Collaboration - The Fire Of London (Institute Of Historical Research)

Leverhulme Trust Sound Art Residency 2016 - Artist's participation in the life of the Library

Night at the Library

The Crystal Maze of Historical Research

The Fire of London Night At the Library- a game deviced to bring the stories found in the historical documents at the Institute of Historical Researchalive demonstrating to visitors the benefits of a physical library for serious acadmic research.

Motion-activated audio devices were adapted for the event, to provide sonic clues. One with a proximity sensors controlling the volume and a second with a discrete sensor to trigger the sound to identify the location of the desired object hidden in the Library shelves. A third motion-activated device provided atmospheric sounds of the Great Fire 1666.

Matthew Shaw, IHR librarian and Stijen Vanrossem, postdoctoral fellow of the Low Countries, in SAS, created this event. Matthew visited the residency in an October Open Studio to discuss the potential for collaboration for their event in the Being Human Festival, on the first Friday, 18th November. The event was based on the commemorations of The Great Fire, 1666 using the experience for the Dutch, whom Londoners blamed for the fire through a myriad of conspiracy theories as referred to in the Diary of Samuel Pepys, making ‘hate crime’ a real prospect for any Dutch families in London through the fire, using personal documentation of a Dutch mother searching for her son in the fire and how this reflects modern fears of terrorism and immigration and the rise of hate crime in post-Brexit Britain.

Motion Activated Proximity controlled audio player for Terence read by Dr Mat Dillon (USA)
Library row containing motion activated device triggering the sounds of lock in a door
Location for R3 broadcast

In the IHR library, rare documents and ephemera in the archives and rare books in their collections related to the fire, include stories of a Dutch mother, the diary of a student who records reading the Latin text Eunuchus by Terence (P Terenius Afer) on the bridge in front of St Paul’s, his text lit by the burning cathedral, with the Thames lapping under his feet. The event was designed to combine innovative engagement with history using and highlighting related content in the library collections and archives, but also to demonstrate the specific value added to academic libraries, that are open access and based on ‘print acquisitions,’ so that visitors experience the vital role of librarians for library members, seeking specific or subject-based content. They devised an interactive game like ‘The Crystal Maze’ in a library, with clues guiding groups of visitors, through the game, divided into rooms through the IHR library. They were initially interested in using sound in the three rooms triggered as people enter each room, to evoke the sounds of the fire, before, during and through the rebuilding. However, the artist was also excited by the idea of creating audio clues within their game. The key clue, hidden within a volume of Terence’ Eunuchus, was selected as an appropriate clue, using two discrete, sensor controlled audio devices with active speakers to direct participants to the clues, hidden in specific texts, within the book shelves. To identify the book row, proximity-detection sensors were programmed to control the volume increasing on approach and decreasing on departure from the specific row of books shelves, guiding participants to the row where the volume of interest is located, fading downwards as the row is passed. As the key was hidden in a volume of Terence, a recording of a spoken recitation from Terence, in Latin was found from USA and sent to the artist, to process for the audio loop.  

Audio from One of the Three Devices Used:

A motion-activated sensor was then hidden behind a wide candlestick in the row, as the participants use their hands, to seek the volume containing the key. The sound samples for this clue, were of a key in a lock, edited to emphasize the meaning, with keys being handled, a door being locked and the key dropped, so that as they triggered the sound, they would find the Terence volume in the shelves, with a key hidden, in the cutout pages of the fake-book. The devices were prepared for a mini-version of the game, for a Radio 3 recording, for their coverage of Night At The Library from the London Hub of Being Human. The device behavior and location was tested and the optimum setup established, for the recording so that the event curators, could then set them up by themselves for the actual event.

A third device was also used in the ‘Fire room’, using historically correct sounds evoking The Fire of London, reflecting the horror, fear and terror for those whose lives were destroyed in such a cruel relentless manner. The feedback from this event was extremely positive and the devices worked perfectly, such that the artist will assist in their ongoing work stemming from the event. The artist has been asked to create soundscapes of the War with the Dutch and sounds of other historical events with cultural sound and music from before the fire together with sounds evoking the rebuilding of London after the fire, as well as audio clues adapted for an online exhibition / game page. This work was carried out at the same time as the residency final event, as the event was held the day after The Memory Hole Machine installation was exhibited in the reception area of Crush Hall, in Being Human.



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