The Pallasboy Sounding

Brian Mac Domhnaill

On the 25th of November 2015 at 2.15pm experimental percussionists Mirco Gargioni and Katie O’Looney and artist Angelika Höger interacted, through sound, with our replica of the Pallasboy Vessel in Cork Public Museum, Fitzgeralds Park.

The archaeological evidence suggests the original vessel had a life of use. It would have been used in events or actions of some sort. There are a number of plausible theories circulating amongst archaeological specialists but there will always be a certain amount of mystery regarding its original purpose.

Our replica vessel has already experienced death as a tree and a rebirth as a crafted object. It has received the concentrated attention of a skilled craftsperson and numerous spectators, but following an intense period of crafting it sits in the museum waiting to be used in some way. It is not an artefact nor is it an art object. It has already served us well in terms of our research goals but it deserves a life before it is laid to rest (on long term display or in a watery grave). We owe it to the tree and our woodworker Mark to have the vessel take part in or be the focal point for a number of events before it is removed from public view.

Due to the mystery surrounding the original’s use we are not tied to period-specific reenactments. With the possibility of ritual use it would be tempting to engage with modern day druidic groups but our replica was not created with ritual purposes in mind, nor can we be sure of such a history for the original. My involvement in the project as archaeologist and artist allows me to be creative in terms of what ideas I bring to the table.

Based on my own experiences as a spectator I feel that sound art events provide a suitable format and tone for a spontaneous and creative interaction with our object. The atmosphere created by these events can be meditative, the approach often improvised and the execution playful and inventive. The instruments used can also be a spectacle. To my mind the unusual nature of such an event, when witnessed by the uninitiated, can be a perfect suggestion of how little we know of what took place in prehistoric rituals and ceremonies and to what purpose. In this case the only purpose of the  ‘sounding’ is to bring focus to an object and to atone for our destructive actions. For the artists it is another exploration of sound, with added resonance. On the day they described the event as a christening of sorts.

Although I was busy recording proceedings I couldn’t help but notice the varied reactions of onlookers. Invited sound artists were pensive and attentive. One chose to look at the museum exhibits and she later remarked that the unusual soundscape enhanced the experience. Another chose to cover his eyes to focus on the sounds rather than be distracted by the sight of our artists at work. Archaeologists were baffled but engaged. One audience member sketched the vessel. Two more took notes.

Museum visitors didn’t know what they had stumbled upon and I even saw some retreat to reception to make urgent enquiries rather than approach the strange folk involved. It was perfectly surreal and wonderful to host this event in the museum instead of a gallery or other art venue. At one point I moved our information leaflets and the little plinth near the point of contact with the audience but there was no added information about the sound event. Anyone who came upon the event would have to figure it out for themselves.

I could attempt to describe the actions of our performers, their equipment and the resulting sounds but I lack the phraseology of a music writer. Instead I present a limited number of photographs and a video featuring 13 minutes of the 50 minute performance. Follow this link to watch in high resolution or watch low resolution version imbedded below.

The Pallasboy Sounding from Brian Mac Domhnaill on Vimeo.

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