Editing, a labour of love…

Sound Artist Amie Slavin talks about the trials and tribulations of editing Other Ranks and how every stutter, mumble and pause must be considered.

At the end of the process of collecting sounds, I gathered them all up and began the massive labour of love, which is the editing process. I had to listen to every moment of every recording, snipping and making tidy cuts of usable sounds and filing them for inclusion in the piece.  I had to spot what’s especially good and excise anything off-topic, contaminated or unusable for any other reason.

At this point I had a big pile of files, each still quite lengthy, containing the best of each location and/or voice.  This is where it gets tricky…

The toughest part of editing for a project like this one is that you end up with more material than you have space.  You are, if you are me, now in love with every sound, every voice, and getting really scratchy about losing anything anyone has said.  Tough!  Man-up, whining arty-person!

From here on, each sound file has to stand up and justify its inclusion in the piece.  Every voice gets edited further as each one is snipped and placed, with extreme delicacy and care, into position within the mix.  Each must overlap its surrounding sounds correctly. A fraction of a second alters where the listener’s attention is – and this has a very real impact on which parts of which voices actually get heard.  I like to have voices criss-crossing each other, like old chaps in a pub, each philosophising into his pint, they chime, coalesce and weave gently around each other.  They also cut across each other, sometimes agreeing and sometimes not.  They reinforce and contradict each other.  One voice adds to another from a very different experience or perspective.

Throughout the process, my preference is to preserve the participant’s own speech rhythms and style of articulation.  I don’t like to begin by cutting out their stumbles and stutters.  I like the emotional elaboration we get from the way someone speaks, as well as the words they say.

At every point the priority is to pay central attention to what each person was trying to say.  I warned participants that their voices would be edited.  I also promised to represent them fairly.  This was a most serious and sincere pledge and, at the end of the production process I am equally concerned with how each participant will feel about his treatment within the edits and the piece, as well as the effectiveness of the whole mix.  This creates an additional complexity which has served to keep me awake and pacing the floor through many nights in the past four years.

The end product contains literally hundreds of sounds and dozens of voices, as well as several hundred participants who contributed their marching feet and PT exertions.  In many places the voices are edited into fluency.  Many, are of course, fluent to begin with.  Where necessary, I have removed stumbles and mumbles, which make a particular piece of speech too long for the gap it’s heading for.  Did it work?  Well that’s your call, isn’t it?

Blogger: Amie Slavin

Other Ranks is now open in the War Gallery at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds until March 2013. For more information, visit our website.

Creating Other Ranks…

Sound Artist Amie Slavin has been creating the installation, Other Ranks, for the past four years. She tells us about her journey; travelling to Army camps to record soldiers’ stories, witnessing a mocked-up Afghan war zone and trying to instigate a good old dressing-down.

Artist, Amie Slavin

Other Ranks owes its existence to many contributors and friends. A project of this scale and scope requires a lot of research and preparation. The bulk of the work, in terms of the time it has taken, has been spent in pursuing every sound, every voice, every piece of proffered advice or wisdom and seizing ruthlessly on anyone not quick enough to stay out of reach!

I’ve been on three different Army camps and visited a TA veterans’ group.  I’ve recorded in the street, in fields, backrooms and a mocked-up Afghan Forward Operating Base.

At the beginning, notwithstanding meticulous and painstaking planning, there’s little predicting the sounds that’ll make it into the studio.  I roughed out lists of questions for interviewees and plans for sounds.  In the event, though, people say what they want to say and the best conversations are those where I’ve facilitated the participant to lead me in his chosen direction.  Some guys will talk about almost anything and are eager to do so.  Others are wary of speaking out of turn or of causing me distress with what they say.  For example, I spent some considerable time and effort attempting to find and persuade someone to give me a good old-fashioned Army dressing-down.  I wanted to show how the rigorous standards of behaviour and training are applied to the soldier on the ground. Two chaps very kindly had a crack at it for me but one eventually admitted it was just impossibly difficult to stand in front of a female civilian (my gender was more inhibiting than my disability they told me, to my delight) and deliver a proper telling-off.  Both spoke to me in gently firm and moderate language about my slipshod turnout on parade or my drunken behaviour off camp (how did they know?)

Upshot was I had to rethink the inclusion of a dressing-down, whereas a thoroughly slick and fluent explanation of the history of the Drill Parade flowed onto tape without hesitation or preparation.  I couldn’t have guessed that this would be the case.  Planning a production of this nature is a deeply imprecise science.  This is, of course, one of the greatest joys of it.

Other Ranks, opens in the War Gallery at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds today (1 November) and runs until March 31, 2013.

Blogger: Amie Slavin

It’ll be all Fright on the Night…

As Halloween looms over the ever-darkening horizon, the Royal Armouries, Visitor Experience Team are busy preparing for the spookiest night of the year. After dark, on October 31, the museum will be transformed into a frightful Halloween scene. Owls will swoop overhead, Royal Armouries staff will be dressed to scare, the spooky museum trail will be set, awaiting its first victims and the ghost stories will be prepped to give you shivers.

We spoke to Lisa Power and Keith Ducklin, Visitor Experience Team, as they prepared a chilling tale for those that dare listen this Halloween.

One of the strangest and disturbing haunted house stories of the last century, The House that Winchester Built, relates to the lone heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The enigmatic Sarah Winchester purchased an eight-room farmstead in California in the 1890s and set to work on continually expanding it. For 38 years carpenters and builders were employed 24 hours per day, seven days a week to add new rooms, corridors and stories to the building.

Her motivations for creating this monstrous house are shrouded in mystery. However, stories emerged of the mistress of the mansion’s belief in restless apparitions multiplying from the exploits of Winchester guns out to seek vengeance on her.

Some of these mysteries surrounding Sarah Winchester and her house of horror may be solved at the Royal Armouries, Leeds on October 31.  Jason Cravatte a vaudevillian peddler of mysteries recounts the tragedy of Mrs Winchester with the aid of a former servant Margaret Duggan.

Ghost stories will be told as part of our Family Halloween Party, we also have a series of Spooky activities running everyday in Leeds and Fort Nelson until November 4.

Bloggers: Lisa Power & Keith Ducklin

For more information about the mysterious Winchester House go here.

Leeds’ Library gets a makeover…

The Leeds’ Library has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Antique oak bookcases, obtained from the National Maritime Museum (NMM), have replaced the former, rather bland metal shelving.

The Library at Royal Armouries, Leeds before…

The bookcases came from the old Caird Library at the NMM where they had stood since it opened in 1937. They were originally designed with the help of the Maggs Brothers, an eminent rare books dealership who still trade in London today, in consultation with British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. Lutyens is famous for designing the Cenotaph in London, the Thiepval Memorial and much of New Delhi. The bookcases became redundant as the Caird Library has moved to the new Sammy Ofer wing at the NMM, and the Royal Armouries jumped at the chance to save some of them, and bring them to Leeds.

Moving the bookcases turned out to be a logistical nightmare. They easily break down into 8 pieces, however each one is still over 3 metres long, ranging from 60kg to around 140kg in weight. Narrow and twisted corridors meant that there was only one way to get the cases into the Library (short of removing windows or knocking holes in the wall) by lifting them onto the mezzanine and carrying them straight through the curators’ office!

Now where did I put the instructions…?

Once in the Library, the bookcases had to be assembled and remodelled to fit a much smaller room, which was done as sensitively as possible to respect the original designs. The new Library looks incredible and there has been an overwhelmingly positive reaction from staff and the public – the main comment being that it now looks like a “proper library”. The atmosphere has been drastically transformed to a much more academic setting, and a section of the old Caird Library has been saved.

The Library at Royal Armouries, Leeds after…

Blogger: Jasmin Patel

Behind the Scenes: Kings of Cloth of Gold

We spoke to Set Designer, Ruth Paton about having history at her fingertips as she prepares the scenery, props and costumes inspired by the Royal Armouries collection for Kings of Cloth of Gold.

Emanuel Brierley as King Francis I and Dominic Goodwin as King Henry VIII

What inspiration have you taken from the Royal Armouries’ collection?
The amazing thing for me was being able to see the actual armour that Henry VIII wore. As it is a complete head to toe body shield with no part of him showing, you can really imagine that he is inside there. It was moulded to his body and so you get a feeling of his physical presence. There is also a beautiful tent on display, a replica of one in the famous panting. It is very impressive and a good reminder of the display of power shown from both sides. We have to come up with something that alludes to the scope and grandeur of that scene.

What props are being used from the Royal Armouries?
We have generously been allowed to borrow some gorgeous and authentic costumes and I think we will be borrowing some weaponry, swords and daggers too.

Tell us about the set and costumes.
It is quite a difficult brief. I must provide the different locations that the text demands, demonstrate the vastness and wealth of the tents and palaces both nations brought with them, whilst at the same time design something that can be put up and down quickly on the tour. It also has to be versatile enough to fit into a whole range of different performance spaces, from village halls to proscenium arches. So, we have come up with something golden and tented, which can be manipulated by the actors on stage to imply different locations. The costumes have come from the Royal Armouries and the Royal Shakespeare Company and are as sumptuous as you would expect for the early Tudor period.

What does it mean to you to have the resources of a museum’s historical collection at your disposal?
I consider it a great privilege to have behind the scenes access to the museum and it’s staff. Meeting Karen Watts, Senior Curator of Armour, was completely inspirational. Her knowledge and passion was infectious. I was interested in her description of handling historic artifacts and the art of “reading” them. She spoke about the importance of passing on her knowledge. In a far lesser way, I also feel responsible for describing history although I must admit to using a huge pinch of artistic license- my world is that of make believe after all.

What stage of preparation are you at now?
Well, I am writing this from the train to Stratford Upon Avon where I have an afternoon in the costume store looking for suitable things. Scale drawings are on my desk at home ready to be sent to our production manager Steve and I have fabric samples in my bag of the fabric for the tents as I am trying to make a decision.

Kings of Cloth of Gold by Angus & Ross Theatre Company, premieres at the Royal Armouries on 29 September 2012.

For more information and to book tickets visit our website here.

Introducing Other Ranks…

Sound artist, Amie Slavin, brings the multi-sensory, sound-based installation, Other Ranks, to the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, this November to form part of our Remembrance events.

Other Ranks by Amie Slavin comes to the Royal Armouries in November 2012.

Amie gives us an insight into what to expect…

Other Ranks is a project aiming to tell the civilian public how life is for ‘squaddies’ and helping to honour the sacrifices made by those serving in the British Army.

The installation will feature the stories of current and ex-soldiers, who have been on active service in dangerous places. Their stories will be played out of 16 speakers, interspersed with extracts from written sources, from classic fiction and well-known poetry, to unpublished thoughts of the rank and file.

The endless parade of marching feet, drill, handling weapons, tackling an assault course and training in urban warfare will also be heard. These sounds intend to evoke thoughts of the people inside the marching boots; each is a human being, a man prepared to give his life in combat, each is the hero of his own story. These sounds move and swell around us, illustrating the unimaginably large number of people who have gone to war under a British flag.

How many of us ever really consider what it has meant, through the centuries, for a hundred, a thousand, half a million troops to be killed in the various theatres of war? Each broken body is the culmination of a person’s life, their hopes and dreams. Raising the question of whether these men are a breed apart – or ordinary people, stepping up to do an extraordinary job?

Empty boots will stand in the space, as a further reminder of the people, mostly men, who have worn those boots and made that ultimate promise to their country. How many boots have been left standing empty, through the generations?

Under your feet, as you move around the space, the entire floor will be covered with photographs, pictures of people, thousands of them, all overlapping and layering, an apparently numberless throng. Many of the people in the photos on the floor are in uniform. The uniforms vary endlessly, but each one contains a unique person. Among the uniformed folk you will also find other people, some are the mothers, the sisters and the children. Others are the farmers, the entertainers and the cooks. They are all the victims of war; nobody is exempt; the floor is covered with pictures of humanity; those who can be shot, bombed, diseased or bereaved.

We honour and commemorate the lives lost in wars – the officers, the civilians and, centrally, the ever-marching Other Ranks.

For more information about Other Ranks, or to donate your own photographs or old military boots, please visit Amie’s website.

Something to get your teeth into…

The Royal Armouries has just acquired a very unusual piece – a vampire killing kit that was recently put up for auction in North Yorkshire.

Vampire Slaying Kit - a mahogany casket with pistol, crucifix, rosary beads, three glass bottles, mallet and four wooden stakes

The complete Vampire Slaying Kit, recently acquired by Royal Armouries, Leeds comprises a mahogany casket complete with pistol and bullet mould, crucifix, prayer book, rosary beads, glass bottles labelled holy water and holy earth, a mallet and four wooden stakes

This intriguing kit comprises a mahogany casket, packed with everything a vampire hunter might need. The box is split into two tiers. The top layer contains a percussion cap pistol with an octagonal barrel – for firing silver bullets and a bullet mould. The lid holds a crucifix and rosary beads, to ward off ‘evil spirits’.

Other compartments contain three glass bottles, two of which are labelled ‘holy water’ and another ‘holy earth’. As a last resort there’s a mallet and four wooden stakes, plus The Book of Common Prayer, dated 1857.

The Book of Common Prayer opened to the title page, and a wooden crucifix

The Book of Common Prayer from the Vampire Slaying Kit, dated 1857

A handwritten extract from the Bible, quoting Luke 19:27, reads, ‘But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.’

I’m really pleased to be able to add this fascinating object to our world-class collections, which as well as conventional arms & armour, also contains a number of unusual objects. One category within our collections is known as ‘Firearms Curiosa’ – unusual and quirky pieces sometimes made to test new technology and ideas, sometimes to deceive, and sometimes just for fun! This kit definitely falls into this category.

Although often claimed to either be made for genuine vampire slayers, or as novelties for travellers to Eastern Europe, this is probably not the case with this piece. I’ve been researching vampire-killing kits for five years, and there is no evidence of their existence prior to 1972, around the time of the famous ‘Hammer’ horror movies. For some people, this makes them ‘fakes’, but is it possible to have a fake if there is no original to copy?

I argue that they are instead ‘invented artefacts’ – movie props without a film. We will be subjecting our kit to some sensitive scientific analysis to see if we can find out more about it, but chances are that it was made relatively recently. This is not a bad thing – museums today collect far more widely than just traditional art and historical pieces, and the level of interest generated by this kit shows how culturally important it is. It’s hard evidence of the undying love people have for supernatural fiction, from Dracula to Twilight and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It also reflects centuries of folklore relating to vampires and the best ways to dispose of them, which for some people, even in the 21st century, remains a frightening reality.

We hope to put the kit on display by Halloween. In the meantime it will be available for researchers to examine by appointment.

Take a look at my article in issue 288 of the Fortean Times – ‘To Kill a Vampire’ for further details.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms, Royal Armouries, Leeds