Welcome to Sound & Silence

I am thrilled that this project is now underway and look forward to contributing to this blog over the coming months. 

This first blog post seeks to explain a little bit about how I came to put the project together, and how my own research has led to this point. I teach in the History of Art department at the University of Bristol, and most of my teaching is in the area of medieval European art and architecture. In my research I have a particular interest in the ways in which people used images, objects, and sounds in their religious devotional activity – that is to say, I have an interest in how people in the middle ages used buildings, pictures, books, music, bells, and many other objects and sounds to help them to pray, and to think about God. I have sung in choirs since I was a child, and have greatly enjoyed singing in churches and cathedrals, but I am not a trained musicologist, and had never included the study of medieval music in my own research. Eventually though, my curiosity about how to incorporate music into my work emboldened me. I applied for – and got  – a research grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to work on the sights, sounds, and silences, of medieval religious culture. At the same time I worked with a colleague, Jon Cannon, on a conference and a book about Bristol Cathedral (and about the Augustinian Abbey that occupied the site of the cathedral before the Reformation. For a long time I have been thinking about how to bring these two interests together: sound and silence on the one hand, and Bristol cathedral on the other. A call from the University of Bristol’s Brigstow Institute for applications for slightly experimental, ‘seedcorn’ projects proved to be the way to do this, and this project is the result!

As you can see from the About page on the project website, we want particularly to look at the specific sound ecology within the cathedral building – and of the adjacent open urban space of College Green – and to investigate how people seek out and access certain types of sound, and what they think and feel about the sound that they experience. We will be conducting interviews with many people associated with the cathedral – its clergy, and its musicians, members of its congregation – and people who visit the cathedral, and people who don’t, in an attempt to discover something about how different people react to the cathedral building, and its various spaces, both interior and exterior, and how they react to its sounds and its silences. 

I am especially excited to be able to work on this project with Nerissa Taysom – a graduate of the University of Bristol, with a masters in medieval architecture, a singer, and a sound curator. She has a unique set of skills and experiences which make her the perfect researcher for this project, and I look forward tremendously to working with her.

– BW