Yorkshire's heritage sites feature in project to reveal the hidden acoustics of historic locations around the globe
But while their visual appearance has captivated generations through the centuries, a hidden aspect is now being highlighted that has been forgotten with the passing of time.
A new project is being overseen by a Yorkshire academic, to allow people to experience the acoustics of world famous heritage sites as ancestors did before them.
The initiative allows people to take part in “virtual acoustic travel” - transporting participants to natural and human-made sites where they can interact, listen and create music with the acoustics of each space.
The project is being overseen by Dr Cobi van Tonder, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the University of York’s Department of Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media.
Dr van Tonder has worked as a professional musician in her native South Africa and is a sound artist and composer specialising in ambient music for the past decade.
She said: “I love what you can get from simply listening to environmental sound and acoustics - it is something that has been lost to many people.
“The visual nature of something is often over-emphasised, and actually listening has become something of a secondary sense.
“To capture the acoustics of these locations brings a new dimension to them, and that is the message I am trying to get to people.”
“Now anyone can dial in via the Acoustic Atlas app and hear their voice reverberate as if they were acoustically present in selected heritage sites”.
Among the locations which are included in the Acoustic Atlas project are four UK Cathedrals, including the York Minster, Ely Cathedral, Rippon Cathedral and Bristol Cathedral, recorded by Dr van Tonder's colleague, Dr Lidia Álvarez-Morales.
Other landmarks in the UK, recorded by Dr van Tonder, include Dowker Bottom Cave, Ingleborough Cave and Victoria Cave in the Yorkshire Dales.
Further afield the sites available on the Acoustic Atlas’s archive include the Taj Mahal in India, the Pavarotti Theatre in Italy and the Great Hall of Binche in France.
All three caves in the Dales present repeated evidence throughout the centuries of “mortuary activities”, indicating that people used the sites to mediate with the spirit world.
Previous research has revealed that past generations would have interpreted sounds such as echoes as supernatural phenomena and the voices of spirits.
Dr Van Tonder added: “Caves present themselves as archives for understanding people’s mythological landscapes and how they have evolved.
“Victoria Cave produced prominent artefacts, including evidence of the first humans in the Dales starting in 12,500 BC.
“As our lives continue to expand into digital domains it is crucial that our digital ability to ‘listen’, as well as our awareness of the processes that shape this listening experience, are equally expanded.”
The Acoustic Atlas project aims to promote heritage acoustics and create a tool that researchers worldwide can use and apply to their work.
The initiative is marrying science with the arts, creating an “acoustic fingerprint” of locations that is then used alongside computer algorithms to create a virtual aural tour of the sites.
Dr van Tonder has developed an app which allows people to log on and take a virtual tour while talking, singing or even playing a music instrument to recreate the acoustics of a specific location.
More detailed information about each site and research team behind the location can be found embedded in the app.
Her colleague academic supervisor at the University of York, Dr Mariana Lopez, said: “Acoustic Atlas presents a unique opportunity for engagement with the acoustical beauty of heritage sites, and an opportunity to invite users to move away from an over reliance on visual aspects and instead develop their aural connection to the spaces, discover new sites, and reflect on their creative potential.”
The project to uncover the acoustic secrets of heritage sites across the globe has launched with 25 locations available for virtual online aural tours.
Dr Van Tonder said that while the majority of the sites are in Europe, she is looking to liaise with academics across the world to broaden the archive.
She is already in talks with researchers in South America, the USA and Asia to incorporate more locations on the Acoustic Atlas app.
More details are available at www.acousticatlas.de/