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Community / Reimagining the past with Stenness fishing station ‘sound walk’

Volunteers testing the 'sound walk'.

AN IMMERSIVE ‘sound walk’ around the former haaf fishing station at Stenness in Eshaness is in the works.

Visual artist Janette Kerr tested the project on around 12 volunteers on Sunday and she aims to formally launch it later this year.

The idea behind the sound walk is fairly simple: visitors to the Stenness beach would access an app on their phones, and plug in earphones.

After searching for the Stenness listing they would be ready to go.

Thanks to GPS technology, audio clips including sounds and voices evoking the past would be played as people walk around, with different pieces correlating to certain areas of the beach.

“I think people had a really interesting experience [on Sunday] and we’ve had some good feedback saying they got a sense of what it was like there,” Kerr said.

Stenness was an important fishing station until the late 1800s, and communities of fishermen and traders made temporary homes there over the summer months.

An old, ruined haaf fishing station and lodge are still standing at Stenness.

The readings on the sound walk, which are from local people, are taken from observations of early travellers visiting Stenness, and archive documents.

Other sounds include clips of boats being dragged, oars rowing and horns blowing.

There are 20 ‘sound clouds’ on the beach which feature different clips, and people will be encouraged to take their time to absorb the place and sounds.

There will also be audio of fiddler Catriona Macdonald performing Shingly Beach by Tom Anderson, which is said to have been written about Stenness.

The beach in more modern times. Photo © Russel Wills (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Kerr said the aim is to let people reimagine what a busy fishing station was like – and not to sugarcoat it.

“What we were really keen on is not making it a romantic experience, but it was really hard work on that beach, so we’re trying to evoke that and evoke those memories of what that beach would have been like in the 18th and 19th century,” she said.

The Stenness sound walk has been made collaboratively by Kerr and Jo Millett, who is a moving image and sound artist.

It is due to launch at the time of the Screenplay festival in September.

The pair also plan to show an installation called Confusing Shadow with Substance at the Easthouse heritage centre in Burra around the same time.