Thursday 9 May 2013

On Donne in OP

OP (‘original pronunciation’), as regular readers of these posts know, has so far been mainly directed at Shakespeare. But in the last year or so, people have shown interest in taking the approach in other directions, both before Shakespeare and after. Later this year I’ll post about a project to make William Tyndale available in c.1525 OP. Here I give some details about a John Donne project, capturing how he would have sounded in a 1622 sermon.

John N. Wall, Professor of English Literature at North Carolina State University, is the director of the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project, which uses visual and acoustic modeling technology to recreate the experience of listening to John Donne’s sermon at St Paul's Cross outside St Paul’s Cathedral on 5 November 1622. Much of what follows is taken directly from his summary of the project.

The goal is to integrate what we know, or can surmise, about the look and sound of this space, destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, and about the course of activities as they unfolded on the occasion of a Paul’s Cross sermon, so that we may experience a major public event of early modern London as it happened in real time and in the context of its original surroundings. It combines visual imagery from the 16th and 17th centuries with measurements of these buildings made during archaeological surveys of their foundations, still in the ground in London. The visual presentation also integrates into the appearance of the visual model the look of a London November day, with overcast skies and an atmosphere thick with smoke. The acoustic simulation recreates the acoustic properties of Paul’s Churchyard, incorporating information about the dispersive, absorptive, or reflective qualities of the buildings and the spaces between them.

The website allows us to explore the northeast corner of Paul’s Churchyard, and to hear John Donne’s sermon for Gunpowder Day, all two hours of it, in the space of its original delivery and in the context of church bells and the random ambient noises of dogs, birds, horses, and crowds of up to 5,000 people. In keeping with the desire for authenticity, the text of Donne’s sermon was taken from a manuscript prepared within days of the sermon’s original delivery, that contains corrections in Donne’s own handwriting. It was recorded by a professional actor using an original pronunciation script and interpreting contemporary accounts of Donne’s preaching style.

On the website, the user can learn how the visual and acoustic models were created and explore the political and social background of Donne’s sermon. In addition to the complete recording of the sermon, one can also explore the question of audibility of the unamplified human voice in Paul’s Churchyard by sampling excerpts from the sermon as heard from eight different locations across the Churchyard and in the presence of four different sizes of crowd.

The website also houses an archive of materials that contributed to the recreation, including visual records of the buildings, high resolution files of the manuscript and first printed versions of Donne’s sermon for Gunpowder Day 1622, and contemporary accounts of Donne’s preaching style. In addition, the website includes an acoustic analysis of the Churchyard, discussion of the challenges of interpreting historic depictions of the Cathedral and its environs, and a review of the liturgical context of outdoor preaching in the early modern age.

I have to declare an interest: I know all about it as I was the one who made the OP transcription, and Ben was the actor who performed it – and what a task that was, doing a two-hour sermon in OP, chunk by chunk, on a flexible surface in an acoustic studio. But the result is remarkable and without precedent. There is a link to the whole site here, or (for a quick view) here.


Katie said...

It sounds fun but I'm disappointed there is no original smell!

DC said...

With 3D printing now around, that may not be so long off!