Research and innovation

Historical musical innovator awarded science prize

A researcher who uses gaming technology to recreate historical music performances has won the University’s annual prize for raising public interest in science.

Dr James Cook has been awarded The Tam Dalyell Prize for Excellence in Engaging the Public with Science for innovative research projects.

James Cook with image of interior of Linlithgow Palace
James Cook and a virtual reconstruction of Linlithgow Palace chapel

The prize, awarded as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival, recognises and rewards the University’s outstanding science communicators.

As part of the award Dr Cook will present the Festival's Tam Dalyell Prize lecture on Sunday 14 April  in the University’s Playfair Library.

Early music expertise

The lecture will share the highlights of a ground-breaking project that combines music from more than 500 years ago with virtual reality and cutting-edge acoustic techniques.

Tickets for the lecture are available from the Edinburgh Science Festival website.

Dr James Cook is a Senior Lecturer in Early Music and Director of Research Innovation in the University’s Edinburgh College of Art.

He is an expert in early music of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as well as its later representation in popular media

Dr Cook has worked with a team of researchers to recreate historical music performances that took place at Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian, more than half a millennium ago.

Immersive technology

The team used immersive technology to allow the listener to hear exactly how music would have sounded in the now-ruined chapel at Linlithgow Palace.

Scholars from Edinburgh College of Art and the universities of Birmingham and Melbourne collaborated with Historic Environment Scotland to reconstruct lost performances at the Palace –one of the principal residences of the monarchs of Scotland in the 15th and 16th century.

The project recaptured the lost glory of the Palace by bringing together scientific acoustic research, historical archival work, archaeology, and performance to reconstruct the music within virtual reality.

Researchers are working with Historic Scotland to offer visitors a multi-sensory on-site experience in the undercroft of the Palace.

Partnership working

The experience is also available as a CD launched by Hyperion Records using the reconstructed acoustic.

The recording, featuring professional singers from the acclaimed Binchois Consort, is the first commercial CD to be recorded and produced entirely in virtual reality.

Dr Cook has also advised and written on the representation of early music on screen including the use of early music in multimedia productions, the imaginative re-scoring of historical dramas, and the popular medievalism of the fantasy genre.

He also shares his work via the Edinburgh College of Art research cluster, History, Time and Temporality in Music, Sound, and Media which organises roundtables and conferences in medieval music.  

It is wonderful news that James has been recognised with this prestigious accolade. His work combining musical expertise and technology has increased the public understanding of early music in a visionary and engaging way.

Professor Juan CruzPrincipal of Edinburgh College of Art

The Tam Dalyell Prize began in 2008. It is named in honour of Dr Tam Dalyell, the politician and enthusiastic science communicator who wrote a weekly New Scientist columnist for 36 years.

Dr Dalyell, who died in 2007, was Rector of the University of Edinburgh from 2003 to 2006.

Related links

Book a place for the public lecture via the Edinburgh Science Festival website –  Book tickets

Impact feature

Link to profile 

Tam Dalyell Prize Lectures

Images - James Cook