images from recording process



Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner

This project was devised by the collaborative duo TNWK (Kirsten Lavers & cris cheek) with soundscore composed by Simon Keep.



By way of introduction and meeting, the TNWK artists spent a week (Jan 05) in Coleridge Community College, Cambridge recording Samuel Taylor Coleridge's canonical ballad - The Rime of the Ancient Mariner line by line - literally line by line - with all of the school’s pupils, all of the staff including the support staff (canteen workers, cleaners . . ) taking part.

Coleridge School was at the time facing closure (though since then it has been saved by federating with Parkside Community College). It was placed under the albatross of special measures last year and had succeeded in moving out from under that pressure. However it was considered too small to be financially viable. By today's standards the fact that all of the teachers know every pupil in the school is considered a reason to force an amalgamation into a larger institution. As such, it seemed to TNWK worth valuing, we wanted to find a way for working with the school on projects for radio so the idea of a school portrait, but a portrait rendered in sound rather than through a school photo suggested itself through our processes of conversation.

The total number of people involved in the Rime recording was over 400. So, line by line there is a shift of voice, often dialect, intonation, pronunciation, cadence, rhythm . . . the sheer range of names in this school is extraordinary, very very culturally diverse. The mariner is voiced by the pupils and staff intermixed (about 360 young people and 50 staff), the hermit by the head teacher, the narrator and the wedding-guest by year-heads of English and Drama. The recording begins with the voices of Year 7 and concludes with students from Year 11 (the teacher's and support staff voices intermingle) a trajectory of voicings from unbroken to breaking to broken, reflecting the process of 'learning' in the Mariner narrative.

Recording over 100 people each day proved an intense performance of meeting, listening and engaging. The school meeting room was turned into a recording studio for the entire week and people entered one by one. After recording their line each participant was invited to choose a memento badge from a choice of 7 bearing iconic images from the Doré engravings. The process performed an extraordinary work of connection, between the artists and everybody in that school, between current and earlier vocabulary and narrative drives, between poetry and everyday speech (kids asking each other which line they had), asking their teachers, quoting them at each other in the playground - swapping badges as the images gathered through the school as the week progressed.

During the editing and production phase, we initially had to choose between the two versions of each line and then to begin to give it flow and in some instances to adjust gain between stronger and weaker vocal signals. Due to numerous noises 'off' (doors closing, footsteps on corridors above, water in the pipes) we were using a highly sensitive microphone so as to catch the full grains of the voices, we adopted a modus operandi of getting each person to say each line twice (with a pause between) so as to choose between their adjacent versions. That choice was sometimes clear and sometimes less clear and had to be made for each line.

The final vocal mix is complimented by an ambient soundtrack composed by cris cheek and Simon Keep from extreme close mic recordings (some using spyware microphones) from around the school and with some of the pupils.

The CD publication of this project includes a second track, a poem about Neighbourhood, devised and written by a group of pupils and subsequently translated and voiced by the seventeen mother-tongue speakers in the school, conveying a poly-linguistic reality not too often accorded to Cambridge, but genuinely reflecting the college’s cultural richesse.

This unique venture - a sound portrait of Coleridge School - formed part of the Radio Taxi project transmitted from Taxi Gallery - an unusual arts venue based in Cambridge. Over Spring Bank Holiday weekend 2005 Taxi Gallery became a short range FM and internet radio station broadcasting a live mix of a range of sound and music programmes made with the Coleridge School and members of the local community as well as national and international sound artists.

related links :


Radio Taxi

Simon Keep