"A Materiality of Sound: Musical Practices of the Moche of Peru" by Dianne Mackenzie Scullin

Dianne Mackenzie Scullin

Deposited 2015

The PhD dissertation entitled A Materiality of Sound: Musical Practices of the Moche of Peru examines the role of sonic practice within the Moche culture, a complex polity that flourished on the north coast of Peru between 100 and 900 AD. Music, as a cultural expression of sound, plays an important part in every known human society. Instead of accepting that such a significant aspect of human social life, as sound should remain forever beyond the reach of archaeological inquiry, A Materiality of Sound investigates the durable material traces of sound, such as instrumentation and architecture, using modern recording and acoustic measurement technologies. These techniques permit the exploration of aural experience and sound use in past contexts.
The foundation for the archaeological inquiry of sound and music derives from the phenomenology of Merlau-Ponty (1962); a theoretical standpoint stating that humans experience and interact with the world through all our senses simultaneously. Archaeological interpretation tends to focus on the visual aspects of the world, with the implications that past peoples also privileged sight above all other senses. In order to interpret the choices and strategies employed by past societies, one must consider that the visual may not represent the only, or most valued, sense involved.
This dissertation presents two primary arguments. First, the efficacy of Moche theatrical performances resides in the intersensorial interaction of the visual and the auditory. Moche sound producing artifacts consistently display exterior decoration, and performances depicted in Moche art regularly include specific sound producing artifacts. This repeated confluence of sound and image creates “multi-media” objects, in which image and sound potentially amplify the effects of each other. These multi-media objects generate a new experience of “sound-image,” the efficacy of which derives from the interaction between sound and image in a single object. A “sound-image” stimulates the intersensorial nature of human experience in a specific way, perhaps invoking the generative power of these objects to create action and communicate presence. Without the presence of “sound-image,” the efficacy of a Moche performance could not be achieved.
Second, this dissertation argues that the desire to create specific multi-sensory experiences, which include sound, acted as a driving force behind the creation of Moche performance spaces and material culture. The construction of performance spaces, whether monumental huaca structures or smaller platforms and plazas, requires planning the structure, procuring resources and organizing labor. Architecture does not present space co-opted as a stage for performance, but an actively constructed and desired space. Moche iconographic depictions of platforms and plazas utilized as the settings of performances that included sonic practices indicates that at least one of the roles of these spaces was as stages for Moche theatrical performance.