In a new venture for English Heritage, the charity’s first ever sound installation Cavalry 360˚ is on show at Chesters Roman Fort. Spearheaded by Senior Curator Kevin Booth, the installation was created by NEON and recreates the sound of five-hundred Roman cavalry horses. As 2017 is the 1,900th anniversary of Hadrian’s accession to the Roman imperial throne, Cavalry 360˚ seems a fitting tribute to the powerful influence of an empire that had a dramatic impact on the North. The installation is part of the Hadrian’s Cavalry programme which has taken place across a variety of sites on the Wall. This included re-enactments of cavalry charges, with historically accurate costumes and authentic military manoeuvres, truly bringing the cavalry back to Hadrian’s Wall.
Making use of the strong winds native to the site, the installation creates the sound of two thousand hooves galloping through the fort; a noise which would have been very familiar in the second century. During the Roman occupation of Britain, Chesters Roman Fort became the core base housing elite auxiliary forces. Key to defending the Roman Empire and further encouraging the high profile image of Imperial Rome, the cavalry were essential, and their legacy remains in the archaeology of Hadrian’s Wall. This is evident through the fascinating collection of over eleven thousand archaeological finds kept in the Fort’s Clayton museum, including swords and helmets. Some of the most intriguing artefacts are hipposandals, which were worn by cavalry horses to protect their hooves.
Although Chesters is usually calm and peaceful, the reality of the Roman Fort was anything but. The noise of the cavalry would have been impossible to miss as they practised military manoeuvres and went about day to day life. Horses have long been a symbol of imperial might, and the Roman cavalry were no exception to this. Cavalrymen were paid generously, especially in relation to their counterparts in the infantry, and usually spent their wages adorning themselves and their horses with lavish armour and decoration, adding to their imposingly fearsome appearance. There to impress, and to project the power of the Roman Empire, they were incredibly versatile, as they could also swiftly respond to any threat, while patrolling the border of the Wall efficiently.
Today, the installation is equally hard to miss, standing over three metres tall, with a diameter of twelve metres. In line with NEON’s previous works such as Chimecco, an enormous wind-chime hung below a Danish bridge to embody to noise and movement of the sea, Cavalry 360˚ thoughtfully represents sound in a manner reflective of its nature. The installation, led by NEON’s Mark Nixon, is constructed of thirty-two turbines which turn in the wind, arranged in pairs to represent the sixteen barrack blocks which existed at the fort during the Roman occupation. The scale of the installation notably reflects the capacity the cavalry had within the landscape, as they were able to operate over long distances and go in any direction, making them such a powerful force.
The rhythmic noise created by the turbines is unquestionably equine, and is designed in a circle, enabling visitors to step into the installation and enter a 360-degree aural experience, while gazing out at the fort in its stunning setting. The acoustic effect changes dependent upon where you stand, along with the speed and strength of the wind transforming a trot to a gallop and back again, reminiscent of the all-encompassing dominance of the cavalry charging as one. This, coupled with the dramatic view, fully connects the visitor to the landscape and the rich history of the site, which, after all, is what English Heritage is all about.
Cavalry 360˚ will run at Chesters Roman Fort, near Hexham, until 5 November 2017. For more information see here.