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Cave that inspired Mendelssohn and Keats brought to life by BBC Radio 3 and the Glasgow School of Art


We hope listeners will enjoy losing themselves in this awesome and evocative cave from the safety of their own mobile phones and radios. -Alan Davey, Controller, BBC Radio 3

For the first time, Fingalís Cave - the awesome natural structure on the uninhabited island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland - will be brought to homes and mobile devices across the UK through BBC Radio 3 documentary strand Between The Ears, in collaboration with The Glasgow School of Artís School of Simulation and Visualisation.†

Using cutting-edge technology which captures not only the acoustics of the melodic cave, but its awe-inspiring visual scale and beauty, BBC Radio 3 and BBC Sounds audiences will be transported to the site of natural beauty that inspired Felix Mendelssohn, Jules Verne, John Keats, August Strindberg and countless others. It is reported that Felix Mendelssohn was so moved by the unearthly sounds that fill the cave when he visited in 1829 that he created the remarkable Hebrides Overture in response.

Listeners to Between The Ears: The Virtually Melodic Cave will encounter a rich cinematic sound experience with new composition. They will also be able to access a virtual reality version of the experience using their smart phones via a link from the BBC Radio 3 website.

The Radio 3 programme follows the work of Dr Stuart Jeffrey from The Glasgow School of Artís School of Simulation and Visualisation, and the sound designer and composer Aaron May, to see if a virtual reality experience can capture a placeís very essence. It will see whether Aaron can be moved to create art in the same way that other artists have been, from visiting the virtual reality incarnation of the cave only.

In addition to the main mobile and Radio 3 project, a version of the virtual reality simulation, running on an HTC Vive, will showcase as part of BBC Arts and BBC Radio 3ís presence at Summerhall at Edinburgh Festivals in August 2019. For those unable to make the trip to Staffa, itís the nearest audiences will get to experiencing the full majesty of Fingalís Cave, allowing them to recreate the sound of their voice as it would be if they were to speak in the cave.

Alan Davey, Controller, BBC Radio 3 and BBC Classical Music, says: ďAt Radio 3 weíre always looking at ways to offer audiences an escape from everyday life and a chance to view the world through a different and more reflective lens. Itís also important to find new ways to make heritage sites more accessible and tangible to people.

ĒWe hope listeners will enjoy losing themselves in this awesome and evocative cave from the safety of their own mobile phones and radios. My thanks to BBC Scotland production, Glasgow School of Art and Dr Jeffrey in particular for working with us on this amazing piece of radio.ď

Dr Stuart Jeffrey added: ĒThe resonant sounds of blowing and popping in Fingalís cave, together with booming waves, create a natural soundscape that does not match the movement of the waves - this is one of the things that makes it sound magical and musical. Iím delighted we can work with BBC Radio 3 and BBC Arts to bring that experience to audiences who might not be able to visit for themselves"

  • Listen to Between The Ears: The Virtually Melodic Cave on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Sounds from 16 June at 6.45pm.


On the island
A few years ago Stuart and a team of archaeologists from the NTS discovered Bronze Age remains close to the cave and near a 19th century folly that was used by early tourists as shelter from the elements. In Between The Ears, we join Stuart on location as he continues the dig and unearths further evidence of a Bronze Age site, and we accompany him into the heart of the cave during different sea states.

A place of inspiration
Jules Verne said: "The vast cavern with its mysterious, dark, weed-covered chambers and marvellous basaltic pillars produced upon me a most striking impression and was the origin of my book, Le Rayon Vert.Ē

During the 19th-century era of romanticism and the sublime, the Germans were particularly enthralled by Fingalís Cave. Not only did they visit, but quirky plays and stories were even set there (including Bride Of The Isles, about vampires living inside Fingalís Cave).

The locationís rich mythology, including that of mermaids and giants, highlights the sublime aspect of the place. Stuartís research is trying to fill in the gap between how the Romantics viewed it - a site of awe - and how we see it today. ďWe have become dull souls, seeing it only as a nature reserve,Ē he says.

In the Lab
Whereas Stuart has spent many hours within the magnificent natural structure, Aaron has never set foot in Fingalís Cave. But for this documentary he has created a new musical composition based upon his experience of entering a phenomenally exact, virtual reality reconstruction made by Stuart and his team at Glasgow School of Art. Itís all part of the experiment to see if you can recreate the awe of a natural heritage site using technology.

The VR version features laser scans, photogrammetry and acoustic sound maps. You are able to tour the entire length of the cave and even hear how a piece of music would sound if played within it. A version of this virtual reality experience, complete with Aaronís composition, will be made available for listeners to explore on their smart phones. And of course, Aaronís remarkable and evocative soundtrack will feature in the radio documentary.

BBC Radio 3ís Between The Ears: The Virtually Melodic Cave will air on 16 June at 6.45pm, and is also available on†BBC Sounds. The Virtual Reality experience can be accessed via the†BBC Radio 3 website†and will be available at Summerhall from 19-23 August.

School of Simulation and Visualisation (SimVis)
The†School of Simulation and Visualisation†(SimVis) at The Glasgow School of Art currently specialises in undergraduate teaching, and postgraduate teaching and research. It has been a leader in research and development within the field of high-end 3D simulation and visualisation since 1997.

Working with EU and UK Research Councils, Government departments and blue-chip companies, SimVis has created advanced visualisations for various industries including the automotive, built environment, shipbuilding and medical sectors. SimVis also has a strong background in the heritage and medical visualisation sectors, and has produced ground breaking visualisations of the historic environment as well as highly accurate 3D anatomical models for medical education and research.

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