> Skip to content
Play sample
  • Published: 1 February 2024
  • ISBN: 9781529926071
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: Audio Download
  • RRP: $55.00

Sound Tracks

Uncovering Our Musical Past




A History of the World in 100 Objects meets Sapiens: the first archaeological history of humanity's musical heritage

Wonderfully engaging, expansive and ambitious, Sound Tracks tells the history of our relationship with music in sixty detective stories, each focusing on the discovery of a musical instrument - or its fragments - in archaeological digs around the world. Taking us from the present day - finding a 100-year-old wax cylinder recording on a flea market - all the way back to the dawn of time - the thrilling discovery of a prehistoric flute - long-lost music is itself reconstructed as we enter the worlds of those who created it.

We feel the delight of a child in Peru in 700 AD, playing with a water-filled pot designed to chirp like a bird; we appreciate the difficult task of a soldier sending signals by trumpet to the next watchtower on Hadrian's Wall; we can almost hear the sounds of the sixty-four bells buried in a tomb in China in the 5th century BC.

Graeme Lawson takes us on a grand tour of the world's greatest musical discoveries, revealing that music is part of human DNA - not just in its role as pastime, entertainment or religious expression but also as a medium in which we commemorate our pasts, communicate with each other, and shape our identities, relationships and communities.

Written with verve and passion and brimming with astonishing insights, Sound Tracks is an enthralling alternative history of humanity in which the silences of the past are filled with a wonderful treasure hoard of forgotten sounds and voices.

  • Published: 1 February 2024
  • ISBN: 9781529926071
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: Audio Download
  • RRP: $55.00

About the author

Graeme Lawson

Graeme Lawson is an extraordinary polymath: an archaeologist, musicologist, scientist, instrument-maker and performer who has been at the forefront of music archaeology for his entire career. He earned a PhD from the University of Cambridge and was elected Fellow of his college at just twenty-five. Sound Tracks is his first trade book.

Praise for Sound Tracks

In exploring the historical traces humankind has left of our music-making, Graeme Lawson captures the full scope of the ingenuity and passion that we have brought to this mysterious yet universal and vital impulse. You’ll encounter instruments you never knew existed, find yourself humming the songs of the Bronze Age, and ponder the connections between our own musicality and that we see in other animals. It’s a thrilling journey into the sonic richness of human experience

Philip Ball, author of The Music Instinct

A very rare object – a book where you learn something new about music on every single page. Graeme Lawson piles revelation upon revelation to shed a completely new perspective on the tools we use for making music

Norman Lebrecht, author of Why Beethoven

This is surely one of the most unusual and original histories of music that has been written, recovering a sense of the sounds of the distant past through rare survivals of musical instruments and even a tune recorded on a Bronze Age tablet. Out of the silence of the earth Graeme Lawson has brilliantly conjured up the sounds of 30,000 years of human history

David Abulafia, Professor Emeritus of Mediterranean History, University of Cambridge

Reveals the sounds that ancient musicians could have created and gives credit to the craftsmen and women who routinely pushed-back the boundaries of past technologies to fashion musical instruments. It's a magical book

Francis Pryor, author of A Fenland Garden

A delightfully quirky tour through the history and prehistory of music in the company of a master

Adam Zamoyski, author of Napoleon

Lawson is an engagingly vivid narrator with a sharp eye and ear, and the breadth of his experience and expertise make for a diverting perspective… His tone is playful and persuasive, pitched to ensure that his meticulously detail is accessible – and crucially, relatable – to all curious readers

New Scientist

The reader is taken in hand by Mr Lawson's expert prose, which shows a winning attachment to the objects and cultures he finds ... [they] will savour rare opportunities to look the over the shoulder of prehistory's answer to Poirot

Country Life

We're used to talking about music's evanescence, tracing its history in documents, scores and biographies, while its sounds remain elusive. Enter Lawson - archaeologist, professor and historian, a sort of musical Indiana Jones - with a compelling alternative: music's very tangible, material remains. … Taking a bird's-eye view, Lawson swoops down to pluck a series of objects out of the ground ... spreading them out in front of us, turning inscrutably, unreadable things into lives and music … Miniature page-turners which play out with the tension of a Sherlock Holmes mystery

Spectator