Wayne Van kirk wrote: "These Mesoamerican sites have been aledged to exhibit acoustical pheononom: Chichen Itza, Tulum, Tikal, Palenque, Kohunlich,
I remember coming back from Palenque in Jan 95. I hit the international terminal in Chicago, and was still wondering where I'd seen that "feel" of
architecture before. Suddenly, on the wall, was the answer to my question. Some donor had contributed a piece of Frank Lloyd Wright's stained glass
for aesthetics at O'Hara airport. And, I knew.
Several months later I visited a Wright bookshop, and sure enough, in one of his texts I found photographs he had taken during his visit to Palenque.
Frankly, I think Frankie was ahead of his times, because he acknowledged the importance of what was behind them. Furthermore, I remember the Mayan
Guardians of Palenque communicating with one another, by a low whistle that would carry across the entire site. And whether they were saying to one
another, "hey, only an hour left before quitting time", I remember being impressed with the way the sound carried.
If ya think for a moment, only 7 sites, out of literally hundreds still covered with jungle, have been unearthed at Palenque. And, some of those are
pyramidals facing one another, and ,thus, creating, if taken as a whole, huge stone "speaker cone"(i.e. the Foliar Cross Grouping), facing the sky.
I wasn't thinking symphonic, as much as listening to James Taylor or David Crosby or the Moody Blues (hey, I'am a 60's guy).
Yet, it was there, and finding this series of posts is onto something. For what it's worth, I've also wondered if these were "silent"communities.
Otherwise. the racket would be worse than just bad. It'd be maddening when ya consider that all of these structures, if unearthed, would have been,
obviously, configured to potentiate this "sonic" energy in a maximal manner. In fact, could these communities have been able to communicate with one
another during major ceremonies? Whoa, that's a good one. Anyway, just checking in, and gonna be checking these recommended sites out.
From: Arno S. Bommer
Subject: Investigation of Acoustics at Chichen Itza
There have been many comments on the acoustics of the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Most information is anecdotal
("it sounds neat"), many phenomena are probably easily explained (flutter echoes, pitch change from time-delay reflections of steps, etc.), and some
of the analyses seem a bit far-fetched ("the Mayans must have been more advanced acoustically than we are now"). But the "room acoustics" of the
great ball court, a 100' x 500' court with tall stone walls on the sides and a temple at each end, seem to be interesting. Years ago, scientists
working in the ruins would host concerts in the court using a gramophone as the musical performer. Leopold Stokowski of the Philadelphia Symphony
Orchestra visited the site in 1931 to study the acoustics. Recently, the San Diego Orchestra performed there.
Dr. Fernando Elizondo of the Acoustics Lab at the University of Nuevo Leon, is currently seeking a permit to make sound measurements at the site
sometime in 1997. The exact schedule of the measurements will depend on when access is allowed, when the weather is best, and when volunteers can go
to the site. Assisting Dr. Elizondo will be acoustical consultants Arno Bommer, Angelo Campanella, and possibly several others. In the past, there
have only been a few brief measurements (that I know of). We are most interested in making measurements of the "room acoustics" of the great ball
court and then trying to model it.
Before making our measurements, we'd like comments and suggestions from other interested and knowledgeable people on what to look for, what to
measure, how to analyze the data, what models to use, etc. This is all being done on a volunteer basis, so there will be no financial incentives for
anyone's help (though names of possible sponsors would be welcome). Volunteers to help with the measurements will also be welcome.
Dana Hougland will also briefly discuss this at the Technical Committee Meeting on Architectural Acoustics in Hawaii.
If you are interested in further information, contact Arno Bommer at phone: (281) 492-2784; fax (281) 492-1434; or c/o firstname.lastname@example.org
Tue, 17 Dec 1996
From: Jeeni Criscenzo
Organization: Jaguar Books/The Production Dept.
Subject: Re: Me: Ritual Music
On the subject of acoustics, I recall that when I was at Edzna, I was standing at the top of one pyramid and my daughter on the top of another and
realized that we could carry on a conversation in a perfectly normal tone of voice, not only with each other but with others standing on the ground. I
don't know very much about the science of acoustics, but I don't recall this happening at any other site and we went to quite a few.
Date: Tue, 17 Dec 1996 16:49:56+0000
From: "Paul E. Pettennude"
Subject: Acoustics in Maya Sites
Sam, I read your posting regarding your conversations with Wayne on the subject of acoustics with some interest. Over the past 31 years I have been
fortunate to have been in just over a thousand Mesoamerican sites, and in a number of them for extended periods of time.
While working specifically at the sites of Coba, Kukikan (a satellite of Coba) and Santa Rosa Xtampak I found there appear to be structures and
complexes which take advantage of the ability of stonework to enhance acoustics. In these three sites in particular are coliseum-like complexes in
which one can talk in a normal voice at "center stage" and be heard at the edges of the complexes.
I have heard the term "singing stones" used in Yucatan to describe the type of stone which bests lends itself to increased sound enhancement. The
last mentions were among the remains of the Chan Santa Cruz Maya who still inhabit the region around Coba. Whether or not this is a term which goes
back in time I do not know. I am an archaeologist not a linguist or epigrapher.
I personally think at some point the ancient Maya learned by accident that stone could enhance sound and certain arrangements of structures within
complexes could enhance the transmission of sound. Subtlety is inherent in their architecture. I only need to point at their ability to achieve visual
impact via negative batter on walls of structures designed for the privileged members of their sites. Mesoamerican centers in general and Maya sites
in particular are externally oriented complexes of structures built for the glorification of those who rule. Imagine if you will every surface filled
with "state art" supporting the privileged with sight and sound.
Two additional Mayan sites with unexpected acoustics Palenque, has a group of three pyramids from which a three way conversation can be held from
atop. Kohv(u)nlich was also mentioned by an archeologist to have "weird" acoustics.
RE: Posting "Chichen Itza-Unexplained Acoustics. This was a summary based on the following excerpts taken from various books found at Tulane, Rice,
University of Houston, Carnegie Instutite etc. They all relate to the Great Ballcourt except as noted. I would like to include them in the discussion.
The North Temple
The north Temple of the Great Ball Court is another example of the Maya's ability to achieve beauty of proportion. The inside wall which now is an
effective sounding board, is covered with a carved frieze still bearing traces of color. Standing in this temple one can speak in a low voice and be
heard distinctly at the other end of the court, five hundred feet away
This is from the Wall Journal and refers to the Pyramid, not the Ballcourt. Two other articles have been published but are not included here.
Could Ancient Mayan Temple Walls Provide A Model for Today's Sound Barriers? By Frank Hodgson
A new type of surface is proposed for the modification of sound. The technology seems to be a form of parametric amplification and is based on walls
first constructed over 1,000 years ago by the Maya Indians in Mexico. Applications of this new surface can be considered for freeway sound walls, as
gratings under airport taxiways, as gratings under or along rail tracks, as embedded liquid-filled walls for the reduction of vibration and noise
(said surfaces being on the interior of the embedded wall), for novel musical instruments and as surfaces to enhance the acoustic properties of
A new type of surface is proposed for the modification of sound by means of parametric amplification. This effect, the modification of sound upward in
frequency by a specific wall structure, is hereby reported by the author and is based on his personal observations of a specific Mayan wall which
exhibits these characteristics The essential conditions for the creation of this effect seem to be the use of square-bottomed gaps used in conjunction
with and as a part of a structure having steps or indentations.
The gaps can have curved bottoms and/or "fat" portions to alter and perhaps improve the character of the resulting reflected sound. The gaps
surround each brick. In electrical engineering applications, the most common usage of parametric amplification is the p-n junction diode which is in
wide use. The underlying theory for these and other devices (up converters, down converters, negative resistance amplifiers and other specialized
devices) is summarized by Collin (Robert E. Collin, 1992, Foundations for Microwave Engineering, McGraw Hill, pp 807-829). For a more detailed review,
refer to Manley and Rowe U.M. Manley & H.E. Rowe: Some General Properties of Nonlinear Elements, Partl, General Engineering Relationships; Proc IRE,
vol.44, pp 904-913; Jul 1956; see also Proc IRE vol 47, pp 2115-2116, December 1959.
In theory, it would appear that frequencies should be capable of conversion downward as well as upward, and that spreading should be possible (i.e.,
to clear out a given bandwidth converting frequencies both up and down away from the central frequency). It appears that the base frequency required
to generate this conversion is created in the gaps themselves. These surfaces, herein termed Kilo surfaces, constitute a new method for transforming
sound. Since the surface does not need to be massive, fiberglass panels can be considered for some applications. The surface could be moulded onto
freeway sound walls which should eliminate much of the reflected sound, both because much of the energy would be converted to inaudible frequencies
and because the remaining high frequencies should quickly dissipate over short distances. These walls should not be painted as paint will reduce or
eliminate the desired effect. The surface can be made into a grating for use on airport taxiways and under or along railroad tracks to convert the
Ground propagated noise and vibrations should be capable of being modified through the use of embedded wall-like structures through which the
vibrations and noise would have to pass. The interior of the wall should be filled with liquid and the interior surfaces would be special Kilo
surfaces. More complex patterns should give rise to unusual effects which should be of interest to musicians. Some of these patterns should enhance
the acoustic properties of theaters. The most promising area of inquiry seems to be Bessel function related surfaces which are bounded by shock wave
curves. The technology described above has been placed in the public domain by the Kilo Foundation which invites inquiries and participation in the
creation of new applications. For additional information, please contact Frank Hodgson, The Kilo Foundation, Inc., 708 Matadero Avenue, Palo Alto, CA
94306, tel 415 493-5511.
As a special entertainment, he sometimes gave a Phonograph concert in the ball court. The rectangular structure, 545 feet long and 225 feet wide, open
at the top, with walls 30 feet high on two sides, had amazing acoustical properties. Servants placed the phonograph at the north end of the court, and
other servants strewed Pillows for the guests at the south end. On a moonlight night, with a slight breeze, and the dark shapes of the walls outlined
against the sky, the strains of Beethoven or Brahms created an eerie effect.
Determined not to desecrate the venerable ruins, he restricted the selections to classical music. The concerts emphasized the uncanny secret of the
ball court Not only did sound carry perfectly over its length but in some places the human voice produced a perfect echo. When Vay learned that
Leopold Stokosvski, famous conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, was studying acoustics for outdoor concerts, he invited him to examine
the Structure in order to discover the cause of its unique acoustical properties.
Stokowski came for several days; he played phonograph records at every conceivable spot in the court, and staff members incidentally enjoyed the
orchestral music as it floated over the ruins. Vay and Stokowski became great friends, but the conductor left without learning the secret of the ball
If it were a moonlight night and he wanted to give his guests a special treat, he ordered a phonograph concert in the Ball Court. Tarsisio and the
servants set up the phonograph in the north temple, where the back wall slopes forward and forms a perfect sounding board. At the opposite end of the
court the servants supplied cushions and the guests sat on a raised dais among the half-ruined pillars of the south temple that extends eighty feet
across the end of the Court. The acoustics were amazing, for the audience could hear perfectly the strains of Sibelius, Brahms, and Beethoven.
The total effect was indescribable. The brilliant Yucatecan sky formed a great overhead dome, the moon cast ghostly light on the stone walls and the
north temple, and the calm air, rarely disturbed by a breeze, added a sense of mystery to the setting. After the performance the guests, awed by the
uncanny effect, walked quietly back to the Casa Principal through the moonlight, still under the magic spell. One of the visitors in 1931 was Leopold
Stokowski, who spent four days with Morley. He brought the latest recordings of his Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra and played them in the Ball Court,
at the Castillo, and at the Temple of the Warriors. One staff member believed that if Stokowski "and Morley could have found a sponsor, their plan to
conduct a symphony with instruments all over the place would have gone through.
We'd have loved it too." Actually, Stokowski had a far more serious purpose, as he and Morley attempted to learn the acoustical secret of the Ball
Court. At the time, the conductor was designing an open-air theater for concert work. He and Vay spent hours placing the phonograph in different
positions in the Ball Court in order to determine the reflecting surfaces.
Theoretically, the structure should have had poor acoustics, but as every visitor to Chichen knows, it possesses amazing properties of sound. After
days of experiment, they failed to learn the secret, which remains one of the unsolved mysteries of ancient America. "Sylvanus G. Morley" Robert