Posts Tagged ‘Oral History’
The Intangible Archive is the project that I’ve been working on, with sound artist/composer Philip Reeder. I presented on it last week at the Association of Art Historians conference, and I’m on my way to San Diego to present at Museums and the Web 2012. Rather than a linear, temporal sound walk, it’s a spatial way of engaging with memory. It’s an extension of the archive, where I’ve re-archived memories according to their links with place. People can search the archive by walking around St Ives, looking for memories to listen to. It comes out of my practice, which asks people to articulate their memories and finds creative ways of sharing those memories with others. Sharing memories with others is a form of re-archiving; augmenting the memories others through encounter. This creates a multiple, distributed archive, where there are many different forms of remembered encounter, each one unique, connected to place, and archived in the memory of each person that searches for fragments of the archive to make their own story of place. Voices that don’t often get heard getting their say in history. Making archival silence into archival noise.
The Intangible Archive is an archive without walls. It’s a way of encountering memories from the archive, outside of the archive itself. Using mobile technology and headphones, participants can create their own history of place by walking around St Ives. A soundtrack composed by Philip Reeder, from field recordings of St Ives, plays while participants walk, and at certain points, voices from the Memory Bay oral history archive will speak. Instead of being told a particular history from a particular point of view, the direction of walking determines the narrative.
There are more video snippets at http://theintangiblearchive.wordpress.com
What Phil and I were trying to achieve with this (a rhizomatic encounter with memory, looking at the intertextuality of memory in the form of oral history, and the materiality of place, and the spaces in which these encounters occur to create a continuous narrative of place. More or less.) proved to be tricky to communicate in the St Ives September Festival programme. We didn’t want to scare anyone off by describing it too loftily as piece of sonic art, which it wasn’t really, as it was a test project to see how people responded. But neither is it an historical audio tour. I wrote this for the programme, with Phil’s help:
Put on some headphones. Take a walk around town. Encounter memories of St. Ives as you wander the streets. Fragments of memory, swept up from cobbles and beaches, tidied away into the archive, are pieced back together to again litter spaces around town. Archive voices entwined with original material create a rich soundscape to find stories of creative community.
Devised by composer Philip Reeder and St. Ives Archive Research Fellow Jeanie Sinclair, UCF
Wednesday 14th - Sunday 25th September, Mariners’ Church Crypt, Daily from 10 am until 4 pm. Free.
We were hoping that would get the balance about right.
It didn’t. The first day was somewhat disparaging, and I began to wonder why I’d thought this would be a good idea at all. The first people to do the walk, an older couple on holiday, came back after an hour or so. That seemed positive to me. I asked them how they’d got on. They were somewhat hesitant, so I encouraged them to be honest as it was a research project and I wanted their opinion so I could make improvements. “It was quite nice, but we wanted to know more about the history of The Digey.”
So, lesson number one, explain things better.
It went on a bit like that for the rest of the morning, and I probably wasn’t doing a great job of selling as I ended up being a bit apologetic; I didn’t want to disappoint anyone else. I should probably mention that the demographic at the festival does tend to be older people and those with very young families. I realised that explaining that the HP ipaq PDAs that we were using work like satnav made more sense to people unfamiliar with smartphones.
One person actually said he wasn’t interested once I’d explained it, and left. Feeling very downhearted, I started to wonder if it was impossible to create something that would be accessible to everyone at all. The one person that I knew from the archive that came to have a go was foxed by the technology as a previous user had somehow managed to turn on the standby after three minutes button.
I realised that Phil’s sound track wasn’t going to work for anyone with tinnitus, as two sufferers reported back negatively.
I learned to stop talking about the project in terms of the negative, of what it isn’t, after one very nice local man came in and interrupted my weary apologia by saying yes, he understood what it it was thanks, and was very interested, and could he come back with a friend on Sunday? I felt then like a prize chump for patronising the only person to come to the Crypt Gallery that day who understood what we were trying to do.
So, be more explicit. It’s easy to get caught up in the detail and fail to summarise what is essentially a simple idea.
On day two, one of the ipaqs stopped working, so I only had two that worked.
I started being a bit more upbeat, and a few more people came. I’m glad, actually, that I didn’t have any more people come, as there wouldn’t have been enough equipment.
I got more positive feedback. Some people would, they said, rather be told where to go, and be given more direction. Others liked the idea of just wandering. There were some really lovely comments about Phil’s music, and in particular the way in which it enhanced a sense of presentness in time and place, making people look at things in new ways. I think in some ways that it worked better for those who were locals, or knew their way around the town better; existing knowledge and memories of place woven together with the sound walk created the kind of thoughtful intertextual experience I’d hoped for. At least it did while the technology was working.
The GPS drift seemed to be a bit of a problem. Areas I’d tested thoroughly didn’t deliver any content for some users. It’s very hard to get things in the right place using a pixellated map image when you need things to stay in a street that’s only a metre and a half wide. Using live maps in Appfurnace should solve this.
So, things to do for the next iterations: concentrate on specific places more, or specific themes to create micro-narratives of place, and join them together. Use more programming to improve functionality. Keeping it simple made sense, as it’s not about the technology, but the topography of place necessitates more careful thinking. Consider using narrative; the rhizomatic wandering can be retained, but perhaps reassure and guide without actually making a linear walk. Make some more recordings. Extend the stories, or at least identify them – possibly QR codes, possibly using good old paper, or possibly just a tumblr or similar. I still don’t want to interrupt the experience with material other than sound and place, as this disrupts the intertextual of the feeling of being both outside of the everyday and present in place.
The aim of this project is to create a reactive sound installation, using sensors to detect the presence of an audience.
I want to start a ‘conversation’ between the archive and passers by, located in a specific place.
Located outside, a motion sensor will trigger a device to play a series of mp3s of oral history clips from the Memory Bay archive. These clips will be randomised. I hope to edit the clips in order that they relate to each other to create the illusion of conversation.
I hope that these ‘conversations’ will trigger conversations in passers by, creating a talking point.
It would be interesting to have a simultaneous recording device running to capture people’s reactions, however this may present ethical issues. A QR code/web address on a nearby wall could lead people to give feedback online.
I may need some technical advice
Equipment (small costs involved)
Location: need to be able to safely install equipment so it’s weather and vandal proof.
Edited sound clips.
I would like to build on this further in the future if it is successful, creating more Talking Points around town, possibly with the facility for people to record their own reactions.
Further still, I would like to create multiple randomised conversations at each point. This would include recording other ‘ordinary’ people’s voices talking about place, who are then ‘involved’ in the conversation.
I would also like to project images of people talking on to layers of mosquito net, giving the illusion of depth, and people floating in space. Perhaps this could be done using a shop window.