The audio experience Ghostwriter by the Internationally acclaimed artist group Blast Theory takes you on a journey that reconfigures the familiar narratives of museums. Memories or imaginings become present; the scent of once stabled animals lingers in the room, a voice suggests. Perceptual attention refocused you breathe in the musty smell. Truths blur with the characters embodied in personal letters. Looking upon a cabinet of metal hoops is followed by the realization that they once held the necks of slaves. What is old, our present encounter with the gleaming newness of prehistoric tools? What is the value and significance of objects; are they taken or given, we are asked?
The transformative experience of Ghostwriter resonates beyond the museum and repeatedly returns, as if catching at the edges of a dream.
Ghostwriter can be experienced on your mobile phone at The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter.
Ghostwriter was commissioned by the partnership programme New Expressions, a collaboration between contemporary visual artists and museums in the South West. New Expressions 2 is funded by MLA Renaissance South West and the National Lottery through Grants for the Arts.
Expanded Narrative is an online resource for practitioners, educators and researchers. It is concerned with interactive narrative and storytelling in its multifarious forms from locative media and sound to experimental performance and games.
Expanded Narrative – Videos, offers an evolving directory of interviews that discuss work, approaches and methods with practitioners and experts in the field. Links are provided to examples of work, related information and articles.
Expanded Narrative – Educational resources, offers materials to for lecturers, predominately in higher education, for integrating locative narrative into the arts curriculum. The resources are made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Expanded Narrative – News, highlights forthcoming international conferences and events and offers reviews of recent publications and events .
Work with curators and live gamers to deliver an experiential game for the weekend of PLAYER festival on 1 and 2 October and for a chance to win the Science Museum’s PLAYER Award 2011.”
Holly Gramazio, Hide and Seek
Tassos Stevens, Coney
Matt Adams, Blast Theory
A Science Museum event, produced by Trigger
To book please call general museum booking number 0870 870 4868 please note there is a £1 booking fee”
“Blending secret missions and high adrenalin, you will be in an interactive heist movie playing the lead role. It takes part in the streets of Brighton and is played through your mobile phone and your mind!” Blast Theory
A heist is taking place and you are implicated.
Outside the disused theatre, boarded-up, you wait. Glancing around you notice fast walking shoppers and a few metres to your left, clasping bottles, a group of red-faced men roll around on the pavement. The mobile rings, it is a recorded message from Machine to See With and warning that you are responsible for your own actions, legal or illegal (?). The voice informs you that you are being watched, that cameras are trained and following your every move. With the phone pinned to your ear you are given directions to walk, first right, then through a passageway, down streets, across roads. Now locked inside a toilet cubicle, the recorded voice at the end of the phone conducts a psychometric test.
Your answers will have a bearing on your role in the heist. You hide money about your person. You can hear those oblivious to your mission, queuing outside the door. Now you are set apart from the world around you, trying to act normal. It begins. On the top floor of the multistory car park, you look down to the city below and skulk between parked cars. You are looking for a registration number, a BMW. You are supposed to get into the car. Alarm bells are ringing. Are you on CCTV? It’s not your car, what’s/who’s inside? What’s going to happen next? Is this safe??? You circle around the edge of the car park discreetly watching the car and thinking, if I get in the car others will see me? Minutes pass. A man in a black jacket walks swiftly towards the car. He opens the driver’s door and gets in. You press ‘1’ on your phone to indicate that this has occurred. Walking towards the car you make the decision and get into the passenger seat. Glancing towards the driver you say ‘hello’. Phones ring. You are told that you and the driver are partners in the heist. Your partner tells you his plan. He seems to have it all worked out. Should you go along with his plan? Offer other suggestions? There is no time for this because you now you must run down to the fourth floor and look over the parapet. Your partner emerges on the street. You can see the entrance to the bank and your partner has disappeared. Later – you are now running away from your partner, he must not see where you have gone, you must make your way to the next location. Later – with the sense that the end is in sight, you are standing outside of the amusement arcade clutching the money and deciding which person to give it to…
Blast Theory’s Locative Narrative, A Machine to See With places you as a lead character in classic film heist. Popular culture so steeped in the conventions of the genre, make a prescribed back-story unnecessary. It is assumed that the participant will draw upon their ‘storehouse’ of scenarios, prompted by the familiar signifiers of the mastermind masked behind recorded messages, the division between the state and the underworld, the public and the agent and the dual identity of the streets.
Blast Theory’s Machine to See With A Machine To See With has a maximum number of six participants beginning every fifteen minutes at individual places in the city. A recorded message gives directions towards a number of key locations, at which participants arrive at staggered times. The drama is structured as a series participant/location specific nodes and core nodes. At particular times it appears that a participant’s actions cause a particular character role and subsequent story trajectory to come into effect, for example, by selecting an appropriate number on their mobile to indicate if they have got into the driver’s seat, the passenger seat or not got into the car. The short psychometric test is apparently used to identify your personality type and your subsequent role in the heist. The experience is that of an emergent narrative, partially determined by role-playing and following instructions and partially, it seems, based on chance, which participant arrives at a location at the same time as another.
Interaction occurs by pressing buttons on the mobile to indicate when an action has happened, or when another participant is present, walking/acting in the location and potentially conferring with others. Some participants are also asked to devise plans, coming up with an escape route or deciding on what to ‘steal’ from the bank.
Immersion in the experience is predominately dependent upon the participant’s willingness to role-play. The use of the mobile phone is successfully integrated into the experience as a legitimate ‘prop’ of a character involved in a heist. Unlike many locative narrative experiences, the presence of the devise is not incongruous within the story-world nor does usability break the suspension of disbelief. The ability to replay the last message by dialing the number is an important feature especially as the spoken instructions are the only method of navigating through the city and the story.
In an informal debrief with participants Phil and Becky, the overall impressions Machine to See With was of an engaging and immersive experience peppered with real tension. When the rules of everyday behaviour were challenged, receiving secret messages in a toilet cubicle, hiding in a car park and getting into an unknown car, greater immersion in both the role-playing and story was evoked. The duration of Machine to See With was approximately an hour. It was generally felt that it could have been extended and that the ending came too soon (with possibly an anticlimax). There were a number of elements that did not seem to develop on this particular occasion, for example, the escape plans were not used or mentioned again. Further connections between the participants would have added another dimension to the experience.
A participant that had taken part on a different day reported that the experience was marred by the fact that their starting time occurred after the bank to be robbed had closed and this rendered some of the story impossible.
A Machine To See With offered a generally carefully constructed and well-produced Interactive Locative Narrative experience. Drawing upon the cinematic conventions of the heist, Brighton is augmented by the disembodied voice that successfully performs your transformation into a gangster, if only for an hour.
Unlike a flash mob (a gathering of a group of strangers in a crowd who suddenly perform an action on mass, that amaze or surprize the rest of the crowd), the Subtlemob ‘as if it were the last time’ unfolded poetically over thirty minutes.
An air of the unexpected surrounds Duncan Speakman’s Subtlemob events. Open to anyone and a partner who wishes to participate. Registering you await further instruction. The anticipation builds, then close to the event, via email, the exact location is revealed. An MP3 and detailed instructions are provided. Listening to the MP3 is prohibited until the specified date and time. The very particular preparation is not merely functional. It signals that you are not merely an attendee but a participant.
Once located inside the Midsummer Place Shopping Centre, you and your partner are surrounded by the familiar sights and sounds of the generic shopping mall experience. Watches synchronised, the MP3 begins. As the calm voice tells you what to do, the space begins to loose its frenetic quality and slows down. No longer in the role of a shopper, channelled through corridors moving between outlets, your purpose is now different from those around you. Shoppers become interesting subjects to gaze at and you become aware of yourself moving through the space.
Something like a play unfolds, but it is unclear if what you are hearing pertains to what you see. Are you and your partner (listening on their own MP3 player) the characters described, or is it those people over there…? The ‘us’ and ‘them’ is dissolved in the unifying of all anxieties, all suffering, all happiness, all fear; yet you are forever separated from those around you because they can’t hear what you are hearing. Are they participants? You look around, trying to make connections with others hidden in the crowd, who may be looking at you, as you stare intently at your partner.
Recorded sounds overlay with live sounds in the space. They fuse, deepening your immersion, then clash. You are jolted back into the space, and then immersed once again as you spot a possible participant smiling at you; are you their archetypal character?
Moving your body in the ways directed, you glance around, are there others colluding in this ‘secret club’?
Your fellow participants converge and partners dance. You are revealed to each other and those around you, and then the recording comes to an end. Bereft, like reading the last words of a good book, or as the credits roll and the lights come up, you know that things are not as they were thirty minutes ago. In the inbetween space, of knowing and not knowing, the fact and fiction interweave once again, as previously complete strangers – participants greet each other warmly as friends.
June 11 -13 2010 (workshops June 19) hosted by KQED, San Francisco.
The City Centred Festival of Locative Media and Urban Community brought together a broad range of practices from artists, researchers, urban planners, community organisers, educators and computer programmers. The Festival began with a symposium over two days, followed by an art walk and hands-on workshops the following weekend.
Krissy Clark ‘Block of Time , O’ Farrell Street (2010), San Francisco
Held at KQED, the San Franciscan based Northern California Public Broadcasting organisation, the programme was divided into two areas ‘Sensing the City – Data Visualization and Urban Life’ and ‘Location, Politics, and Community’. Here the sense of an overarching rationale ended. The disparity of the intensely localised focus on the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, that included consideration of topography, demographics, noise levels of specific streets, to the wide ranging debates of cities and media more generally, may have left the audience wondering about the intention of the symposium. But, it was this very layering of modes of delivery, from performance poetry, bar graphs and newsreel footage, that created the convergence/divergence of ideas, from which came an emergent narrative.
The diversity of speakers were differentiated not only by the specialism of their practice, but by their tone. The impassioned evangelising of localised public services and the role of storytelling, delivered by Willa Seldon (CEO, Glide Foundation and Chair of the Board of Directors of KQED) was preceded by the keynote speaker Joel Slayton’s theoretical play with the notion of the physical and the virtual path, entitled The Nature of Path/Minimal Dislocation.
TenderVoice, created by a team led by Jake Levitas & Mayra Madriz, is an interactive web based application that uses a simple game format to link sound clips of voices from the community with specific services and resources available in at locations on a map of the Tenderloin. With a key presence at the Tenderloin Tech Lab, a facility specialising in adult computer and employment skills training, the project aims to raise awareness of local facilities. This project has a clear functional aim, underpinned by a strong ideological focus on social justice. The interface is clear and intuitive and importantly the application has an option to access the community information without the game, which would have limited playability after initial use. The presentation of the project described the application, that is a worthy endeavour, but it was unclear why it was jointly sponsored by the Grey Area Foundation For the Arts, or presented as art and included in the ‘Art Walk’.
The sister project of TenderVoice, TenderNoise was created by ARUP, Movity & Stamen Design, a project that collected sound data from locations within the Tenderloin district. The website produces a visual interpretation of the sound as a colour coded time line, plotting the decibels over a few days. Simultaneously animated bursts of colour appear over the Tenderloin map that correlate with the timeline. The website declares that the data is available for any interested parties from city planners to residents but direct application of the data is not suggested. The website exists as beautifully designed information graphics, and as a document, whose purpose is not fixed.
Stamen Design‘s Ben Cerveny‘s presentation stood out, as it moved from the descriptive, of the Tendervoice/Tendernoise projects, to an articulate discussion of the perspectives from which the city may be analysed. Cerveny considered the qualitative value of sound in the city, identifying the interplay between hypermediated subjectivity of a multitude of voices and the collection of abstract mediated data. Cerveny offered a model for relating the individual to the abstract by asking what affordances we are giving the city.
Brooke Singer of Preemptive Media, the critically engaged artist activist group, discussed technology enabled projects that alert the public to a range of social ills. ‘AIR’ Area’s Immediate Reading 2006 used portable air quality measurement kits to monitor various air pollutants in Lower Manhattan and involved the community in the visualisation of the data. Zapped! 2005 alerted the public to potential confidentiality infringement posed by RFID tags. In a recent project Superfund 365 Singer visited and recorded sites across America that have ‘Superfund’ status – sites that have been deemed hazardous waste sites and attract funding for their clean-up. The accompanying website Superfund 365 collates data concerning the selected 365 sites and reveals that the status of these sites are often unknown to the public and whose locations are as diverse a supermarket car park to popular beauty spots.
Although not discussed within the presentation, Singer’s work falls clearly within the tradition of politically motivated art that seeks to subvert the status quo, stimulate debate and potentially provoke social and political change. Often the means used to produce the work are the media associated with its target: advertising techniques; ‘official’ websites; physical re-enactment; re-purposed technology. The work often has the aesthetic of the ‘pseudo official’ and so satirises the notion of legitimation and implicit power structures. Adbusters, Recode, Guerrilla Girls and the historical legacy of Dada and John Heartfield form the context of Singer’s work.
Paula Levine describes her work Transposing Spaces as “transposing events of one place over another”. This deceptively simple device of overlaying the places, events and stories from the West Bank in Israel over the top of the map of San Francisco creates a powerful connection between geographically and politically disparate places. Levine cites Sontag’s notion of images as bridges to empathy, the impact of which was explored with students at San Francisco State University, as they overlaid the West Bank Wall onto the map of San Francisco and charted the effect the wall would have on their own lives.
Catherine Herdlick‘s presentation entitled Rediscovering Cities Through Play, also transforms perceptions of the city with a dynamically different approach. Involving participants in collaborative forms of play, the city becomes a giant playground and setting for a number of games. The Come Out and Play Festival began in 2005 by Herdlick and colleagues and involves,
“…street games, pervasive games, new urban games, big games, locative games, location-aware games, location-based games, gps games, flash mob games, augmented reality games, scavenger hunts, art-sports, and even LARPs…” http://www.comeoutandplay.org.
The games in the Come Out and Play Festival take diverse forms, from the politically motivated spray chalk game with the purpose of drawing attention to possible cycle lanes, to narrative, puzzle, adventure or historical games.
The Come Out and Play Festival has an international following, inspiring many similar events including London’s Hide & Seek Festival. Interactive and location based games have long fallen within the territory of UK based artist group Blast Theory.
Day three of the City Centered A Festival of Locative Media and Urban Community invited participants to an Art Walk, ten projects sited within the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Block of Time: O’Farrell Street by Krissy Clark stood out as a resolved work that immersed the participant and was specific to the site within the Tenderloin district.
Telephone numbers were placed on the floor every few feet along O’Farrell Street, simply signposted by a balloon. Approaching the balloons in any order, participants were invited to use their mobile phones to ring the numbers. The answering voice (a voice mail box recording) was of a contemporary or previous resident of O’Farrell Street. The voices, actual residents or re-enacted voices of previous residents, spoke about themselves and their connection with the point on O’Farrell Street, on which you were standing. The tales were sometimes shocking, others sad, amusing or revealing of how their lives and the geography of the street had evolved. O’Farrell Street had many identities in the last hundred and fifty years and was once close to the sea.
As if in personal conversation, sounds from the street blended with the recorded voices, merging the past with the present. Standing in front of modern offices and parking, a house that once stood there is described. The voice is the reminiscences of a Victorian woman as she recalls her family home. Small details, such as the thickness of the carpet, evoke an O’Farrell Street of the past, in the imagination of the listener.
The soundscape as immersive site-specific experience has been frequently used by artists over the last twenty years and is increasingly adopted by arts and heritage industries. The use of mobile phones makes artwork increasingly accessible without the need for specialist hardware and provides the possibility of experimental and non-linear narrative.
SENSEable Cities: Exploring Urban Futures is an exhibition of projects by MIT SENSEable Cities Lab, at the Grey Area Foundation for the Arts, located within the Tenderloin. This polished exhibition utilises the white cube aesthetic to display a large selection of innovative technology driven projects from MIT ‘s SENSEable Cities Lab.
Eloquent solutions to issues within urban planning, collection of data via mobile technologies and green transport are amongst the many projects. Presented as a series of short information videos with accompanying information, as seen on the SENSEable Cities website. Predominately a technology and design retrospective of the successful research department, there are moments of poetic beauty, as in the work entitled Flyfire 2010.“The Flyfire project sets out to explore the capabilities of this display system by using a large number of self-organizing micro helicopters. Each helicopter contains small LEDs and acts as a smart pixel. Through precisely controlled movements, the helicopters perform elaborate and synchronized motions and form an elastic display surface for any desired scenario.”
“The Flyfire project sets out to explore the capabilities of this display system by using a large number of self-organizing micro helicopters. Each helicopter contains small LEDs and acts as a smart pixel. Through precisely controlled movements, the helicopters perform elaborate and synchronized motions and form an elastic display surface for any desired scenario.” http://senseable.mit.edu/flyfire
Closely reminiscent of James Whitney‘s painstakingly produced kaleidoscopic animations from 1960’s, Flyfire captivates the imagination, the fantastical notion of tiny robotic helicopters producing a tinker-bell-like light display. The video is an animated imagining of the project, and as such, it evokes a romanticism, a level of engagement that the clever realisations of more functional projects do not reach.
Locative media, as a term, is often used to refer to the use of digital technologies that utilise the specific geographical location of an individual or object to collect or deliver information, for example, GPS, mobile phones, RFID etc. The festival provided a lexicon of possible interpretations of locative media that included art work made to be seen in, or as part of a specific location (site specific art), services that are specific to the local inhabitants, location specific data collection, citizen journalism, location specific digital storytelling, location specific political activism, location inspired poetry…
While a coherent theoretical underpinning did not unify the festival, the diversity of projects and scope, ambition and passion of the organisers Elizabeth Goodman, Kari Gray, Molly Hankwitz, Paula Levine, Josette Melchor, Leslie Rule and contributors, warmly welcomed the audience in an ongoing and emerging debate.
Expanded NarrativeExpanded narrative is a new field of experimental narrative practices that are not represented by single subjects or by categories such as ‘interactive’. Fiction or nonfiction works that present a challenge to their particular category or genre, in terms of structure, style of writing or audience engagement, may be described as expanded narratives. This is the home of the Expanded Narrative Research Network. The network is concerned with exploring the multidisciplinary field of narrative practices that reconfigure the form and expand the experience of storytelling. This site offers news, reviews, resources and a space for an exchange of ideas with practitioners, educators and researchers, concerned with pervasive games, interactive, locative and transmedia narrative and storytelling.
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