It took several talented and committed people, thoughtful planning, support of Hermitage Amsterdam and good deal of luck to recreate realistically sounding 18th century battlefield presented on the projection of Battle over Berezina. The project was devised and executed by SonicPaintings, where we create interactive soundscapes to augment the visuals on the painting.
It is a bit of a challenge, to gather at the same (quiet) place and time, 20 or 30 Dutch speaking Napoleon soldiers that would “perform” battle scene for a sound recording. After some extensive research I discovered Napoleontische Associatie der Nederlanden – a goldmine of different battalions and soldiers groups passionately re-enacting battles.
In late January I noticed that various battalions from Napoleontische Associatie will have their exercises at Slot Loevenstein preparing for re-enacting the battle of Waterloo later this year. I immediately decided to scout this location. To my surprise fields around the castle appeared to be rather quiet for a Dutch standards – no noisy highways or trains around, reasonable amount of planes, just a few birds in the evening and a lot of mud.
Two weeks later these battalions would have the final rehearsal – my only chance to record this passionate group of soldiers, in full uniforms and armor. I had to act quickly: scripts for actors had to be written, rehearsals done, all necessary recording equipment and transport booked. The one thing that was completely beyond my control was the weather.
To my dismay for two weeks before the recording there was a clear sunny day each and every day. Bad sign in my situation. I knew it won’t last forever, and definitely not in the Netherlands, so I had my fingers crossed that on the crucial day there will be no rain nor strong wind as this makes sound recording impossible to make. Forecast pages were the most visited sites on my computer during the week before the recording Sunday.
On Friday and Saturday I was in a panic – there was more rain during these two days than throughout the most of the winter. Even if the rain stopped it would be a swamp out there. Additionally even participation of soldiers was doubtful due to this nasty, even for Dutch standards, weather.And then Sunday came:
Beautiful weather, no wind. It was like a dream…but not for long.
Just after the actors came on the set and start warming up, ducks and geese – equally enjoying the shining sun after two days of pouring rain – decided to sonically manifest their joy. With each minute more birds joined. And more people – including amateur pilots of small aircrafts making a leisurely round above the castle. In consequence, it took almost 3 hours to record 2.5 minutes of sound material.
Not much easier was capturing the sounds of the long awaited soldiers – just before their arrival a herd of semi wild cattle slowly but steadily, with sort of passive aggressive attitude, took over the field where recording should take place.
Fortunately the soldiers were bit late and by then the cows left and I could finally make my recording.
Just in time before one lady demanded to immediately stop the exercise because we might be attacked by … cows. Fifty full equipped, tough soldiers that came to exercise maneuvers had to leave the field and retreat to the castle. Thankfully I already had all necessary sound material.
So there it is. If you want to hear this unique interactive sound design, visit “Napolen, Alexnader and Josephine” exhibition at Hermitage Amsterdam, 28/03 – 8/11/2015