The morning of 6 May at Weymouth College with Alex McKechnie’s (Lecturer in Digital Arts, Weymouth College)Music Tech students started with the usual ‘will the system let us on’ or get all funny about strangers trying to access college systems. Luckily, it did. We introduced ourselves to the students and they introduced themselves to us. Will, Antony, Charlie, Connor, Chris, and Dylan. Music tech students. Rather than sit them down and lecture them, we opted for ACTION and immediately took them outdoors to experience SATSYMPH-HERMES – our portable contemporary music/poetry fusion scape which you can layout anywhere in the world you wish, then wander around in. They opened the virtual auditorium along a thin strip of green and wandered around in it, to the bemusement of other students and lecturers drinking coffee and smoking in the sun, This was definitely fun, and a good introduction to non-linear user-directed GPS locative technologies.
Student: I get it
Ralph: OK, what is it? Hang on – actually, this is interesting. We’ve worked with this technology since (for ever), but still have difficulty putting how it works into words. So, what exactly do you get?
Student: It works in radiuses – you walk into the radius, it triggers the sound; you exit, it stops
Ralph: Yup, you got it in one.
(sorry, can’t find the HTML for line-up a script)
After fortifying ourselves with hot chocolate, or tea (some of us even pigged out on very solid pastries) we went back into the room and went through the sounds the students had recorded with DIVA (as mixed down by David and Marc).
Ralph Hoyte’s site-specific material was part of this mix. Ralph had been asked to compile this content as the only references to the Kingston Russell Stone Circle were perfunctory or dry and academic at best. No known myths or folk tales are specifically attached to the stones. Ralph therefore wrote a poem-script which referenced generic stories about stone circles, such as that ’the stones cannot be counted’, or that ‘the stones will tell you the name of your future husband’ and used these mixed with factual information for his script.
The next stage was to draw the sound regions which the audio clips were to inhabit. We did this as we usually do by projecting the Appfurnace interface onto a wall, thus making the whole process, including the coding, transparent.
We wanted to place a specific region over ‘the hidden barrow’, but, as the barrow is indeed aptly described, it could not be found to place a region over (it’s. er, ‘hidden’, duh)
After completion of this process we ran a simulation, then retired for the day. This was the initial draft scape >>>
… and this was the final virtual scape as agreed with the students >>>
The day was beautiful. The three of us parked up just below the Grey Mare site (there are three located sites very close together in this area) and waited in the sun for the mini-bus with the Weymouth students and Alex, the lecturer, to arrive. The walk to the Kingston Russell Stone Circle takes about 20 min, and goes past the Grey Mare and her Colts (invisible behind a high hedge, tho’). It was one of those incredible English spring days just after the fresh green leaves have broken out of their barky confines. Bluebells, white Cotoneastor, Greater Stitchwort, an almost snowy covering of Ribwort Plantain, lush green grass; high on the ridge with views over chalk downs, tree’d valleys, in the distance Chesil Bank. What could be more idyllic?
Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!
[Home Thoughts from Abroad
But enough of the ‘hey-nonny-no’-ing! We arrived at what I’m going to from now call KRSC, synchronized chronometers, checked we’d got a GPS fix … and wandered.
I was impressed: the scape did what it said on the can. The zones triggered perfectly and the locating was top-notch: as you approach the Wild Wood the woodland scenario opens out in your head (I love these clumps, circles of twisted, almost human beech trees you get high on chalk downs). As you wander around the field; that fades, and the story scenario opens out. Everyone thought it was fantastic that exactly as you cross the threshold of the actual stone circle (which isn’t much more than about 20m in diameter) this ‘Neolithic humming’ kicks off. Step out of the circle, it stops. Step in again, and it starts again. Fantastically evocative of what this site was/could have been to its builders!
After a thorough wander we all convened at the stone circle to have lunch, crack jokes (…) and discuss. There were a few minor adjustments to be made: move in the ‘L’ of the region nearer the trees; the ‘site introduction/factual’ north region had been mistakenly placed over a gate which was not on the public footpath (this shows the importance of ‘on-the-ground testing: what looks like the exit from a field on Google maps may not be etc); we couldn’t find ‘the hidden burrow’ on the ground either as it was, ahem – hidden (to be reprised with Victoria and the archaeologists and post-edited in). Otherwise we were well-pleased with our work.
We forced the kids to do their evaluation (!) – actually it was all very good-tempered and friendly, they were really up for it, and we had a great time with them – wandered back to the carpark and they departed. Their evaluations said:
- ‘I learnt new things in a fun way’
- ‘It worked very well in location. It felt good to go from designer to seeing our ideas in action’
- ‘The app has helped me understand the landscape’ (I like that one!)
- ‘it gives people a fun and descriptive view on the landscape’
- ‘Stepping in and out of the stone circle – the humming starts’
- ‘..opens up your imagination to new possibilities’
- ‘the app allows people to research about the site whilst on site’
- ‘I definitely feel different about the site. It feels like we are linked to the surrounding area more than before’
- ‘the most interesting part was looking into how to make an app and talking about it with people who know what they’re doing’
The lecturer (Alex McKechnie, Lecturer in Digital Arts, Weymouth College) said:
“The students thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learned many new skills. It was their first exposure to working with nonlinear composition, and Marc made it accessible and fun for them. They went from initial workshops experimenting with sounds, through to the technical aspects of editing sounds and positioning them with GPS systems. The final day featured a visit to the site to test the product, and it was interesting to see how committed they were to ensuring that the ‘right sounds’ played in the ‘right places’ – they were engaged and had clearly taken ownership of their contributions. This was valuable not only in teaching them about the technical and creative aspects of such work, but it also meant that they were seriously experiencing a work of modern art. Their horizons were expanded, and their understanding of how sound and space relate to each other was deepened.”