Concert at royal palace 500 years ago recreated by ‘musical time machine’

Linlithgow Chapel
Linlithgow Chapel

The sounds of a concert that may have been played at a royal palace more than 500 years ago have been recreated through technology dubbed a “musical time machine”.

Researchers used virtual reality and groundbreaking acoustic techniques to capture how music would have sounded when played in the now ruined chapel at Linlithgow Palace, which was a royal residence of the Stewarts in the 15th and 16th centuries and birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots.

Scholars from the Edinburgh College of Art and the universities of Birmingham and Melbourne collaborated with Historic Environment Scotland (HES) on the project.

They used a technique called LIDAR scanning – a rotating laser gun that takes measurements of the building – to capture the Chapel Royal of Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian as it currently stands.

Chapel at Linlithgow Palace

The team consulted historical and architectural records and worked with historians at HES to virtually reconstruct what the chapel might have looked like when James IV visited for Easter celebrations around 1512, adding elements to recreate the acoustics of the space such as the roof, windows, a tiled floor and objects including an altar, throne and drapes.

The researchers then chose music which may have been performed in the space and selected some 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 which has close to no natural acoustics – which was then overlaid with the reconstructed acoustic modelling of the chapel.

Kit Reid, senior interpretation manager at HES, said: “We are pleased to have worked with Edinburgh University on this project and have been working closely with them to provide historical research and using laser-scanning data to create this virtual reality project which provides a unique window on to the past.

Visitors at the palace and our other properties love to imagine how these sites used to look and picture what life was like.

“What makes this project so special is the emphasis on not just the visual recreation but also the recreation of the authentic soundscape which gives an immersive insight into the court life at the palace over 500 years ago.”

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The virtual reality experience is available in CD format launched by Hyperion Records or as an app.

The recording is part of a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council using technology to bring lost performance spaces back to life.

Dr James Cook a lecturer in early music at Edinburgh College of Art, which is part of the University of Edinburgh, said: “This technology enables us to put music back into historic spaces and offers audiences compelling visual and sonic experiences.”

Researchers worked with Soluis Group Heritage – a company specialising in digital interpretation of historic spaces – on some technical aspects of the project.

The team are also working with HES to bring the project to Linlithgow Palace with a virtual reality experience, giving visitors the opportunity to walk through the reconstructed chapel and enjoy a multi-sensory, immersive experience.

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