Jony Easterby reports on his specially commissioned Cycle path sound art installation built halfway through an old railway tunnel, near Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Using sensors and recordings Easterby has brought the tunnels remarkable acoustics alive with the sound ghosts of times past. In so doing, Easterby bridges sound art and the cycling world.

The Ashborne Tunnel, a 350 metre long disused railway tunnel under the town of Ashborne Derbyshire, has recently been lit and renovated to allow the safe passage of cyclists and walkers along the Tissington Trail.

As part of the tunnels regeneration, Derbyshire Dales District Council commissioned the myself and fellow artist, Mark Anderson, to create an artwork to enhance the tunnels features.

The work is the third sound installation in as many years in response to unique environments. Other works exist in the Grizedale Forest and in Hasslingdon on the banks of the River Irwell.

Seeing the tunnel the artists realised that this was an unparalleled opportunity to experiment with the movement of sound in an extraordinary acoustic environment. The tunnels natural reverberation and echoes still resonate with the ghosts of a thousand trains roaring and whistling along its length. Now there is only the drip of water and the sound of human activity. The irresistible urge of walkers within the tunnel is to vocalise the sounds of trains, and their whistles is often heard as they long to hear the effect the sound would have had on the space during its time as a working tunnel.

It seemed important to respond to the length and notion of travel suggested by the tunnels length, a system was designed and built that would allow sound to ‘travel’ the length of the tunnel using a sequencer and multi-speaker system.

The artists started their work by recording and collecting snapshots of sound from local heritage railways as well as scouring sound resources for sounds that would ‘work’ in this environment. Snapshots of these sounds were selected and recorded on to Eprom soundstores. A sequencer triggers each sound in turn in a chace along the tunnels length.

Each sound is a small snapshot of between half and two seconds with a delay of three seconds to allow the natural reverberation to be used to the greatest effect. Two twelve-inch bass drivers (activated by a infra red motion sensor) were mounted in the centre of the tunnel with one minute long recordings of passing trains.

The twelve seven inch speakers are placed 20 meters apart along the tunnels roof, enclosed in waterproof pipes, housed in black steel tubes, they are almost invisible. 'Sound trains' pass through the tunnel every fifteen minutes or so. Clunks, clanks, puffs, whistles, voices and slamming doors ricochet and echo up and down its length

The sound rests in a quiet ghostly space, it is possible to hear the smallest sound from one end of the tunnel to the other, as the listener walks through the tunnel the sequencer chases the sound towards the listener and over their heads

Jony Easterby
is a sound and installation artist primarily working in the natural environment

Further – Sound Art and Avant Eco-Performance