Field Museum Spotlights Music-Making Antiquities

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Byline: Virginia Kenyon Daily Herald Staff Writer

More than 50 instruments, some of which have been sitting idle for more than a century, have been pulled from the Field Museum's private collection for a new exhibit, "Sounds from the Vaults," which opened this weekend.

The instruments range in size from a 12-foot-long trumpet to a small clay flute that fits in the palm of a hand.

The oldest is a ceramic whistle from the Toluca Valley of Mexico, dating back more than 500 years. The most recent is a pair of Venezuelan maracas acquired in 1993.

Displayed behind glass in traditional wood cases, the artifacts are out of visitors' reach. However, visitors can still hear what sound each makes by using the touch-sensitive pad located in front of every case.

The pads trigger a digitized sound of a musical artifact. All the instruments are set to the same tempo. As more pads are activated, they begin to synchronize and play "Vault Grooves," an original composition created by Bruce Odland, sound installation artist.

"This exhibition is a new direction for us, we wanted to do something different for the new millennium," said Alaka Wali, acting chair of the Field Museum's anthropology department.

To record the sounds of various instruments, the project team recruited more than a dozen local musicians, many of whom were familiar with the cultures behind the instruments. …