was talking with the woman running the retreat  and told her of Mike’s didgeridoo noises, particularly at Camster.  She asked him to lead the group, in making the same noises.

Woodwick House B Bell

Photo B Bell

So, on a sunlit evening, in Woodwick House ( v. lovely place), a group of folk, from all over the world, sat in the Library, and Mike led them in making the noises. We then stood up, in a circle with hands joined, and Catriona asked him to lead us in making the Om sound, which he did.  All I can say is, it made the people there, very happy.

I think this is relevant to the effect produced when making certain sounds at some of the ancient sites.  The ancient folk were people, same as us, biologically, even if not in out-look.  When Mike had finished, with some folk joining in, the faces of the people there, were lighter – they just looked….happy, and many said thank you.  One woman, got very excited and said that he should be heard all over the world!  Bless her!

So, whether in an ancient cairn, or in a room in Woodwick House…………certain sounds appear to produce certain effects.  And we don’t really need to have scientific knowledge or understanding, to experience those effects – when they are happening, we feel it.

But, did the ancient peoples who built the monuments, have the “scientific” knowledge (inverted commas, because the division between ‘science’ and….other things, is a relatively recent one)  to produce these effects on purpose?  And, what does that say about their knowledge, even, simply, their knowledge of engineering, never mind acoustics, properties of certain types of stone, etc. etc. etc?

Aaron Watson has done a lot of work on the use/effects of sound at ancient sites.

And so has Paul Devereux

If you visit places such as the Grey Cairns of Camster, you can maybe experience these phenomena for yourself.

And then, there’s Maes Howe


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