An interesting week all in all: an email yesterday requesting a follow up CD recording of the Carillon Bells of St Johns Kirk, Perth. Of course I said yes and would like to include undergrad research students to gain valuable insight and experience.
The second thing of note is my invitation to present on archaeoacoustics and my own research at the Music and the Environment MA and Applied Music MA residency held at the Birnam Arts Institute. It was a real treat and indulgence to have been invited by the course leaders Simon Bradley and Anna Wendy Stevenson, respectively. Simon had invited me after requesting if I could deliver my MA module The Tuning of the Nations; Soundscape, Place and Memory on the Music and the Environment course. Since my knowledge of this MA course I have had a hankering to do it for my own personal development so what flattery and honour to be invited to actually teach on this course. My presentation to the students and other colleagues of the UHI was a sheer indulgence and I should probably better timed my presentation rather than getting so carried away with the Wemyss Caves and the Pictish Drum project. However it was a pleasure to have the opportunity yo talk in detail to an attentive and interested audience. This was evident from the Q&A that followed and the enquiring emails I have had since. It was also really good to meet my new students, I can already tell they will keep me suitably intellectually stimulated and challenged, exactly what good students should. I look forward to reporting further on this and the new Carillon CD recording as things progress.
Above: A few photos of the CD launch: Right - the 'friends' of St Johns kirk
Left - Ian Cassells seated at the Carillon clavier, with, L - R myself, BSc Hons graduate Brian Connor and UHI Creative Industries Subject Network Leader Pete Honeyman.
Below a low quality audio extract from the CD. The full album recording will soon be available on Amazon Music, iTunes, Apple Music, Google Play, Google Music and Spotify
St. John’s Kirk has 63 bells, more than any other building in the UK. Of these 35 form the carillon which is played regularly.
The carillon consists of the 28 cwt Bourdon, or Keynote Bell, named the ‘John the Baptist’ to whom our church was dedicated. It was cast in Flanders in 1506, and installed in St. Johns when the tower was completed in 1511. The other 34 bells were cast in London and installed in 1935 following a campaign by Melville Gray of Bowerswell. Many individuals and organisations in Perth contributed to the cost, and several bells were donated as memorials to men killed in the Great War. The bells are played on a ‘clavier’ or keyboard located in the tower. The carillon is considered by experts to be an outstanding musical instrument. It belongs to the City of Perth, and is managed by the Council which maintains it in very good condition.
St. John’s follows the European tradition of playing music of all types on the bells - hymns, traditional melodies, classical music etc. - not the English tradition of ‘ringing the changes’, where up to eight bells are rung in a constantly changing order.
Perth City’s official carillonneur is Dr. Ian Cassells. Dr. Cassells has played carillons throughout the UK and Europe, and is Scotland’s foremost carillonneur. He represented the UK at the World Carillon congress in Barcelona in 2017, and played the carillon at the World War I commemoration of the Battles of Ypres in 2018. He is President Emeritus of the British Carillon Society, and a member of the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America.
The Friends of St. John’s Kirk is aware that we have a fortuitous combination of a unique carillon and an outstanding carillonneur, and wished to facilitate a top quality recording. We were fortunate to be able to involve Mr Nick Green of the Audio Engineering department of Perth College UHI. Mr Green and his students spent much time setting up their equipment in the tower to obtain the best results, and then worked to remove extraneous noises and marry the tracks to make the recording.
Finally the design of the CD sleeve was drawn by a member of the Friends, Mrs Sara Hulbert DA. The design emphasises the joyous, uplifting nature of carillon music. The CD itself was produced by the local company Birnam CDs
John Hulbert, project co-ordinator and retired Provost of Perth, Friend of St John's Kirk
John outlines the project, the historical significance and the instrument itself beautifully above, however I would like to add to this. From my point of view after initial email contact with John my first visit to St John's was in November 2018, this was for an initial look around and chat. I invited MMus student Rowan Parker to accompany me on this first trip whilst under my supervision for an elective module of mine, the potential of this project resonating well with this Masters level module. Rowan was rewarded for his company and interest in being allowed to play the Carillon, albeit from a MIDI control keyboard connected to an electromechanical device for playing the Carillon bells. Later in the project Rowan would play both the MIDI keyboard and the original mechanical clavier for the archive recording taken of each individual bell. Each bell during this process was recorded individually and played by these 2 separate systems, the MIDI system via a hammer on the outside of the bell, the clavier activating the clapper inside the bell, each producing a subtle difference in timbre.
During this first session it was a chance to test set ups, microphone positions etc. The biggest concern being to get the most direct sound from the bells without overloading the microphones or mic. preamps. However this concern over the sound pressure level produced by the carillon turned out not to be an issue, the chosen AKG C414 matched pair of microphones selected handled the levels with head room to spare. The microphones were in turn coupled to a UAD Arrow 2 channel mic. preamp interface via Mogami cabling and recorded into Logic Pro software maintaining a high fidelity recording chain throughout. The recording resolution was 96KHz, 24 bit. Accompanying myself and Rowan for this session were 3 BSc Hons Audio Engineering students under my supervision from Perth College UHI: Brian Connor, Luke Duffin and Micah Nye. Once I was happy with the set up Brian, Luke and Micah took control of the recording session doing and excellent job. They gained a really useful insight into the challenges of location recording and were positive and professional throughout working for a real world client but not typical of the music and media industries. Recording the CD with Carillonneur Dr Ian Cassells would, I knew require a more subtle approach and certainly less mob handed than turning up with a group of very enthusiastic Hons research students.
Initial conversation with Ian revealed a reserved and sensitive individual where the carillon bells are concerned, Ian is an artiste in this sense. However through conversation and my insistence that in order to truly represent the sound of the carillon and therefore his performance, we would need to work closely and that the best place from which to record the bells was alongside him in the room that houses the clavier, positioned directly below the carillon bell array. For the CD session of performed pieces only Brian Connor accompanied me at my invitation, Brian being more reserved and dare I say sensitive than potentially his fellows. Brian also did a most excellent job of extraneous noise reduction on the finished recordings, literally the only post production processing applied to the recording. Despite having 2 days set aside to record the albums content, Ian performed so well on the first day that the additional day was not needed, as I recall there were only 2 or 3 pieces that weren't first take recordings.
The CD was launched in early September with a recital by Ian and a few speeches from those of us involved and the Provost of Perth, local press covered the launch as did Perth College UHI marketing.
While new projects present themselves the current progress of the Wemyss Caves and the Pictish Drum project have advanced. Over the last 4 years an accumulation of over 4 hours of video footage and equal amounts of audio recordings have been started to be edited into something approaching a 40 minute edit. The intention to have a documentary film of the entire project presented chronologically. I hope to be able to present it here in the not too distant future. In the meantime here is another excerpt of friend and colleague/musical collaborator Ronnie Goodman entering Court cave with the reconstructed Pictish drum for the first time.
While the work around the Pictish drum and Wemyss Caves continues a recent project has literally fallen into my lap! Back in November 2018 an elder from St John's Kirk in the centre of Perth emailed me to discuss the possibility of recording the Carillon located in the church tower. A collection of 35 tuned bells, some date to the 15 century that are operated by an incredible mechanical structure played using a crude set of wooden levers laid out as a standard 2 and half octave keyboard. Having paid initial visits to scout out the church premises and meet with the key liaison personnel, I have again been invited back to meet the carillonneur, Ian Cassells and make some preliminary recordings of a Burns recital taking place the afternoon of the 25/01/2019. Whilst there impulse response recordings of the church were taken, it being a most impressive space, nearly on the scale of a cathedral. These newly acquired IR edit files are available ton audition or download from the Main Hub menu.
St. John's is one of the oldest churches in Perth with parts of the structure dating back to early Medieval times and as such is situated right in the centre of Perth only a block South of the river Tay.
I find this a fascinating potential new field and it has resonance with Archaeoacoustics...
Whilst on holiday in South West France in July 2018 I booked a cave tour of Niaux Cave, the last of the 'grand' caves left open to the public. The 'grand' caves are a collection of central European caves, most in France and Northern Spain featuring the largest concentrations of paleolithic rock art. Due to deterioration from visitors over the years the caves have been closed down to the public other than for research purposes with the exception of Niaux Cave.
As this was a public tour no research was undertaken other than the opportunity to listen and to marvel at the splendour of the paintings which are truly breath taking. Our guide did mention the acoustic properties within the cave and I was prompted to ask if any archaeoacoustic research had been done in the main painted galleries found in Niaux. Our tour guide told me that some years earlier Eigor Reznikof had made recordings of the human voice, having found nothing online so far about this I hope to be able to contact Eigor directly and ask if he has any write ups of his findings and observations. The main gallery did have a spectacular reverberation and acoustic properties and would be a space not only worthy of IR recordings, but should from a future heritage archival purposes MUST be recorded for posterity. The paintings inside Niaux have survived for over 15,000 years, there may not be the opportunity for future generations to experience these first hand. I am so pleased that my teenage boys not only saw the cave paintings but thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the caves and into the foothills of the French Pyrenees. As younger children we took them to see Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dream's, the first film Herzog shot in 3D and for good reason - a film exploration of Chauvet Cave before it was sealed to preserve the paintings within for posterity. I think my boys remembered this and made the connection realising the significance of visiting the last of the grand caves still open to the public. Incidentally no photography is allowed inside the cave in an effort to preserve the 15,000 year old paintings.
Here is a link to a research paper from the American Acoustical Society that features Niaux Cave as an example with reference to Eigor Reznikoff's research. Two of the papers authors are Rupert Till and Chris Scarre. You will find reference to their work elsewhere on the website.
Link to information on Niaux Cave.
Salon Noir, Niaux Cave. Copyright Wendell Collection, Neanderthal Museum
The Pictish drum reconstruction, played by Ronnie Goodman in Court Cave, at the Wemyss Caves site.
I have been very aware of how quiet things have been here recently, this has been due to the hours of video footage and location and studio recordings that I now have to sift through and edit into some kind of publishable copy. As a follow up to recording the Lethendy/Essendy Pictish drum in the recording studio earlier this year, July saw a group of us field recording the drum in situ. at Wemyss Caves, with rather impressive results. The finished video and audio recordings will be forthcoming hopefully by the end of the year. A journal paper around the research is also planned with a hoped for publication already in mind.
I will follow up this brief post with a few extracts from the Wemyss field trip. In the meantime I cannot thank Ronnie Goodman enough for taking the time to come and play the drum on the day, accompanied by artist wife Christine who also filmed with a second camera. Also there to assist and make their own recordings were my graduate student Keith Harvey and Hannah Rennie a member of his new archaeology research group.
Today, 22nd of June the Pictish drum reconstruction will be recorded in the Eastlake 1 recording studio with long time friend and colleague Ronnie Goodman agreeing once again to play the drum. The recordings today will be more acoustically controlled in the studio environment. This will allow the drum recordings to be effectively translated into the reverberation derived from IR's taken from various Pictish and early Medieval sites around Scotland. As a continuation of of a long term project with Wemyss Caves as the central focus today's recordings will also be documented in film. A site visit to Wemyss is also planned in the near future to record the drum in situ, these recordings when added to the acoustic analysis recordings taken at Wemyss Caves will certainly help to bring this valuable heritage sites past into a multi-sensory digital present.
"Explore a dimension of human experience that has been considered irretrievable. The ancient world was not silent! In songs to their gods, laments for their dead, celebration, performance and the universal human quest for the supernatural, ancient civilizations developed far more than artwork and monuments. Reversing the traditional conventions of specialization, scholars and researchers from a range of professional viewpoints look at the subject of Archaeoacoustics on an international scale. This third volume in the series presents new research, updates & expansions on earlier presented work, methodology, interpretation, opinion, instruction and just plain food for thought. Archaeologists, Anthropologists, Architects, Ethnomusicologists, Sound Engineers and more … Contributors include: Fernando Coimbra, Apela Colorado, Paul Devereux, Paolo Debertolis, Zorana Djordjevic, Dragos Gheorghiu, Annie Goh, Nicholas Green, Anne Habermehl, Keith Harvey, Alvin Holm, Ryan Hurd, Torill Christine Lindstrom, Iren Lovasz, Maria Cristina Manzetti, Claudia Martinho, Sarah McCann, Magdalena Ohrman, Vincent C. Paladino, Iegor Reznikoff, Etienne Safa, Christiaan Sterken, Katya Stroud, Hyun Soo Suh, Natalia Tarabella, Shea Michael Trahan, Matthew Tucker, Nelia Valverde, M.P. Saez-Perez, Michelle Walker, Steven J. Waller, Ezra Zubrow."
The rambling thoughts and musings of an audio engineer/sound designer turned archaeoacoustician