Update: listen to the Tintignac Carnyx

In 2004, archaeologists discovered a hoard of ritually destroyed weapons — a dozen swords, scabbards, spearheads, a shield, bronze helmets, an iron helmet shaped like a swan — a cauldron, animal remains and seven carnyces. Before then, the remains of only five examples of the Celtic man-sized wind musical instrument that was widely used as ceremonial and highly intimidating war trumpets in the two centuries before and after Christ were known to survive. The most complete of them was the Deskford Carnyx, discovered on a farm in Deskford, Banffshire, Scotland in 1816, and it was only the bell (the part at the top that the sound comes out of) shaped like a boar’s head. The tube and mouthpiece were long gone.

One of the seven found at Tintignac, on the other hand, was almost entirely complete. The Tintignac Carnyx was broken into 40 pieces. When puzzled back together, it was found to be just an inch short of six feet long with a single missing section of the tube. The bell was a boar’s head with protruding tusks and large pointed ears. Once restored, the Tintignac Carnyx proved to be the first virtually complete carnyx ever found.

While the restored carnyx went on display in various museum exhibits, archaeologists, musicologists and instrument makers worked together to create an exact playable replica. A replica of the Deskford Carnyx has been played by trombonist and carnyx expert John Kenny since the 1990s, but every part of it except for the intricate head had to be created from scratch with the help of ancient sources and artworks like the Gundestrup Cauldron (2nd-1st century B.C.). The completeness of the Tintignac Carnyx gave researchers the unique opportunity to study almost the entire instrument from mouthpiece to bell.

When I first wrote about this more than three years ago, acoustics experts had determined that adding a 10 centimeter length of tube could make a significant difference in the resonance frequencies which determine the range of playable notes. At that time they were working on graduating from mathematical models to replica construction. There was a working replica by 2012. Here’s a brief video of it being played outdoors as vertical as John Kenny with his head tilted all the way back can hold it.

That’s the way the men on the Gundestrup Cauldron play their carnyces, and that’s how the replica of the Deskford Carnyx is played, but the researchers working on the Tintignac replica realized the vertical posture didn’t quite fit its engineering.

The lower parts of the Deskford Carnyx were modelled upon the images of the Gundestrup Cauldron, where we see three men playing the instrument vertically. The structure of the Deskford head makes this interpretation logical – but the Tintignac Carnyx is clearly a different beast. The lower tubes are completely straight, terminating in a fixed, integral mouthpiece. This makes it virtually impossible to play vertically, thus although its head looks like the Gundestrup instruments, it must have been played at an angle closer to horizontal. The magnificent head of the Tintignac features gaping jaws and huge, delicate ears – and yet the structure is far less complex than the Deskford head, with its hinged jaw, sprung tongue, soft palette and brain cavity.

An extremely fine replica of the Tintignac Carnyx made of hand-hammered bronze made by artisan Jean Boisserie debuted in November 2014 in the church of Naves, the town next to where the original carnyx was discovered. John Kenny played the Tintignac replica and the Deskford replica before a rapt crowd in the picturesque 14th century church.

This French language news story (turn on CC and click on the settings icon to set it to auto-translate; the captions come out crazy, of course, but most of them convey the general meaning) shows the replica visiting the field where the original was excavated and includes short clips of John Kenny playing both Tintignac and Deskford. At around the :56 mark you can see the Tintignac carnyx played in its close to horizontal position. There are also views of Jean Boisserie hammering bronze in his workshop and talking about how refined Gallic bronzework was in the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.

The European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP) in association with the University of Huddersfield will be bringing these ancient sounds to life in a £3.5 million ($5.3 million) ancient music research project which will release a series of new recordings on Delphian Records. The carnyces will get their own record, as will the earliest known Scottish bagpipe music, prehistoric bone flutes, ancient Scandinavian instruments, Etruscan litus and cornu (recreated from tomb reliefs) and more.

You don’t have to wait to hear the sweet blasts of the Tintignac Carnyx, though. Here are three short audio recordings of John Kenny on Boisserie’s beautiful bronze carnyx.

[audioplayer file=”http://www.thehistoryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/CARNYX-TITNTIGNAC_In-The-Woods.mp3″ titles=”In The Woods – Tintignac Carnyx played by John Kenny”]

[audioplayer file=”http://www.thehistoryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/CARNYX-TINTIGNAC_Cries.mp3″ titles=”Cries – Tintignac Carnyx played by John Kenny”]

[audioplayer file=”http://www.thehistoryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/CARNYX-TINTIGNAC_Pulse.mp3″ titles=”Pulse – Tintignac Carnyx played by John Kenny”]

10 thoughts on “Update: listen to the Tintignac Carnyx

  1. Sorry to nitpick but it appears your autocorrect doesn’t like the idea of a boar’s head and has changed it to board in two places (unless that’s a critter i’m not familiar with)

  2. One can imagine that hearing such amazing sounds across a field of battle must have put the fear of God/s in the hearts of one’s adversaries.
    Then imagine if a dozen or so of such instruments were to be played simultaneously and originating from several different directions as though they were conversing with one another.
    I dare say potentially quite a bit more intimidating than Melodious Scottish Bagpipes.

    A fascinating bit of History and kudos for the talented people who recreated these artifacts from the past.

  3. Pretty awesome. I bet John Kenny is glad the Tintignac carnyx doesn’t have to be played vertical; it loos super uncomfortable!

    (the last audio clip sounds like a mildly annoyed elephant, haha)

  4. This thing is extremely cool. Almost as much as I would like to hear the original brass arrangements, I do wonder what (other) professional musician(s) would produce on those. Notably, similar ‘carnyces’ or ‘horns’ -made of wood instead of brass, and indeed ‘played at an angle closer to horizontal’- are still in use, so check out:

    (a) More or less ‘traditional’ alphorn, later improvising (don’t miss their phantom finger modulation on that piece of wood).

    (b) One of the alphorn players interpreting Duke Ellington (on brass/trumpet).

  5. Sam, you hit the point, I’d say. Playing them all together and to fiddle around with sequencing, where necessary, gives possibly a much better impression.

    Otherwise, just fantasizing:

    Signal 1 = boar alive and dangerous
    Signal 2 = boar hunted down
    Signal 3 = D’oh! – turns out boar is still alive. :no:

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