From the outset the Historic Graves project has been about more then simply recording raw data such as location information, photographs and inscriptions from historic graveyards and the memorials contained within. The project has endeavoured to enable and encourage local communities to record the stories and oral histories attached to the graveyards and memorials. Historic Graves believes that this element of interpretation which all story telling involves should be done by the local communities themselves and not by imported experts. The tagline to the Historic Graves website reads ‘Local Stories, Local Voices, Local Places’.
One of the tools which can be used to record these local stories is audio recording. It is now possible to record the spoken word very easily and unobtrusively using smartphones or dedicated digital audio recorders. With some simple editing using free software such as Audacity it is possible to produce spoken word audio recordings of stories being told by Local people. These recordings can be very compelling and evocative reminders of place. Some of the audio recordings of Nioclás Ó Gríofáin in Shanacloon graveyard Co. Waterford for example immediately transported me to the houses of my uncles who live in another part of Co. Waterford. Like smell sound has the ability to transport you to a different time and place.
The technology is now readily available and with some training informative and evocative local stories can be captured quite readily and easily. There is however real skill involved in drawing out and eliciting stories from people. As with most things practice improves the technique and familiarity with the technology reduces its obtrusiveness. With local communities it is a matter of harnessing the skill sets of a wide variety of people both young and old to record the historic graveyards and the stories within. The Heritage Council recently reported on the formation of The Oral History Network of Ireland a group which aims to create a forum where anyone interested in using oral history can get advice and support.
One of the challenges of using audio recording in the field is the issue of wind noise. It is straightforward enough to record audio in the quite confines of a building but out in the open in the middle of a graveyard the ever present Irish wind becomes an inhibiting factor. We had some success using smart phones in sheltered corners however some form of wind reduction cover (spoffle) greatly reduces the negative impact of wind noise. For higher quality sound recordings the Historic Graves project has adopted the Zoom H2 stereo recorder which comes with a wind screen. We have also begun to experiment with a Rode microphone attached to the H2 recorder which seems to really enhance the richness of the audio recordings.
Historic graveyards are havens for wildlife and promote biodiversity. This is immediately evident in any audio recordings undertaken in graveyards as the ever present and abundant bird life can always be heard in the background. The following audio illustrating many of the points broached above have been recorded and published using Audioboo. This is a marvelous free smartphone and web software application which allows you to record and upload audio for immediate publication. One of the many charms of Audioboo is the live element to the recordings which usually do not employ editing software. The spontaneous and raw state of many of the recordings tends to enhance many of the stories broadcast. Their lack of professional polish and slickness sometimes benefits the story being told. It is an example of a ‘just do it’ philosophy which chimes with the ethos and community based values of the Historic Graves Project. However, many professional news agencies and journalists are also now using Audioboo and during the many revolutions and crises across the middle east recently sometimes Audioboo was the only way of getting the story out. It is an application definitely worth checking out.