A New Audio Trail for Herstmonceux Castle

…is the soundscape of the world an indeterminate composition over which we have no control, or are we its composers and performers, responsible for giving it form and beauty?

Raymond Murray Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the tuning of the World (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1994), p.136

On 16th February 2022, we introduced a new Audio Trail at the Herstmonceux Castle, which has been installed on the GuideTags App – a digital interpretive platform founded by Professor David Brown (Brock University, Canada). This Audio Trail contains series of soundscapes and musical compositions, exploring the castle’s unique architecture, heritage and gardens through sounds. Over the course of two terms this academic year, I have had the privilege of working with six BISC students in creating this audio experience. Using sound as a powerful tool that tells the story of our environment from social, architectural and artistic perspectives, we each selected locations around the castle, and created soundscapes inspired by these locations. With Professor Brown’s help, we have been able to install these soundscapes in this interactive App, allowing listeners to experience the diverse sounds of the castle both remotely and on site.

When stepping foot on the BISC campus – based at Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex, surrounded by 300 acres of woodland and gardens – one is not only greeted by the spectacular visual scenery, but also the serene, yet animated music of this place. ‘Music’ in this context, encompasses all of the sounds which are made and resonated by the people, living creatures, and our natural and architectural surroundings. Although this music may seem sparse at first, when we stand still and listen to them, we begin to feel the intricate web of interweaving sounds. These are expressions of our sonic environment; the intangible thread that connects us together. Our ears are always physically open, but how often do we really listen to this music around us?

The BISC Sound Lab Team recording at the Castle’s main entrance.

The audio production of these sounds of our environment is nowadays most commonly referred as ‘soundscapes’. The term ‘soundscape’ was first coined by the Canadian composer Raymond Murray Schafer (1933 – 2021), through which he conveyed the importance of ‘the acoustical characteristics of an area that reflect natural processes’. [1] Schafer sought to collect and characterise sounds from our natural and built environments for inclusion into his compositions. On one of the first sessions of this Audio Trail project, we began by discussing Schafer’s concept, and how this could be applied in different contexts at the castle. From social, geographical, architectural to historical contexts, sound plays an important role, and can be interpreted and utilised in different ways. But with such a broad range of contexts across different disciplines, how does one actually go about creating a soundscape? According to Schafer’s method, the first step is quite simple: listen.

On one of my ‘listening’ walks around the Castle, I was drawn to the acoustical features of the Castle gardens through listening to my footsteps and the call of the birds. The echoes and resonances change as you approach and move away from the castle, and I felt that such clarity in the movement of sounds according to distance, is a powerful sonic feature of this place. This served as the starting point for my sound experiments at the Entrance Bridge on the southern premise and the Queen’s Walk, which eventually became the two locations that inspired my soundscapes. The tranquil setting of the gardens provides such an ideal backdrop for field recording of natural sounds – coming from London, this is an oasis for field recordists!

The BISC Sound Lab Team recording in the Castle gardens.

Similarly, the students had been taking their Zoom recorders every week around the castle, experimenting with field recording techniques. Field recording isn’t just about a big red button on a recorder, it is an art in its own right. Inevitably, the more you listen, the more you start searching for sounds, obsessed in capturing the right timing, the rhythm, the tone that seem to be revealing something about the place, little by little. This process of discovery is perhaps what makes the practice of field recording so interesting. As Schafer once said, ‘we are the composers of this huge miraculous composition going on around us’, we start to hear our sonic environment as a composition, and it is as if all the things within it, become instruments and players. [2] Through the practice of field recording, and learning about the basics of sound editing and production, students have created their own composition that engages listeners’ ears and imagination.

The BISC Sound Lab Team recording by the Castle’s sundial.

Whether you would like to be ‘transported’ to the castle through sounds or listen to this immersive experience on site, please have a look through the ‘BISC Sound Lab: Audio Trail’ in the GuideTags App to find out more!

Listen to the Audio Trail here:


Midori Komachi, Adjunct Lecturer, Dan School of Drama and Music with thanks to Dr Diana Gilchrist, Dr Shelley Katz, Professor David Brown and the BISC Sound Lab Student Team.

[1] Schafer, R. Murray. The Tuning of the World. (New York: Knopf), p.230.

[2] ‘R. Murray Schafer: Listen’, The National Film Board of Canada, 2009.

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