BMCR 2017.01.33

Le paysage sonore de l’Antiquité. Méthodologie, historiographie et perspectives

, , , Le paysage sonore de l'Antiquité. Méthodologie, historiographie et perspectives. Actes de la journée d'études tenue a l'École française de Rome, le 7 janvier 2013. Recherches d'archéologie, de philologie et d'histoire, 40. Châtillon: Institut français d'archéologie orientale, 2015. xiv, pp. 267. ISBN 9782724706741. €25.00.

Table of Contents
[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume contains eight papers, an introduction by David Howes, and the conclusions of Hélène Ménard, all focusing on the topic of soundscapes, a term first coined by R. Murray Schafer to refer to our sonic environment.1 The papers emanate from the Soundscape of the Ancient World workshop, convened at the École française de Rome in January 2013. The line-up is altogether quite impressive—as is the quality of the book itself: the paper and printing are of a high quality. The contributions in this book bring a remarkably wide array of approaches to bear on the task of identifying relevant sources to reconstruct the soundscape of premodernity: musicological (Basma Zerouali), pedagogical and theological (Sibylle Emerit), mythological (Anne-Caroline Rendu-Loisel and Sylvain Perrot), topological (Peter Borsay), literary (Jean- Marie Fritz and Christophe Vendries), archaeological, iconographical, and lexical (the last three being utilised by multiple authors). The papers are divided into two sections: the first covers theoretical approaches to the notion of soundscape, and the second focuses on soundscape and its development in ancient history.

After an introduction by David Howes (1-6), Alexandre Vincent’s opening article (9-40) is a review of the main trends related to the idea of soundscape. It highlights how the notion has been discussed, undermined and refuted. The author proposes a new perspective for the historical disciplines, taking into account the use of sources, the contents, and the approach of historians to the study of the past. Basma Zerouali’s contribution (41-62) offers an historiographical review of soundscape in the ethnomusicological field. Ethnomusicologists have provided several terms such as “ecomusicology,” or “ecology music,” as well as “sound environment,” in order to highlight sound as a central object of study, and historical ethnomusicology has led to a methodological renewal, borrowed from historians’ methodologies.

Using this framework, Zerouali expands upon a particular case study, the Smyrna Catastrophe of 1922, in order to inquire into cosmopolitanism and the mixing of oral traditions. In his article on medieval literature, Jean-Marie Fritz highlights further issues related to the methods developed in two recent books by exploring not only the sound material with all phonic effects in the text itself, but also the lexical meaning of sound terms.2 In addition, the author highlights the limits of lexicography, and the ambiguity of words that may involve sound without naming it explicitly. In the final article of the first part, Peter Borsay (87-112) discusses urban soundscapes in preindustrial Britain, introducing the concept of sound spaces using binary oppositions: town and country, nature and human, public and private, sacred and profane, work and leisure. He highlights the issues related to the setting of music. He considers sound as a phenomenon that can overcome borders, and discusses its relationship with the other senses.3 Hence, in his concluding remarks, the author advocates the term ‘sense-scape’.

The second part of the volume is focused on the ancient period. The common approach of the articles is to combine the study of lexicon, artefacts and acoustics of buildings in order to contextualise the soundscapes of the past Taking account of the soundscapes of ancient Egypt, Sibylle Emerit’s article (115-154) explores animal cries, ritual sounds and sounds related to death, raising the issue of the representations of such scenes in Egyptian iconographic sources and abundant archaeological evidence. The author focuses on the topic of listening to both music and silence as two strong elements in education and social order, that is, to maintain obedience. In addition, Emerit raises the importance of the spread of sounds and silence in the shrine in understanding Egyptian urban spaces. In her contribution, Anne-Caroline Rendu-Loisel (155-174) explores textual richness in the interpretation of sound phenomena in ancient Mesopotamia. Starting from the unbearable noise of men that stokes the anger of the god Ea, the author studies a corpus of divination tests and the related lexicon to understand the omens.

Using an anthropological approach, Rendu-Loisel shows how sounds are the subject of a complex codification process according to their nature, but also according to the function of the time and place where they were heard. In his article, Sylvain Perrot (175-208) stresses the concept of sound experience in both rational and sensory processes involving a human being willing to listen to his surroundings. Starting from literary analysis of Greek texts, the author emphasises their value in the study of sound. He also presents a discussion of musical instruments, distinguishing them from sound objects. In addition, Perrot examines theatres and caves in order to show how the Greeks paid attention to the acoustics of space. In the final article (which is followed by Hélène Ménard’s conclusions) (259-267), Christophe Vendries (209-256) devotes his attention to the ancient Roman period. In the analysis of several Latin sources, including archaeological evidence, the author stresses that there is no term, Greek or Latin, to describe the soundscape. Thus, the study of lexicon and metaphors for sound cannot be fully satisfactory in understanding how sounds were perceived. For this reason, he highlights the importance of contextual analysis, and emphasises the need to explore all fields related to the settings of sonic activities, including battlefields, which were replete with all kinds of noises and areas of silence. Finally, the author highlights that some places designed for performances and the places of power deserve full attention.

The study of sound and its perception in antiquity still lacks an appropriate method and approach. This volume is a first step towards a collective consideration of this vast topic. The field has hardly been exhausted: all the excellent articles provided in the volume show the difficulties, methodological and documentary, involved in conducting such investigation. They stress that there is a whole sonic world to discover, and a whole sensory world to understand. This volume shows that if we proceed methodically and in constant inter/trans-disciplinary dialogue, we will be more capable of improving our understanding of the richness of sounds in ancient societies.


D. Howes, Préface vii
Avant-Propos xii
Introduction 1
Première partie: approches théoriques de la notion de paysage sonore
A. Vincent, Paysage sonore et sciences sociales: sonorités, sens, histoire 9
B. Zerouali, « Paysages sonores ». Au croisement de l’ethnomusicologie et de l’histoire 41
J.-M. Fritz, Littérature médiévale et sound studies 63
P. Borsay, The Urban Soundscape in Pre-Modern England 87
Deuxième partie: paysage sonore et histoire antique
S. Emerit, Autour de l’ouïe, de la voix et des sons. Approche anthropologique des « paysages sonores » de l’Égypte ancienne 115
A.-C. Rendu Loisel, Peut-on définir le paysage sonore dans les textes cunéiformes de l’ancienne Mésopotamie? Enjeux et méthodes autour des textes divinatoires 155
S. Perrot, Pour une archéologie des expériences sonores en Grèce antique 175
C. Vendries, Du bruit dans la cité. L’invention du « paysage sonore » et l’Antiquité romaine 209
H. Ménard, Explorer les paysages sonores de l’Antiquité : pour une approche historienne 259


1. Schafer, R. M., The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. New York: Knopf, 1977.

2. Fritz, J.-M., Paysages sonores du Moyen Âge. Le versant épistémologique. Paris: Champion, 2000; Fritz, J.-M., La Cloche et la Lyre. Pour une poétique médiévale du paysage sonore. Genève: Droz, 2011.

3. According to Catherine Bell, performance communicates on multiple sensory levels, usually involving highly visual imagery, sounds, and other tactile, olfactory, and gustatory stimulus. See C. Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions, Oxford: University Press, 1997, pp. 159–164.