All our Fairytales: part 4

Yesterday’s post was this morning. This is today’s post. I’ve been talking about alternatives to “you cheap lousy faggot.” This version by vlogger Hazel Hayes deserves a mention.

It’s not great musically. It isn’t bad either. It’s a couple sitting on a sofa with a guitar. They are not trying to be Ed Sheeran and Anne-Marie. They leave “slut” and “arse” alone, and have come up with an equivalent, direct and offensive alternative to the difficult lyric. I think Shane would approve.

I should label this NSFW (Not Safe For Work). Don’t play this at full volume in polite company.

All our Fairytales: part 3

Oh its hard this, doing a post every day. I was very busy yesterday so this will be the first of two posts today. On Wednesday I mentioned that the alternative lyrics “you’re cheap and you’re haggard” were made up on the spur of the moment by McColl in the moments before going on stage at the BBC for top of the pops. I mentioned there was a better alternative, and its this one.

Now, ignore the words on the screen, they are the original lyrics. But listen to to what Ed Sheeran and Ann-Marie sing. The improved alternative lyric is “you cheap lousy blaggard.” This is closer to the spirit of the original lyric. A blaggard (or blaggart) is a derivation of blackguard, a man who behaves in a dishonourable or contemptible way. Indeed I think it might be a more fitting insult for Shane’s character in the original song, and I wish, wish, wish that Kirsty McColl had thought of it in those BBC studios. It would have been a far better alternative.

I am not a fan of Sheeran and Anne-Marie’s rendition of the song though. Its not one I listen to at all. And only on listening this time around to I see that “slut” is replaced by “gal” and in “you’re an old gal on junk” (Really? REALLY? oh Sheeran! You give with one hand and take away with the other.) And even worse, “Merry Christmas my arse” is replaced with a garbled “Merry Christmas your mother”!

“Merry Christmas your mother”? What does that even mean?! What exactly is wrong with arse!? And how does insulting my mother make it any less misogynistic?

Dreadful.

I note this interest that on the lyrics, the ones on this video, this is the only change that is reflected in the lyrics. Whoever typed those out was OK (or even rebelliously reactionary, I don’t know) with “slut” and “faggot” but the line when “arse” was mentioned.

All our Fairytales: part 2

Years ago I was in Woolworths (remember Woolworths?) looking for… something? It might have been 2001 and I was looking for Ladybird branded baby clothes because my daughter, Lily had been born that year. Anyway, I had a disturbing experience> I felt something viscerally familiar and yet… wrong. Woolworths of course sold records and CDs, and piped music around the store. I heard a familiar tune. One that I knew I was meant to like, to enjoy even, but somehow, I just … couldn’t. And then they sang “You’re cheap and you’re haggard” and my brain snapped. An inner fury swelled up in me.

You are turning my music into Muzak you bastards!

Then, I didn’t now who it was. I didn’t want to know. But I later found out it was a cover by boyband alum, Roan Keating and collaborator Moya Brennan.

Keating puts on a wavering warble for this rendition. The Pogues-like piano is accompanies by a full string orchestra, because … I guess because its Christmas. There are some Irish touches, a penny whistle or two, but its not … its not great. Its not so bad that I can enjoy it for its mediocrity, except when they start singing “na na na nah na nah.” Its good enough to be really, really really annoying! Close enough to the original to hook me, and yet so distant that it makes me want to vomit.

I hate it.

One of the reasons I hated it at the time was that altered lyric: swapping out “you cheap lousy faggot” for “you’re cheap and you’re haggard.” What does that even mean? It replaces an invective spat through clenched teeth for an expression of concern that the other party looks a bit under the weather. At the time I was ready to blame Keating and his producers for bowdlerising the poetry, but I latter found out the change was made by Kirsty McColl in the studio at the BBC just before performing live (?!) on Top of the Pops. So the “you’re cheap and you’re haggard” version is in fact older than I imagined.

Since then the lyrics have become contentious. The song has been banned, then un-banned in previous years. And this year, the BBC last month announced that Kirsty will sing “you’re cheap and your haggard” on BBC Radio 1, “you cheap lousy faggot” on Radio 2, and both or rather either on Radio 6, where the music is curated by individual presenters.

So Keating and Brennan were ahead of the curve.

Is it offensive? Of course it is. The Guardian recently asked LBGTQ+ listeners to explain how the word makes them feel. In that article Luke Turner says “This is a song suited to being bellowed out by absolutely hammered people at their seasonal dos, a last collective singalong for the office party before everyone disperses to be sick into a McDonald’s bag on the commute home. I’ve heard it happen, and as a bisexual man, a load of straight people suddenly singing “cheap lousy faggot” has made me feel uncomfortable.”

I am not going to argue for the “original” version, given that the Pogues and McColl themselves created the alternative lyrics. But I do wish the alternative had been slightly better. There is indeed a version with a better alternative which I will present later in the month.

I note that the annual furore over the lyrics now also includes another line. The BBC will censor “You’re an old slut on junk” on Radio 1. A line which, I note, the Keating version retains.

All our Fairytales: part 1

A little something different for this month – every day of (the secular) advent, I will be posting link to a different version of the now famous Christmas song, which was created in the eighties by my very favourite band. No! Stick with me, you will enjoy this, honestly … 😀

As we work though this veritable feast of Fairytales, we will talk about controversial lyrics, cultural impact and what this song means to me, and to you. I have a pretty good idea what my 24 different versions will be, but if you want to bring an interesting version to my attention, please do. I may even kick out one of my planned versions and replace it with your suggestion.

By the way, I passed my viva, referred to in the last post. I have some modest corrections to do, and a bit of reading around those, but you can call me Doctor in the meantime.

Now on to our first Fairytale. This is an early version, incomplete and recorded only for further development. It has Cait O’Riordan on the duet. Cait was an original member of the Pogues. Her solo, I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Every Day and hand her other duet with Shane, Haunted for the Alex Cox film, Sid and Nancy are two of my favourite Pogues tracks ever. Later on in the month, we will talk about why Fairytale isn’t.

We start with this version simply to show that genius sometime takes hard work and the development between this version and the one everybody knows is clear to see. It’s not widely available. You won’t find it on Spotify or Apple Music but the compilation album, Look ’em in the eye and say Pogue Mahone, has a number of early versions. Don’t worry, the is the only one I will incflict on you for this blog.

Back, for a while at least

Woah! It’s been over a year since I last post anything on here. I return because later today is my viva voce, wherein I “defend my thesis.” Yes, that’s why I have been silent on here, I have been hammering my thesis into a shape that I am not ashamed of, reading it, proofing it, getting others to read it and proof it (and yet, yes, there are still typos) and submitting.

For the last couple of weeks, in preparation for tomorrow, I have been re-reading the thesis, meeting (virtually) with my supervisor and recruiting an old friend and academic Jane Malcolm-Davies to read it and to give me a practice viva, last week. Reading it is hard though – after a year of writing and re-writing, the words flow through me like a purge barely touching the sides. And all I take note of are the things I might have done better. The practice viva was a very useful experience though, and so I thought I might give myself another “practice” by writing this post.

What brought me back to the blog was recognising a sentence that had survived from one of my earliest posts, though eight years of other work and re-writes and edits. This blog was a useful way of processing my reading and other research as I was going it. It wasn’t what I needed though when I was rewriting the words that might have started on this site. And as this is the last chance to read my own thesis for the viva, I thought I might process it with a blog post in a similar way, hopefully anticipating some of the questions

Who is my audience?

One question Jane asked me about the thesis was “who are you writing this for?” And it’s a good question. It gave me pause to think. But I think the answer is I writ it for myself, and for people like me, heritage professionals who want to explore what digital interventions might be like, and who don’t want to be reliant on digital suppliers to tell heritage organisations what they need.

When I started this, eight years ago, I came into it with a truly open mind. My question really was “what can I and my fellow heritage professionals learn from games about storytelling in space?” I had no agenda, no thesis I wanted to test and, importantly no real experience in computer games. I guess I saw computer games as competition for my sector. Not financially speaking really (we are no completion for that global behemoth of games production); but for share of mind or… actually share of mind. I often tell the anecdote of a colleague who came to me saying that a game had made him cry the night before. At the time our organisation were trying to improve “emotional impact”, and as someone who had spurned computer games in my teens because they didn’t engage my emotions. I was intrigued, at the time my organisation was very interested it what we called emotional impact. If computer games could make my friend and colleague cry, perhaps we could learn something from them about storytelling.

So I didn’t apply for the PhD with any sort of hypothesis in mind. This was possibly a mistake, but I genuinely wanted to work out how games (and I should say “open world games”) that let the player wonder around an environment, manipulated emotion.

How did my research change?

When I started out, if I had any defined ambition at all, it might have been to create an application that tuned a heritage visit into some sort of investigative game. And I think I was definitely imagining the mobile device as the conduit of communication between place and person. Two bits of my research changed that ambition, neither of which fit into the main narrative of the thesis but were I feel worthy of including in an appendix, if only to explain why that wasn’t a route I was following.

What was a surprise to me, was during the “reading” of the three games I played, the realisation of just how poor heritage storytelling is. Note I say storytelling here specifically. It can be argued that “heritage interpretation” isn’t “storytelling,” but such an argument is broadly incompatible with a desire to engage visitors emotionally. This became research in practice with two aims: the first to see if heritage interpretation narratives could be broken down into natoms (narrative atoms), stored and reassembled to satisfy visitor’s needs; and secondly to explore how they might be put together in an emotionally engaging way.

What would I have done differently?

With the benefit of hindsight, of course I would have concentrated on this narrative conundrum from the beginning, but even arriving at the conundrum was, for me, a damascene revelation. As a professional interpreter who has been confidently telling stories in the sector for decades, realising that I might have been telling the “wrong” stories.

But practical things I would have done differently – it was only in the latter stages that I realised what useful tool Robin Laws’s story beats and transition analysis was. I wish I had found it earlier and used it to analyse at least parts of the three computer games I read.

Speaking of things I wish I had found earlier. When I was scouting around in the early stages for a “narrative database” I could easily use, the meSch project, which is written specifically for curators and heritage professionals, was only just starting. In the end I used Scalar which is written for academics, but not for the heritage environment. But had meSch been around it would have been a perfect platform to experiment with

One other thing that might fit as an answer to this question is, had I switched to my current supervision team earlier in my research I could easily have been persuaded to drop the narrative track entirely and focus instead on music and sound – where there is simply not enough research on its use in the heritage environment.

Challenges

Focussing on the academic challenges, the subject of cultural heritage interpretation overlaps so many academic disciplines that even producing a literature review was really hard. And then, pushing the work forward, I felt all the time I was falling between two stools – science and humanities. For example, exploring affect outside of the psychology, and databases outside of computing, but at the same time wanting to write something that could be understood, and taken forward, by both museum professionals and data engineers.

Where do I take this?

In the conclusion I detail a number of potential paths for further research. The one that I am most interested in professionally if further understanding, and potentially measuring, numen. I think this concept is closer to what museums and heritage sites really mean, when they talk about emotional engagement. But defining in properly and working out ways to measure it, will take a lot of work.

I am also excited by meSch – a tool written for professionals just like me. And I would love to take it for a spin on a future project, creating adaptive, personalised stories for visitors. But not just “visitors.”

I say that because my research was based very much around making the experience of people in places better, talking about responsive environments better meeting visitors’ needs. I deliberately eschewed virtual experiences, except when I first prototyped an adaptive story for the then closed Clandon Park. But in the last few months visiting places physically has been restricted. And its made me realise that the paradigm shift in story telling that I have advised for responsive environments might just as easily be applied to virtual visits. Despite being only a prototype, the Clandon experience was more satisfying for me as a creator, for reasons I explain in chapter 4. Perhaps there is be a chance, a need even, to create new personalised adaptive event numerous stories on-line.

Well that’s all the time I have. My via starts in 30 seconds

wish me luck

Mobile devices in heritage, why not?

Ages ago I surveyed people about mobile gaming and heritage. The results were not encouraging for my thesis, because interest in mobile gaming seemed low. Just under 200 people completed the survey, and most of them had at least heard of Minecraft (just 5% had not). But when asked about the most popular location-based game at the time, Ingress, the vast majority, 178 people (81.3%) hadn’t even heard of it.

Since then of course Pokemon Go happened. It’s by the same company as Ingress, and build on their limited success with that game by adding a globally recognised brand. So I wanted to see how much it had increased awareness of location based mobile gaming. I opened a second, shorter internet survey. Initially the results looked good. Awareness of Pokemon Go pretty much matched Minecraft. Just 2.5% of respondents were unaware of it. compared with 2.4% who were unaware of Minecraft.

There is some evidence that people are more aware of location based games in general. Only 64.6% of respondents were unaware of Ingress. In the both surveys I also asked about Zombies Run!, a mobile game which while not strictly location based, does involve taking your mobile device outside to track you as you move. In the earlier survey, 63.6% were unaware of it. By the second survey that proportion had reduced to 45.1%. So, though I had discounted further developing a location based game for cultural interpretation after the first survey, growing interest in location based games may make it a more fruitful avenue to explore in the future.

There is a another barrier to consider however. I have mentioned a perceived reluctance to use apps and the internet on mobile devices in previous posts. But I haven’t found much research on why people don’t seem to like using their phones. This second survey offered an ideal opportunity to actually ask that question.

Well, not just that question. I asked a few more. I started off asking which ways of learning about the site they used. I offered a list:

  • Just looking at stuff
  • Reading labels panels or gallery fact-sheets
  • Reading a guidebook
  • Talking to a guide, docent or interpreter
  • Talking with the people who came with you
  • Joining a tour (led by a guide)
  • Using an audio-guide or multimedia guide
  • Using an app on a mobile device
  • Using the internet on a mobile device

People could choose as many as they wanted. What I particularly wanted to know was which ones they did not pick. So in order of preference, it turns out that the most popular interpretive media are

  1. Reading labels, panels or gallery fact-sheets (16% did NOT tick this)
  2. Just looking at stuff (28%)
  3. Talking with the people who came with you (47%)
  4. Joining a tour (led by a guide) (61%)
  5. Using an audio-guide or multimedia guide (62%) and Reading a guidebook (62%)
  6. Talking to a guide, docent or interpreter (64%)
  7. Using the internet on a mobile device (74%)
  8. Using an app on a mobile device (78%)

It’s worth pointing out that some people use mobile devices for apps but not the internet, and vice versa, but still, only 11% use mobile devices for either one or both. That said, 11% is about twice as many as as we have observed in the National Trust, and about twice as many as has been identified in other data. This might be a systemic bias of collecting data in an online survey. I would like to try and ask a similar question on site. Partly because it’s thrown up some interesting results – I imagined that talking to guides, docent or interpreters might be more popular than taking a guided tour, but actually it turns out that taking a tour it more popular than conversation.

The sample for these questions is only 85, so its not particularly robust. But actually this question was a preamble to supplementary questions asking for qualitative rather that quantitative data. Respondents who said they did not use mobile devices were asked simply “What are the reasons why you prefer not to use an app on your mobile device?” and/or “What are the reasons why you prefer not to use the internet on your mobile device when visiting heritage sites?” each with a free text field. Some replies were just one simple short statement. Others gave multiple reasons. Analyzing all the responses, I first defined twelve categories of statement. Each reply scored one in each category to which it referred. In order the twelve categories are:

  1. Presence – for example “Want to be present in the place.” or “Detracts from looking at the exhibits and the moment” (33)
  2. Data/signal/battery limits – for example “Not always got data/coverage.” (32)
  3. One-use apps – for example “I have limited memory on my phone, and don’t want to install apps that I’ll only use temporarily” (10)
  4. Pre/post-reading – for example “I do normally read and research about the subject beforehand at home (computer, books…), so I don´t need to use such apps.” (6)
  5. Tech lack – for example “I don’t have that sort of phone” (6)
  6. Tech break – for example “I regard tech’ as a work tool so don’t engage with it for fun.” (5)
  7. Analogue experience preference – for example “I prefer my interaction with heritage to be unmediated by tech!” (5)
  8. Competence – for example “Do not know how to” (4)
  9. Social preference – for example “I generally visit with my family so want to explore with them and feel that using an app could be an experience that potentially minimises our interaction.” (4)
  10. Conversation preference – for example “I like to talk to real people and enjoy their enthusiasm” (4)
  11. Focus – for example “Too many other distractions with an open internet.” (1)
  12. Hassle – the simple statement “Too much hassle” (1)

So, regular readers will guess I might be expecting the presence category to be the overwhelming reason why people didn’t use mobile on site. As so it proves to be, but only just. I wasn’t expecting data/signal/battery limits to be an almost as big (and given the limited sample size – possibly bigger) objection to using mobile devices. The reluctance to download apps with limited or one-time use has been documented elsewhere, but given that 74% of my sample said they didn’t use the internet on their mobile devices when on site, a web-based on-site solution still doesn’t look like an attractive investment proposition. Web-based pre- and post- reading however seems like a reasonably strong impulse among an minority of visitors. As long as web content is made responsive, and easy to look at on small screen, it may help migrate users to on-site use as data/signal/battery issues are resolved (though I note that the latest generation of phones at the end of 2018 seem to have short battery life than their predecessors).

Music and sound on (and off) screen

It seems a long time since I visited the books on screen sound, but my exciting new second supervisor Beth said I should check out one of the foundation texts. This is Michel Chion’s Audio-vision: Sound on Screen. The first thing that grabs my attention is his pointing out that while “the image” in cinema is framed by the edges of the screen. “What is specific to film is that it has just one place for images – as opposed to video installations, slide shows, and other multimedia  genres, which can have several.” (He talks about how little, since the very earliest days of cinema, directors have attempted to change the edges of that frame, and “the rare experiment” of changing the aspect ratio within a film. There’s a lot more on that “rare experiment” in this blog. The one I’ll always remember fondly is in fact the two aspect ratio changes in Galaxy Quest.)

But this is to preface a point that sound in cinema has no frame.

Luckily for the makers of films with sound in the first four decades, our human need to mentally connect sounds with what we’re looking at tricked audiences into believing that sound came from (for example) the feet of our protagonist walking across the screen, when in fact there was just one speaker behind the screen. With the arrival of Dolby, Chion says, directors and their audio designers are able to create soundspaces that exist beyond the borders of the screen. Gorbman (who by the way also translated this book) introduced me to diegetic and non-diegetic sounds – those that happen in the world of the film (dialogue, music that seems to come from a radio on screen), and those that happen outside that world for the audience’s perception only (the rousing orchestral piece as the cowboys gallop across the plain). Chion splits diegetic music into two: visualised sound that happens on screen, and off-screen or acousmatic sound, which happens offscreen but is still part of the story world.

However he admits that this split has been criticised for being oversimplistic. Where does the adult voiceover representing the internal voice of the baby in Look Who’s Talking go in this model? And is that radio on-screen? Or, given that its transmitting sound from some distant studio in the movie world does that count as offscreen? So he ends up with a model that includes: onscreen; offscreen; on-the-air; internal; ambient and nondiegetic.

I am also interested in a earlier chapter which describes three listening modes.

  1. Causal (not casual) listening is where we listen to a sound in order to gather informational about its source. Chion says this is the most common form of listening (but without evidence for that claim).
  2. Semantic listening is where we listen to a “code or language” to interpret a message. Chion points out that Casual and Semantic listening can be employed at the same time.
  3. Reduced Listening  – This is the intriguing concept coined by Pierre Schaeffer, for the listening mode that focuses on the traits of the sound itself, independent of its cause and meaning. It seems hard to do: participants in reduced listening experiments constantly seek cause or meaning. He goes on to say that, though its hard to concentrate on reduced listening, we all do a rudimentary form of it when “we identify a pitch or tone or figure out the interval between two notes.” However, a full description of the sound can not be achieved in a single hearing. So it must be fixed, a recording, not a live performance. Intriguingly, Chion says that such sounds “thereby acquire the status of veritable objects”

Whats interesting about this last form is the relationship between reduced listening and acousmatic sound. Chion says Schaeffer “thought that the acousmatic situation could encourage reduced listening.” But he disagrees. Our first instinct will be causal, he argues, seeking the source of the sound. But a “seasoned auditor” he argues  “can exercise causal listening and reduced listening in tandem.”

I feel there is something in this. Chion isn’t writing about games, but in my reading of Red Dead Redemption especially I realised I was learning to listen to the repeating sound loops in a different way. At first I was reacting in a causal way, swirling my point of view around, seeking the source of every cue. As I grew more “seasoned” I was listening in a different way. I am not sure it it was Reduced or Semantic, but it was more than Causal. Of course, that might have something to do with the other distinction Chion makes, between Active and Passive perception.

There is something here I feel that might help in better evaluating immersive audio experiences in heritage.

Personalised

I am in Amsterdam, staying in a VERY EXPENSIVE HOTEL, because all the hotels in Amsterdam are VERY EXPENSIVE. We are here on a cultural city break, to take the kids to Anne Frank’s house, and the Van Gogh museum, among others. We pre-booked for those two because we had heard it was difficult to get tickets on the day. Yesterday, as we were packing to leave, I got an email from the Van Gogh museum. It contained a link to a “welcome video”. And I would like to share a few frames from that, you’ll see why.

The first impressive thing that happens, is a member of museum staff, shuffling sideways onto the screen carrying a placard, like a taxi driver at the airport, with my name on. This has never actually happened for me at an airport, but here it is happening, through digital jiggery-pokery, on an actual video. The email had mentioned it was my personal welcome video, but I hadn’t realised how personal.

Then, was the staff take their branded coats off, and hand then in at the cloakroom (I would have thought they had their own facilities, but there you go) the screen displays the weather forecast on the day of my visit. There is also a none-too-subtle hint that I should become a friend of the museum, which purports to show an interpretive wall vinyl:

This is the first time that I have seen digital technology actually used with by a museum for true specific personalisation. Ok, so it’s only my name, and weather data for a specific date, and actually it’s not that much more complex than those picture books that were advertised twenty years ago with “Your Child’s Name Here”. But it is being used to every pre-booked visitor, which at this time of year means pretty much every visitor. How long will it be before interpretation panels like the one in the last picture are actually personalised?

Numinous

I’ve been head down, completing my upgrade package for weeks and so you have seen very little form me on this blog. But that package was submitted last Friday, and this week, I am at the University’s Hartley Residency, which is a refreshing opportunity to just learn and think.

Yesterday we had a seminar, and then a lecture form Steven Rings, of the University of Chicago. I always thought I was a bit a fraud in the archaeology department, but now I am in the music department (Did I tell you I have transferred to the music department? That’s another story.) am I listening to stuff I know nothing about. “But,” as they say, “I know what I like.” So thank the stars that Steve was talking about liking music, and writing academically about music that we like. He kicked of with his talk, quoting Max Weber, who, correct me if I am wrong, accused modern thought, secularism, science and academia of  “disenchantment of the world.” Rings argues that there is an academic pressure to distance oneself from the music one studies, to analyse it scientifically, reducing it to numbers, or socio-politically, reducing it to a series of choices made within a dominant ideology. In a way, to destroy it – to remove from it any sense of aesthetic pleasure, or “enchantment”.

All this talk of enchantment, reminds me of a couple of papers I read months ago, but didn’t blog about. To be honest, and didn’t think either contributed much to my thesis either. But they are in my mind because I recently went back to them and added a couple of bits from as least one of them to my draft. Keirsten Latham writes about “the Numinous Museum”, and something about enchantment, and secularism made me think about that term. In the 2007 paper, The Poetry of the Museum: A Holistic Model of Numinous Museum Experiences she says “Numinous experiences (also referred to as reverential, pivotal, profound) with any museum objects/exhibits are akin to aesthetic experiences with objects of art and encounters with the beautiful.”

“Reverential, pivotal, profound…” is this the same, or similar to “enchanting”? She goes on to say that “Numinous experiences are seen as a deeply felt, connective encounter with any object not just artistic works or beautiful things and can happen anywhere and anytime, depending on the coming together of many things at one point in time.” Which is interesting because it potentially equates the mundane with the spiritual. For example, visiting Crete recently, I was was intellectually stimulated by my day-trip to Knossos, but my own numinous experience was at a less visited palace at Malia. There, it was the act of looking down at threshold stone as I stepped on it, that gave a profound, emotional feeling of stepping on the same stone as someone had thousands of years ago. I understood it a Knossos but I hadn’t felt it.

Latham explains the term she uses comes, via Catherine Cameron and John Gatewood, from Rudolf Otto who, in his book, The Idea of the Holy used the word numen to describe a religious emotion or experience that can be awakened in the presence of something holy.

Which brings us back to secularisation: are we reluctant to talk about music (or anything) we love in terms of enchantment, for fear of being seen to worship it?