Writing participant information for Ethics approval

Today I’m trying to finish all the documentation I need to Ethics Committee approval for the Chawton Untours. Right now, I’m looking in particular at the information sheet I’ll give participants before they agree to be part of the experiment. Looking at and writing all this over and over again mains me sort of “sense-blind”, and so though I think this is all written in plain English and is understandable to the man on the street, I’m not sure. So I thought I’d share it here. If there’s anything you think doesn’t make sense, drop me a line in the comments, please:

Participant Information Sheet

Study title: Responsive Heritage Narratives

 

[There’s a bunch of reference number stuff which I won’t bother blog readers with]

Your participant number: _______

Please read this information carefully before deciding to take part in this research. If you are happy to participate you will be asked to sign a consent form.

What is the research about?

For my PhD I’m researching how museums and heritage sites might be able to give every visitor an experience better tailored towards their needs, rather than the “one-size-fits-all” experience offered by guidebooks and exhibitions and even the current generation of interactive guides and apps.

Why have I been chosen?

As a visitor to Chawton you represent the sort of person that might visit any museum, historic house or other heritage site. This research does not involve people under sixteen.

What will happen to me if I take part?

You will participate in an “Untour”. You are free to wander around the house as you might when visiting any historic site. The difference is that you/your group) will be followed by an “Unguide” who, in each location where you pause, will trigger some storytelling. The Unguide may show you something to read, read something out to you, or remotely activate lights, sounds that will help tell the story of the place. The Unguide is not a tour guide, and will not tell you where to go next or what to look at. You are in control. You may ask the Unguide questions, but the Unguide may not be able to answer all of them. The Untour should take no longer than 40 minutes.

The Unguide will keep a note of your interests and behaviours throughout the Untour and you may be filmed. Any video will be confidential, anonymously analysed and deleted. At the end of the Untour you will also be asked to complete a confidential, anonymous survey.

Are there any benefits in my taking part?

I hope you will learn something about the house and library here at Chawton. The experiment will tell you a story about the place which, though composed of historical facts, will be unique: tailored to your interests, and not quite the same as any other group’s.

Are there any risks involved?

There are no risks beyond those of an everyday visit to a historic house.

Will my participation be confidential?

Your Untour will necessarily take place when Chawton is open to the public, and other people, not least other participants taking their own Untours, will be able to see that you are participating. But we don’t need your name, address or other identifying information (except on the consent form). You will have a participant number, which we will use to anonymously link the Unguide’s notes, your questionnaire responses and any video evidence. All data will be kept confidentially on secure servers university servers, and deleted when the research is completed.

What happens if I change my mind?

You can end the Untour at any point. If, after the event, you decide you do not wish the evidence gathered during your Untour to be used in the analysis you can contact me (by email: [address]) quoting your participant number. I will delete/destroy any associated notes, forms, or recordings and inform you when I have done so.

What happens if something goes wrong?

In the unlikely case of concern or complaint, you should contact the Chair of the Faculty Ethics Committee [contact details]

Where can I get more information?

If you want to know more you can contact me direct at [email], or if you would like to read more about the background to my research, visit my blog http://www.memetechnology.org

 

 

 

Mind Control and responsive narrative

Among the mince pies and over-cooked turkey over Christmas, I managed to find a little time to read an interesting paper. #Scanners: Exploring the Control of Adaptive Films using Brain-Computer Interaction shows once again, that the cool people are all at the University of Nottingham. What these particular four cool guys did was put a mini cinema in an old caravan. But this particular cinema wasn’t showing an ordinary film. Rather, the “film was created with four parallel channels of footage, where blinking and levels of attention and meditation, as recorded by a commercially available EEG device, affected which footage participants saw.”

Building on research in Brain Computer Interface (BCI) the team worked with an artist to create a filmed narrative that “ran for 16 minutes, progressing through 18 scenes. However, each scene was filmed as four distinct layers, two showing different views of the central protagonist’s external Reality and the other two showing different views of their internal dream-world.” Which layers each viewer saw was selected by the EEG device, for rather by the viewers’ blinks and states of “attention” or “meditation” as recorded by the device. The authors admit to some skepticism from the research community about the accuracy of the device in question, but that was not what as being tested here. Rather, they were interested in the viewers’ awareness of the ability to control the narrative, and their reaction to that awareness.

I was interested in the paper for two reasons. First of all, their conclusions touch upon an observation I made very early in in my own research, looking at Ghosts in the Garden, I got a small number (therefore not a very robust sample) of users of that interactive narrative to fill out a short questionnaire, and I was surprised by the number of respondents who were not aware that they could control (were controlling) the story through the choices they made. The #Scanners team noticed a similar variation in awareness, but more than that, they found that “while the BCI based adaptation made the experience more immersive for many viewers, thinking about control often brought them out of the experience.”

They conclude that “a traditional belief in HCI is that Direct Manipulation (being able to control exactly what you want to control) sits at the top of both these dimensions. We examined, however, how users deviate from line, and enjoyed the experience more by either not knowing exactly how it worked, or by giving up control and becoming re-immersed in the experience. […] these deviations from the line between knowledge and conscious control over interaction are most interesting design opportunities to explore within future BCI adaptive multimedia experiences.”

With which, I think I agree.

The other reason the paper interests me is that they described their research as “Performance-Led Research in the Wild” and pointed me towards another paper to read.

I am a zombie hunter!

15626307_1249863151773878_8162495682754406268_o

Last weekend, I found myself running up and down stairs in a disused shopping mall in Reading, getting chased by, and shooting zombies. To celebrate a friend’s fiftieth (and mine, as my friends clubbed together to buy ticket as a present for my upcoming big birthday) we were participating in an immersive experience run by Zed Events.

Gathering at the appointed time around the back of the mall by an unassuming door, the ten of us met with fellow players who’d booked in smaller groups, pairs or even on their own. We were briefed by a Zed Events employee, with some very clear out-of-game rules, mostly about health and safety (don’t punch the zombies) but also reminding us that the zombies were actors and that we must not use personally offensive language (though they assured us that screaming “Fucking Die! You Zombie Bastard” is not personally offensive).

But then they opened the door and we were welcomed into the diagesis, the game-world. We were greeted by employees of Centesis, as volunteers for a flu drug trial. We signed disclaimers (real) and the official secrets act (not real), locked our personal possessions (phones, keys, coins) away and were being briefed when the alarm went off and everything went dark.

I don’t want to spoil the story for those that might want to participate, but I can share this video, from Zed Events’ site:

Did you watch it? All that running around in the semi-dark, not quite knowing what was going on? It’s exactly like that. 

I’ve mentioned players, but it’s not actually much of a game. There are always enough of you around to shoot a zombie before they catch you, none of the player characters are in any peril. You don’t even risk the temporary death and re-spawn of a video game. There are a few escape room style puzzles, but nothing as challenging as you might find in a real escape room. 

The emotional engine driving this experience is presence. It is the immersive, dark atmosphere, the limited range of vision, the pathetic torches that some of have, the feel and weight of the guns we carry, that enables our suspension of disbelief. 
The story structure is effective as well. I won’t spoil it for you, but you’ll guess it encompasses a military experiment gone wrong, and a limited time to escape before a special ops team comes to destroy the evidence, including us. But within the confines of zombie-lit, Zed Events know how to raise the tension: the group works together at first, then is split in two, each with a security guard to help us, but in the final act, we are split into even smaller groups, and forced into exploring the darkness on our own. There is a Big Bad too, an unkillable armoured Zombie called … Martin. 

The division of play/fear affect in my own emotional responses were at odds but in an intriguingly constructive way, at the same time I found my self screaming “Run! It’s Martin!” while the other half of my brain was inwardly grinning at the playful absurdity of the situation. I had great fun. 

It’s it worth the money? It’s not cheap, but if you can afford it, it’s worth doing, especially  if you are prepared to get into character.  

Ethics approval – a word to the wise

I’m doing my ERGO application today. That’s the University’s Ethics risk and approval system, and they’ve worked hard to make it as simple as possible, but it does take time. And so its time to pass on a useful tip to those starting out on their PhD studies. This is the third approval I will have got (and I’m pretty sure to get it, its low risk ethics-wise), during my time here. I made the mistake of applying for each bit of research that I wanted to do separately, with a relatively short expiry time. Once for some on-line data collection, the results of which which will feature in my thesis. Once for some recorded oral interviews which didn’t really get anywhere, and which probably won’t feature in the end.

But what I should have done is apply for the whole of my research, at the beginning, and set the expiry date for when I expected to finish my PhD. I didn’t realize that I time that I could do so, but as I go through the risk assessment for the third time, I realise that I’m ticking pretty much the same boxes each time. I guess I might have thought, back then, that the nature of my research could drastically change, based on what I had learned in the early years, but it hasn’t. And even if it had, I bet its easier to update the one approval that to do (as I have) three.

Update: Though, when I get to the question “Does the research involve working with: […] Class 3B or 4 lasers?” I’m disappointed that, apart from the “Yes” and “No” options, there isn’t also “I wish!”

 

Resonance: Sound, music and emotion in historic house interpretation

Just drafted an abstract for my Sound Heritage presentation:

This presentation explores what computer games can teach us about emotional engagement in cultural heritage interpretation. Beginning with a model of emotional affect drawn from the work of Panksepp and Biven (Panksepp, 2012), Lazarro (Lazarro, 2009), Sylvester (Sylvester, 2013)and Hamari et al (Hamari et al., 2014), it reveals how music especially has become a versatile emotional trigger in game design.

Drawing on the work of Cohen (Cohen, 1998)and Collins (Collins, 2008)eight functions that music has in games:

Masking – Just as music was played in the first movie theaters, partly to mask the sound of the projector, so music in new media can be used to mask the whir of the console’s or PC’s fan.

Provision of continuity – A break in the music can signal a change in the narrative, or continuous music signals the continuation of the current theme.”

Direction of attention – patterns in the music can correlate to patterns in the visuals, directing the attention of the user.

Mood induction; and,
Communication of Meaning- the nice distinction here is between music that makes the user sad, and music that tells the user “this is a sad event” without necessarily changing the user’s mood.

A cue for memory – The power of the music to invoke memories or prepare the mind for a type of cognitive activity is well recognized in advertising and sonic brands such as those created for Intel and Nokia.

Arousal and focal attention – With the user’s brain stimulated by music s/he is more able to concentrate on the diagesis of the presentation.

Aesthetics – The presentation argues that all too often music is used for aesthetic value only in museums and heritage sites, even if the pieces of music used are connected historically with the site or collection.

As an example, the presentation describes a project to improve the way music is used in the chapel at the Vyne, near Basingstoke. Currently, a portable CD player is used to fill the silence with a recording of a cathedral choir, pretty, but inappropriate for the space and for it’s story. A new recording is being made to recreate about half an hour of a pre-reformation Lady Mass, with choisters, organ and officers of the church, to be delivered via multiple speakers, which will be even more pretty but also a better tool for telling the place’s story.

With a proposed experiment at Chawton House as an example, we briefly explore narrative structure, extending the concept of story  Kernels and Satellites described by Shires and Cohan (Shires and Cohan, 1988)to imagine the cultural heritage site as a collection of narrative atoms, or Natoms (Hargood, 2012), both physical (spaces, collection) and ephemeral (text, video, music etc.). Music, the presentation concludes is often considered as a “mere” satellite, but with thought and careful design there is no reason why music can not also become the narrative kernals of interpretation.

 

COHEN, A. J. 1998. The Functions of Music in Multimedia: A Cognitive Approach. Fifth International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition. Seoul, Korea: Western Music Research Institute, Seoul National University.

COLLINS, K. 2008. An Introduction to the Participatory and Non-Linear Aspects of Video Games Audio. In: RICHARDSON, J. A. H., S. (ed.) Essays on Sound and Vision. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press.

HAMARI, J., KOIVISTO, J. & SARSA, H. Does Gamification Work? — A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on Gamification.  System Sciences (HICSS), 2014 47th Hawaii International Conference on, 6-9 Jan. 2014 2014. 3025-3034.

HARGOOD, C., JEWELL, M.O. AND MILLARD, D.E. 2012. The Narrative Braid: A Model for Tackling The Narrative Paradox in Adaptive Documentaries. NHT12@HT12. Milwaukee.

LAZARRO, N. 2009. Understand Emotions. In: BATEMAN, C. (ed.) Beyond Game Design: Nine Steps Towards Creating Better Videogames. Boston MA: Course Technology / Cangage Learning.

PANKSEPP, J. A. B., L. 2012. The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary origins of human emotions, New York, W. W. Norton & Company.

SHIRES, L. M. & COHAN, S. 1988. Telling Stories : A Theoretical Analysis of Narrative Fiction, Florence, KY, USA, Routledge.

SYLVESTER, T. 2013. Designing Games – A Guide to Engineering Experiences, Sebastolpol, CA, O’Reilly Media.

Open Heritage Scholarship 2

Last week I was at London’s Digital Catapult centre, building on the discussion we started with the thinkathon in Winchester. This time round, we wanted to bring in some other voices from outside the academic sector, so I invited Lindsey Green from Frankly Green and Webb, and Kevin Bacon from who I met when he organised a fun workshop for the heritage sector. We also had Jake Berger from the BBC, David Tarrant from the Open Data Institute and Nigel Smith from FutureLearn. Graeme, Adam and Elenora were also there of course, as where Bryan and John from we are open.

Graeme started the day while we awaited all the delegates, by explaining at little bit about the Portus archaeology project, and how virtual access to a (until recently at least) mostly closed site had been enabled though through things like the MOOC, a relativity new on-line tour, a BBC/Discovery Channel TV documentary and open publishing of some academic papers. The opportunity, he said, was linking these and more resources, so an interest sparked by one could be satisfied by others.

Then everyone had the opportunity to introduce themselves and explain a little bit about what they hoped to get out of the day. One of the most exciting things I learned here was RES, Jake Berger’s project which the BBC has been surprisingly quiet about. This little video explains it better than I can.

We attempted to run the session a bit like the earlier thinkthon, but its interesting to note that with more people, it didn’t work quite as well. In Winchester, with a smaller group, the We Are Open guys nudged our discussion to explore interesting avenues more deeply. But with this larger group Bryan ended up drawing and drawing trying (and sometimes failing) to keep up, and not contributing as much as he was able to do in Winchester. Graeme compensated by taking more of a “chair” role than he had needed to do during the Thinkathon, but I think in the end the discussion was shallower. But new concepts reached more minds in the larger group, so I hope we may have scattered some seeds that will bare fruit in future.

We started talking about MOOCs and the Portus FutureLearn. Though an open course, some hoops have to jumped through to make the content open, and in fact not all the content is open, student’s own comments are considered their copyright by default, for example, so they can only be seen by other students. One of the advantages of massively open courses is the broad range of students they attract, with different backgrounds and levels of expertise. They may well being to the course, though a comment a unique insight which no-one had considered before of real value, not just to fellow students, but to the academics behind the course. But that insight can’t be shared from within the course. Permission must the sought from the student.

Some contributions are made using other platforms. For example, in the Portus MOOC students were asked to submit diagrams and photos on Flikr. On upload Flikr allows the user to set the level of open access to the file, but the user can’t change that after the original decision, and the default, is copyright, all rights reserved. So despite the various levels of Creative Commons protection offered by other options, most of the material uploaded in this manner is also closed, not open. We talked a little about incentive’s for users to consider Creative Commons when they share their work.

I don’t think the open badges idea that we talked about quite a lot at Winchester was specifically mentioned here, but on reflection I think its bubbling under. For example, we returned to the idea of Experience Playlists.

experienceplaylists

The idea of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs across digital and possibly even realworld platforms is attractive. Not just for the trailblazer to look back on, but for other users to follow. But should it be more explicit than, say, Amazon telling us “people who bought this also bought these” or Google ranking popular links? Could an open badge system residing in the background on people’s phone discreetly create a visit timeline, like the one I left at SF MOMA?

Then we tackled Heritage Organisations’ different understanding (fear?) of what Open means. Different laws pertain in different states for a start, so organisations ability to make stuff open could be limited by the state in which they operate. Then there is the issue of willingness, not just of heritage organisations – for example, a museum might own the physical artifact of a contemporary painting, but not its Intellectual Property, of which the artist (or their estate) might retain control. Then when the museum is the outright owner of a work, they may fear that opening up access to its reproduction limits the ability to generate much needed funds. Though, as Lindsey pointed out, in the Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum may have shown other institutions the way in that regard. Personally I came out of the discussion no less convinced that a Creative Commons, share alike, non-commercial proposition is something that heritage organisations should proactively embrace.

We had a go at working out what we might learn from Citizen Science projects, but by this time, I think we were all getting tired, and I’m not sure we came out with any useful conclusions. My own notes get scrappy here, but I do remember pointing out the critical-mass challenge for public participation in heritage, which has dogged crowdsourcing heritage projects like History Pin.

And that might be indicate a good place to finish this blog. We discussed what we were trying to achieve with all this. And no-one was expecting miracles. We know there will always be a steep curve on the axes of number of participants and depth of involvement: while hundreds of thousands or millions might passively watch a TV documentary about Rome, fewer and fewer will participate at deeper levels of interest and active participation. all we want (expect) to do is tweek that curve just a little bit. No even as much as this sketch suggests (though that would be nice):

Sketches from Bryan Mathers, weareopen.coop
Sketches from Bryan Mathers, weareopen.coop

 

Sound Heritage 3

Yesterday I attended and spoke at the third of the Sound Heritage study days, at the marvellous Tatton Park, in Knutsford, near Manchester. The day started (after introductions) with a presentation from Candace Bailey, Performing Paris in Antebellum Charleston. She is currently exploring the domestic music of women across the Southern United States in the 19th century. Not just white women, but also (after the civil war and emancipation) women of colour. 

In 1821, a house was built that became known at the Aiken-Rhett house, the largest urban plantation era dwelling that survives. Like the National Trust’s Calke Abbey, as the family fortunes declined, they simply closed up rooms and retreated into fewer and fewer spaces, until, when it was sold for $1 to the Charleston Preservation Trust, only one room was occupied. One of those closed up rooms contained a number of volumes of bound music. 

Harriet Aiken, aged fourteen, had a surprising repertoire. Most of the sheet music available in Charleston, North Carolina in the 19th century was of British origin. Which is not to say there were no European composers included, but rather than the musicwas published in London. One of Harriet’s volumes contains sheet music exclusively printed in Belgium, and most of French Opera. Indeed, hers may be the largest collection of this sort of music in the world. Another volume similarly contains most French music, there is just one English piece, which looks like it was inserted after binding. Where did all this music come from?

Mrs Giraud, and Miss Bidon were regularly performing in Charleston at this time, and it seems Harriet might have been a student of Giraud. Later when Harriet got married, she went to Paris.  On her return, the decorations and a new art gallery full of European art seem to suggest that the family worked to preserve French (Huguenot) culture, which goes against the usual perception of Southern states being the last bastion of British culture in America. In fact I remember, from, I must admit, creating a character for an Old West themed tabletop RPG, that Charleston had a considerable population of French origin, and even today boasts an impressive Huguenot church. The Anglic culture of North Carolina dictated music taste though, except it seems in the Aiken house, due not just to Harriet, but later Henrietta Aiken, who never bound her sheet music, which suggest she kept playing it. About a thousand pieces, again most from France.

I spoke after Candace, all stuff you’ve read before if you are familiar with my blog, recapping my motivation for study, my affect wheel, music in games, then taking a detour into some work I’m currently involved with at the Vyne (which I’ll write about when it’s done), then back to Kernels and Satellites, and introducing my Chawton project. I spent too long on the Vyne (actually I lie – I spent too long on supposedly “witty” asides, playing to positive reactions from the audience) so in my rush to keep to time, I forgot the most important narrative atom for this particular audience: that music in heritage interpretation is mostly used as a satellite in the narrative, but it has the power to be a kernel, if interpretive designers allow it. 

After lunch, we had a lovely recital from student at the Royal Northern College of Music (which was the neighbouring institution, when I was an art student in Manchester. My favourite piece (though I may be prejudiced by its title) was a solo, called Crazy Jane, which tells the story of a woman who, abandoned by her lover, goes mad. It was one of the most popular pieces of sheet music of its day, so nothing changes, does it, in popular music choices – “my man done done me wrong” is still a staple today. 

Listening to it though, made me think about one of the challenges of using historic music for interpretation, which especially relevant as I try to use music to make meaning at Chawton. I struggled to understand the lyrics, despite them being in perfectly accessible English, because my ear wasn’t trained to listen through the “operatic” styling of the music (and lets face it, I’m going deaf).  So the meaning of the song was lost to me, and because if changing musical semantics, not even the tune said “sad song” to a modern listener. 

Could this be … the first decent museum app?

sfmoma

Last week my wife and I went to San Francisco. Our second full day there was mostly spent within SF MOMA, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. And for the first time ever, I used a museum/heritage app that actually enhanced my visit.

Part of what made it so successful was the infrastructure that made it easy to download and use. I didn’t have to plan in advance and download it before my visit. I wasn’t even aware of it before I went, but if I had been, I would have been unlikely to download it, because our hotel’s free wifi only allowed one of us to use our device each four hour lease period.

We’d started our visit walking through the museum to the opposite entrance to contemplate the Richard Serra sculpture. It was early in the day, the museum was just opening, and there was a team-brief on the tiered seating that surround the piece. But they moved on and we sat for a moment to contemplate the enormous steel structure (I can’t deny the meditative quality of Serra’s work, or the calming impact it seems on have on the psyche when encountered, but really I sometimes feel “seen one, seen them all”) and to plan our day.

My wife noted a label on the wall directing people who wanted to know more about the art to SFMOMA’s app, and helpfully pointing out that you could log into the museum’s free wifi to download it. I think it said that it was iOS only, but if you didn’t have a suitable device, you could borrow one.

The first pleasure was logging onto the wifi. This was possibly the most hassle-free process I’ve ever encountered on public wifi. The signal was strong (everywhere), reliable and speedy too. The app downloaded quickly, and upon opening gave me three screens introducing what it offered, such as the one below:

It wanted access to my location services (of course), camera and, unusually, to my activity (the “healthy living” function of more recent versions of iOS), but having been so pleasantly surprised and satisfied by the process so far, I was very happy to allow both. All this had taken very little time, but enough time for my wife to have wandered away towards the elevators to begin our exploration of the museum, so I hurried after her, scanning what was on offer from the app as I went.

There’s a highlights function, which includes “Our picks for forty must-see artworks that are currently on view”, a timeline function that enables you to record and share your visit, and section on other “things to do”, and of course the ability to buy tickets, membership etc. At the core of the app are “Immersive Walks”: a range of fifteen to 45 minute audio tours of the galleries.

On no! I’d left my earphones back at the hotel.

But that wasn’t a problem, because as I caught my wife up by the elevators, I saw a stand stacked high with cases of SFMOMA-orange ear-buds. These were given away free and of a somewhat disposable quality, but good enough to last the day (and to pass on to my son when we got back from the holiday) with in-line volume controls for ease of use. The thought and effort that SFMOMA put into the infrastructure around the app deserves to be commended.

But lets get to the meat of the app’s functionality. The key thing here is indoor positioning. I’m guessing it’s achieved through wifi mobile location analytics, but I haven’t confirmed that. I can confirm that its pretty accurate, though with a little bit of lag, so it takes a while after walking into a gallery, and then standing still for a moment, before your device can deliver to you the buttons for the content relevant to the artworks on the gallery. Some, but not all, of the artworks are accompanied by a specific bit of media (mostly audio) to offer more in-depth insight into the work. This can include commentary, reviews or snippets of interviews with the artist.

I also took an immersive walk. I chose German to Me, a personal exploration of post-war German artists from radio journalist Luisa Beck, in which she shares her reaction on some of the works in the collection and interviews for mother, grandmother and cousin to uncover more about her own German-American identity. As the tour progresses you are guided, not just by Luisa’s spoken directions, but also by the app’s indoor positioning, as shown below.

I have to say, I would have given these galleries the most cursory of glances, had I not been captured by Luisa’s tour. As it was, her (wholly un-sensational) story, and her commentary upon the art engaged me emotionally to a degree I wasn’t expecting. It enhanced my visit like no other app has achieved.

The phone also recorded my “timeline”, my journey through the museum, on-line so that I can share with others the photos I took, the artworks that caught my attention enough to seek more information from the app, and the tours I went you. As you can see, I spent three and a half hours with the app, walking 3,369 steps (or 1.7 miles). This timeline is the only slightly disappointing aspect of the app – I would have like to have clicked through this on-line version to listen to some of the media again, now that I am back home, maybe even to be reminded (though the apps abilities to determine location) who made some of things that I took photos of.

You’ll know that I’m not a massive fan of looking at things through my phone, but this app did well enough to almost convince me otherwise.

The museum had other digital interventions of interest. You might have spotted in my timelime that one of the first things we looked at was a surveillance culture-inspired artwork by Julia Scher that turned the museum in to Responsive Environment, changing according to visitors actions.

img_6792

There was also a fun activity in one of the cafe’s that allowed you to create your own digital artwork, printing it out on thermal paper instantly, but also linking to a hi-res online version, which I used for the illustration at the top of this post (you will note that those free earbuds are the stars of that piece).

SFMOMA, with their technology partners Detour on the app, and the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, are doing good things in the digital sphere. If your are there, you should check them out.

Chawton Untours and more

It’s a funny feeling time. The calendar pages seem to flicker by as the year rushes towards its end, the the deadlines for various aspects of the Chawton project loom ominously. On one level I worry I have achieved so little and yet, on an other so much has gone on. So it seems inevitable that this post will consist of a number of short catch-ups on various aspects.

Untours

First of all, I’ve got a name for what we offer the public next year. I’d been struggling to think of how I’d present the project to Chawton’s visitors in a way that meant something. I’ve been calling it “the project”, “my experiment” or a “responsive environment”, none of which would sell the concept to potential participants. But a few weeks back I met a colleague who told me about an experimental opening of the Roundhouse in Birmingham. Working with a couple of performance poets, they opened the building for sneek previews that they called “Un-Tours“.

The National Trust’s Un-Tours are not quite the same as what I’m planning of course. But I thought it was a perfect name: visitors will explore the house with a volunteer, but the volunteer won’t be a guide leading them from room to room. They choose where they go, and what they look at, and the volunteer responds to their interests with the relevant natoms. So my volunteers are Unguides, and the tours, Untours (I decided we didn’t need the hyphen). I told my colleague there and then that I was nicking the name.

A collaborator!

The next exciting thing that happened was meeting Ed Holland. Ed is studying Music at Southampton, and was looking for a studio project. He has agreed to help me with the sound natoms. I met him for a second time yesterday, with the always brilliant Jeanice Brooks, and we started to break the musical narrative, focused on domestic life at the turn on the eighteeth/nineteenth centuries, which will reference the Jane Austen connections that Chawton has, without being about her (given there’s a museum dedicated to her just down the road).

Talking about sound

Of course between those two meetings with Ed, I’ve been thinking a lot about sound. As long time readers may be aware, I’m keen to put as few barriers/filters as possible between the visitor and the space they are in. So my preference is always for speakers, but Ed suggested that headphones may offer a more immersive soundscape for less money.

However, one of the key investigations of this project is to investigate a set of “contention rules”, for when more than one visitor/visiting group enter the same space with different story needs. Of course, if everyone were wearing headphones, that soundscape contention wouldn’t be an issue. Which may be a good thing (for visitor experience) as well as a bad one (for my investigation). I’ve also been thinking about other ways my paltry budget might limit what we can achieve. I hope to store all the assets on the web (in Scalar currently) so that a volunteer Unguide can use any smart device to participate (BYD). But of course, that will (I’m thinking – you may know differently) limit each Unguide to delivering just one channel of sound to his/her visitor group. Of course that limits Ed’s ambitions for a multi-channel directional soundscape, but he is making contact with some of the sound guys in our School of Engineering to see if there’s any cool stuff (or speakers) we can use at Chawton.

Assuming we don’t get to borrow anything cool though, I’ve suggested that Ed:

  • Works on a creating a music/sound library based on the lowest spec – single channel a cheap Bluetooth speaker in each room.
  • Specifies the hardware requirements for a system that might deliver his ideal soundscape, either using a multichannel directional speaker system or headphones (Imagine 20 headphone users in the house at the same time). I can guarantee I won’t be able to afford it, but it would be useful research anyway. And we could test a limited version of the concept, with borrowed equipment, during the pilot stage (currently scheduled from the beginning of December in my project plan).

My budget, though tiny, is flexible (it’s my own money) so, I could maybe stretch to something in between the two extremes, if it was something that offered some of the functionality Ed would really want, and maybe had some domestic life afterwards.

Story troubles

The thing that I’ve had most trouble with these last few weeks is the story. I wanted to have at least three narratives – one of the history of the building (and I thought an early 20th century owner, Montague Knight, would be the easiest focus for that); one on Women’s Literature, and the Austen one, mentioned above.

I’n my innocence I thought that I would quickly knock-out an emotionally compelling Montague Knight narrative, but after weeks of reading, arranging and re-arranging, I’ve realised that (duh!) real life stories don’t comply with literary “rules”. Or rather, I’ve realised that maybe my standards, my expectations, for this were too high. I’ve wasted time trying down a rabbit hole, trying to craft a story that I was going to muck up anyway by letting visitors make their choices. I was crafting a traditional guided tour, not an Untour! So, I’ve decided on a different tack. Instead, I’m going to spend some time analysing the natoms I already have, and attributing a story beats to each one. The story should (after all) be procedural.

The outcome of this experiment isn’t (wasn’t ever) meant to be the best interpretive experience. all it is is a step towards the understanding how procedural narratives might work in historic spaces.