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A historically accurate rendering of an 16th-century Easter performance at the chapel at Scotland’s Linlithgow Palace. (all images courtesy the University of Edinburgh)

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Acoustics nerds are bouncing off the walls over a new recording of liturgical music that seeks to accurately reproduce the conditions of a long-ruined chapel from Scotland’s Linlithgow Palace to present choral music as it might have sounded in 1512. The recording is titled Music for the King of Scots, and its eponymous audience was originally James VI of Scotland (aka James I of England). Linlithgow Palace was built by James I of Scotland in 1424 and renovated around 1512, but fell into disrepair through the 1600s after James IV moved the royal family to London.

A recreation of the performance at the chapel from Scotland’s Linlithgow Palace today.

“The original idea of the project was to try to explore the concept of space and place as a dimension of performance,” said Dr. James Cook, an early music scholar at the University of Edinburgh, in a video documentary on the making of the recording. The team used state-of-the-art virtual reality and acoustic modeling technologies to attempt to reconstruct “lost performance spaces.”

The team sought to recreate the musical program for 1512’s Easter Mass, and as with all audio performances, the effect of the music would have been greatly affected by the acoustics of the chapel space. Liturgical music, in particular, is designed for and informed by not only the sweeping architecture of many churches and houses of worship but the costly materials that often went into making them rarified spaces. The LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanning technology that made the basis for the project’s theoretical acoustics is combined with exacting research on the music of the time, and even such nuance as the materials of the chapel.

“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 told Smithsonian Magazine.

The recording can be downloaded at Hyperion Records, but the team has plans to install the audio in the remains of the palace, which continues to be a popular Scottish tourist attraction despite being widely damaged by fire in the 1700s. This soundscape will allow visitors to envision the experience of a concert from the past, in the very place that it — or something quite like it — once took place. Like many research endeavors these days, 3D scanning and reconstructive technologies are allowing artists of today to form strong connections to their musical history, even going back as far as the prehistoric roots of music-making. That’s the kind of legacy that can make anyone feel like a king.

Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....

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