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New project will explore the nature of sound inside Bristol Cathedral

Press release issued: 7 February 2017

The University of Bristol and Bristol Cathedral are collaborating on a new research project which will explore the nature of sound inside the building and the way that it impacts on visitors.

Funded by the University's Brigstow Institute, the project will record the different sounds in different parts of the building, look at the ways in which people look for silence in the Cathedral and explore the difference that live music makes to visitors' experiences.

The Cathedral has a long, rich history of choral music. The sound of choirs singing has been heard in the building since the twelfth century and there has been a full time organist at the Cathedral since 1542.

Today, the sounds of the Cathedral include recitals, concerts, guided tours, cinema events and school visits – as well as the day-to-day sound of visitors walking around the space, hushed conversations and daily prayer.

This project will map the soundscape of different parts of the building – and outside spaces – at different times of day, so that the changing nature of the cathedral’s sound signature can be better understood.

It is also hoped that new events, such as Led Silences or Sound tours might be created. The project will also commission two pieces of music which will respond to the findings of the research to be performed the Cathedral Choir and other local musicians. 

The project is being led by Dr Beth Williamson, from the University's Department of History of Art, who has published on sound and silence in the medieval devotional experience, serves on the Fabric Advisory Committee of Bristol Cathedral, and has published a collection of essays on the art, architecture and history of the cathedral.

Dr Williamson said: "A cathedral is one of very few places within a city where a person can find silence. Silence is not a negative, and not the absence of sound.

"Anyone who has ever been moved by the sound of people keeping silent together on Remembrance Sunday knows that silence has a powerful presence.

"There are different qualities of silence, and different spaces offer up different varieties of silence. To achieve the most potent and quietest silence in the cathedral, a visitor could seek out a number of smaller, less immediately accessible spaces.

"But many people seem to seek the silence found in the largest, most public space in the cathedral, that of the nave. We’re interested to ask: Where do people sit within the building? Where do they walk? Where do they stop?"


Further information

Brigstow Institute

The Brigstow Institute is part of the University of Bristol and brings researchers from different disciplines together with a range of partners across the city and beyond to experiment in new ways of living and being. Their themes of work focus on: living well with technologies, living well with difference, living well with uncertainty and living well. All research is underpinned by a commitment to a distinctive way of working that foregrounds inter-disciplinarity, co-produced research with – and not just for – external partners, and an emphasis on ‘critical making’ as a research methodology.

Bristol Cathedral

People have been praying and worshipping on our site for the last thousand years. Today, the Cathedral continues to be a safe, inviting space for all people to pause for thought, find beauty and peace, feel the sacred and come together as communities. From Monday to Friday the Cathedral is open to visitors from 8am until 5pm, with Choral Evensong or Evening Prayer at 5.15pm. On Saturdays and Sundays we are open from 8am until 3.15pm, with Choral Evensong at 3.30pm. Admission is free and all are very welcome to come inside and look around. Feel free to wander and soak up the atmosphere, sit quietly somewhere, or join us in one of our services. You can also visit our shop and café. Find Bristol Cathedral on Facebook or follow then on Twitter @bristolcathedra



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