Guinea-Pig Run

Well it's a lot later than the 'tomorrow' promised on 11 February. Cue Sandy Denny:

Now 7, er, 8th March

Very good 'guinea-pig session' with Rose Osmond-Wallis's 'heritage in practice' and 'crime and protest' students and Steve Poole (all UWE - University of the West of England) on 7 Feb, thank you all for the seriousness with which you investigated the GPS-triggered soundscape and for all your feedback afterwards, which gave much food for thought!

The main points concerned interpretation: how much, if any, background information (about the 1831 Reform Riots) should the app provide, and should this be as text on-screen, or as an audio-introduction?

Given that the original 1831 RIOT! from 2004 was meant to provide an immersive experience of what the riots were like, NOT a historical reenactment, and that its actual main purpose was to trial the in-development mobile technologies by Hewlett-Packard, we, in the 2018 remake, did not want to 'over-explain' it, but, again, immerse people in the riots as an experience. 

A discussion with Liz after the 7 March trial reinforced that point for me: it's not a historical reenactment, it's an immersive audio-play based on authentic period sources. At its baldest, 'immersive' means 'no explanation - just do it', but, in practice, what we have done is stick with the 'portal' idea: 

you enter 1831 RIOT! through a single portal layered over Thunderbolt Square (the edge of Queen Square nearest the centre - off the beginning of King St - that's the street with The Old Vic in it). This doesn't seem to have been quite working for the 'guinea-pig' run, which could explain some of the 'what's going on???' confusion. What was supposed to happen, and what DID happen in my last test-run (7/3) is that what the participant first hears on entry through the portal, is 'FrysLetter' - an actual letter written by Joseph Fry (of chocolate fame) - in which he comments on the riots and expresses his anxiety for his family. This presents an embedded and thus natural and authentic introduction without invoking an outside narrator from the 21st century. The participant then proceeds to 'balladeer' - again, an 'authentic' introduction, in the sense that the balladeer is singing of the riots in 19th century balladeer style. If you want to cavil, then, no, the actual riots did not have a balladeer standing at the corner of the square singing  ... but, hey, this is art, not history!

We submit that this solution covers the 'interpretation' query whilst satisfying artistic integrity issues. The welcome screen on opening the app gives a bit more background:

(Might change the colours there .... the warning about bicycles is serious: lots of cyclists cycle quite quickly thru' the square!)

Then it's into the immersive experience. I have stripped the 'what-to-do' on-screen instructions - what to do is wander and find out; the mechanics of the experience are there, of course, but not expressed. A major change is that in this latest iteration you don't have to change zones to get a satisfactory experience: stay in one place and you will be fed all the soundfiles from that zone. Move to another zone - c'mon, use your ears! - and you will get the soundfiles from that zone. You don't have to be mobile to get a good experience (thanks, Liz, who pointed this out to me. Interestingly enough, this also improves the experience: the whole thing is much denser now).

One of the other points discussed with 'the guinea-pigs' was 'the background ambient': SATSYMPH have found that if a soundfile is played in a 'scape, and silence then follows it, participants, of course, do not know whether this silence means another soundfile will follow - or that the thing is broke; so they take their phone out of their pocket and start poking it, breaking the immersive flow. So we always have background ambient. Two variants were presented to the 'guinea-pigs': background 18th century music, or background 'general riot noises'. In the event, the vote was split 50:50. Great! A casting vote preferred 'general riot noises'. QED. So we ignored everyone and mixed 'general riot noises' and '18th century music' and turned the volume down (it'll probably please no-one, in that case. Bit like Brexit, then).

The 7 March test I found quite magical. Some of the soundfiles, especially 'DragoonCharge' still make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. And it brought it home to me (again) that 1831 RIOT! is still 'an audio-play for an intelligent environment'. Why? Well, the aforementioned 'balladeer', as aforementioned, did not stand on the corner of the square and sing about the riots while they were going on, did he? Neither did Jacob Fry read his letter out loud at the entrance to the square. Those indoor soundfile conversations which can be heard outdoors took place indoors and not outdoors (!). The Good Bishop trying to be brave in his cathedral was in his cathedral on College Green, not on Queen Square.

It's a play. That's how it was made.


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