December 5, 2016, by Rob Ounsworth

Underground sounds: Sensory engagement in Nottingham’s caves

How can sound can be used in innovative ways to engage museum audiences? Dr James Mansell, Assistant Professor in Cultural Studies, writes about working with the Museum of Nottingham Life to explore the potential of the city’s remarkable caves

This project was supported by a seed-corn award from The University of Nottingham’s Creative and Cultural Industries Research Priority Area in 2016. It set out to investigate how innovative strategies for sensory engagement in heritage spaces might be developed by fostering dialogue and cross-working between academic researchers, arts practitioners and museum/heritage professionals.

Focusing initially on how sound might be used in new ways in museums, I joined Jonathan Hale (Architecture) and Mark Rawlinson (History of Art), and the Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard to explore creative possibilities for museum sound installation.

In June 2016 the project held a workshop bringing together academic researchers from a wide range of disciplines with sound artists and museum/heritage professionals to explore working together.

Working together on museum’s creative challenge

We began with a creative challenge: how might sound installation allow the museum to make greater use of the caves, where I’m pictured with my fellow project investigator Jonathan, right, to the rear of its exhibition spaces.

Workshops led by sound artists Rebecca Lee, Magda Stawarska-Beavan and Gabriele Reuter involved participants working with sound materials in the caves. We came up with a series of interesting proposals for collaborative approaches to researching and developing sound installation.

In the second phase of the project, jointly funded by the Cultural and Creative Industries RPA and by Nottingham Museums Service, we will run a pilot with Nottingham-based artist Rebecca Lee, to develop a sound piece for the Brewhouse Yard caves. We hope to complete this by spring 2017 and we’ll be running a series of exciting public events to get some feedback.

Concert in the caves

In the meantime, the University’s new Nottingham Forum for Artistic Research has developed its own collaboration with Brewhouse Yard, putting on a concert, featuring performances by students undertaking a module on creativity and collaboration for professional musicians with Xenia Pestova, a pianist specialising in contemporary music and an Assistant Professor and Director of Performance in the Department of Music.

The caves concert, on Tuesday 13 December 2016, is free but is by invitation only. Please contact for details.

Dr James Mansell is a member of the Creative and Cultural Industries Research Priority Area at The University of Nottingham, where he co-directs the Nottingham Sensory Studies Network, a research cluster supporting sensory work across the disciplines with a focus on sensory methodologies, practices, and histories. He is an honorary Research Associate at the Science Museum and is Book Reviews Editor of the journal The Senses and Society.

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