I had always been intrigued by the acoustical properties of the King’s Chamber because of its size and shape, and because it doesn’t conform to the physics formulas Western science has developed for determining the sound qualities of a given room. The King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid is essentially just a rectangular box. It’s about 34 feet long, 17 feet wide and 19 feet high. It’s all polished stone with completely perfect seams and edges. No building could be built that perfectly today. It’s in the heart of the Great Pyramid, and its location in this mass of stone gives it a rigidity and resilience that is almost unfathomable. It seems as far away from people as you can get. Notes resonate in ways that defy the laws of pyhysics.
The first night we went in there, we spent the night singing in the room. We made up little choral groups and divided up into different vocal parts and just sang. The sound was incredibly rich and full, the King’s Chamber has a rectangular coffer in it – about 7 x 4 x 4 feet – and it, too, had a particular resonance, so each of us took turns lying down inside of it and humming notes. When you found the resonant note, the softest you could hum would reverberate so much in that frequency that it would massage your whole body. And if you hummed at the level of a reasonable talking voice or louder, it actually hurt your ears.
It was about one-quarter mile from the stage to the Great Pyramid, and we had high-quality FM transmitters to span that distance. So, we put a transmiiter down at the stage with a little antenna and sent the signal from there up to the outside of the Great Pyramid, where we had a receiver. We couldn’t put the receiver directly in the King’s Chamber because it is deeply embedded in the stone strcuture, so from the outside we ran wires from a receiver into the Pyramid, up the Grand Gallery and into the King’s Chamber, where we hooked the wires to a speaker. We also put a microphone in there, ran the wires back the same way, hooked it up to a transmitter on the side of the Pyramid and sent the signal down to a receiver onstage that was plugged into our recording console in the form of an echo return. The object, of course, was to send voices and instruments up through the radio link to the King’s Chamber where it would play through the speaker there, be picked up by the microphone and sent back down to the tape.
Unfortunately, the local cable we bought was inferior and was stomped on by the tour groups that tramp through during the day. After our hook-up in the King’s Chamber was unsuccessful, some suggested that perhaps, cosmically, it wasn’t meant to happen and that’s why it did not work. I don’t buy that. I think it didn’t work because from a technical end, we didn’t quite have it all together. We were at peace with the gods and the authorities. There was no conflict or friction. None of us felt that we were transgressing any sacred rights or privacy. The Egyptians understood what we were doing and saw what our motives were, They knew this was the dream of our life. They saw the adventure in it, and it was exciting for them, too. It was like the cultural exchanges you read about in books, only this one was for real. -Dan Healy (BAM Magazine)
Mickey’s Nagra tape recorder accompanied us all over Egypt, recording the musicians of Alexandria, Luxor, Cairo and Nubia.
Photo Credits: Nagra – Jerilyn Lee Brandelius