Bronkham Barrows


Beginning to get the scale of this magnificent Neolithic and Bronze Age necropolis, stretching in a huge arc along the South Dorset Ridgeway parallel to vaunting Chesil Bank with the Isle of Portland, that strange, haunted, pitted place, guts torn out to build London monuments, at its apex. What could it have been like when a new barrow had been erected, gleaming white against the skyline, poised between earth and sky … and Underworld, the dolines, sinkholes around which the Bronkham series cluster, water-worn entrances to the Kingdom of Dis, the haunts of the slimy dead, from where the Ooser, half man, half bull would seasonally clamber to drag the naughty, the awkward Down Under, there to feast, or worse, on their blubbered flesh.

Out of here clambers the Ooser
of the bullock’s horns
Of the grim jaws
Hidden in the hide of a cow
Beware the Ooser!
He skimmity rides you through doline doors
to the Kingdom of Dis
the Kingdom Below
Beware the Ooser!

Half man, half cow … the Cretan Minotaur? You wonder – we think we are modern, we travel from one end of the earth to another without a thought, yet 3000, 5000 years ago they did the same: travel from one end of their known world to the other, to Stonehenge, to Priddy Nine Barrows, to the Dorset Ridgeway, to magnificent Avebury, to the Ring of Brodgar (what an evocative name!), to Carnac to meet, talk, commemorate, honour the famous dead, the gods, to drink, feast. Crete-Bridport package holidays? Des res all mod cons infinity pool breathtaking shingle beaches friendly natives? Cultural tourism, 3500 years ago.

The latest SATSYMPH workshop was this time with Beaminster School. On the first day we built the app using pre-created modules (edited sounds recorded with the kids with DIVAcontemporary and Ralph Hoyte’s script) with 10 Year 9 students and a very enthusiastic art teacher – thanks, Katie! The kids were as kids are: some engaged and intrigued, some dreamy, preoccupied, some playing up for the benefit of the others, various intertwined souls …

First up, we let the rampant teenage hordes loose on SATSYMPH-HERMES, with no explanation, just so they could experience and make their own judgements on how ‘a GPS-triggered soundscape’ works and why …


Some staked out a corner of the playing field and discussed current affairs (?)


We then retired to the inspiringly cluttered artroom…

classroom all 3

… to build the actual scape, roughly based on this pre-made plan:

Bronkham Barrows - sketch map

A couple of hours of work resulted in:


Which sounds something like this:

Then, on the 2nd day we went to the actual Bronkham Barrows to test out what we had built. A fine, high day with scattered, warm sunshine, in good company and with enthusiastic kids and teacher – perfect! Much pleasant wanderings over the barrow-scape ensued:






Chesil Bank literally floating on the horizon:


A restful (?) break for lunch between heaven above and hell beneath:


After which the kids occupied themselves throwing stones into Phill’s hat (it’s never been quite the same since…)

stone throwing

Followed by the (scratch head) compulsory evaluation:


And home in time for tea!

hell bottom1

So what did the participants make of it:

  • They liked SATSYMPH’s teamwork and humour
  • They wanted more engagement in the creation of the app
  • They wanted more individual help

They said they felt differently about the sites and their heritage:

  • Yes, I do feel different about the site, I feel more attached to it.
  • I do, it makes learning much easier and funner!
  • Yes, experiencing the app, created atmosphere and educated me about the site far more and made it feel like you were hearing the voices of the long dead!

They agreed it had been interesting:

  • All of it has been interesting, from recording the sounds, editing, to hearing it in the designated areas at Bronkham Barrows – the whole experience has been extremely educating, enjoyable and rewarding!
  • Visiting Bronkham Barrows and using the App
  • Learning to chase sheep with Jonty (well-a-day!)

They learnt new skills:

  • How to code and plot stuff on maps
  • How to record, record tracks and how the App works

They enjoyed working together:

  • From my point of view [teacher] the students worked well together in pairs and within group work
  • Yes, it was fun working in pairs because we shared jobs and learned together

 Did it feel different being a designer and a user?

  • It’s hard to say how it would feel to listen to it as I feel intrinsically involved in it [and hearing my own voice!!!]
  • I feel cool that we used an App that we designed

Did they think the soundscape installation will encourage people to visit the site more than once to experience it?

  • It is easy to download and use and a lot funner than a tour guide!!
  • Yes I do because it tells the stories and people will be more interested in the site

On to Culliford Tree Barrow!


Oh, to be in England! Kingston Russell Stone Circle

KRSC view  - stone face1

The morning of 6 May at Weymouth College with Alex McKechnie’s (Lecturer in Digital Arts, Weymouth College)Music Tech students started with the usual ‘will the system let us on’ or get all funny about strangers trying to access college systems. Luckily, it did. We introduced ourselves to the students and they introduced themselves to us. Will, Antony, Charlie, Connor, Chris, and Dylan. Music tech students. Rather than sit them down and lecture them, we opted for ACTION and immediately took them outdoors to experience SATSYMPH-HERMES – our portable contemporary music/poetry fusion scape which you can layout anywhere in the world you wish, then wander around in. They opened the virtual auditorium along a thin strip of green and wandered around in it, to the bemusement of other students and lecturers drinking coffee and smoking in the sun,  This was definitely fun, and a good introduction to non-linear user-directed GPS locative technologies.

KRSC - at Weymouth College 1

Student: I get it
Ralph: OK, what is it? Hang on – actually, this is interesting. We’ve worked with this technology since (for ever),  but still have difficulty putting how it works into words. So, what exactly do you get?
Student: It works in radiuses – you walk into the radius, it triggers the sound; you exit, it stops
: Yup, you got it in one.

(sorry, can’t find the HTML for line-up a script)

After fortifying ourselves with hot chocolate, or tea (some of us even pigged out on very solid pastries) we went back into the room and went through the sounds the students had recorded with DIVA (as mixed down by David and Marc).

KRSC - at Weymouth College - CLASSROOM 1Ralph Hoyte’s site-specific material was part of this mix. Ralph had been asked to compile this content as the only references to the Kingston Russell Stone Circle were perfunctory or dry and academic at best. No known myths or folk tales are specifically attached to the stones. Ralph therefore wrote a poem-script which referenced generic stories about stone circles, such as that ’the stones cannot be counted’, or that ‘the stones will tell you the name of your future husband’ and used these mixed with factual information for his script.

The next stage was to draw the sound regions which the audio clips were to inhabit. KRSC - at Weymouth College - CLASSROOM 2We did this as we usually do by projecting the Appfurnace interface onto a wall, thus making the whole process, including the coding, transparent.

We wanted to place a specific region over ‘the hidden barrow’, but, as the barrow is indeed aptly described, it could not be found to place a region over (it’s. er, ‘hidden’, duh)

After completion of this process we ran a simulation, then retired for the day. This was the initial draft scape >>>

scape pic1

… and this was the final virtual scape as agreed with the students >>>

scape pic2


KRSC view 1-1

The day was beautiful. The three of us parked up just below the Grey Mare site (there are three located sites very close together in this area) and waited in the sun for the mini-bus with the Weymouth students and Alex, the lecturer, to arrive. The walk to the Kingston Russell Stone Circle takes about 20 min, and goes past the Grey Mare and her Colts (invisible behind a high hedge, tho’). It was one of those incredible English spring days just after the fresh green leaves have broken out of their barky confines. Bluebells, white Cotoneastor, Greater Stitchwort, an almost snowy covering of Ribwort Plantain, lush green grass; high on the ridge with views over chalk downs, tree’d valleys, in the distance Chesil Bank. What could be more idyllic?

Oh, to be in EnglandKRSC scene3
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!

[Home Thoughts from Abroad
Robert Browning]

KRSC scene1

But enough of the ‘hey-nonny-no’-ing! We arrived at what I’m going to from now call KRSC, synchronized chronometers, checked we’d got a GPS fix … and wandered.

KRSC -at stones 8

I was impressed: the scape did what it said on the can. The zones triggered perfectly and the locating was top-notch: as you approach the Wild Wood the woodland scenario opens out in your head (I love these clumps, circles of twisted, almost human beech trees you get high on chalk downs). As you wander around the field; that fades, and the story scenario opens out. Everyone thought it was fantastic that exactly as you cross the threshold of the actual stone circle (which isn’t much more than about 20m in diameter) this ‘Neolithic humming’ kicks off. Step out of the circle, it stops. Step in again, and it starts again. Fantastically evocative of what this site was/could have been to its builders!KRSC - wood4-1

KRSC view 5After a thorough wander we all convened at the stone circle to have lunch, crack jokes (…) and discuss. There were a few minor adjustments to be made: move in the ‘L’ of the region nearer the trees; the ‘site introduction/factual’ north region had been mistakenly placed over a gate which was not on the public footpath (this shows the importance of ‘on-the-ground testing: what looks like the exit from a field on Google maps may not be etc); we couldn’t find ‘the hidden burrow’ on the ground either as it was, ahem – hidden (to be reprised with Victoria and the archaeologists and post-edited in). Otherwise we were well-pleased with our work.

We forced the kids to do their evaluation (!) – actually it was all very good-tempered and friendly, they were really up for it, and we had a great time with them – wandered back to the carpark and they departed. Their evaluations said:

  •  ‘I learnt new things in a fun way’
  • ‘It worked very well in location. It felt good to go from designer to seeing our ideas in action’KRSC - wood2-1
  • ‘The app has helped me understand the landscape’ (I like that one!)
  • ‘it gives people a fun and descriptive view on the landscape’
  • ‘Stepping in and out of the stone circle – the humming starts’
  • ‘..opens up your imagination to new possibilities’
  • ‘the app allows people to research about the site whilst on site’
  • ‘I definitely feel different about the site. It feels like we are linked to the surrounding area more than before’
  • ‘the most interesting part was looking into how to make an app and talking about it with people who know what they’re doing’

The lecturer (Alex McKechnie, Lecturer in Digital Arts, Weymouth College) said:

KRSC view 8“The students thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learned many new skills. It was their first exposure to working with nonlinear composition, and Marc made it accessible and fun for them. They went from initial workshops experimenting with sounds, through to the technical aspects of editing sounds and positioning them with GPS systems. The final day featured a visit to the site to test the product, and it was interesting to see how committed they were to ensuring that the ‘right sounds’ played in the ‘right places’ – they were engaged and had clearly taken ownership of their contributions. This was valuable not only in teaching them about the technical and creative aspects of such work, but it also meant that they were seriously experiencing a work of modern art. Their horizons were expanded, and their understanding of how sound and space relate to each other was deepened.”

KRSC view 4-1

Sessions with artists

This was the first of the workshops with artists. It was with Artmusic: Artmusic’s lead artist, composer Helen Ottaway, and, with sound designer Alastair Goolden, who ‘specialises in work which gives the public an active and enhanced experience of their environment.’ The morning was devoted to  reviewing Lachrymae – Artmusic’s musical content – and  then placing it in sound regions on a map of Chapel Coppice, a ruined chapel in a beautiful wood inland from Abbotsbury. Artmusic had previously installed Lachrymae in this wood using tree-mounted speakers which were radio-controlled.

Lachrymae from Alastair Nisbet – ScreenPLAY on Vimeo.

Chapel Coppice - Lachrimae-1

Lachrimae - 5

The content followed existing tracks in the wood.

Lachrimae - 4

In the afternoon – after tracking down the usual delicious food along Bridport high street for a takeaway studio lunch – we all drove out to Chapel Coppice. It’s off the Abbotsbury Road at its highest point (just past a massive Iron Age fort) – turn left along a one-track road, drive on past gnarled wind-blasted trees, park at side road, walk 20 minutes. I like the idea of having to walk 20 minutes … just about enough time to allow you to attune with nature (and sheep, and curious cows, and clouds).

Lachrimae - 3

Once near the wood, it’s ‘phones on! Open the app! Synchronise chronometers! Thumbs up! Bandits at 3 o’clock!‘ … well, perhaps not the last three. ‘Wander!! certainly.

Lachrimae - 1-5

A quiet wood, a chapel. For how many ages have we found peace in woods?

Lachrimae - 1-6-1

Lachrimae - 2-1

Lachrimae - 1-9

Lachrimae - 1-8

Lachrimae - 1-4

First review: how did it work? The scape worked perfectly on the approach track to the chapel – magical, having it trigger just as you step over the threshold of the ruined arch; worked ‘adequately’ on the track up to the stile; and was all over the place on the join-up track back towards the main one. Hm. Wrong kind of leaves?

Lachrimae - 1-1

However, all were well-pleased with the experience-design, thanks to the artists, who had come with extensive notes of what they actually wanted (artists are always well-prepared, efficient and thoughtful workers: we have to be, we wouldn’t survive otherwise!). It was not possible to adapt the scape on location (you need to be online to do that, and even tho’ SATSYMPH have a dongle for just that purpose, it does need sight of a phone mast, none of which are in evidence in deep Dorset vales). So we returned to DIVA contemporary’s studio in downtown Bridport and fixed it. Job done. It’s a good ‘un.

Lachrimae - 1-2

Workshop with Frances Aitken (thru’ activate) 2 Nov 2014

This was the 2nd of the workshops SATSYMPH held with and for artists and arts’ groups.

It was a pleasure to work with an artist who had a clear idea of what she wanted and was intriqued by the potential of located media to expand her artistic practice. Frances rolled up with a long interview she had conducted with Steve Wallace, senior archaeologist, Dorset CC on location at The Hardy Monument.


Frances wanted to explore actually locating this at the Monument. SATSYMPH explained the background to the technologies we use to geo-locate content for the smartphone, then we processed her material into a usable form. This involved amplification,  then equalisation to get rid of low frequency wind rumble, then chopping the audio into individual bits suitable for virtual locating on a map. Frances got the idea immediately: “It’s about extending audio into physical, topographical space”! Bingo! Job’s a good ‘un. All the material was located in and around the barrows and other Iron Age features on the site.

Artist-located content - Hardys Monument

After lunch we drove to the Hardy Monument to test on location (virtuality is one thing, reality a quite different matter!). As the Monument is so high, GPS-receptivity is extremely good. The content triggered as designed and a whole load of happy bunnies hopped off well content with the day’s work. We understand Frances is exploring possibilities for further work using locative technologies

Bronkham Barrows & Hardy’s Monument

Job’s a good ‘un. Drive down the night before. Fish and chips from Bishopston Fish Bar, Gloucester Road, Bristol, fine.  Oh … they’ve given us the wrong order – we’ve got two large haddocks and a large sausage whereas poor bloke in front of us got the small haddock and small sausage and paid more for the privilege. We discover this too late. Life’s tough out there in the Fish n’ Chip jungle. Perch on the corner of a monument near the Clifton Suspension Bridge and wolf the lot, then hit the road.

Guy pulls up next to us on the Portishead road and informs us my reversing lights are permanently on. We pull in at layby and try to get them to go off, but no joy. Hit the motorway anyway, but get continually honked at and flashed by concerned citizens aka busybodies. Pull into first service station behind RAC van, so ask him if he’s got any gaffer-tape, idea being to simply cover them up. ‘No,’ he says, ‘why don’t you just pull the bulbs out?’ I open the boot, lift the flap covering the rear bulb assemblage off, and simply disconnect the wires to the reversing lights. Sorted.

The thing is, there’s usually ‘a workaround’ somewhere. It’s like ‘don’t go to the root of the problem, unfocus your eyes and unlook at the whole tree. Maybe if you just twitch the end of that branch it’ll affect the whole. Always think sideways.’


SATSYMPH open-call seminar at DIVA contemporary in Bridport. This is different from the others we’ve done in that there’s no captive audience, it’s an open-call. Always more difficult. But we’ve got 3 interested people and a dog. The dogs wants to know if there’s any bones in it.for him. We say ‘not arf’.



We run the seminar we’ve prepared, which is:

  • say hullo, who and what we are and what the weekend’s for
  • show, not tell: lend people iPhones and we all go to the area around the council buildings in Brid where we’ve laid out a testscape with material from SATSYMPH-HERMES
  • return to studio
  • review content we’ve collected, sorted, enhanced, edited etc with everyone for suitability for purpose (to layout two more arms of the SDRLP app, one along the Hardy Monument/car-park axis, the other along the Bronkham Barrows axis). Said content is a mix of ‘vocal’ tracks (the older Dorset folk from Portesham) talking about life as it used to be, and ‘found sounds’ from DIVA-led soundwalks. including hydrophone recordings as well as ‘contact mike’ recordings (eg contact mikes placed on barbed wire fence blowing in the wind. Very atmospheric).  The dog votes for ‘ducks quacking’.
  • break for massive homefarm burger
  • place group agreed content using Appfurnace software and projection (this has to be a group exercise as otherwise we’d end up with x different interpretations)
  • simulate the walks in studio
  • continue last two until we’ve got something which works (in simulation)



We meet up at the car-park place just down the hill from the Hardy Monument.  Then we walk the ‘Bronkham Barrow’ route with 3 people listening to the scape and one (moi) scampering on behind whilst timing the duration of content on my iPhone and noting down anything that needs to be noted. Now I know how the ‘runner’ on film crews feels, or the ‘continuity girl’.


It seems we’ve severely miscalculated the pace. This is very important, as you don’t want a vocal track petering out and giving way to silence BEFORE the onlistener (well, there’s a word ‘onlooker’, so I don’t see why I can’t invent one for GPS-scapes called ‘an onlistener’) … before the onlistener leaves the soundpool (or sound-region), as this means they just get silence until they hit the next soundpool. Which may sound OK, but in fact SATSYMPH’s experience has shown that onlisteners then tend to think the thing’s broken.


GPS-triggered scapes are all about EXPERIENCE-DESIGN: we may do all kinds of clever programming and layering tricks, but what matters is how an onlistener who has NO idea of the sophistication going on behind the scenes experiences the scape. And the interesting thing about this technology is that the creators – us, SATSYMPH, cannot dictate this process. The scape is, in a sense, called into being by the user (the onlistener): SHe determines his/her own experience by how fast SHe goes, where SHe stop, and, in non-linear scapes, which direction SHe moves in.


So, again in a sense, the onlistener is actually the composer, and the so-called creators simply ‘seed’ the scape with content to allow the actual composers (the users) to mix their own experience.

Again, SATSYMPH originally thought that users would prefer to wander along, and occasionally drop into soundpools to listen to the seeded content. But experiences, especially with the RomLitScape (following the Romantic poets across the Quantocks and the North Exmoor Coast – currently being morphed into something else) showed that onlisteners preferred a ‘full-on’ model: they wanted content all the time, all the way. Hmm.

Bronkham notes 1

Anyway, we were about by about 50% which meant a retreat to Hardy’s, whistling in the wind to get a signal so we could upload Appfurnace, changing the zones on-screen, then retesting. Linear scapes (those following a linear landscape feature such as a path) are comparatively easy from the experience-design POV: you can only go in two directions: there, or back. Where it really gets complicated – and fascinating – is where you are laying out a ‘carpet’ or ‘tapestry’ or ‘virtual auditorium’.


Retest showed it works fine (for your ‘average-pace’ walker!), so we did a wrap (the whole process is very similar to making a film – without the visual aspect), and returned to Crewkern. Basta.

Some issues thrown up:

  • cannot predict or dictate people’s pace – how fast they move thru’ the scape
  • needs baseline sound so if they stop they at least have some sound so they’ll know it’s still working (if they hear nothing, they assume the app isn’t working, so have to have something going on at all times)
  • needs more vocal content – every vocal track has about 50% silence
  • loop material at beginning of vocal material, then also at end. Works well
  • Material is already linear (laid out of a linear track, so creates a narrative structure), but is it also directional? A linear trail can be followed in 2 directions: does it work better in one direction than in the other?


Ampitheatre - White Hill PLantation & Gray Mare site - signposted02-year1CloseupThis was a working weekend. Marc, Phill and I (Ralph) convened at Marc’s house in Crewkerne for the weekend of 6 September. We spent the whole of the Saturday firstly listening to the seasonal sounds captured by the DIVA contemporary soundwalks from spring and early summer 2014. These had been painstakingly reviewed, edited and processed by SATSYMPH members. Due tocapacity limitations imposed by Google Play (for Android phones) the storage limit is about 40mb – so we have to be extremely selective about what content we choose for the app, so, sorry, 100mb of sheep baaing through creaky gate noises, with larks ascending in the distance, tho’, granted, of sonic interest just won’t fit. The processing is also not about changing the sounds made by participants, but rather involves things such as getting rid, as far as possible, of wind hiss, amplifying the compelling parts, and, in some cases, layering different clips to increase the effect. ‘Cleaning up’, in effect.

SATSYMPH programmming SSW - 6 Sept 2014 - 2

After reviewing the SSW clips we moved on to the evocative recordings of old farmers talking about their lives ‘in the old days’ – some wonderful stuff here, from the content POV and even more from their wonderful Dorset accents and ways of speaking! “We had to call the doctor, but he b’aint come in a car, he come in a horse and cart, and we had to go fetch him from Abbotsbury, that we did, fetch him from Abbotsbury, walk over an’ fetch ‘im. Then the doctor come, he did…” . We decided these dialogues were the backbone of the walk, and we interwove the SSW sound material in and around them.

Ampitheatre - White Hill PLantation & Gray Mare site - both - maps

The next step was to re-edit clips where required, then virtually locate them in sound regions using Appfurnace software. This involves a rather long process of importing the sound clips into Appfurnace, bringing up a Google map at the right level, drawing the shapes for the soundpools over the map, all the while discussing at length which clips go in which order for the creation of a compelling experience. It’s a compositional as well as a technical exercise, and what we are essentially doing is ‘experience-design’: the question at the forefront of our minds is ‘how will a user of the app experience the soundscape on the ground?’. A further calculation is working out how long it will take a person walking at a slow to medium pace to walk thru’ any particular soundpool (you don’t want the content to run out either long before, or long after they leave the soundpool) … but, of course, this again is basically uncontrollable: users may wish, once they have found a soundpool, to stand there and listen, then move on, or they may move slower, or faster than anticipated, they may go to sleep if it’s a sunny day, or sit down and have their lunch. So, not a science, more an art – the art of experience-design. What will the user do?


We’re still at the computer station, working virtually. Questions arise about ‘the sheep’. They’re a bit faint, even when ramped up. We decide to ask Phill to layer a few sheep sections to magnify the effect, loop and stagger them, so you don’t get the predictable (and annoying) Sheep A: ‘BAAAAaaaaa’ at precisely looped intervals … so it sounds like a flock of real sheep, in short, which it was, but you can’t hear them … over to you, Maestro Phill, the best baa none (sorry)…

peevish sheep - mat

Then it’s on to the simulation. We trot an avatar through the soundscape at what seems to be a reasonable walking pace. listen, readjust, move soundpools this that or the other way, make them smaller or larger … eventually we end up with something that sounds satisfying ON SCREEN (!!!). We retire to Charmouth Beach for a BBQ as the sun sets over Lyme Regis.

Sunset over Lyme Regis - 1

The SDRLP Merry Men plus cook - honorary position

…and wake up with the lark. Oh, it’s Marc singing in the shower. Final touches (them sheeps is still refusing to behave) and we go ‘on site’ to White Hill Plantation and ‘the ampitheatre’.

Ampitheatre over Abbotsbury

We spent the day testing the soundscape on the ground. To repeat: what it sounds like in a simulation in the studio is NOT what it sounds like on the ground. That is the located soundscape creators’ credo: TEST IT IN SITU! We developed yet another tool in our armory: to people walk the ‘scape at a slow/medium pace, the third records what’s happening and how long it takes to walk thru’ each soundpool. screenshot - Abbotsbury SSW - Sept 2014 (6)

From this (lengthy) process – it was a nice day, warm to hot, bit muzzy in the distance towards Chesil Bank – we worked up a series of things that needed adjusting, such as the zone being too small, that sound not working in that actual location, the soundpools being wrongly placed etc. We had a dongle with us, but it couldn’t access the web from anywhere along the two arms of the walk, needing a clear view of a network tower. So we retired to the Hardy Monument about 2 miles up the road, which had a clear view of Dorchester, and thus, presumably, of a network tower somewhere, anywhere.

on-site soundpool generation 7 Sept 2014 - 2

This proved the case. After sundry ‘workrounds’ involving Bluetooth, extra mobile power charger, wifi, personal hotspots etc, we got a good signal, linked to Appfurnace and pushed, pulled, teased, rebuilt the walk. Then drove back to White Hill Plantation and the ampitheatre and retested, with timings. Sounds great. Job’s a good ‘un. On to Bronkham Barrows for our next visit.

Bronkham Burrows recce 7 Sept 2014


On a cool but otherwise unobjectionable March morning (ie it was neither blowing a gale nor raining stair-rods, and there was even a bit of something which could be called ‘sunshine’) SATSYMPH reconvened with the pupil group from Sir John Colfox School in Bridport, Dorset to, excitingly, ‘go on location’ to find out how the theoretically plotted Neolithic Soundscape would pan out in the real world. We picked up the kids at 9am in a big white Transit van, then processed in convoy round Bridport, then along the coast road, the B3157, past Burton Bradstock and along to Abbotsbury. The first view of Chesil Bank and Abbotsbury,coming over the top of the hill, with St Catherine’s Chapel perched on its knole over the hamlet, always takes my breath away. The chapel itself is dedicated to St Catherine, the patron saint of unmarried women, “and has a local tradition of ‘wishing’, which involves using the niches (one for the knee and two for the hands) in the east jamb of the south doorway to ‘post’ prayers to the saint asking for her help (you could call it Ye Olde Style Twitter’, I suppose). A traditional prayer used here says:

A husband, St Catherine,
A handsome one, St Catherine,
A rich one, St Catherine,
A nice one, St Catherine,
And soon, St Catherine.

In the local dialect version the request ends with the expression “Arn-a-one’s better than Narn-a-one”, meaning that anyone is better than ‘never a one’, I’m told”
(source: Wikipedia)

In Abbotsbury, we branched off onto the one lane ‘Bishops Road’ and drove up the hill, parking in the lee of the Grey Mare at the top of the hill. Here we were joined by the AONB’s South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership Manager, James Sharpe, Jill Hearing from AONB and Victoria Pirie (DIVA contemporary).

grey mare 1

After the usual ‘where’s XYZ?’, ‘when’s lunch’, ‘who’s forgotten their (raincoat/sandwiches/brain etc)’, ‘what’re we waiting for exactly?’etc we all opened the pre-downloaded app from Appfurnace

grey mare 2

Processed up ‘the ceremonial pathway’ to the Grey Mare field, over the stile, and into the Grey Mare Field



grey mare 3

grey mare 4

grey mare 9

We then wandered, assessing how the soundscape created in the studio actually worked in the real world.


Afterwards we posed with the actual stones. These two, Victoria informed me, were ‘closing stones’, placed at the entrance to the long barrow when it was ceremonially sealed. The two stones are of different material – one is aggregate (OK, all you archeo-people, now’s your opportunity to correct me!), and the other is bluestone (? the same material as at Avebury, I think). These, she said,  could have incorporated ‘male’ and ‘female’ qualities.

grey mare 6

The Crew: what do the stones say to you?

grey mare 7

Perhaps they say ‘time for lunch’!


We then went on a wander in the neighbouring field, where sound zones had also been laid out. We couldn’t do this earlier as the field was full of sheep being herded by a dog and a man on a quad-bike, obviously the modern method of herding. A solitary GPS tracker was sighted…

Now you see him…


Now you don’t (That was SATSYMPH’s Marc Yeats, I believe)


We then retreated to the (comparatively warm and dry) tarmac lane to eat our sandwiches and have a feedback session.


grey mare 5

After thoroughly testing out the soundscape participants were asked what they thought about what they had created, and how it could be made better. They responded:

“We really liked some of our sounds out in the open, such as the mud squelching; then the word ‘Rhiannon’ – the tension gets louder till you open the gates, then it stops. That’s really good. The humming in the Grey Mare field was good, then the different words which came up. The ‘electric fence’ noise was ace! We did think that it was very different in the studio and out here ‘on location’ – iIn the studio it worked because you were concentrating on the music whereas here you were thinking about where you were going (SATSYMPH:this is an interesting discovery and one which is always made by those using ‘locative media’: what it sounds like in the studio is NOT what it sounds like actually ‘on the ground’. Hence the need for continual studio/location; studio/location testing to get that right!).

The sounds outside the Grey Mare field were going to more connected than they were .. there wasn’t that abrupt change which is what we wanted. It didn’t quite flow because there were some big gaps. In the actual  Grey Mare field it worked quite well, except you could walk quite far out of a boundary and not know where it ended. We’re all agreed that this area needs to be connected up … to overlap – we need to experiment with on/off boundaries, so you can walk thru’, you walk thru that immediate change of material to contrast the blending on the way in, so that there aren’t any silent areas here.

In the field outside the Grey Mare, well, it was all jumbled and I didn’t really know what was going on; this field needs to be reworked in some way … so that it holds the tension, I mean, it starts off, you start to get the idea that there’s something … spooky, you start to get near it and then … the silence isn’t the scary silence we wanted.

Hmm – when we made it (the soundscape) we were trying to create a story, but it’s hard to follow a story … if you miss out one part of the story it breaks up the story. The ‘leading up’ experience (walking up to the Grey Mare from the farm road) needs to better conjure up images of the Neolithic. It might help if some context is provided, that is to say, the actual story attached to the Grey Mare and Her Colts, the story of Rhiannon ( from the 14th century Welsh collection, the Mabinogion) is narrated here. In the actual Grey Mare field the soundscape works quite well, conjuring up a mystical atmosphere which stimulates your ideas for what would’ve happened here.

We think it would be good if a good recording of story is made, then put the story (of Rhiannon) on the path in the lead-up, then come into field where everything overlaps.”

Following up the children’s conclusions, SATSYMPH edited a version of the story of Rhiannon and placed it on location. The original tale is HERE – read it, it’s a very old, striking and beautiful tale of a strong woman and the man she loved!

EXCERPT from Pwyll, Prince of Dyved (pronounced, I am told [PUISH PEN DA-VYD]:

“Lady,” asked he [Pwyll], “whence comest thou, and whereunto dost thou journey?” “I journey on mine own errand,” said she, “and right glad am I to see thee.” “My greeting be unto thee,” said he. Then he thought that the beauty of all the maidens, and all the ladies that he had ever seen, was as nothing compared to her beauty. “Lady,” he said, “wilt thou tell me aught concerning thy purpose?” “I will tell thee,” said she. “My chief quest was to seek thee.” “Behold,” said Pwyll, “this is to me the most pleasing quest on which thou couldst have come; and wilt thou tell me who thou art?” “I will tell thee, Lord,” said she. “I am Rhiannon, the daughter of Heveydd Hên, and they sought to give me to a husband against my will. But no husband would I have, and that because of my love for thee, neither will I yet have one unless thou reject me. And hither have I come to hear thy answer.” “By Heaven,” said Pwyll, “behold this is my answer. If I might choose among all the ladies and damsels in the world, thee would I choose.”









Sounds of the Neolithic Workshop with Colfox School





SATSYMPH & Sounds of the Neolithic [1&2] APP 1 Abbotsbury area



Project: SDR-B11 – The South Dorset Ridgeway GPS-Soundscape

On Tuesday 11 Feb SATSYMPH held our first Sounds of the Neolithic workshop day with 8 young people from Colfox School, Bridport. We started off the day showing rather than telling how the technology works: we took the whole group to the garden in front of the Council House 10 min up the road where we had laid out material previously used for SATSYMPH-HERMES. We shared out the phones between the kids – and let them loose to ‘hunt out’ the soundpools. The technology and experience are very difficult to describe to people, so experience has shown us that’s it’s best first to just let people experience what it feels like in the real world to stumble across physically located pools of sound in an environment.


“Press ‘go’, stick your earphones on – walk!”

DSCF6470We then returned to DIVAc. There followed a long session of intensively listening to and choosing audio material. The audio material had been recorded by the kids on a previous sound collecting walk with DIVAc. After this, another long session followed placing the material PHYSICALLY on a projection of the Grey Mare site.

The word PHYSICALLY is emphasised – creating a GPS-triggered soundscape is a very physical process: you literally place the sound you want onto a map of the landscape feature you want the sound to be associated with. It’s not the normal way ‘sound’ is thought of  – as having a physical reality in the environment!


The process was as in the picture above: the description of the chosen sound was written on a PostIt note (of different colour acc. to the ‘mood’ or ‘colour’ of the sound) and its placing was discussed and agreed with the group. The discussion was along the lines of ” now, there’s a long – relatively – lead-in to the actual stones. So it’s a sort of ‘processional’. What sort of sound you have collected would suit this ‘processional’ aspect? And when you get to the actual stones, what do you hear? Coud it be a crescendo, some type of culmination? Can we ‘hide’ some surprises somewhere for people to stumble across?” Etc…) So we that went something like this:


Once the ‘sound regions’ had been established on the projected mock-up, the actual sounds were geo-placed onsite using Appfurnace software in readiness for the next day’s workplan:


Which had been to go on site at the Grey Mare and her Colts and check 1. whether the soundpools were actually where they had been placed virtually, and, 2. to check whether it actually sounds like it sounded in the projection simulation.

Unfortunately …

… the weather forcast for the Wednesday was absolutely horrendous (3 degrees, heavy rain, 85mph winds!) … not exactly weather for anyone – never mind SATSYMPH and a bunch of kids with smartphones – to be wandering around exposed high moors jabbing at screens! We cancelled and arranged a date later in March, when, hopefully, the weather would be mild and balmy and we could test, adjust, sit and eat our sarnies overlooking the beautiful coast at Abbotsbury.


The kids were great! Involved, enthusiastic, funny and full of ideas. The sound material they had collected with DIVAc was atmospheric and creative, and had a distinct ‘sense of place’ associated with the Grey Mare and her Colts.


“it was amazing to look at the orange boxes on the map; you got to think a lot about ‘sound’ and ‘landscape’; and to try and remember how it felt (on location when recording) and the effect that that had”

“I liked putting all the sounds on the map that people will hear. It’ll definitely make me think differently about sound’

“Going out at the start was the best bit; I now understand how the app is made”

” I enjoyed it – it was very different from what we do at school. I’ve never built an app before and now I’m curious about how they are made”

“I learnt how to make a soundscape app. I’d never worked with sound online before and it’s given me a lot of ideas. I liked actually going somewhere – the Council HOuse – and actually listening to the sounds there”

“You can tell a story (with this technology)”

“Really good; I liked learning about the app and puttiong the sounds in different places. We’ve done a bit of sound recording and editing (in Audacity) at school, but not at this level”

“very interesting – when you listen to music, you do have associations, but not geographic ones”

(discusing the placing of the sound of a pheasant): Marc: “where would you like a pheasant to go? Kid: “In my oven!”