Music research and new Technologies toward the restitution of the Timbila collection of the Natinal Museum of Ethnology
October 2018 to 2021
The cultural experience of the 20th century in Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOPs), and Portugal, was marked by relationships that passed by the colonial and subsequent independence processes. Scrutinizing its impact requires a scientific observation that is indispensable for the understanding of the societies involved. The encounter of musical cultures in this framework was approached through studies of intercultural processes and multiculturalism (Castelo-Branco1997). The relationship between musical culture and the phenomenon of colonialism deserves now further study. In particular, the historical and cultural affinities between Portugal and the PALOPs have not been taken into account in the study of flows and dynamics of global cultural relations. The resulting musical representation of such affinities is reflected in important musical languages, identified as genres with roles ranging from the imaginary figuration of socio-cultural entities, to the crystallization of national identities (Corte-Real2010).
Material heritage has condensed such representations. In the case of expressive behaviour forms such as music, instruments have been in the core of the appropriation of identities. Portuguese museums have kept collections of such objects; among these the National Museum of Ethnology, formerly the Colonial Museum. The Timbila from Mozambique is very well represented in this collection. It is the world's most important historical collection, because of the number of instruments, and their age.
There is no comparable collection in Mozambique. Timbila's historical heritage is thus mostly kept in Lisbon. This project aims its restitution, in innovative ways using advanced methods and new technologies.
In face of globalization, preserving cultural heritage and ensuring its intergenerational transmission are urgent issues for our societies. UNESCO has created a set of provisions for the Restitution of Cultural Property which encourages the necessary research. New ways must be sought, and solutions integrating cross-discipline approaches and taking advantage of communication technologies are to be attempted.
We explore a shared methodology, bridging Ethnomusicology and Music Acoustics, to collect and analyse data on rare xylophones, and create impactful web applications to support the restitution of the historical Timbila, listed Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, to Mozambique, a country which has lost almost all tangible memory of historical Timbila.
Its scientific aim is to relate manufacturing traditions to their musical practices in a systematic way. The work plan is rooted on ethnographic and historical research, morphological and acoustical measurements, and computer simulations.
Due to the great value of the collection, a technical challenge is the development of non-destructive techniques. Other issue is to rigorously address the bar/membrane/resonator interaction to best reproduce the sonic subtleties of Timbila.