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April 4, 2007 1:21 PM   Subscribe

New voice for the oldest song ever. "The Prayer of an Infertile Woman," (video embedded within article text) is a 3200 year old song that was recently reconstructed and performed by Leiden University Assyriology professor Dr. Theo J. H. Krispijn at the Chicago Oriental Institute.
posted by The Straightener (19 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Cool. I was hoping to God it wasn't another Alanis Morrissette re-interpretation.
posted by psmealey at 1:25 PM on April 4, 2007

Why do these songs sound so goofy in translation?
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 2:10 PM on April 4, 2007

Must've been the E-Z Play arrangement, as the vocal part only used four notes out of the pentatonic scale.
posted by sourwookie at 2:10 PM on April 4, 2007

Thanks for the link - after getting the video to load in, I thought it was a rather nice song and was surprised the Chicago Times went into some depth about how he chose the music.
posted by Slothrop at 2:29 PM on April 4, 2007

That is something else. We are definitely going to have this guy on the show.
posted by parmanparman at 3:08 PM on April 4, 2007

that sounds suspiciously like some of our current metal bands ... there really is nothing new under the sun
posted by pyramid termite at 3:16 PM on April 4, 2007

cool, but i don't buy that it's the oldest ever...many religions have songs/chants/sung prayers that are older, no? Is this just the oldest one they've found written proof for?
posted by amberglow at 4:02 PM on April 4, 2007

also, i'm sure we've been singing even longer than talking. Lullabies and other songs to calm babies, singing during repetitive tasks, etc all must be beyond ancient. (do chimps sing to each other?)
posted by amberglow at 4:05 PM on April 4, 2007

Many religions have songs/chants/sung prayers that are older, no?

I don't know about other religions, but for Christianity (and Judaism), about the oldest song you are going to get is the hymn in Exodus 15, or maybe Psalm 90, if the traditional attribution to Moses reflects a genuine link to early tribal Israel. In either event, the earliest dating that could be reasonably posited for either is c. 1200 BC (IMHO), which would put it around the same era as the song in this link. And, of course, we have no musical notation for the Biblical hymns.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:30 PM on April 4, 2007

thanks...our religions are not as old as many others tho. I wonder if it's just evidence that's needed, or is a "song" something different than how i define it?
posted by amberglow at 4:56 PM on April 4, 2007

Lovely post. I thought the rendition by a white old scholar was going to ruin it, but it was quite nice. Thx for posting it.
posted by micayetoca at 5:53 PM on April 4, 2007

Needs more cowbell.
posted by Rangeboy at 6:05 PM on April 4, 2007

I think the deal is that they were able to reconstruct the music notation - what separates a song from a poem is the music. While there may be chants and hymns that can be documented to be as old, or older, the impossibility of reconstructing the music means they're no longer songs, only lyrics. Poetry rather than music.

I'm certain some religions and cultures will claim to have music as old or older still being sung today, but it's laughable to believe that the music (or even the language!) haven't changed in three and a half millennia.

This is music, as it was sung, 3,500 years ago. That is amazing.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:54 PM on April 4, 2007

That was the prettiest, most haunting thing I've heard in ages. Thanks, The Straightener!
posted by John of Michigan at 7:33 PM on April 4, 2007

The reconstruction is incredibly speculative (despite claims to the contrary in the article.) Links to lots of other bad interpretations:
-Multiple midis (scroll down)
-pictures of tablet, explanation of one transcription and a nasty vocal arrangement of the Duchesne-Guillemin's version (warning: audio loads automatically)
-From Richard Dumbrill (direct midi link)

(Sorry to be a downer about it, but the whole thing seems pretty trumped up. To assert that this sounds anything like the music of the time is pretty presumptuous. Not to say that thinking about what it might have sounded isn't an interesting exercise.)
posted by imposster at 9:12 PM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm waiting for Timbaland's remix. I hear that he samples Hammurabi.
posted by lukemeister at 10:47 PM on April 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Needs more cowbell.

I think you meant:

Needs more winged-bull-bell.
posted by Iosephus at 11:17 PM on April 4, 2007

Dear Dr. Theo J. H. Krispijn,

It has come to our attention that you have made an unauthorized video and audio recording of "The Prayer of an Infertile Woman", and that said video/audio recording has been subsequently distributed via the World Wide Web. You are hereby notified that said composition is the sole and exclusive property of the country of Syria. As legal representatives of the country of Syria (working closely with the Ministry of Copyright Infringements), we must inform you at this time that you will be expected to make financial compensation for your use of our copyrighted materials. Perhaps you were unaware of the provision of Syrian copyright law stipulating that compositional works do not enter the public domain until 4000 years after their initial creation?

We are currently calculating all relevant fees (legal as well as licensing) and will be contacting you again in the near future.


Hossein and Hossein Law Offices, Damascus
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:21 AM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

perfect, flapjax (except it's the exclusive property in perpetuity of the moon goddess, Nikkal, and her divine descendants and worshippers, no?)
posted by amberglow at 12:43 PM on April 5, 2007

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