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1.2 Auralisation

Auralisation enables these acoustic impulse response measurements or computer models to form the basis of an audio reconstruction and presentation, so that we might place and manipulate any sound within a studied site or landscape, and listen again to the echoes and resonances that are produced. It therefore becomes possible to piece together the collapsed stones of medieval buildings and listen again to the echoing words of the people who inhabited them (Oxnard and Murphy 2012). Stonehenge can be reconstructed, ignoring modern elements such as noisy roads and aircraft, and place the listener in the very centre of the structure, to experience the sound of a ritual as the sun rises on the solstice (Fazenda and Drumm 2013). Experiments with building materials and construction techniques enable exploration of how actors would be heard across a Greek or Roman amphitheatre (Rindel 2011). The medieval streets of York can be reconstructed to understand how well audience members would have perceived the dramatic performances of the York Mystery Plays (Lopez 2015). Auralisation also enables the acoustic preservation of aspects of our intangible cultural heritage (Brezina 2013). The often cited example is that of the Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice, which was subject to an extensive fire on the night of 29 January 1996. Two months prior to the fire, acousticians Lamberto Tronchin and Angelo Farina made several acoustic measurements within the building, and this key interaction helped to preserve the sound of a much-loved opera house as well as aiding its subsequent restoration (Tronchin and Farina 1997).

Auralisation can therefore be considered as the aural equivalent of 3D computer visualisation. Although auralisation has long been used in the field of architectural acoustics (e.g. Kleiner et al. 1993), in digital heritage it is beginning to take its place alongside the more established discipline of visualisation for interpretation, understanding and research. Developing these ideas further, auralisation can also be used as a means to facilitate modern interventions with heritage sites, and so allow sound designers and artists to better use the broadband information processing capacity of our hearing system to present new and novel soundscapes to an audience, be this as information, interpretation, guide or artwork.

However, questions of accuracy and authenticity should always be considered in tandem with such acoustic reconstruction and manipulation. Objective analysis of acoustic parameters can only reveal so much about how a space, or event within it, might have actually sounded. Subjective, perceptual testing goes some way further, although the context of both the site and the sounds being auditioned are not commonly considered in such tests. Perhaps more important in digital heritage – although more difficult to quantify – is the quality of experience that arises as a consequence of any auralisation. What can we learn about a site and the people who used it from how we perceive and interact with a virtual representation?


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