Hearing the Past through our ancestors’ ears

BBC Radio 4,

11 am, Monday September 12th, 2011. 

Imagine being able to eavesdrop on the sound of a ritual at Stonehenge four thousand years ago, or hear singing in the original Coventry Cathedral before it was bombed in 1940.

Broadcaster and Physicist, Professor Jim Al-Khalili investigates how latest research in acoustics is helping us to recreate authentic sounds of the past. It is changing the way we study history and experience tourist attractions. It is also helping us to improve the acoustic design of future buildings.

Jim discovers how architects of modern concert venues are learning lessons from the layout of Stonehenge. He also finds out how acoustic design goes far beyond just making our buildings sound good, in some cases it can save lives.

The research is bringing together a diverse group of scientists, engineers, sound archivists, museum curators and sound artists.

The initial project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). This included the Acoustics and Music of British Prehistory Research Network described at http://AMBPNetwork.wordpress.com

‘Hearing the Past’ will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11 am on Monday September 12th. The programme will also be available via the Radio 4 website (bbc.co.uk/radio4). The programme has also been selected as BBC Radio 4’s Documentary of the Week.

The Producer of the programme is Jane Reck.

Notes for Editors:

Contributors to the programme:

Dr Rupert Till, from the University of Huddersfield. Rupert works in the area of ‘archaeo-acoustics’, which concentrates on the sound of a site and how it would have been used in the past. He describes how he has been able to recreate the sound of a ritual at Stonehenge four thousand years ago. He also explains how the site’s acoustics are inspiring the design of modern outdoor concert venues.

Dr Damian Murphy, from the University of York. He is involved in acoustically recreating the sound of Coventry Cathedral before it was bombed in 1940.

Joe Savage, a curator at the National Railway Museum in York.  Joe is interested in the use of acoustics in a museum or heritage setting. The NRM is currently re-developing its station hall area and wants to make use of latest research into acoustics. They are planning to show visitors how a railway station operates twenty four hours a day and how that working pattern has changed over time.

Sebastien Jouan, an acoustic designer. Sebastien works for Arup, a global firm of designers, engineers, planners and building consultants. He explains how studying the acoustics of sites such as Stonehenge and pre-1940 Coventry Cathedral can help us design better sounding buildings from concert halls and airport terminals to schools, hospital operating theatres, homes and offices. Sebastien will also demonstrate, through recorded sounds how improving acoustics in public places can also save lives in emergency situations.

Richard Ranft, Head of the Sound Archive at the British Library in London. This is an invaluable source of recordings for museums and historic sites. Richard is also keen to encourage people to record sounds of the world around them now before we lose them forever.

Sound Artists Louise K. Wilson (based at the University of Huddersfield) and David Chapman. Their work has centred on the Falkland estate in Fife, sourcing and collecting historic sounds associated with this former royal hunting park

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