This live sound work was made originally for the Chapter House at York Minster, England in October 2009. It was devised for an evening event of sound art and music, entitled 'I Hear Too: Live' that explored the acoustics and history of York Minster and the Chapter House.
This work offered its audience an opportunity to reflect on the role of the guide and the acoustic-semantic mediation of place. It sprang from a fascination with the sheer number of volunteers who, with their accumulated knowledge and experience, sustain and support the Minster in its relationship with the public.
The piece involved a 'cloud' of official tour guides all speaking at once. They spoke from memory and attempted to convey their knowledge of the Chapter House. They began speaking as a cluster of voices positioned in the centre of the room, each providing a subjective general description of the space. Slowly, over a period of 5-6 minutes they dispersed, moving towards a detail of the Chapter House that they intended to foreground. The guides were equipped with laser pointers and these were used as a visual means of bringing data to the audiences' attention. After 6 minutes, in response to a light signal, they simultaneously fell silent.
The artworks exhibited during the evening event employed a wide range of computer technologies - acquiring and manipulating vast quantities of data in an exploration of the extraordinary history and acoustics of the Minster. This piece, made in response, attempted to engage with embodied perception, selective attention and informational abstraction whilst utilising only the performative voice, the majesty of place, and its textual mediation. The piece explored the way in which multiple 'versions' of the complex informational structure that constitutes the cathedral-in itself arise as it is abstracted and simplified through written representation and aural performance. The piece involved the cooperation of nine of the volunteer guides who lead visitors on tours of the Minster.
It is possible that the Minster might be visited only once in the course of a person's life. The description and interpretation of details of the Minster experienced during a guided tour - or a talk with a steward - is similarly unique. It is far removed from the generic acoustic guide found in museums and heritage sites. Each guide offers a distinct way of speaking, foregrounding different details, enriching and emphasizing particular features of the Minster, whilst simplifying others, or passing them by.