Monday, July 12, 2010

Sounds From the Past: The Bird-Whistle from Calixtlahuaca

By Arnd Adje Both

Favourable circumstances sometimes allow a sound of the past to be recovered and brought to our ears again. This is the case of a little bird-whistle from Calixtlahuaca, so far the only instrument from the site found intact (many fragmentary instruments were recovered in the excavations).


Its little high-pitched sound is the only one that has survived until today. The whistle (a globular flute without a fingerhole) is in the shape of a bird, and it is not surprising that it produces bird-like cries, which reminded us of a raptor. Does this whistle resemble the bird shown on the shield carried by the local king? We don’t know.

When I made a recording of the whistle in the patio of the ex-Hacienda of the Colegio Mexiquense in Zinacántepec (site of the Calixtlahuaca laboratory), Mike and Angela noted a definite effect on the many birds around. These birds made a lot of noise (or song, as the Aztecs would say), and notably were attracted by the sound produced by the whistle.

Click below for a short excerpt from my

recording of this whistle.


For more information on whistles like this and other Aztec musical instruments, see:

Both, Arnd Adje  (2002)  Aztec Flower-Flutes: The Symbolic Organization of Sound in Late Postclassic Mesoamerica. Studien zur Musikarchäologie III:279-289. Rahden/Westf.

Both, Arnd Adje  (2005)  Aerófonos mexicas de las orfrendas del recinto sagrado de Tenochtitlan. PhD dissertation. Lateinamerika-Institut, Freue Universität Berlin.

Both, Arnd Adje  (2006) On the Context of Imitative and Associative Processes in Prehispanic Music. Studien zur Musikarchäologie V, pp. 319-332. Rahden/Westf.

Martí, Samuel  (1968)  Instrumentos musicales precortesianos. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.

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