Sounds Silence

About the Project

We are delighted to announce a new research project with the University of Bristol which will explore the nature of sound inside the building and the way that it impacts on visitors. Funded by the Brigstow Institute, the project will record the different sounds in different parts of the building, look at the ways in which people look for silence in the Cathedral and explore the difference that live music makes to visitors’ experiences.

The Cathedral has a long, rich history of choral music. The sound of choirs singing has been heard in the building since the 12th century and there has been a full time organist at the Cathedral since 1542. Today, the sounds of the Cathedral include recitals, concerts, guided tours, cinema events and school visits – as well as the day-to-day sound of visitors walking around the space, hushed conversations and daily prayer. This project will map the soundscape of different parts of the building – and outside spaces – at different times of day, so that the changing nature of the cathedral’s sound signature can be better understood. It is also hoped that new events, such as Led Silences or Sound tours might be created. The project will also commission 2 pieces of music which will respond to the findings of the research to be performed the Cathedral Choir and other local musicians. 

The project is being led by Dr Beth Williamson, who has published on sound and silence in the medieval devotional experience, serves on the Fabric Advisory Committee of Bristol Cathedral, and has published a collection of essays on the art, architecture and history of the cathedral.

“A cathedral is one of very few places within a city where a person can find silence. Silence is not a negative, and not the absence of sound. Anyone who has ever been moved by the sound of people keeping silent together on Remembrance Sunday knows that silence has a powerful presence. There are different qualities of silence, and different spaces offer up different varieties of silence. To achieve the most potent and quietest silence in the cathedral, a visitor could seek out a number of smaller, less immediately accessible spaces. But many people seem to seek the silence found in the largest, most public space in the cathedral, that of the nave. We’re interested to ask: Where do people sit within the building? Where do they walk? Where do they stop?”

Dr Beth Williamson, University of Bristol

The project will begin in Spring 2017, with findings published in the autumn.

Visit the project website.