Exploring our acoustic heritage through auralisation and audio creativity significantly enhances the toolset of the digital heritage researcher, and is a powerful means of delivering memorable, meaningful and, most importantly, informed multi-sensory experiences. However, with the exception of the interactive techniques used for Architexture II, auralisation is only one particular, static, representation of how an environment sounds. It is a snapshot in time, for a fixed sound source and listener, and the final result depends greatly on the (known) limitations of the systems and techniques used as much as the design criteria applied.
When developing a model of any space the auralisation is only as good as the research into the source material documenting its provenance. If a space no longer exists, or only exists in part, it is not possible to state how accurate the final auralisation is – the result is only one point in an infinite set of acoustic possibilities, and it should ideally be accompanied with appropriate alternatives, and a full documentation of the process used to arrive at this set of end-points. In other case studies, where a site does in fact remain intact, and measurement may be seen to provide some certainty, it is important to have a good understanding of more recent ownership and use. Maes Howe is a particular example, as its current state is subject to the consequences of excavation, reconstruction and preservation that have taken place since 1861. The measurements we have, as documented on OpenAIR, are therefore not truly representative of a nearly 5000-year old Neolithic chamber tomb, but they do provide a clear acoustic description of its current state, and help to preserve this state as the site will undoubtedly continue to change over future generations.
The final result achieved also depends on what it is about the auditory experience, that the acoustician, sound designer or artist desires the listener to perceive – immersive reality, plausible approximation or bold caricature? Perhaps most importantly, our perception of an auralisation reflects our own culture, our prior experience of sound events, and our sound environment, and this experience is contemporary to our own period, rather than that of any other. Our modern ears give us a unique and individually subjective experience of our acoustic world. It would be unwise to assume that this lends any particular authenticity to a digitally created, and ultimately general acoustic representation of the past, no matter how rigorous or accurate the methodology applied. What digital heritage research, auralisation and audio creativity do offer, however, is a more complete representation of this past, for the past was certainly not a silent place.
Future work in this area will see the continued development of the OpenAIR database, an online resource that is already delivering societal, cultural and potentially economic impact as these acoustic heritage assets become incorporated into creative workflows for music production and computer game sound design. As demonstrated with Architexture I and especially Architexture II, auralisation methodology, moving to live, real-time interactive auralisation, can deliver bespoke, significant and transformative experiences of our heritage to large audiences, while expanding the creative practice of the participants involved, from researchers and composers, through to performers and sound engineers. Also notable at time of writing is the considerable interest in the next generation of virtual reality headsets that are soon to be made more widely available commercially, and whose potential we are already exploring in our collaboration with York Theatre Royal. These headsets bring with them a demand for new and novel content, not just virtual reality versions of existing media, such as television, theatre, film and computer games, but new, and as yet unimagined, creative virtual reality experiences, defined by the potential of the medium, rather than the established norm. Of particular note is the research and development effort of significant parts of the VR industry to ensure that audio content supports the visual stimulus, combining head-tracking and enhanced spatial audio with these stereoscopic visuals to deliver an immersive and plausible virtual reality experience. Much of the spatial audio technology being exploited to enable this work is founded on the same research that has informed OpenAIR content for auralisation and virtual acoustics applications. If the next generation of consumer media is based on the creative application of virtual reality technology, OpenAIR assets, with the additional implication for the associated research and documentation of our acoustic heritage, are ready once again to be deployed in creative workflows to help deliver novel and memorable multi-sensory experiences.
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