Behind the scenes - Roll of Honour Soundscape Project
Over a very busy week in the middle of June 130 schools from all across Australia participated in the Australian War Memorials Roll of Honour Soundscape Project. This project is a part of the commemoration of the Centenary of the First World War and just one of many ways the Memorial is involving children in the commemoration.
This Project was launched on 4 August with the schools recording around 6,500 of the 62,000 names that appear on the panels of the First World War Roll of Honour.
The effort it has taken to organise, record, edit and present these recordings has been a monumental task. Anthony Shaw from the multimedia department of the Australian War Memorial who has been in charge of the editing process, sat down to speak with me on the procedures involved and his thoughts on the project and the journey these recordings made from the 34 ABC recording studios nationwide into the First World War Cloisters of the Commemorative area.
These recordings were done by school students roughly between the ages of ten and twelve from across Australia from as far as Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Launceston Tasmania. The recording process required students from each school to record a batch of 50 names in a local ABC radio station. We received positive feedback from the teachers and students alike in terms of their enjoyment and excitement to participate. Many received tours of the radio stations and conducted further research into the names of those they were to be reading.
Once Anthony had received these recordings the process of saving organising and renaming began to ensure a unified platform was created. Organisation was a key factor in the success of this project, as even something as simple as naming a file incorrectly could wreak havoc on the whole process. Therefore as the files came in Anthony was meticulous about saving and renaming the raw studio catches (the recordings) with numbers that corresponded to the ABC recording studios and the participating schools.
He then split the recordings up into individual files containing a single name and age as the received files came in 3-4 minute blocks of 50 names. A quality check process was undertaken where background noise such as paper rustling and footsteps were removed. Another important process Anthony went through was to check that each name was read with the correct age.
Anthony states that he was quite surprised by the number of unknown ages of the First World War soldiers. He speculates that this is probably due to the original record keeping not being accurate, or simply the records were lost.
The scope of ages are predominately in the 20’s and 30’s which would be due to the enlistment standards being between 18- 45 years of age, however you will occasionally come across those both older and younger than this. The oldest Anthony has come across through this batch of recordings was 59 years old, with the youngest being 16. We know that the youngest Australian to die during active service in the First World War was James Charles (Jim) Martin who was 14 and 9 months.
Length of the names was another interesting feature to the recordings; some of these names can be quite a mouthful such as ‘Desmond Reginald de la Poer Villiers-Stuart’, a soldier in WW1, who is believed to have one of the longest names on the Roll of Honour.
The removing of unwanted noises and imperfections in the sound were part of processes known as cleaning and normalising. It is to ensure there is a consistency to the sound as it is played through the speakers in the cloisters.
Anthony played me a set of files, first an uncleaned version then an edited and cleaned version. “It’s just knowing” he says when questioned as to how he originally heard the imperfections in the sound. Once this was done a process was applied to change sound levels to the preservation levels that the War Memorial uses for all its audio and multimedia to ensure consistency.
This type of project is “interestingly different” Anthony says. Having grandparents on both his parents sides participate in the Second World War he had always grown up with a reserved outlook at commemoration. However he says this new use of technology is an inventive and creative way to be contemplative and still non-intrusive.
Anthony also believes that this project will benefit those who many not have a genetic connection to anyone on the Roll of Honour. He says “It can bring them more meaning hearing a full name rather than simply reading it. The age also brings this person to life; they are more than just a name.”
Through using multiple different programs and editing stages the soundscape project has now been implemented and is operating every day for the public to enjoy. These recordings have also been archived and will now form a permanent part of the Australian War Memorials Collection.