The Story of the Hear Heres

The legend of the giant is as old as the land, and by the time the family bought the estate at Kedleston back in mediaeval times, there was no question that the giant would come too.  Ever since, the fable has been handed from generation to generation and passed from parent to child and then when they grew up, this ancient legend was passed onto their own children, and so on. The possibility of the giant’s presence was so tantalising to young explorers because all the marks visible and touchable in the landscape fit the story to a tee. Sometimes they were grand gestures including the island that appeared in the middle of Upper Lake one day or when the village was rolled half a mile down the road overnight. Often, they were more subtle gestures like shapes of trees pointing a certain way, deep pools dug for peering underground, new paths scratched into the ground, and crosses that seem to call attention to a treasured spot.

But the most important and thrilling clues to the giant’s presence were not these intriguing sights but the sounds, which were not thunderous stamps as you might imagine, but delicate tapping and rustles and whispers carried in the breeze. And so the giant was never considered scary, but a friendly presence that encouraged the children to be curious and explore the landscape. Sometimes the grazing animals would burst out from under the tree canopy all at once, as if something or someone spooked their nervous sensibility.

The giant appeared to be offering kind and subtle messages , yet no one had ever caught sight of the oversized being, and people began to suspect that the giant was not living on the landscape and remaining hidden but was in fact the landscape itself and that perhaps he or she was trying to communicate ways of how to veer off the beaten track and seek out undiscovered treasures.

And so, during a flurry of technological innovation, a group of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed scientists arrived at Kedleston to conduct listening experiments in an attempt to try and find proof of the giant’s existence. The scientists brought with them state-of-the-art instruments; they had invented a quite unique breed of listening instruments called Hear Heres and were very excited to test them out for the first time here. The metal horns were not all they seemed at first though and were actually able to grow of their own accord towards particular sounds in order to pick them up and magnify them for the human ear. As the Hear Heres wiggled and stretched to reach the sounds that caught their attention, they were incrementally propped up by human-made supports, much like the ones used to support big old trees that, for their own reasons, have decided to grow sideways instead of upwards.

Along the timeline, the Hear Heres were placed at strategic points across the estate where there had been hearings of significant sounds thought to be related to the giant. At first, just one was positioned in the woods nestled to the edge of the Back Grounds, which was later followed by one on the top of Hare Pit Hill and then another adjacent to the Splash Pool.  Alas, just as the scientists thought their instruments, which they had grown so fond of,  were being accepted by the landscape and they were gathering really useful information in mini-discoveries, leading up to the big one, funding for the Hear Here project dried up as the nation’s attention turned to space travel and trips to the moon, and the scientists were forced to give up and leave.

Although almost sixty years have passed since the scientists left, the instruments have curiously not tarnished or rotted away, rather they have flourished in their natural environment and look positively healthy. The oldest and biggest creature stretches into the woodland and has grown to a fine size, so much so that it is now possible for humans to sit inside and be immersed  in the rich and varied sounds of the woods. The second oldest Hear Here has learnt from its hilltop spot and grown upwards high in the air, catching sounds of the sky and pulling them down to earth. The third and final creature from the original experiment has dripped and drooped into the river, fanning out across the water’s surface, sucking sounds and amplifying them for the keen explorer. Equally, humans can make noises from the riverbank end to communicate with the water, and thus possibly with the giant too.

Left alone, the Hear Heres have grazed on the land along with the cows and sheep and continued to listen out for sounds, not giving up on the quest to interact with the giant. Much to the delight of recent observers, a fledgling Hear Here has begun to grow on a tree close to the main house. The young metal creature has wrapped itself around the trunk, scrambling towards higher branches and appears to be pointing to Hare Pit Hill. It is a sure sign that the work of the scientists many moons ago remains an unfinished experiment and the inquisitive Hear Heres request courageous and curious explorers to continue the efforts and discover new clues left by the giant.

The Hear Heres, Kedleston Hall, Derby

with National Trust, Structure Workshop and AB3 Workshops (completed September 2012)

Set within the stunning parkland surrounding the Grade I Listed Kedleston Hall, the Hear Heres offer visitors an immersive and interactive experience that invites curiosity. In response to the competition brief, which called for new perspectives of the National Trust property, we have designed a series of four structures that play with sound and open up auditory vistas in the landscape. The Hear Heres encourage people to explore the landscape and expend energy, but at the same time offer spaces for moments of quiet reflection and soaking up the sounds and sights of this extraordinary setting.

National Trust selected Studio Weave from 168 competition entries to design a series of ‘playful incidents’ to whip up a sense of adventure for exploring the parkland surrounding Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire. The term incident was used by Robert Adam, whose first major commission was to design the mansion and estate at Kedleston in the 18th century, to denote a manmade point of interest in a rural setting. Our winning proposal for the Hear Heres will encourage visitors to listen to and interact with all the different sights and sounds of the landscape.

The Hear Heres are designed to pick up and amplify particular sounds related to their four locations. A small and agile Hear Here, which wraps around a tree trunk rather than being held up by supports, weaves into the hidden denseness of life on the branches and brings the sounds of the tree down to the curious explorer upon arrival at Kedleston.

Bursting out from the woodland, the largest Hear Here opens up to a trumpet big enough to envelop visitors; here you will hear the twitterings and rustles and patters of unseen creatures and breezes passing through branches.

Perching on the top of Hare Pit Hill, the tallest Hear Here stretches up into the air bringing the sounds of the sky down to earth, from buzzing insects to distant rumbles.

Tucked away by the Splash Pool, the third Hear Here swoops down over the water’s surface, transporting the gentle sound of rippling water up to the riverbank.

The Hear Heres will support an events programme including music performances, sound recordings, and imaginative educational workshops.

Both the events programme and the Hear Heres themselves will playfully contract and magnify the landscape, opening up new relationships across the estate and between the house and its parkland. This commission forms part of Trust New Art, a collaboration between Arts Council England and National Trust to bring contemporary art and design to historic places across the country.