Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Making The Gates to Dreamland: Recording and Editing

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On 25th September, my new locative audiowalk game The Gates to Dreamland launched to the public. Created as part of the A Different LENS project in Margate, The Gates to Dreamland explores how interpreting our surroundings figuratively, through imagination and motion, can connect us to different places, times, stories and circumstances, finding resonance within our own lives.

Set around the boundaries of the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, it tells the story of Italian scientist Galileo Galilei’s journey towards publishing his final book – one that would change the study of science forever. It imagines the obstacles he faced, under house arrest with his eyesight and health failing, and the changes in perspective that entailed.

In this series of blog posts, I’m delving into how The Gates to Dreamland was made, discussing how my contribution to A Different LENS came about, how the design of the project evolved, ideas and inspirations, research and planning, writing the script, how I created the audio, and how this project connects to my other work.

More information on how you can try The Gates to Dreamland for yourself is at the bottom of this post.

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Preparation

Once the script for The Gates to Dreamland had been written, the process of recording and editing the audio diary extracts was surprisingly swift.

I was fortunate that I already owned the necessary equipment to make high-quality voice recordings from home. This simply consisted of a condenser microphone, a stand and clamp to keep the microphone steady, a pop filter to eliminate the distortion from plosive sounds in my speech, and my laptop where the files were recorded. Windows has an in-built voice recorder which is perfectly capable, and the files it generates can be imported into audio editing software.

My recording setup

For each of the six diary extracts, I decided to record three full takes. I could then use the editing software to select the best bits from each recording and merge them together into a single track to upload for each entry on the A Different LENS map.

I use Audacity for audio editing. It’s excellent, open-source software that is freely available online for all operating systems. The basics of importing/exporting files, copying/pasting, recording, cutting, zooming and playback are all very intuitive for regular PC users. Many more complex functions are also possible, with plenty of guidance available online.

However, before any recording or editing was done, one consideration I had to make was the 5MB file size limit for audio that could be uploaded to CGeoMap, the webapp which hosted the A Different LENS map entries.

From other map entries already uploaded, I could see that there were audio clips that far exceeded the length mine would be. But the limit did make a small difference when it came to the quality of the final files that would be uploaded, as I had to export my files in Audacity to MP3 at a ‘standard’ quality of 170-210 kbps to ensure they remained within the 5MB limit.


Voice acting

After the technical needs of the recording were sorted, one of the most daunting – yet ultimately rewarding – experiences in this creative process was taking on the role of a voice actor.

Originally, I had toyed with the idea of finding someone with experience in voice performing who could conceivably replicate the voice of a man in his 70s. But with the project deadline approaching ever closer, and not having the money or contacts to hire a voice actor, I decided that I’d attempt the narration myself.

I sought out as much advice and guidance as I could before I made the recordings.

A couple of the other artists contributing to A Different LENS shared their words of wisdom during our regular Zoom calls, including speaking somewhere where you can see your reflection, and over-enunciating your words.

Online, I also found plenty of tips for beginner voice actors relating to breathing, posture, warming-up exercises and practising. I found it particularly helpful to record myself when practising, so I could identify the points in the script where I’d have a tendency to mumble, or where I could afford to take breath.

I’ve mentioned previously in this series of blog posts how I drew inspiration from the video game Dear Esther, in how its narration evocatively connects distant places, times and characters. As well as learning from the game’s script-writing, I was inspired by the performance of its narrator, Nigel Carrington.

Carrington had also performed in a beautiful soundwalk called Fields Were the Essence of the Song (incidentally also made by Jessica Curry and Dan Pinchbeck, the creators of Dear Esther), which was another key touchstone for The Gates to Dreamland. It is described as a ‘site-specific soundtrack to a film which does not exist, one which is created by the ever-changing relationship of the listener, formed by their self-steered journey, around the environment’.

I listened carefully to audio from both of these works to pick out voicing techniques Carrington used.

One of the most noticeable features, I found, was how he varies the pitch in his voice throughout sections of speech; much more than anyone would in everyday conversation.

Lowering the pitch at the end of a phrase gives it the quality of a remark – an observation or expression of something inevitable. Adding a roughness to this kind of phrasing gives it the quality of a sigh. While raising the pitch perhaps indicates a sense of surprise, or that there is something notable you should pay particular attention to.               

As the speech navigates these contours of expression, the recording takes on a sort of melody that leads the listener along a thread of individual thought; drawing you into the headspace of the character being narrated.

Thinking about my voice performance in this way subsequently affected how I edited the script I wrote.

One technique I found particularly effective in Fields Were the Essence of the Song and Dear Esther was the use of short sentences with very few conjunctions. Paying close attention to the words made me acutely aware of how every moment you spend using words that don’t paint a picture, you’re gradually drawing the listener out of the world into which you’re inviting them.

Having learnt from these examples and having sought as much guidance on voice performing as possible, I finally recorded all 18 takes (three for each diary entry) over a couple of hours, in order from the first to the final diary entries.

I took plenty of sips of water throughout, and short breaks between each entry, but it still put a noticeable strain on my voice. Fortunately, my gradually thinning speech was appropriate as I moved towards narrating the later diary entries, which describe events that happened as Galileo has become older and more unwell.

 

Editing

Once all the takes were recorded, I listened back to them very carefully for each point of the walk. I created a document in which I colour-coded the script according to which take I thought sounded best for each line (sometimes even more fine-grained than that, if there were enough pauses to make a clean cut when editing).

This document then guided the editing process. Editing mostly consisted of importing the three recordings for each location side by side as separate tracks in Audacity, then cutting and pasting the relevant sections from each into a single final track.

A screenshot taken during editing of the third recorded diary entry

I was particularly attentive to the pacing of each piece of audio. I wanted to ensure I gave listeners enough time to reflect on the words they heard and their observations at each site, curating a listening experience that was mindful and atmospheric. This meant focusing on the pauses as much as the recorded speech.

I was able to easily adjust the length of pauses between each section of speech by cutting and pasting ‘silent’ sections of the track. In most cases, this involved lengthening the gaps to enhance opportunities for reflection. I also tried to ensure that pauses were of roughly equal length, to create a consistent rhythm that might help participants attune with the words of the script.

Once each final track was complete, the final stage of editing was reducing the background noise picked up in the recordings. Condenser microphones are very sensitive, meaning that even in quiet locations faint sounds will be picked up (the bulk of mine came from my laptop’s fans).

Thankfully, Audacity has a noise reduction tool that I’ve always found very effective. The way it works is that you select a ‘silent’ portion of the track (i.e. that only contains background noise) and feed it into the tool. The tool will then filter out sound from the track that matches the profile of the background noise sample, which is particularly effective when the noise in question is relatively constant, like my laptop’s fans.

You can adjust the sensitivity of the noise reduction to match your needs, as in some audio projects you may want a degree of ambient sound to remain. In my case, I wanted as little noise as possible, because I wanted the ambiance of the listening experience to come from sounds in Margate that listeners would hear in situ, rather than those from my living room.

After this stage was complete, I was left with six very clean, detailed audio tracks that effectively captured the nuances of my voice performances.

Editing was painstaking, precise work that involved a lot of tinkering and repeated listening back, but ultimately was a fairly swift process, only taking a day or two.

The next post in this series discusses the process of curating each recorded diary entry into an entry for the A Different LENS map.

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How to try The Gates to Dreamland from home

The Gates to Dreamland is primarily designed to be experienced by walking at the relevant sites in Margate. When you load the A Different LENS map on mobile, only the first of my six entries is visible on the map, and you must discover the remainder by finding the rest of Dreamland's gates in person.

However, you can try a version of The Gates to Dreamland for yourself online via PC/Mac (this is the only way to access all six points of the audiowalk without being in Margate).

To do this, visit the A Different LENS map here and find the blue pin titled ‘The Gates to Dreamland’, with ‘1 of 6’ as a subheading (it is the most southerly blue pin in the main cluster). This is the start of the walk, while the pink pins that lead from it show the route you need to follow. Read the introduction and instructions that appear when you click on the pin.

Then, open up the link here in a separate tab. This is the starting point for the walk in Streetview.

Each point of the audiowalk is located by one of Dreamland’s gates. When you reach the next gate on the walk, navigate back to the A Different LENS map and click on the relevant pin to play the audio for that location. Try to stay in Streetview as much as you can on the walk, but there may be times when you need to check that you’re at the correct location by switching to satellite view and comparing with the A Different LENS map.

The walk should take about 30 minutes to complete. Think about the relationships between the words you hear and what you can see in Streetview.

If you do try it and have any feedback you’d be willing to share, do send me an email using the contact information on my About page.


Sunday, 21 March 2021

Making The Gates to Dreamland: Script-writing and Wayfinding

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On 25th September, my new locative audiowalk game The Gates to Dreamland launched to the public. Created as part of the A Different LENS project in Margate, The Gates to Dreamland explores how interpreting our surroundings figuratively, through imagination and motion, can connect us to different places, times, stories and circumstances, finding resonance within our own lives.

Set around the boundaries of the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, it tells the story of Italian scientist Galileo Galilei’s journey towards publishing his final book – one that would change the study of science forever. It imagines the obstacles he faced, under house arrest with his eyesight and health failing, and the changes in perspective that entailed.

In this series of blog posts, I’m delving into how The Gates to Dreamland was made, discussing how my contribution to A Different LENS came about, how the design of the project evolved, ideas and inspirations, research and planning, writing the script, how I created the audio, and how this project connects to my other work.

More information on how you can try The Gates to Dreamland for yourself is at the bottom of this post.

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One of the overriding resonances I detected in Galileo’s story was the feeling of enclosure and inaccessibility.

Galileo was under house arrest for the duration of his time writing Two New Sciences; an experience of confinement that recent lockdowns have only briefly exposed us to. Losing his sight at the same time ‘confined’ him further, in a different sense; altering his ability to perceive the world beyond him.

Along the route between Dreamland’s gates, I used the words of my script to draw attention to moments of enclosure in the listener’s journey through the physical environment.

At the opening gate, between the metal bars, the sight of Dreamland’s Helter Skelter is visible in the distance. The words from the first scripted diary entry imagine how Galileo’s first action, upon returning to his villa marshalled by armed guards, was to climb straight to the highest window of the house. Here, he gazes upon the familiar view of a tower on a hill (though I do not name this, it would have been the Torre del Gallo in Arcetri), but his sight problems render the view inaccessible.

Here, the listener is invited to draw a connection between the inaccessibility of Dreamland’s landmarks and that of Galileo, in being house-bound and increasingly visually impaired.

The Torre del Gallo in Arcetri, Florence
Dreamland's Helter Skelter

In this early stage of the experience, you walk along a road often busy with car traffic and lined with terraced housing. As you stand beside a seemingly unbreachable metal gate, the words in the audio diary bring attention to these elements of your surroundings that convey a sense of being squeezed in.

This continues as you descend down the hill, still confined by terraced housing but with widening space visible in front, creating the sense of being funnelled down the street towards an opening. At this point in the scripted diary entries, while Galileo is still very aware of the limitations he faces, there is a feeling of progress being made as he begins to chart his plans for writing Two New Sciences.             

As the walker’s perspective briefly widens, another key theme of the work is illuminated: the opportunities for growth, creativity and imagination that restriction can entail.

With the view opening out onto the usually busier area around Dreamland’s car park, Galileo describes the encounters he has with numerous visitors to his home. Vincenzo Viviani, who would become Galileo's student assistant, is highlighted as a key figure; and Galileo describes a clarity and order that emerges from the chaos of his cluttered and busy home life. In an ironic yet symbolic twist of fate, this is the time when Galileo loses his sight completely.

Up to this point in the work, multiple references are made to plants and weeds, which can be seen in many areas around the outskirts of Dreamland.

I was drawn to the image of his garden being gradually being overtaken by weeds as he committed himself to writing his book, while his view outside to the garden would have become increasingly obscured. There is an interesting parallel here between his intellectual growth and his body being overtaken by its own ‘weeds’ mentioned in the scripted diary extracts: his loss of eyesight and worsening arthritis.

A courtyard garden at Galileo's former home in Arcetri, Florence
Weeds near the entrance to Dreamland's car park

Aside from Galileo’s physical condition, the writing of Two New Sciences would certainly have been worrisome endeavour. All of Galileo’s publications had been banned under order of the Catholic Church, and being under house arrest with armed guards lurking meant that anything potentially illicit would have had to be kept very secretive.

Later on in the walk, you navigate a narrow back-street with tall buildings on one side and a high fence on the other; a road apparently used most often for delivering and loading goods. It’s a place evidently not designed for you to dwell in.

Here, the words in the audio diary draw comparisons between this discomfort and compression you feel when physically walking and Galileo’s own anxiety, as he prepares to release his illicit work out into the world.

In the words of the audio, ambiguous references are made to objects like CCTV cameras, back entrances, invisible onlookers and hidden doorways in the audiowalk's Margate locations, which become symbols of these themes of surveillance and secrets, ‘front stage’ and ‘backstage’.

Streetview image of Hall by the Sea Road, Margate

Ultimately, though, Galileo’s story is one of his work transcending the confined spaces and times in which he lived. As a form of epilogue to the events leading to the publication of Two New Sciences, I chose to set a sixth and final scene on Margate beach.

Here, the view over the sea to the horizon, the coastal breeze, sound of road traffic and sensation of sand under your feet are called upon in the script as symbols of this transcendence: the passing of time, movement between distant places, and the power of imagination and motion to connect everything.

Margate beach

These are just some of the intricate, enigmatic connections that the audiowalk’s script draws between the landscapes of Dreamland in the 21st century and Galileo’s life in 17th-century Florence.

Alongside these broader themes of enclosure, inaccessibility, creativity, growth, surveillance, secrets, motion and imagination, there are many other moments when individual details along the route of the walk are called upon to create figurative, symbolic links between events in Galileo’s life and your immediate surroundings.

I won’t name these explicitly as they are designed to be stumbled upon to achieve their effect. But hidden in the script are references to particular signage, graffiti, road markings, security infrastructure, photographs, historic wall lettering, paving, and a familiar Margate sound.

A final feature of the script worth noting is the series of dates associated with the diary entries you find. You’ll notice that no numbered days are given, only named dates such as ‘Ash Wednesday’, ‘Pentecost’ and ‘Epiphany’.

In historic records, none of the events described in Galileo's story have exact dates. Usually only years are given, and occasionally times of year.

This ambiguity gave me the licence to choose dates within a rough timescale that reflect the symbolic significance these events had within Galileo’s life. In particular, these are all important dates on the Christian calendar. This was a nod to the fact that Galileo was a Catholic, who did not see his scientific findings as incompatible with his faith.

I also figured that a 21st-century listener would struggle to form any kind of impression from a specific date like ‘August 12th 1635’, while these holy days still have importance today. More curious listeners might recognise this level of detail in the work and choose to investigate further, also becoming more alert to other subtle, intricate features of the work.

The next post in this series discusses how I narrated the scripted diary entries, recording the audio and editing it to upload to the A Different LENS map.

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How to try The Gates to Dreamland from home

The Gates to Dreamland is primarily designed to be experienced by walking at the relevant sites in Margate. When you load the A Different LENS map on mobile, only the first of my six entries is visible on the map, and you must discover the remainder by finding the rest of Dreamland's gates in person.

However, you can try a version of The Gates to Dreamland for yourself online via PC/Mac (this is the only way to access all six points of the audiowalk without being in Margate).

To do this, visit the A Different LENS map here and find the blue pin titled ‘The Gates to Dreamland’, with ‘1 of 6’ as a subheading (it is the most southerly blue pin in the main cluster). This is the start of the walk, while the pink pins that lead from it show the route you need to follow. Read the introduction and instructions that appear when you click on the pin.

Then, open up the link here in a separate tab. This is the starting point for the walk in Streetview.

Each point of the audiowalk is located by one of Dreamland’s gates. When you reach the next gate on the walk, navigate back to the A Different LENS map and click on the relevant pin to play the audio for that location. Try to stay in Streetview as much as you can on the walk, but there may be times when you need to check that you’re at the correct location by switching to satellite view and comparing with the A Different LENS map.

The walk should take about 30 minutes to complete. Think about the relationships between the words you hear and what you can see in Streetview.

If you do try it and have any feedback you’d be willing to share, do send me an email using the contact information on my About page.


Monday, 8 February 2021

Call for Papers: Digital Geographies and the Everyday

RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum Midterm Conference, 19th – 23rd April 2021

Date and time: Thursday 22nd April 2021, 1500 – 1700 BST, via Zoom

Sponsored by the Digital Geographies Research Group (DGRG)

As digital technologies have become increasingly and unevenly entangled in everyday life on a global scale, so has their influence on the everyday phenomena we might participate in and choose to study as geographers. The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the ways digital technology can shape what we research, how we do research and how we share research, perhaps more than we might have intended. Inequalities in everyday access to digital tools can create ‘digital divides’ at both local and global scales, while the diverse application of digital technologies has influenced a wide range of cultural practices across the world. These may be mundane, creative, ethically problematic, violent, innovative – sometimes many of these words at once, and others besides.

This centrality of the digital to today’s geographical praxis has been illustrated evocatively by Ash, Kitchin and Leszczynski (2016), who have charted the current ‘digital turn’ as one provoked by engagement with geographies through the digital, geographies produced by the digital, and geographies of the digital. With this same broad scope, we invite proposals for digital shorts (videos summarising research in 2-5 minutes) that engage with a range of everyday geographies through, produced by, and of the digital.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

·  Research methods involving digital technology

·  Creative practices using digital technology

·  Digital infrastructures

·  Regional digital geographies – particularly perspectives from the Global South

·  Forms of digital labour

·  Digital technologies, health and wellbeing

·  Digital arts and entertainment

·  Digital access and digital divides

·  Social media and sharing (dis)information online

·  Forms of digital mapping

The digital shorts will be pre-recorded by participants and then watched live on Zoom during the session, followed by questions and discussion. The format of the discussion will be decided once we have received submissions.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 250 words to Jack Lowe (jack.lowe.2017@rhul.ac.uk) and Daisy Curtis (d.curtis@exeter.ac.uk) by 5th March 2021.


Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Making The Gates to Dreamland: (Dis-)locating a Story

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On 25th September, my new locative audiowalk game The Gates to Dreamland launched to the public. Created as part of the A Different LENS project in Margate, The Gates to Dreamland explores how interpreting our surroundings figuratively, through imagination and motion, can connect us to different places, times, stories and circumstances, finding resonance within our own lives.

Set around the boundaries of the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, it tells the story of Italian scientist Galileo Galilei’s journey towards publishing his final book – one that would change the study of science forever. It imagines the obstacles he faced, under house arrest with his eyesight and health failing, and the changes in perspective that entailed.

In this series of blog posts, I’m delving into how The Gates to Dreamland was made, discussing how my contribution to A Different LENS came about, how the design of the project evolved, ideas and inspirations, research and planning, writing the script, how I created the audio, and how this project connects to my other work.

More information on how you can try The Gates to Dreamland for yourself is at the bottom of this post.

----------------------------

With most location-based media, we are used to experiencing content that directly relates to the place we’re in. This is one of the unique qualities of these media – that you can draw on the characteristics of a precise location to tell stories, provoke play, educate, inform and entertain people in an intimate, ‘immersive’ way.

But we can think about these affordances in a different way. Creating an engaging piece of location-based media isn’t just about referring to things you can sense in your surroundings, but the content being enhanced by them in some way.

I asked myself: how can the telling of Galileo’s story be brought to life through the environments of 21st-century Margate?

In answering this question, the key example I turned to for inspiration was a video game called Dear Esther.

In Dear Esther, you navigate the bleak, rugged landscape of a Hebridean island, listening to a man reading letters to his deceased wife, Esther. While some of what you hear seems connected to details found on the island, many of the events described by the unreliable narrator evidently happened elsewhere. Locations such as Wolverhampton, Damascus and the M5 between Exeter and Bristol are named, as well as a host of characters and incidents detached from what you can see and hear in your environment.

Example of dis-locative narration in Dear Esther

It becomes apparent that the island’s landscapes may be as imaginary as they are real; taking on figurative – symbolic and metaphorical – roles in the player’s journey through a story of grief, loss and redemption.

Symbolic landscapes in Dear Esther

With this form of storytelling, it matters less whether you find all the possible connections between your surroundings and the overarching story. What’s most important is that when you do make a connection, your relationship with the storyworld becomes that much more intimate because you’ve made the connection yourself.

The role of a narrator isn’t to guide you but to offer narrative prompts that invite you to uncover this emotional resonance in your surroundings.

I wondered whether Dear Esther’s figurative approach might be similarly effective in a location-based narrative – as a way of connecting distant places and times through symbolism and metaphor, while ensuring that the experience was still embedded in the player’s navigation of their physical surroundings.

It struck me that this approach would be a thematic fit for Dreamland, as a place which pulls on the imagination in both name and practice, despite currently being inaccessible.

But what connection could I draw between Dreamland and the actual events of Galileo’s life?

The answer, appropriately, came in thinking about Galileo’s deteriorating sight. I started to conceptualise his growing blindness as a transition from seeing things literally to only being able to picture them in the mind – a journey towards entering his own ‘Dreamland’.

Coupled with his struggle to overcome the significant personal challenges that writing Two New Sciences presented, this period of Galileo’s life appeared to connect with the notion of ‘dreams’ in more ways than one.

The next challenge would be to determine the specific locations around Dreamland that would feature in my work.

The webapp we used to host and map the projects in A Different LENS, CGeoMap, gave some basic location specifications to work with. I knew that each point had to be at least 40 metres apart. I also knew that I could make certain points invisible on the map until the user reaches the relevant location.

To be sure I’d finish making the audiowalk in time for the project launch, I also knew I wanted to keep the number of points to a maximum of 5 or 6; focusing on making these entries as evocative as possible. Given that my story would be reflecting a series of events in Galileo’s life, it made sense for the points to be linear in their organisation.

The Gates to Dreamland points on the A Different LENS map

After that, the decision on locations was purely a creative one, aside from the usual caveats of the sites being publicly accessible and the walk not being too long.

In thinking about the inaccessibility of Dreamland at the time and the circumstances surrounding Galileo’s house arrest, I was particularly drawn to gates as symbolising some kind of passage or journey, while denying that passage at the same time. They are physical obstacles, yet provoke you to imagine what is beyond them; liminal spaces between here and there, inside and outside, near and far.

Dreamland has two main entrances for visitors: from the car park and from Hall by the Sea Road.

However, a quick search on Google Streetview revealed a few smaller gates dotted around the perimeter of the park. Including the two main entrances, these entrances are labelled as Gates A to E. Conveniently, they are also quite evenly spaced and all separated by gaps of more than 40 metres.

Dreamland's Gate A on Google Streetview

Running with the idea of these five gates being the points for my audiowalk, I then attempted to decipher connections between what could be found at these sites and the events in Galileo’s life during the writing of Two New Sciences.

I created a design document that charted the arc of Galileo’s story, from returning to Florence under house arrest, to the publishing of Two New Sciences. This was divided into five key story beats, which later became six.

In the same document, I then listed all the physical features I could identify at each of Dreamland’s gates and along the routes between them. Due to the pandemic restrictions, I was unable to visit the sites in person, so I relied on close observation of Google Streetview images.

Finally, I attempted to find connections between the beats of Galileo’s story and the physical characteristics I’d noted for each of the sites.

The key to this task was to identify the emotional resonance of the events in Galileo’s life that I’d pinpointed. Once I’d done that, I could think about which details at each site might chime with this ambiance in ways that were compelling and reflective of the wider themes I wanted to explore.

I go into this process in more detail in this series’ next blog post, where I’ll be discussing the process of creating the script for The Gates to Dreamland.

----------------------------

How to try The Gates to Dreamland from home

The Gates to Dreamland is primarily designed to be experienced by walking at the relevant sites in Margate. When you load the A Different LENS map on mobile, only the first of my six entries is visible on the map, and you must discover the remainder by finding the rest of Dreamland's gates in person.

However, you can try a version of The Gates to Dreamland for yourself online via PC/Mac (this is the only way to access all six points of the audiowalk without being in Margate).

To do this, visit the A Different LENS map here and find the blue pin titled ‘The Gates to Dreamland’, with ‘1 of 6’ as a subheading (it is the most southerly blue pin in the main cluster). This is the start of the walk, while the pink pins that lead from it show the route you need to follow. Read the introduction and instructions that appear when you click on the pin.

Then, open up the link here in a separate tab. This is the starting point for the walk in Streetview.

Each point of the audiowalk is located by one of Dreamland’s gates. When you reach the next gate on the walk, navigate back to the A Different LENS map and click on the relevant pin to play the audio for that location. Try to stay in Streetview as much as you can on the walk, but there may be times when you need to check that you’re at the correct location by switching to satellite view and comparing with the A Different LENS map.

The walk should take about 30 minutes to complete. Think about the relationships between the words you hear and what you can see in Streetview.

If you do try it and have any feedback you’d be willing to share, do send me an email using the contact information on my About page.


Friday, 1 January 2021

Making The Gates to Dreamland: Discovering Galileo

---------------------------

On 25th September, my new locative audiowalk game The Gates to Dreamland launched to the public. Created as part of the A Different LENS project in Margate, The Gates to Dreamland explores how interpreting our surroundings figuratively, through imagination and motion, can connect us to different places, times, stories and circumstances, finding resonance within our own lives.

Set around the boundaries of the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, it tells the story of Italian scientist Galileo Galilei’s journey towards publishing his final book – one that would change the study of science forever. It imagines the obstacles he faced, under house arrest with his eyesight and health failing, and the changes in perspective that entailed.

In this series of blog posts, I’m going to delve into how The Gates to Dreamland was made, discussing how my contribution to A Different LENS came about, how the design of the project evolved, ideas and inspirations, research and planning, writing the script, how I created the audio, and how this project connects to my other work.

More information on how you can try The Gates to Dreamland for yourself is at the bottom of this post.

----------------------------

For a while in the summer I struggled to believed that I could come up with a brand-new, workable idea for my contribution to the A Different LENS map, and get it made in time for a September launch.

In the regular Monday Zoom calls we had as artists contributing to the project, I spent some time chatting to the others about my predicament. By this point, I think we had all become enamoured by the idea of Galileo being represented on the map, and particularly that there would be entries connecting to Dreamland, one of Margate’s most iconic landmarks.

A couple of the artists suggested that I could shift my focus towards imagining being in Dreamland from outside; of wanting to be in Dreamland but being unable to enter.

I agreed that, in some ways, this sense of Dreamland being unreachable or distant had clearer links to the project’s themes around inaccessibility. But, with my head still full of my original concept’s playful ideas, I struggled to see how I could curate an experience of Dreamland from the outside that was genuinely engaging, or what form this would take.

Looking for inspiration, I turned my attention back to learning more about Galileo.

Where before I had focused on the Two New Sciences text, and how to communicate the scientific principles debated within it, this time I focused more on Galileo as a person. As I did, a more evocative image of his character began to emerge.

In the years before Galileo started writing Two New Sciences, he had faced challenges ranging from the personal to the profound.

The publication of his previous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632), caused significant controversy among the Catholic Church. It implied support for the idea that the Earth orbits the Sun, at a time when the Roman Inquisition very actively sought to censor views contradicting Biblical teachings that the Earth was the centre of the universe.

Galileo was tried on suspicion of heresy in 1633, and he was interrogated under threat of physical torture.

When the Inquisition found him “vehemently suspect of heresy,” he was sentenced to indefinite house arrest. It was at this moment that Galileo is alleged to have uttered the famous phrase ‘E pur si muove’ – ‘And yet it moves’, referring to the Earth. There is no direct proof that this actually happened, though.          

After a brief stay with a sympathetic Archbishop in Siena, in 1634 he returned to his villa in Arcetri, on the outskirts of Florence, where he remained under watch by armed guards for the rest of his life.

The entirety of Two New Sciences was written during his confinement.

Galileo's villa in Arcetri, Florence

This period was also one of significant medical hardship for Galileo.

During my research, I found an academic paper detailing Galileo’s clinical history in remarkable detail. Alongside chronic pains caused by arthritis and a serious hernia, he suffered regularly from palpitations, melancholy and a lack of appetite.

The most profound bodily change he experienced in these later years, however, was to his vision. It gradually worsened over the course of his confinement, to the point where he eventually lost all sight shortly before Two New Sciences was completed and published.

“All light is extinguished […] The blindness is a consequence of a very dense cloud which formed itself in the space of seven months, first in the right eye and then in the left eye […] that sky, that world, that universe which I, through my astonishing observations and clear demonstrations, had expanded hundred and thousand times beyond anything ever seen before by scientists, has now shrunk and narrowed as to reach no further than my own body.”

Letter from Galileo to Elia Diodati, 2nd January 1638

Portrait of Galileo in 1624, with visible swelling in his right eye

Despite these circumstances, Galileo wasn’t completely isolated from society. In fact, he was able to regularly welcome a large number of visitors to his home, including academic colleagues, students and other acquaintances. He even met with a young John Milton – the subject of Virginia Fitch’s contribution to A Different LENS – in an event that had a profound impact on the Englishman.

One of the students who visited Galileo at this time was Vincenzo Viviani (1622 – 1703), a talented young mathematician who ended up living with Galileo as his assistant until his death in 1642.

Even in this relatively short time, Galileo provided a life-long direction for Viviani, who subsequently devoted himself to collating and preserving Galileo’s works to be published, as well as writing a biography.

Vincenzo Viviani, 1622-1703

Viviani went on to make his own achievements, but the extent of Galileo’s influence on him is still evident in Florence today. The Palazzo del Cartelloni displays a bust of Galileo alongside three Latin epigraphs celebrating Galileo’s life and discoveries, which Viviani commissioned.

Bust of Galileo and epigraphs celebrating his life outside the Palazzo del Cartelloni in Florence, which was owned by Viviani

Furthermore, Galileo’s elaborate tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce was partly built using funds left by Viviani for this specific purpose. When the church finally allowed Galileo to be reburied there, Viviani’s remains were moved to the grave alongside his hero.

Galileo's tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence. He wasn't allowed a Christian burial until 1737, 95 years after his death

Taken altogether, the events surrounding the writing of Two New Sciences painted a poignant picture of transcending life’s adversities. Despite the harrowing circumstances Galileo faced, his sharing of knowledge brought people together, connecting distance places, times, people and objects.

It certainly seemed like a worthwhile story to tell that resonated clearly with the wider themes of A Different LENS.

The challenge I then faced as a designer was how to connect these events from Galileo’s life in 17th-century Florence to Dreamland in 21st-century Margate.

The next post in this series discusses how I set about bringing Galileo’s story to life through the environments around Dreamland.

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How to try The Gates to Dreamland from home

The Gates to Dreamland is primarily designed to be experienced by walking at the relevant sites in Margate. When you load the A Different LENS map on mobile, only the first of my six entries is visible on the map, and you must discover the remainder by finding the rest of Dreamland's gates in person.

However, you can try a version of The Gates to Dreamland for yourself online via PC/Mac (this is the only way to access all six points of the audiowalk without being in Margate).

To do this, visit the A Different LENS map here and find the blue pin titled ‘The Gates to Dreamland’, with ‘1 of 6’ as a subheading (it is the most southerly blue pin in the main cluster). This is the start of the walk, while the pink pins that lead from it show the route you need to follow. Read the introduction and instructions that appear when you click on the pin.

Then, open up the link here in a separate tab. This is the starting point for the walk in Streetview.

Each point of the audiowalk is located by one of Dreamland’s gates. When you reach the next gate on the walk, navigate back to the A Different LENS map and click on the relevant pin to play the audio for that location. Try to stay in Streetview as much as you can on the walk, but there may be times when you need to check that you’re at the correct location by switching to satellite view and comparing with the A Different LENS map.

The walk should take about 30 minutes to complete. Think about the relationships between the words you hear and what you can see in Streetview.

If you do try it and have any feedback you’d be willing to share, do send me an email using the contact information on my About page.


Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Making The Gates to Dreamland: First Steps

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On 25th September, my new locative audiowalk game The Gates to Dreamland launched to the public. Created as part of the A Different LENS project in Margate, The Gates to Dreamland explores how interpreting our surroundings figuratively, through imagination and motion, can connect us to different places, times, stories and circumstances, finding resonance within our own lives.

Set around the boundaries of the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, it tells the story of Italian scientist Galileo Galilei’s journey towards publishing his final book – one that would change the study of science forever. It imagines the obstacles he faced, under house arrest with his eyesight and health failing, and the changes in perspective that entailed.

In this series of blog posts, I’m going to delve into how The Gates to Dreamland was made, discussing how my contribution to A Different LENS came about, how the design of the project evolved, ideas and inspirations, research and planning, writing the script, how I created the audio, and how this project connects to my other work.

More information on how you can try The Gates to Dreamland for yourself is at the bottom of this post.

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It was back in May when I first heard from Elspeth (Billie) Penfold, the curator of A Different LENS.

I had only just launched Canterbury in 3 Words, a location-based storytelling game played using the What3Words app. But after following Billie on Twitter, she got in touch to say that her and the other artists involved in A Different LENS had been talking about my work.

Identifying some connections between my game and what A Different LENS aimed to achieve, she asked if I’d be interested in getting involved, sending me a project brief and arranging a phone call with me shortly afterward.

The brief struck some promising chords immediately: artists contributing to a widely-accessible digital map that would lead participants on creative walks around different sites in Margate. I could see clear links to my interests and prior work with locative media, the walking arts and site-specific storytelling, as well as the potential for playful contributions.

What I found challenging about the brief, however, was that contributing artists had to respond to a piece of writing by a blind or visually-impaired author in their entries for the A Different LENS map.

When searching online, I found that many of the most famous blind writers had already been chosen by other artists on the project. I also wasn’t aware that any of the more obscure literature I’d read had been written by people with visual impairments.

So I decided to expand my search beyond just ‘writers’ who were blind. And that’s when I found that Galileo Galilei, the famous Italian scientist, had gone blind around the time he published his final book.

The Discourses and Mathematical Relations Relating to Two New Sciences, published in 1638, brought together many of Galileo’s most important findings on kinematics and strength of materials, helping to shape the study of modern physics. Galileo died only 4 years after its publication in 1642.

In particular, it outlined possibly Galileo’s most impactful scientific discovery: that acceleration due to gravity is a constant value, irrespective of an object’s mass. It also contained some of Galileo’s other notable findings, such as those relating to pendulums (he proved, for instance, that the period of a pendulum is the same irrespective of the amplitude of the swing).

In thinking about places in Margate that had some kind of connection to Galileo, I began to think more and more about these physical phenomena that Galileo studied. I was thinking about where you might see evidence of them in Margate, and that’s when my attention turned to Dreamland amusement park.

Dreamland's historic Scenic Railway
Dreamland's historic Scenic Railway

Clearly, when it comes to rides at amusement parks, the motion of bodies and the forces experienced are key considerations in their design. Online, I even found teaching resources using the example of amusement parks to teach students specifically about the physical principles that Galileo first outlined.

It occurred to me that a locative walk through an amusement park like Dreamland could be an engaging platform for people to learn the science by witnessing it in action. But how could I make this an evocative, unique experience, and not just a science lesson?       

When doing more research on Two New Sciences, one of the details that captured my imagination was the writing style. Galileo wrote his scientific manuscripts as dialogues between three characters: Simplicio (reflecting Galileo’s early beliefs as a young man), Sagredo (representing Galilieo’s middle years) and Salviati (representing Galileo’s latest understandings).

This struck me as a surprisingly creative method of communicating scientific knowledge, and I wondered if it could be rekindled somehow for today’s audience.

I already had an idea about how to playfully tie the words of the three characters to the locations in Dreamland.

In the making of Canterbury in 3 Words, I had recently been working with the What3Words platform, a service that divides the world into three-metre squares and gives each one a unique 3-word address (e.g. home.rinse.apply, on Dreamland’s Scenic Railway).

I wanted to find a way for each of Galileo's three characters to communicate a word of the 3-word address for each point on the walk, directing participants on their journey. I wasn’t sure exactly how this would work yet, but the symmetry between the three characters and 3-word addresses seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

In an attempt to flesh out this early idea for my contribution to A Different LENS, I wrote this blurb: 

bodies.in.motion

This idea seeks to explore The Discourses and Mathematical Relations Relating to Two New Sciences by Galileo Galilei. This was the final book Galileo wrote, covering much of his work in physics, and had to be rushed at the end as he became blind before it was finished.

In Two New Sciences, Galileo introduces his subject matter as a dialogue between three characters, Simplicio, Sagredo and Salviati. These figures represent Galileo at different stages of his life, with Simplicio being the youngest and Salviati the oldest. These discussions take place over a period of four ‘days’, with each day covering a new topic, ranging from acceleration to the motion of projectiles.

bodies.in.motion aims to guide participants on a walk that navigates the spaces of Dreamland amusement park, where they will be able to observe and/or hear Galileo’s physical principles in action. This will use the What3Words geolocation system and app, which divides the world up into 3-metre squares and assigns each one a three-word address. For each of the locations participants navigate to in Dreamland, one of the words of its What3Words address will be spoken by each of Galileo’s three characters. Once the location is reached, participants will read and/or listen to a simplified dialogue that explains one of Galileo’s principles at an appropriate part of the park (e.g. the Pendulum ride for thinking about acceleration of falling bodies).

The main focus of the work will be on drawing attention to the creative ways that scientific ideas can be communicated more accessibly, drawing inspiration from Galileo’s use of dialogues between characters. There is a comparison here to how What3Words ‘translates’ the geometric, mathematical properties of GPS coordinates into words, which are easier to communicate and take on greater cultural significance. In this way, the work aims to respond to the project brief and aspirations around making the inaccessible accessible, overcoming challenges and seeing our surroundings differently.

I held onto this concept for quite a long time, as PhD commitments limited opportunities to develop the work further for a couple of months. I was also waiting to hear news about when Dreamland would re-open after the first lockdown, as my design relied on people being able to walk between the rides inside Dreamland and see them in action.

By July, Dreamland still hadn’t re-opened, and eventually the decision was made to keep it closed for the remainder of the summer.

I had to contend with the fact that my idea simply wouldn’t work in the timescale needed for A Different LENS, which was due to launch in September.

I needed a fresh approach; one that could operate beyond the confines of Dreamland amusement park. 

Little did I realise exactly how far the project's reach would extend.

The next post in this series explores how learning more about Galileo's life provided the inspiration for the project’s story.

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How to try The Gates to Dreamland from home

The Gates to Dreamland is primarily designed to be experienced by walking at the relevant sites in Margate. When you load the A Different LENS map on mobile, only the first of my six entries is visible on the map, and you must discover the remainder by finding the rest of Dreamland's gates in person.

However, you can try a version of The Gates to Dreamland for yourself online via PC/Mac (this is the only way to access all six points of the audiowalk without being in Margate).

To do this, visit the A Different LENS map here and find the blue pin titled ‘The Gates to Dreamland’, with ‘1 of 6’ as a subheading (it is the most southerly blue pin in the main cluster). This is the start of the walk, while the pink pins that lead from it show the route you need to follow. Read the introduction and instructions that appear when you click on the pin.

Then, open up the link here in a separate tab. This is the starting point for the walk in Streetview.

Each point of the audiowalk is located by one of Dreamland’s gates. When you reach the next gate on the walk, navigate back to the A Different LENS map and click on the relevant pin to play the audio for that location. Try to stay in Streetview as much as you can on the walk, but there may be times when you need to check that you’re at the correct location by switching to satellite view and comparing with the A Different LENS map.

The walk should take about 30 minutes to complete. Think about the relationships between the words you hear and what you can see in Streetview.

If you do try it and have any feedback you’d be willing to share, do send me an email using the contact information on my About page.


Thursday, 1 October 2020

Mapping Space | Mapping Time | Mapping Texts Conference Poster

On 29th September, the Mapping Space | Mapping Time | Mapping Texts Conference was held online by Chronotopic Cartographies, in partnership with the British Library. Chronotopic Cartographies is a research project at Lancaster University, developing digital methods and tools that enable the mapping of literary works.

This interdisciplinary conference aimed to explore creative, conceptual and digital methods of mapping the spaces and times of a range of texts, bringing together fields as varied as the digital humanities, cartography, geography, literature, narratology and gaming. It asked what mapping a text can reveal and the challenges of doing so; how we can meaningfully connect the digital, imaginative and actual spaces of literary texts; and what methods and models might be useful in these endeavours.

This conference was originally due to be held in person at the British Library in July, but after the full scale of the pandemic became apparent earlier in the year, it moved completely online. Instead of presenting papers, delegates were invited to submit posters of their research to be displayed on a virtual poster wall on Flickr. Participants could then network via chatrooms on Microsoft Teams, or in Gathertown –  a virtual conference space that allows users to walk up to a person’s avatar and have a separate conversation with them via video call. The keynote presentations still went ahead as recorded videos which were shared in advance, while live Q&As with each presenter were held at designated times throughout the day.

Though it was unfortunate that we couldn’t hear all the papers in full, the conference team handled the online move very effectively, creating a well-organised and flexible format for engaging with each other’s work. On a personal level, this was also the first time I had produced a poster for a conference, and I was grateful to get experience in showcasing my work concisely using only visual means. I was pleased to get some positive feedback on what I’d produced from those who got in touch with me during the conference.

Here is my poster. You can also view it full-size alongside the other fascinating projects featured in the conference here. It outlines the design of my location-based game Canterbury in 3 Words, explaining the research questions I was asking, how the game works, the design challenges I faced, and the observations I made throughout my fieldwork in making and testing the game.

Big thanks to the conference organisers for making this event happen, and the other presenters for sharing such inspiring and thought-provoking projects.