Music Archaeology: Mesoamerica; Arnd Adje Both and Julia L. J. Sanchez, Eds. World of Music, Vol. 49(2) – 2007; Journal of the Department of Ethnomusicology, Otto-Friedrich University of Bamberg
It’s remarkable that this small selection of West Mexican flutes has such a variety of body shape and scales. In addition, they have a range of distinctive timbres; perhaps particular timbres were associated with specific uses. After years of studying, making and playing clay wind instruments, it seems to me that within the world of these Pre-Hispanic flutes, exact pitch is a lesser value than the expressiveness offered by flexible pitch and timbral manipulations. There are no standardized body shapes or mouthpiece types, and thus, no standardized scales. To date, there is no evidence of consistent pitches or intervals, nor of great interest in the harmonic series, nor in maximizing the pitch range. Although flute families may share a timbral feeling, potential playing techniques, number of fingerholes, and some intervals, the actual pitches typically remain unique to each flute.
The builders of these ancient clay flutes were highly skilled and enormously creative, making through invention and traditional evolution a broad range of flutes, ocarinas and whistles for their use and delight. With intensive acoustic and psychoacoustic studies along with analysis of construction details, patterns are emerging which, together with ongoing archaeological investigations, will help us to construct more accurate categories for these instruments. The flute instrumentarium, which consisted primarily of airducted flutes, seems to have been constructed to maximize the expressive possibilities of flexible pitch, timbral variety and manipulations, and perhaps, whistle tones. I suggest that future research be done in this area, which should include detailed measurements of the mouthpieces as well as sound analysis. Expressivity may be the primary esthetic value functioning here.