An original military ridge tent from world war one played a pivotal role in a major exhibition at Aberdeen a few years back highlighting the dramatic impact of the world war one on the working landscape of this North East Scotland. The Tent was the centerpiece of Working Life to War Life, an educational heritage project, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, aimed at empowering pupils from areas of disadvantage, volunteers and young people from Aberdeen, in retelling the transformation of the working lives of local people during WWI. In a partnership between Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen Arts Centre and MWB Productions arranged workshops we organised to help create the physical content to transform the various items into an immersive world war one exhibition centrepiece entitled, The Tent. But it was the surround sound audio that made The Tent what it was and is.

On entering The TENT visitors firstly hear the impact of war on those at home as well as the front. Next they listened to a message from an unknown Gordon Highlander on the eve of battle. And finally, there is a tribute to the fallen as well as those who survived. Painstaking research has gone into creating authentic audio in The Tent including the recording of an actual world war one regimental kit including, ration tins, bayonets, Lee Enfield guns and other items used by a frontline soldier circa 1916. The sounds of trams, machinery and fishing boats that were true to the period and location of Aberdeen were also recorded.

North East storyteller guides journey to War Local storyteller Grace Banks is the guide in The Tent audio. Grace has been working as a storyteller and singer in Aberdeen and throughout Scotland for many years. A well-established performer, Grace is in much demand for children & adult events, schools projects and a host of various other venues. As an author, Grace has co-written two books (Scottish Urban Myths & Ancient Legends and Aberdeenshire Folk Tales) and is now working on publishing her own stories. We wanted to drop visitors directly to the troubled times of 1914-18. Getting the right person as guide was a crucial part of creating the audio. Having worked with, and heard, Grace on many occasions, I knew she was perfect to gel the various audio strands together. Her clear delivery and warm interactive style saw audiences highly engaged with the topic.

Great War Boy embodies spirit of Unknown Gordon Highlander Aberdeen based world war one specialist, Lewis Gibbon, acted as the voice of The Unknown Gordon Highlander in The Tent. To create an authentic feel and tone, Lewis kindly let us record some of his world war one regimental kit and having met, and heard Lewis, I knew he would embody the spirit of the unknown Gordon Highlander. He delivered a wonderful, heart-warming and sincere message from a frontline soldier circa 1916. His rendition of the poem ‘Hell of Trench’ is a powerful symbol of the aftereffects of war. Lewis Gibbon is also the brains behind 'The Great War Boys', a mobile museum based in the North east of Scotland. Lewis sees himself as a living historian, aiming to bring various aspects of The Great War alive through a variety of offerings for schools, outreach, charities and corporate events. In each case Lewis displays a vast collection of authentic and reproduction world war one related items, including uniform and equipment, for everyone to handle and try on.

Transported back in time

As well as being as an authentic and poignant symbol of the battlefield, The Tent was given a 21st century makeover for the exhibition to bring the range of exhibits to life through an exciting mix of expressive arts and digital technology. It was painted inside and out with graphic depictions of working and war life on each side of the roof panels. The interior was a dark, slightly eerie place where various artefacts pertaining to the world war one were housed. But when all is said it’s all about the audio. Grace, Lewis Gibbon and myself put a lot of work into creating a script that informs as well as tells a story. We hoped people would learn about this time in history a very subtle way with the sum intention to explore the emotional turmoil of war in a unique, thought-provoking visitor attraction for all ages - sometimes explosive and often moving. The TENT exhibition is now finished but you can listen to the full length audio below. Please note this is a 2 x channel stereo version of the original 5.1 surround sound installation

Listen to The Tent audio at:

Watch The Tent exhibition trailer at:

© 2017 Rob Aitken

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