Resonance: Sound, music and emotion in historic house interpretation

Just drafted an abstract for my Sound Heritage presentation:

This presentation explores what computer games can teach us about emotional engagement in cultural heritage interpretation. Beginning with a model of emotional affect drawn from the work of Panksepp and Biven (Panksepp, 2012), Lazarro (Lazarro, 2009), Sylvester (Sylvester, 2013)and Hamari et al (Hamari et al., 2014), it reveals how music especially has become a versatile emotional trigger in game design.

Drawing on the work of Cohen (Cohen, 1998)and Collins (Collins, 2008)eight functions that music has in games:

Masking – Just as music was played in the first movie theaters, partly to mask the sound of the projector, so music in new media can be used to mask the whir of the console’s or PC’s fan.

Provision of continuity – A break in the music can signal a change in the narrative, or continuous music signals the continuation of the current theme.”

Direction of attention – patterns in the music can correlate to patterns in the visuals, directing the attention of the user.

Mood induction; and,
Communication of Meaning- the nice distinction here is between music that makes the user sad, and music that tells the user “this is a sad event” without necessarily changing the user’s mood.

A cue for memory – The power of the music to invoke memories or prepare the mind for a type of cognitive activity is well recognized in advertising and sonic brands such as those created for Intel and Nokia.

Arousal and focal attention – With the user’s brain stimulated by music s/he is more able to concentrate on the diagesis of the presentation.

Aesthetics – The presentation argues that all too often music is used for aesthetic value only in museums and heritage sites, even if the pieces of music used are connected historically with the site or collection.

As an example, the presentation describes a project to improve the way music is used in the chapel at the Vyne, near Basingstoke. Currently, a portable CD player is used to fill the silence with a recording of a cathedral choir, pretty, but inappropriate for the space and for it’s story. A new recording is being made to recreate about half an hour of a pre-reformation Lady Mass, with choisters, organ and officers of the church, to be delivered via multiple speakers, which will be even more pretty but also a better tool for telling the place’s story.

With a proposed experiment at Chawton House as an example, we briefly explore narrative structure, extending the concept of story  Kernels and Satellites described by Shires and Cohan (Shires and Cohan, 1988)to imagine the cultural heritage site as a collection of narrative atoms, or Natoms (Hargood, 2012), both physical (spaces, collection) and ephemeral (text, video, music etc.). Music, the presentation concludes is often considered as a “mere” satellite, but with thought and careful design there is no reason why music can not also become the narrative kernals of interpretation.


COHEN, A. J. 1998. The Functions of Music in Multimedia: A Cognitive Approach. Fifth International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition. Seoul, Korea: Western Music Research Institute, Seoul National University.

COLLINS, K. 2008. An Introduction to the Participatory and Non-Linear Aspects of Video Games Audio. In: RICHARDSON, J. A. H., S. (ed.) Essays on Sound and Vision. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press.

HAMARI, J., KOIVISTO, J. & SARSA, H. Does Gamification Work? — A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on Gamification.  System Sciences (HICSS), 2014 47th Hawaii International Conference on, 6-9 Jan. 2014 2014. 3025-3034.

HARGOOD, C., JEWELL, M.O. AND MILLARD, D.E. 2012. The Narrative Braid: A Model for Tackling The Narrative Paradox in Adaptive Documentaries. NHT12@HT12. Milwaukee.

LAZARRO, N. 2009. Understand Emotions. In: BATEMAN, C. (ed.) Beyond Game Design: Nine Steps Towards Creating Better Videogames. Boston MA: Course Technology / Cangage Learning.

PANKSEPP, J. A. B., L. 2012. The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary origins of human emotions, New York, W. W. Norton & Company.

SHIRES, L. M. & COHAN, S. 1988. Telling Stories : A Theoretical Analysis of Narrative Fiction, Florence, KY, USA, Routledge.

SYLVESTER, T. 2013. Designing Games – A Guide to Engineering Experiences, Sebastolpol, CA, O’Reilly Media.

Unravelling The Vyne

Another short note, this time on a contemporary art exhibition at one of the National Trust place I work with.

I’ve mentioned the Vyne before (in one of my most popular posts). This time, the focus isn’t on Roman rings or Tolkien, but other aspects of the place’s history. Ten artist-makers working in a variety of media have interpreted parts of the Vyne story in especially created works, which are currently on display around the mansion and in its lovely Summer House.

My favorite is this work by Maria Rivens. In the library she has created a piece and literally pulls all sorts of stories out of books similar to the ones in the Vyne’s collection:

Short Cuts and Pop-Ups, by Maria Rivens
Short Cuts and Pop-Ups, by Maria Rivens

A very effective piece is Two Dancers by Charlie Whinney: steam-bent wood (Ash for the male, and Oak for the female) twist and sweep around each other in the Large Drawing room.


The enigmatic “Mrs Smith”‘s Party Birds doesn’t quite do it for me, though I like it’s anarchic intent. Most of the party birds are raving it up in the Summer House, but some have sneaked into the Saloon with an old wind-up phonograph, which visitors are invited to play heavy shellac records on. The selection is all bird-themed and I chose to play A Nightingale Sang in Barclay Square. I left that record on the turntable, and later when I was elsewhere, I heard it being played again. The sound of it drifting through the open doorways, was somehow more effective than when I was standing by the machine itself. There’s something there I don’t quite understand about music intentionally played and listened to, and that which (as the movies have it) is incidental. I need to ponder on that.

One last lovely piece really needs unpacking. If you go and see the show, do make sure you are there when one of volunteers is demonstrating it. Its a tiny automaton created by John Grayson, which draws an analogy between an incident at the Vyne and last year’s “Plebgate” hoo-har.

Gate Gate by John Grayson, a tiny automaton
Gate Gate by John Grayson, a tiny automaton

I recommend a visit to this show, which is included in the normal price of admission (free to National Trust members). Here’s a link to a video which explains a little more.

My day-job brings archaeological story to the headlines and inspires comedy!

Forgive me a little aside here, but I’m feeling a little proud about this.

I first started working with the Vyne, a National Trust property in Hampshire, about 18 months ago. On my first visit, one of the objects that most interested me (apart from the truncheons stored in the ante-chapel to impose the will of the aristocracy on the peasants) was a fourth century gold ring, said to have been one of Tolkien’s inspirations for the ring that features in his famous books. At the time, this ring was tucked away in the corner of a tiny display cabinet with a hand-written note that asserted but didn’t explain the Tolkien connection. The new property manager there, Dave Green, and I agreed that this was a story that deserved a bit more attention and explanation.

Since then Dave and his team, with the help of the Tolkien Society, have worked hard to give the ring the space it deserves. After a soft opening over the last month, the exhibition officially launched on Tuesday.

A new Adventurer's Map of the Vyne's formal gardens, taking inspiration from Tolkien's maps,
A new Adventurer’s Map of the Vyne’s formal gardens, taking inspiration from Tolkien’s maps,

I was chuffed to see that Dave had managed to get it onto the front page of the Guardian.But in the last couple of days, the story seems to have gone viral, with write-ups on news sites across the web. Its amazing to see what power the Tolkien name has in getting a story about a piece of archaeological detective work out into the public consciousness.

But today I was blown away when I discovered that Yahoo News has even seen fit to film a comedic report on the story. One which, though light-hearted and irreverent, takes the time to unpack and tell the archeological story and ends with a shout out to Sir Mortimer Wheeler.