Month: October 2014

Bronkham Barrows & Hardy’s Monument

Job’s a good ‘un. Drive down the night before. Fish and chips from Bishopston Fish Bar, Gloucester Road, Bristol, fine.  Oh … they’ve given us the wrong order – we’ve got two large haddocks and a large sausage whereas poor bloke in front of us got the small haddock and small sausage and paid more for the privilege. We discover this too late. Life’s tough out there in the Fish n’ Chip jungle. Perch on the corner of a monument near the Clifton Suspension Bridge and wolf the lot, then hit the road.

Guy pulls up next to us on the Portishead road and informs us my reversing lights are permanently on. We pull in at layby and try to get them to go off, but no joy. Hit the motorway anyway, but get continually honked at and flashed by concerned citizens aka busybodies. Pull into first service station behind RAC van, so ask him if he’s got any gaffer-tape, idea being to simply cover them up. ‘No,’ he says, ‘why don’t you just pull the bulbs out?’ I open the boot, lift the flap covering the rear bulb assemblage off, and simply disconnect the wires to the reversing lights. Sorted.

The thing is, there’s usually ‘a workaround’ somewhere. It’s like ‘don’t go to the root of the problem, unfocus your eyes and unlook at the whole tree. Maybe if you just twitch the end of that branch it’ll affect the whole. Always think sideways.’

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SATSYMPH open-call seminar at DIVA contemporary in Bridport. This is different from the others we’ve done in that there’s no captive audience, it’s an open-call. Always more difficult. But we’ve got 3 interested people and a dog. The dogs wants to know if there’s any bones in it.for him. We say ‘not arf’.

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DAY 1

We run the seminar we’ve prepared, which is:

  • say hullo, who and what we are and what the weekend’s for
  • show, not tell: lend people iPhones and we all go to the area around the council buildings in Brid where we’ve laid out a testscape with material from SATSYMPH-HERMES
  • return to studio
  • review content we’ve collected, sorted, enhanced, edited etc with everyone for suitability for purpose (to layout two more arms of the SDRLP app, one along the Hardy Monument/car-park axis, the other along the Bronkham Barrows axis). Said content is a mix of ‘vocal’ tracks (the older Dorset folk from Portesham) talking about life as it used to be, and ‘found sounds’ from DIVA-led soundwalks. including hydrophone recordings as well as ‘contact mike’ recordings (eg contact mikes placed on barbed wire fence blowing in the wind. Very atmospheric).  The dog votes for ‘ducks quacking’.
  • break for massive homefarm burger
  • place group agreed content using Appfurnace software and projection (this has to be a group exercise as otherwise we’d end up with x different interpretations)
  • simulate the walks in studio
  • continue last two until we’ve got something which works (in simulation)

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DAY 2

We meet up at the car-park place just down the hill from the Hardy Monument.  Then we walk the ‘Bronkham Barrow’ route with 3 people listening to the scape and one (moi) scampering on behind whilst timing the duration of content on my iPhone and noting down anything that needs to be noted. Now I know how the ‘runner’ on film crews feels, or the ‘continuity girl’.

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It seems we’ve severely miscalculated the pace. This is very important, as you don’t want a vocal track petering out and giving way to silence BEFORE the onlistener (well, there’s a word ‘onlooker’, so I don’t see why I can’t invent one for GPS-scapes called ‘an onlistener’) … before the onlistener leaves the soundpool (or sound-region), as this means they just get silence until they hit the next soundpool. Which may sound OK, but in fact SATSYMPH’s experience has shown that onlisteners then tend to think the thing’s broken.

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GPS-triggered scapes are all about EXPERIENCE-DESIGN: we may do all kinds of clever programming and layering tricks, but what matters is how an onlistener who has NO idea of the sophistication going on behind the scenes experiences the scape. And the interesting thing about this technology is that the creators – us, SATSYMPH, cannot dictate this process. The scape is, in a sense, called into being by the user (the onlistener): SHe determines his/her own experience by how fast SHe goes, where SHe stop, and, in non-linear scapes, which direction SHe moves in.

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So, again in a sense, the onlistener is actually the composer, and the so-called creators simply ‘seed’ the scape with content to allow the actual composers (the users) to mix their own experience.

Again, SATSYMPH originally thought that users would prefer to wander along, and occasionally drop into soundpools to listen to the seeded content. But experiences, especially with the RomLitScape (following the Romantic poets across the Quantocks and the North Exmoor Coast – currently being morphed into something else) showed that onlisteners preferred a ‘full-on’ model: they wanted content all the time, all the way. Hmm.

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Anyway, we were about by about 50% which meant a retreat to Hardy’s, whistling in the wind to get a signal so we could upload Appfurnace, changing the zones on-screen, then retesting. Linear scapes (those following a linear landscape feature such as a path) are comparatively easy from the experience-design POV: you can only go in two directions: there, or back. Where it really gets complicated – and fascinating – is where you are laying out a ‘carpet’ or ‘tapestry’ or ‘virtual auditorium’.

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Retest showed it works fine (for your ‘average-pace’ walker!), so we did a wrap (the whole process is very similar to making a film – without the visual aspect), and returned to Crewkern. Basta.

Some issues thrown up:

  • cannot predict or dictate people’s pace – how fast they move thru’ the scape
  • needs baseline sound so if they stop they at least have some sound so they’ll know it’s still working (if they hear nothing, they assume the app isn’t working, so have to have something going on at all times)
  • needs more vocal content – every vocal track has about 50% silence
  • loop material at beginning of vocal material, then also at end. Works well
  • Material is already linear (laid out of a linear track, so creates a narrative structure), but is it also directional? A linear trail can be followed in 2 directions: does it work better in one direction than in the other?