Echoes of the Port

What cultural possibilities opened up by the arrival of 5G technology? How can technology bring to life the multilingual history of the Bristol city docks?

In 2018, Amy King conducted a series of oral history interviews with former dockers who worked on the Bristol City Docks. She used sections of these interviews, and clips from existing interviews archived at Bristol’s M Shed, to create a soundscape for users to listen to as they walk along the harbourside from M Shed to Underfall Yard. The dockers’ stories, and the full walking tour, were accessible via QR codes on signs around the city.

What did the project involve? 

The project emerged from a series of workshops exploring the cultural possibilities opened up by the arrival of 5G technology. The ‘Echoes of the Port’ project was designed as a ‘proof-of-concept’ that could be scaled up for a geolocated tour of Bristol and its transnational histories, which visitors could access through their phones.

Echoes of the Port is an experimental soundscape which aimed to bring to life the multilingual history of the Bristol city docks. The soundscape follows J.C. Healey, a (real-life) trader and ship-spotter, as he goes for one of his regular walks around the harbourside. Healey kept meticulous records of the ships in the city docks over a period of more than thirty years, and the soundscape was inspired by his notebooks, which are kept in the Bristol Archives.

The team were particularly interested in capturing something of the different languages that would have been heard on the city docks, with ships coming in from around the world.

Once completed, the team created the following video documenting the creative process of this research project:

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Amy King (History, University of Bristol) is a researcher interested in the memories of working life on the Bristol City Docks and undertook a public engagement project collecting these memories through oral history interviews. Her primary research focus of secular martyrdom in the construction of Italian national identity involves a focus on transnational memory cultures, commemoration and national identity, oral history, memory studies and public history.
  • Paul Merchant (Latin American Film and Visual Culture, University of Bristol) has dedicated much attention to the research of cultural and creative media in the intersections between postcolonial theory and the environmental humanities. They have expertise in ecological approaches to cinema and visual media, urban and domestic spaces, and postcolonial and decolonial theory.
  • Stephanie Kempson (Creative Director and Founder, Sharp Teeth Theatre) is a director, writer and dramaturg, who also sometimes workshop leads, programmes, storytelling, markets, project manages, and produces. Largely in theatre, but often beyond or on the strange projects that float between forms. Stephanie Kempson’s Website.
  • Dinah Mullen (Sound Designer) is a sound designer who makes sound and music for theatre, dance and performance, specialising in devised and collaborative projects. Other areas of her past sound design/composition work include short films, sound walks, DJ for Baby Raves and music for hypnotherapists. Dinah Mullen’s Website.
  • Felix Hayes (Voice actor of JC Healey) works as an actor, director and devisor. He ran Network of Stuff Theatre Co. for 10 years, making and touring work across the UK. Felix has extensive experience as a voice actor in both the arts and advertising.
  • Andrew Dennis and Peter Baker (Voice actors of the Spanish sailors)

What were the results?

The final result of this project was the creation of the sound walk ‘Echoes of the Port’, this is a 10 minute audio performance that is free to access. The research team invites you to travel down to Bristol harbourside and immerse yourself in the soundscape to experience the Bristol docks of J.C. Healey. Access ‘Echoes of the Port’ here.