Exploring our Heritage | Noises Off

22 Feb 2019

In celebration of our Theatre's exciting Heritage offer, we spoke with the artists responsible for creating the various interpretations you can uncover around our building. Here we find out more about 'Noises Off: 250 Years of Sound Technology in the Theatre', created by Bristol-based Joe Ravenhill.

Introduce yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
Joe Ravenhill, Creative Director and founder of 2feetbelow Ltd.

I design interactive exhibitions, galleries and visitor centres.

What piece of interpretation did you design, and what were the ideas behind it?
I designed the 'Noises Off: 250 Years of Sound Technology in the Theatre' gallery. The brief was to interpret the history of sound effects at Bristol Old Vic within an existing storage corridor and lobby. The corridor leads to the Thunder Run, an amazing piece of physical heritage which creates the sound of thunder by rolling wooden balls in a series of sloping troughs above the stage.

It was decided that the Thunder Run should form the end point of a dramatic journey of discovery back-in-time taking in Digital Sound Design, Analogue recording, the importance of Voice, hand made sound effects, orchestra and the audience.

One of the main ideas behind the design was to make the space an interactive soundscape where visitors could engage with creating and hearing different sound effects and techniques. To achieve this we used touch sensitive paint behind the graphic panels so that flat graphic panels could become interactive controllers and triggers for sound desks and listening touch points.

We wanted the space to have a back-stage working environment look and feel so people could feel free to play and experiment.

Why did you want to get involved with the Bristol Old Vic Heritage project?
I’m from Bristol and am really interested in the history of the theatre and the local area.

How was the experience of working a team consisting of project managers, archivists and Bristol Old Vic staff?
The experience of working with the Bristol Old Vic heritage team and Tom Bennet of iPlaces was great. They were able to find the quirky stories about how badly theatre audiences used to behave and the 11 stage hands needed to create the sound effects for Arnold Ridley’s Ghost train performance in 1925.

What were the challenges of working on your piece of interpretation, and how did you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges was to bring the importance and ingenuity of the Thunder Run to life, considering that most visitors to the gallery won’t be able to see much of it or hear it operate (visits into the Thunder Run space itself will be a special tour offer as the space is fairly inaccessible). To overcome this we created our own miniature Thunder Run, which is also a coin donations collector. Guests roll coins into the slot at the top and it rolls down a set of channels over a schematic of the Old Vic stage area into a locked  drawer, at the same time a recording of Timothy West performing the ‘Blow wind’ speech from King Lear, backed by the real Thunder Run sounds is played.

Another challenge was to create an analogue tape splicing interactive.

I wanted this to be as hands-on as possible and not become a touch screen game. But I also wanted to get across the idea of snipping off sections of magnetic tape and rearranging them without anyone injuring themselves and creating an incredible mess! We used video projection mapping to link the graphic tape reels to a physical reel-to-reel player and to make it appear that the tape was spinning forward and rewinding back.

Are you happy with how the final product turned out?
Yes, I’m particularly happy with the reaction from kids who love pressing all the buttons and filling the space with noise and activity.

To find out more about our Heritage offer and our Theatre's rich 252 year-history, click here.