December Day 7: A Museum Archaeology Curator at Work

I missed a few days of the project due to health problems, as expected, but I am back on the case again, and this is a great opener for ‘working sounds’.

Here’s the brief sound of Gail Boyle, the Senior Curator of Archaeology at Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives going about her everyday work life. She says:

This is a recording I made on my phone of my journey from the office through the public galleries and them down to the basement to my store using the lift …a typical everyday occurrence in the life of a museum archaeologist.

Click the link here to hear the recording.

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December Day 3: A Roman Bell

This find from the London Archaeological Archive & Research Centre at the Museum of London is utterly adorable, and rather cheering on a day tinged with sadness.

I take this quote directly from the blog Tincture of Museum, one which I thoroughly recommend reading. You can follow Tincture on Twitter @TinctureOfMuse:

Museum interpretation, how we see, read, experience and understand an object helps us to connect and relate to the object. So bearing that in mind, I am actually going to break with my Thursday group of volunteers and go over to the ‘otherside’. Tuesday’s group of volunteers came across this small but beautiful and to me totally amazing Roman bell, if you folllow the link below you will see why this is so fab. I have chosen this as my object of the week, because not only can you see, and hold history in your hand you can hear it as well.

Roman bell

Interpretation is so important, but sometimes your senses are enough to take you to a different time and place. It is the immediacy of sensory connection – sight, sound, touch, taste that we don’t always have but makes a more visceral experience, one you are unlikely to forget.

December Day 1: The Sounds of Stonehenge

Screenshot 2015-12-01 19.03.44

Today, Historic England, the National Trust and English Heritage released a video which aims to demonstrate what Stonehenge might look and feel like if the A303 is replaced by a somewhat controversial 2.9km tunnel under the site. You can listen (and see) the video here: https://youtu.be/Vexogpfnm9Q

So it seems an appropriate start to the month to begin this project with a link to an existing ‘archaeological sounds’ project from Stonehenge itself by Dr Rupert Till, who is Senior Lecturer in Music Technology at Huddersfield University. According to the Bradshaw Foundation page, ‘Dr Rupert Till suggests that most previous studies of Stonehenge focused on looking at the site, rather than listening to it. He came up with the theory that the famous ring of stone could have sung like a crystal wine glass with a wet finger rubbing the rim.’

You can read, and listen, to more about his project here: https://soundsofstonehenge.wordpress.com

Archaeology/Austerity walk meeting details

Hi All,

Few details for the upcoming walk… Meeting points as per below and on this pdf: Austerity walk meeting points.

PA2015 – ARCHAEOLOGY/AUSTERITY WALK – 12 DECEMBER 2015

MEETING POINTS AND SCHEDULE

There will be a group walking the whole length of the route (@James__Dixon for details) and another following the route on as much public transport as possible (@lornarichardson for details), but you are welcome to travel however you like between the meeting points, meet us along the way or just join in for one stop. Meeting points and times are as follows:

1000 – 1010     Canary Wharf Station – Introduction – Lorna Richardson and James Dixon

Start point_Canary Wharf

1125 – 1140    Whitechapel – Kate Tiernan and James Dixon

Nearest tube stops, Whitechapel and Aldgate East

Stop 1_Altab Ali Park

1200 – 1215     Moorgate – Sam Merrill

Nearest tube stop, Moorgate

 Stop 2_Moorgate

 1220 – 1230     Museum of London – Break

Nearest tube stops, Moorgate, Blackfriars and St Pauls

 Break_MoL

1240 – 1255     St Paul’s Occupy Camp – Marjolijn Kok and Saini Manninen

Nearest tube stop, St Pauls

Stop 3_St Pauls

 1305 – 1315     Bankside – Chris Constable

Nearest tube stops, Southwark, Borough, London Bridge, St Pauls

Stop 4_Bankside and lunch

1315 – 1400     LUNCH

 1405 – 1415     Liberty of the Mint – Chris Constable

Nearest tube stop, Borough

Stop 5_Liberty of the Mint

 1430 – 1500    Heygate Estate and Elephant and Castle – Emma Dwyer and Owen Hatherley

Nearest tube stop, Elephant and Castle

Stop 7_Heygate Estate

1551              SUNSET

1545 – 1600     Southbank skatepark – Oli Mould

Nearest tube stops, Waterloo and Embankment

Stop 8_Southbank Skaters

 1630 – 1645     Downing Street – Lorna Richardson

Nearest tube stops, Westminster and Charing Cross

Stop 9_Downing Street

1700              PUB – THE SANCTUARY HOUSE HOTEL, TOTHILL STREET

Nearest tube stop, St James’s Park

Pub                      

Inside/Outside/In – Post 6: Final Words

I have been posting about my theatre workshops in the refugee centre, the history of the site, along with verbatim interviews. I have found this month to be an exciting creative launchpad and a chance to engage with different people who move within the space. Now, as my month draws to a close, I would like to discuss how my research might feed into either a live performance or an audio performance tour within the space. How might I invite the wider public to engage with the history and current use of the site, using drama?

In my third workshop at the refugee centre, I asked a group member to read aloud some verbatim material recorded during an interview with another refugee (who is not part of the theatre group):

The journey takes hours. I look out of the window and nothing is next to us, just clouds and sky. I still remember my first day in London. I felt like I was in a new country, new place, new people, new weather. Everything was different. In a good way although it was too cold. I miss the sunshine, the food. I miss Bondu, it is a special vegetable dish. My mom was cooking for me every day. Every day I was just eating. I used to study marketing in Congo. In London I feel like it is home. I find new friends and family. When I say family I mean close friends. The culture is different that’s the main thing. The way they are doing. The way they are acting.

While this material was read aloud, the group physically acted out the story together, jointly expressing their culture shock on arrival in the UK.  Again, we were re-enacting the stories that emerge within the space on a daily basis and validating them through our shared activity. The participant’s willingness to engage in this work and their regular attendance at my classes, leads me to think that devising a full performance in the church space for an invited audience would be both a manageable and beneficial experience.

Indeed, the church itself, with its multiple objects and decorations, greatly provokes my imagination. Could we create a character out of the Jean Cocteau fresco in the Lady Chapel? Could the statue of Mary on the balcony, cut in half and smuggled out of France during World War Two, be viewed as a refugee of sorts? These furnishings are already part of another story, brought to life daily through sacraments and a revered liturgy. Would it be appropriate to stage refugee stories in this space? The site owners would understandably wish there to be some focus on the current, sacred nature of the space. Would my theatre group, made up of people of different religious backgrounds be comfortable working in this way?

I could stage my presentation in the balcony, a slightly removed location, which could be more spiritually neutral. Another idea could be to use the front steps of the church, although this could jeopardise my ability to reenact the panorama. Would the refugees be able to fully ‘take the space’ if they had to perform outside it? Would this setting not reinforce their exclusion? This location could, in fact, add another political dimension to the piece by sending a message that refugees continue to be on the outside of society looking in. A liminal locale on the threshold of the building could be the perfect place to stage the crossing of borders. Perhaps, I could incorporate the opening and closing of the picturesque metal gate through a stylised dance sequence? This dark entrance space, however, like the balcony, presents practical hurdles. How would we rehearse if people need to access the church? Would passers-by be invited to watch? Would we engage with the homeless people who sleep in the church during the day? Members of the public only come into a theatre space during the performance and, usually, in exchange for money. In this case, people are almost perpetually here, whether praying or sleeping. Would we ask them to leave or invite them to watch?

A site might provide exciting characters and spatial backdrops, which trigger creativity and provide rich material to mine from. Site-specificity can, however, also greatly affect a writer’s freedom; a site’s non-theatrical functions make it impossible to divorce direction and stage-management from the writing process. Interviewing, excavating, writing and directing may struggle for precedence within a short time frame, resulting in a competition between form and content. Architectural opportunities affect the architecture of the story, which, in turn, depends on the material gained through interviews.

These interlinking dependencies can make it difficult to progress with writing. When working with documentary material, fascinating ideas may come bubbling up, but they need to be placed under a particular denominator, whether the actors, the space or the story; one needs an organising idea upon which to build. It is also best to separate work into manageable stages. When working with a site, it is not always possible to bring one’s vision to life as originally planned. Being clear about the message one is trying to communicate with space-owners, before investing energy, is crucial. When writing a straight text, one has the freedom to build an imagined world that may play out in multiple different spaces. With site-specific work, the site itself becomes a character, which asserts its own authority and is far less malleable. With human sources it is possible to discard interview rushes. With a site, the practical and ethical ramifications of the space cannot usually be cut or edited: the space serves other, non-theatrical purposes, which need to be continually factored in. Moreover, a site-specific piece cannot be lifted and reinserted elsewhere; its identity is wrapped up in the space. It is, therefore, vital to consider the ethical and practical baggage beforehand and be realistic about whether this correlates with one’s vision.

A performance could be staged on the roof of the church, an exciting platform within the cityscape, which could seat a large, private audience and would not automatically prompt a religious message. I believe this liminal roof space, like the steps, could add a deeper spatial-political dimension to my piece. The refugees could still peer into the church through the windows and describe the panorama, highlighting their continued social exclusion.

Alternatively, my research into the panorama might fuel a poetry audio tour of the church, perhaps a more appropriate dramatic form within a sacred space. When writing work specifically tailored to a site, audio poetry walks can also be a way of generating ongoing artistic value in a way that a live project cannot. This walk could incorporate the history of the building, recordings of the refugees singing and explain the religious elements of the space. It could even be a spiritual, archaeological treasure hunt communicated through poetry and prayer.

Meanwhile, performances can continue to take place in the refugee centre which adjoins the church. In fact, my theatre group is now preparing for our end-of-term showcase which will be performed for an internal audience in the refugee centre site. We will perform ‘Kembo’, ‘Shosha Loza’ and our other African songs. I hope this will draw in the wider community of refugees, staff and volunteers at the centre and engage them with our work as we continue to channel our migration experiences through song and dance to animate the stories that unfold daily in the site.

Should you wish to learn more about the work of Notre Dame Refugee Centre, you can visit this website.

 

 

What does archaeology sound like?

I couldn’t decide on a project for Public Archaeology 2015, given a multitude of personal mishaps and a year of my interest in grey literature waning, as my interest in writing the future best-selling coffee table book of 2016 (‘Erratica’, a journey through mythic geology and great big bits of rock) grew. So I left the choice of the final project to random chance, well, to Twitter, and did a poll, as it’s all the rage. Doing a poll was interesting, and it was good to hear the comments from people on their specific interests in each of the choices. I shall follow each choice up eventually over 2016 (Erratica will make my millions I bet) but 45% of the voters decided that Archaeology Sounds was the winner.

So….

What does archaeology sound like? What are ‘archaeological’ sounds? What noises does the practise make? (No, not like hot air being released from a balloon, to whoever shouted that at the back). What investigations have taken place before now into the sounds of archaeology either in the past (musical instruments etc) and what can we record today in our daily existence as wind blown archaeologists in the field, or tame ones at a desk?

So my project will be a month long laid back festival of sound, some of which I hope will have public contribution and some of which I will post as links, pictures and general information, hopefully, depending on health and physical location, every other day or so. I will be asking some of you to contribute your own sounds (keep it clean) from your archaeological lives. Right then. 1st of December tomorrow. 31 days of sound.