Explore Tyneside with Tributaries app

10 August 2015

A new immersive audio experience inspired by life on Tyneside during the First World War.

Download Tributaries free for iOS

Download Tributaries free for Android

A collaboration between a North-East museum and a renowned American sound artist has been realised with the launch of a new digital artwork.

Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) and Boston-based artist Halsey Burgund have worked together to develop Tributaries, an immersive audio experience inspired by life on Tyneside during the First World War.

The artwork takes the form of a location-sensitive mobile app in which users hear a soundscape of original music by Burgund blended with readings contributed by local volunteers.

The readings – typically in the first-person – include contemporary narratives in the museum and city library collections, many of which have remained unspoken for the best part of a century.

The free Tributaries app also allows users to respond to the experience by making their own recordings, adding to the work’s continually evolving map of collective memory and highlighting differences between life today and 100 years ago.

User recordings are geo-located so that the physical paths taken help to shape the experience of the app for other users.

"Tributaries is all about a flow of voices and experiences..."

Halsey Burgund explains:

Tributaries is all about a flow of voices and experiences. Users of the app are immersed in music and a stream of voices that flows like the water of the Tyne.

“The piece evolves over time and each contributor has their own unique effect on the whole, just as small streams form tributaries and then rivers.

“The Tyne has been an important constant in people’s lives over the last century but nonetheless, it changes every day in small and large ways; I like the idea of constancy in flux.

“The experience of Tributaries is both personal and collective at the same time; I used voices in the piece because they can convey the direct meanings of words as well as the hidden nuances, like character and emotion.

“I want people to wander around Tyneside and see familiar places in a new light. I hope to bring them to a different era and allow their imaginations to conjure how things might have been 100 years ago, and how their lives might have been.”

John Coburn, Digital Programmes Manager for TWAM, added:

“I’ve known about Halsey’s work for around five years now. We both like to push beyond the usual histories that define an area; to explore voices and personal experiences – often lost or forgotten – that provide surprising glimpses into places we thought we knew.

“We wanted to capture the public imagination by presenting snapshots of hundreds of real lives from 1914-18.

“I hope that listeners will reflect on their relationship with a geography they see as familiar. It’s about disrupting a sense of the past and sparking empathy for people who lived in that turbulent time.

“But we also want the public to connect with the sense of normality that simply continued through the War.

Tributaries provokes you to get out there and record sounds; for example those you think might have been heard by ordinary people 100 years ago: kittiwakes nesting under the Tyne Bridge; rain lashing down onto tarmac.

“The sounds are instantly added to the evolving collage and play for anyone listening in that location.”

To create the recordings, members of the local community were invited to donate their voices and make readings from various historical sources.

These ranged from letters and diaries – like those of activist Ruth Dodds and conscientious objector Frederick Tait – to poems, school logbooks and newspaper articles. The recordings capture a sense of the everyday joys, heartaches and mundanities that people encountered.

The project team also worked with BBC Look North’s Jennifer Bartram to record a series of bespoke First World War weather reports. Hers is a familiar voice but the idiosyncrasies of the other recordings also add interest. The voices bring the stories alive again, offering a relatable way of connecting with people that lived through upheaval which is difficult to imagine now.

Tributaries has been developed as part of TWAM’s Wor Life programme and is available to download for free on iOS and Android now.

Download Tributaries free for iOS

Download Tributaries free for Android