Stories of the Stones:
Accessible heritage experiences through augmented audio reality


Jude Brereton and Anna Bramwell-Dicks, School of Arts and Creative Technologies

External Partner

York Museums Trust (

Project Summary

St. Mary’s Abbey, York, was one the largest, richest and most influential monasteries in the north of England. Now only the ruins of the original Norman buildings remain, providing a backdrop to summer picnics in the Museum Gardens. Thousands of visitors and residents pass by the ruins every day, but few of them grasp the significance of this once magnificent building.

As an essential part of effective storytelling, immersive sound has the power to captivate and inspire. How can we use immersive sound to reveal the hidden history of the Abbey? How can augmented audio reality engage residents and visitors alike with the stories of the stones?

Working in the School of ACT, in partnership with York Museums Trust you will investigate the use of immersive sound to enhance engagement with heritage spaces, using St Mary’s Abbey as a case study. The interactive sound experience will be co-created with end users, and accessibility designed in from the start, making sure that it can be enjoyed by a wide range of audiences.

This project will be of interest to graduates with a variety of skills including sound design, audio processing and analysis, app development, interactive software, music technology and sound/audio engineering.

Project Description

The ruins of St Mary’s Abbey form a major landmark in the city of York, and yet hundreds of people (tourists and residents alike) walk through or past them each day without fully understanding the size, scale and significance of the former Abbey building. The history of the building is well documented, but only a small portion of the original building remains overground, with further parts of the original Abbey church now only visible inside the basement of the Yorkshire Museum.

Some heritage buildings/museums are turning to VR to enable increased visitor engagement with the history and significance of buildings that are no longer ‘visitable’ (e.g. Notre Dame VR experience) However, VR can be costly to develop, implement and make available to visitors on an ongoing basis, so its use is not widespread in visitor attractions. In addition, fully immersive VR experiences pose a number of problems for full digital accessibility.
Spatial, immersive and interactive sound has the potential to engage diverse audiences with history and heritage, through its flexibility, potential emotional connectivity and relatively low development and delivery costs. For example, a large majority of visitors to the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey will today be carrying more than enough digital audio processing power to deliver high quality immersive audio in their own smartphones. However, the switch to heritage engagement via apps has been shown in some respects as not necessarily beneficial to visitors and the heritage site – there is more research needed on the role of apps alongside standalone software/hardware solutions.

Key research questions include: the use of spatial immersive sound to engage visitors with heritage, the effective use of sound design in storytelling, robust and efficient delivery and rendering methods for spatial sound experiences, and the interface and interplay between online and in situ interactive sound experiences.

Research to be undertaken will include: collaboration with curatorial staff from York Museums Trust to establish the scope and scale of the ‘stories of the stones’ which need to be told, co-creation activities in order to best understand the needs of online and in person visitors to the Abbey, evaluation of software/hardware solutions for an outdoor heritage setting, investigation of current solutions and their cost/benefit, iterative co-design and implementation of an augmented audio reality experience for the Museum Gardens, evaluation of the implementation and use of the software/hardware implementation.

Student Skills Requirements

Experience and expertise in one or more of the following areas is required: immersive/spatial audio, human computer interaction, music/audio signal processing, digital accessibility, audio experience/sound design, audio programming, VR/AR, app design and development, interactive media, experience evaluation
An interest in one or more of the following areas is desirable: history and heritage experiences, audience engagement, soundscape design, audio drama, musical composition, accessibility for diverse audiences

How to apply

Please go to the School of Arts and Creative Technologies website and apply for a PhD in Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media. When applying please select ‘CDT in Sound Interactions in the Metaverse’ as your source of funding. You do not need to provide a research proposal, just enter the name of the project you are applying for.