North East Connected

Live Musical Performance Inspired by Durham Castle

A musical performance which has been composed using data collected from inside Durham Castle will take place at the castle on 21 October.

Vital Signs has been created by artist Jo Coupe who has used data from the castle, such as visitor numbers, relative humidity and temperature readings, to compose a musical score which will be played on a selection of medieval percussion instruments.

Curator at Durham Castle, Gemma Lewis, explained: “Durham Castle is nearly a 1000 years old, but it’s not like so many other castles and museums frozen in time – it is a living castle where spaces like the kitchen and chapel have been used for the original purposes for hundreds of years. Today it’s also the home to University College, the oldest of Durham University’s colleges, and has over 1000 students associated with the building and over 100 actually living in the Castle. All this makes for interesting fluctuations in the data Jo has been looking at.

“Jo has used some of the data that is collected here at the castle – such as temperature readings and even the amount of post that we receive – and translated it into several pieces of music which people will be able to hear performed at a live event in the castle’s beautiful Great Hall.”

Jo Coupe worked with percussionist and composer Brendan Murphy and three other musicians, who were hand-picked for their ability to play instruments similar to those which might have been played at the castle many hundreds of years ago.

“I knew that I wanted to use the data from the castle to reveal the patterns of human presence in the building but I didn’t know what the end result was going to sound like, which was really interesting,” said Jo. “Each piece sounds very different, some are very rhythmic while others are more atmospheric, but every piece has emerged from a huge amount of research into the building, the instruments and the information gathered from the castle.”

The instruments which will be used in the performance include a variety of frame drums made with wood and animal hide, a riq or timbrel which is an early tambourine, tuned bells and cow bones played like spoons. The various fluctuations which can be heard in the music reflect all sorts of activities and changes in conditions in the building, such as visitors on guided tours, Heritage Open Days, student events and students collecting their post.

“By using medieval percussion instruments I hope to create a connection between the building today and the sounds that might have been heard here in its earliest life,” said Jo.

The commission is part of the Meeting Point project, managed by Hexham-based Arts&Heritage, which has paired artists with nine museums in the North East and Yorkshire, to create new pieces of work inspired by the museums and their collections.

Funded by Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund, Meeting Point presents artworks in unexpected places and supports small and medium scale museums to commission artists, who will create a piece of work in response to the venue.


The nine museums and artists taking part in Meeting Point are:


Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum, Northumberland, working with Ziad Jabero and the Baghdaddies

Dales Countryside Museum, Yorkshire, working with David Murphy

Durham Castle, working with Jo Coupe

Head Of Steam, Darlington, working with Cath Campbell

Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar, working with Grennan and Sperandio

Pannett Art Gallery, Whitby, working with Pippa Hale

The Workhouse Museum, Ripon, working with Catherine Bertola

Shandy Hall, Yorkshire, working with Anne Vibeke Mou

Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds, working with Irene Brown

More details can be found at

Vital Signs takes place at Durham Castle at 7.30pm on Friday 21 October. Tickets are free and more details are available at

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