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Sounds a First

Premiere performance of Neanderthal by Simon Thorne at National Museum Cardiff

As Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales opens the first half of its Music 09 programme, National Museum Cardiff will delve into the origins of music staging the first ever live performance of the sounds of the Neanderthals.

Supported by the G.C. Gibson Charitable Settlement, Neanderthal, by one of Wales's leading composers, Simon Thorne, will be premiered at the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre, National Museum Cardiff at 6pm on Sunday 8 February 2008. It will follow a talk by Professor Steven Mithen, Reading University - author of The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body.

Over the last year, Simon Thorne has been working with National Museum Cardiff to discover more about the way Neanderthals - early form of humans - created language through sound rather than words. He visited Pontnewydd Cave in Denbighshire, was shown fossil remains from the Museum's collection and introduced to brain experts.

The outcome is Neanderthal, which explores the possibility of language at the dawn of consciousness. Promising to be an extraordinary evening, virtuoso vocalists Mary Anne Roberts and Sianed Jones will recreate the sounds of our ancestral voices and a haunting video projection by Rhombus Arts takes us into the world of the cave. Listeners will gain an insight into the way Neanderthals, and we humans too, depended on the emotional life of song to express what needed to be said.

"Working with Simon has been a fascinating journey, delving into the intriguing lives of Neanderthals," said Curator Elizabeth Walker. "Neanderthals shared a common ancestor with us, yet they were an evolutionary dead-end and died out sometime after anatomically modern humans like ourselves entered Britain. Neanderthal remains and their stone tools have been discovered in Wales so it has helped bring these discoveries to life again in new and exciting ways."

Visitors to National Museum Cardiff's Origins: In Search of Early Wales will be familiar with Simon Thorne's ‘avant-garde' style as his soundscape can be heard in the gallery.

"This is a search for origins," said composer Simon Thorne. "Not in any historical sense. That's impossible. But in the sense of answering the question why did we, as humans even, ever come to make music in the first place? And it's a question that, as a composer working in the 21st century, I think is still worth taking on."

The performance of Neanderthal, which is part of the Archaeology Festival - Cardiff 2009, is free of charge but booking is essential. Please phone (029) 2057 3148. Neanderthal Music Family Workshops will also be held from 1 to 3pm at the Museum on 7 and 8 February. The workshops are also free and participants are asked to book on arrival.

A CD of Neanderthal will be on sale at the Museum shop and for more information about Simon Thorne, please visit

Amgueddfa Cymru offers free admission to its sites thanks to the support of the Welsh Assembly Government. Amgueddfa Cymru operates seven national museums across Wales. These are National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans: National History Museum, National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon, Big Pit: National Coal Museum, Blaenafon, National Wool Museum, Dre-fach Felindre, National Slate Museum, Llanberis and the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea. Ends

For further information, photograph or interview opportunities, please contact Catrin Mears, Communications Officer, on (029) 2057 3185/07920 027067 or email

Notes to Editors

• Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales's Music 09 will provide the public with a wide variety of music events, displays and exhibitions including the exciting Respond project. Artists are working with curators from Wales's seven national museums, and producing a musical response to the nation's collections. More information will follow at

• Whether as opera, physical performance or radical improvisation, Simon Thorne's work opens a distinct territory between music and theatrical event. As one of the leading composers working in Wales today, his enquiry into the parameters of interdisciplinary exchange has produced a body of recognised work that has astonishing range and rare beauty. He was director of Man Act theatre company. He is a founder member of The Wales Jazz Composers Orchestra. Most recently he created Hope Street as an interactive sound installation between the Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals in Liverpool for Liverpool 2008 European City of Culture. His work with the voice is compelled by exploration of the dimensions of singing as natural, immediate expression, and the social possibility of having a voice, inside of which, music becomes the space of shared participation that can offer a new model of generative culture.

• A tour of Neanderthal will follow in March. Venues include:

26 March 2009 Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan info:

27 March 2009 Torch Theatre, Milford Haven info:

28 March 2009 Talielsin, Swansea info:

30 March 2009 Theatr Harlech, Harlech info:

• Rhombus Arts are a collective of four artists that primarily work with film, video and animation. All graduates of Newport Film School, their work has recently investigated the relationship between audience and screen in both narrative and non-narrative cinema through the exploration of live performance and video art. Neanderthal follows a development of narrative causality, leading the viewer into the world of the ‘cave', whilst invoking a sense of the different spaces created through the viewing experience and the physical environment of viewing. Rhombus Arts won the Short Film award at the Ffresh film festival 2008 and are currently shortlisted for the Music Media award in this year's festival.

• Archaeology Festival 2009 will be held in Cardiff 6 - 8 February 2009 from 10am until 5pm. It will feature the best of British archaeology at home and abroad, over one action-packed weekend. For more information and to book your tickets, please visit