Drumming in the Great Kiva of Chaco
Canyon. I have made pilgrimages to
sacred sites throughout North America, but the Great
Kiva Casa Rinconada in Chaco Canyon, New
Mexico is the most powerful place I have ever
drummed. A Great Kiva is a large, circular, usually subterranean structure that
was designed and used by Anasazi peoples for ceremonial and communal
gatherings. The two masonry box-like vaults found on the floor of most Great
Kivas are believed to have been covered with planks and served as foot drums. I
first drummed here in 1991 when the NPS still allowed entry into the kiva. The
sonic phenomena within a kiva transcend the usual range of auditory experience.
The walls of the stone structure reflect, amplify, and transform the sounds of
the drum, resulting in some extraordinary harmonics. Drum sounds become
distorted and seem to expand and move around the chamber due to an acoustic
phenomenon known as standing waves. As sound waves reverberate between the
walls, they either cancel or combine, causing certain resonant frequencies to
either completely disappear or intensify, change in pitch, and develop vibrato.
Within a kiva, it’s possible to compose an entirely new auditory universe from
the architecture of sound itself.