Ship Sounds Research Proposal

Okay, big post incoming!

So, more than half way through October…. and still no firm decision on what to do. I currently have up in the air:

WW1 “Day in the Life of” Soundscapes

Interview Series

And now this; Ships at Sea!

I’ll be honest, this is the idea I’m most passionate for- I freaking love ships, and the idea of recreating the sounds and feel of a warship stuffed with 500/600 people at the height of abttle, or just day to day aboard a ship in the middle of the ocean is very cool. So, I started a research proposal, just an intro about what I think would work. The problem is, as an intro it is solid, but I still can’t pin down a proper result or measurable idea. And is there narration? Explanations of what is going on? Is this an educational podcast? Either way, this is what I’m working on:

Brief- To Recreate a detailed, historically accurate soundscape of the atmosphere on board Royal Navy ships in the 17&18th Century.

The maritime history of the United Kingdom is probably one of the most important and influential aspects of British Culture and National Identity, dating back to well before the country had been united under union. Our history at sea is long, complicated and steeped in the ideas of adventure, power and discovery across the world. However despite the long history and scale of sea travel across the world, much like fossil records only a tiny record of the vast amount and variety of ships that have existed still remain to view and experience. Of the roughly The ravages of time, nature and war only allow us to experience the smallest snapshots of what life would have been like on board many of these ships. Of the dozen or so surviving ships built before the 1850s, only one, The Star of David is still capable of regular seagoing travel. Ships such as the HMS Victory or The Vasa, while fitted out and faithfully preserved to the conditions of their heyday, can never hope to capture the feel and atmosphere of the day-to-day goings-on of a ship under sail, let alone during storms and the heat of battle. They exist only as static objects, stripped of the atmosphere and soul that is such a large part of what they were. This presents a difficult choice- can we sacrifice the condition and delicate preservation of these ships and objects to allow people to experience them in a more realistic, representative way? This approach, while possibly providing a greater historical experience to visitors, endangers the ship for future generations.


What is needed is an intermediary, a way to recreate and experience the atmosphere of a ship while retaining and not endangering the conditions of the vessel. Sound is the most obvious choice to achieve this- museum ships such as Dundee’s own RRS Discovery make use of limited sound effects on board- through small speakers in the engine rooms to simulate sounds, or through the use of headset guides. However, these efforts are nothing more than essentially token sound effects, that only provide the most tangential, fleeting impressions of what the true sound of a working ship would be and are certainly not designed to be particularly realistic. Movies, TV shows and even museum ships strive to create less of a realistic sound, but rather effective sound that creates atmosphere without interfering with dialogue or disrupting, confusing or disturbing those focused on the actors, visuals or museum pieces. Our attempt would be the most accurate sound, bringing it to the forefront and to creating  legitimacy and accuracy to what it may have sounded like.


With this in mind, we ask the question: How accurately can we recreate the conditions, sounds and experience of a fully manned battleship in the 17th & 18th Century? What would the HMS Victory sound like on a regular day crossing the English Channel?  What would we be able to hear or understand during a battle, as hundreds of guns fire over the shouts of thousands of men? It will involve exhaustive, in depth research into every aspect of the ship, it’s men and their equipment. It would take into consideration the construction, acoustics and sound properties of the ships, the cannons and weapons on board. Considerations such as the accents of the time, the phrases and commands used on board, the clothes and food, even wind conditions of the dates being reconstructed all must be taken into account. Historical records and accounts can tell us everything down to the most minute detail what life on board was like. Our project will take those records, and recreate the one thing they cannot do- what it sounded like.



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