Sitting in Southampton, imagining Ightham Mote (and Petworth)

I spent an interesting half-hour yesterday, listening to somebody repeatedly telling me that we were in the Great Hall at Ightham Mote. But we were not. I was in a sound engineering lab in Southampton, and “she” was a recording, or rather one of thirty recordings. There was also a slightly more random gentleman, repeatedly excited about how so many words could be made out of such a small alphabet.  I put the headphones on, listened and answered questions. Where was the sound coming from? Was it more or less resonant that the previous one, was the one or timbre different or the same? In which were the words easier to make out? And repeat.

Its all part of an experiment by Catriona Cooper, who has, with university colleagues, spent some time mapping the acoustics of the Great Hall at Igtham Mote. The experiment I was involved in is part of her work to simulate the feeling of being in the all aurally, just as 3d computer graphics might attempt to do it visually.  As I sat there wondering why, when I wear headphones, the sound always seems to be coming from behind me, I could immediately think of an application for such a simultation.

The day before I’d met with NT archaeologist Tom Dommett, who among other things has a three year project on at Petworth. He took me out to where the stables used to be, pointing out the shallow dips in the ground where walls once stood. We talked excitedly about how a mobile device might interpret the story. WE was all for a 3D modelled VR, but I impressed upon him how good it was just to listen to him explain it. And while I sat listening in Catriona’s experiment, I thought “wouldn’t it be great if I was listening to Tom on a mobile device, and as I stepped over the ditch into the the “interior” of the long-gone building, the tone and resonance of his voice changed to help me imagine the space that once would have surrounded us.