The sounds of an Easter concert performed for James IV in a Scottish chapel have been recreated using gaming technology alongside groundbreaking recording techniques that allow specialists to model how acoustics would have been affected by long-destroyed interior details, such as the curve of an alabaster sculpture or an oak roof beam.
Researchers have captured how they believe choral music would have sounded when played and sung in the now-ruined chapel at Linlithgow Palace, west Lothian, which was the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and where James IV visited for Easter celebrations around 1512.
Experts from the Edinburgh College of Art and the universities of Birmingham and Melbourne collaborated with Historic Environment Scotland (HES) on the project, which initially used LIDAR scanning – a rotating laser gun that takes measurements of the building – to capture the Chapel Royal as it currently stands, before transferring the information to industry-standard game technology and producing a virtual rendering of the interior.
Consulting with buildings archaeologists and Historic Environment Scotland, then cross-referencing with archival records of what materials were bought to construct and furnish the chapel, the academics were able to pinpoint the position and make-up of doors, tiled flooring, stained glass windows, as well as the alter, throne and drapes.
Dr James Cook, a lecturer in early music at Edinburgh College of Art, said: “Some of the aspects we know are absolutely correct, and some are intelligent guesswork. But what that enables you to do is build a reconstruction using the LIDAR scan as the basis, and then use historical techniques to work out what [the chapel] might look like inside.”
In order to recreate the authentic acoustics of the space, the sound properties of different materials and objects in the virtually reconstructed chapel were measured. “You need to know how oak absorbs sound and how it scatters sound, or what an alabaster sculpture with this degree of curvature would do,” Cook added.
The researchers then chose music that was likely have been performed in the chapel, selecting works from the Carver Choirbook – one of only two large-scale collections of music to survive from pre-Reformation Scotland. Professional singers from the Binchois Consort recorded the music in an anechoic chamber – a setting with almost no natural acoustics – which was then overlaid with the reconstructed acoustic modelling of the chapel.
A CD recording of the music is available, while visitors to Linlithgow Palace will be able to view the virtual renderings of the building – and step between past and present – once it reopens to the public later this spring.
“A lot of this project has been about reconstructing fragments,” said Cook. “The building, but also the repertoire and some of the music. What we want to do is offer something that essentially wasn’t wasn’t possible in reality.”