#11 Alt Sounds from Bristol
March 29th, 2022
Screens, along with #ScreenFatigue, increasingly dominate our online interactions with people and cities. Should audiences have to, or want to turn screens off, how might they sense the colours or shapes that are displayed in their virtual worlds? Taking audio as a starting point, the episode traces my journey as collaborators and I pursue the challenge of remotely experiencing the visual impressions of Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge through sound.
Image: The bold words ALT SOUNDS FROM BRISTOL superimposed on an iridescent starry night sky with floating elements
About Harshadha Balasubramanian
Harshadha Balasubramanian is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at UCL and a fellow at the Critical Design Lab. Harsha’s PhD explores how UK artists who adopt virtual reality (VR) are transforming knowledge about what and whom VR is for. She foregrounds her own experiences of disability to creatively reimagine sensory encounters with media, drawing on a background in performance and journalism to co-produce these ideas in communities with whom she collaborates.
Ali Glover – https://www.aliglover.com/about
James Burns – https://www.instagram.com/robinsonsvillage/?hl=en
Jamie Perera – https://www.jamieperera.com/
Volunteers from Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre – https://cliftonbridge.org.uk/visit-explore/visitor-centre/
Harshadha Balasubramanian – https://harshabala.co.uk/
Music, Edit and Mix
Rowan Bishop – www.rowanbishop.co.uk/
Alvim, leda. 2022. How the metaverse could impact the world and the future of technology. (Available online- [https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/metaverse-impact-world-future-technology/story?id=82519587]).
Alt Text as Poetry. (Available online- [https://shannonfinnegan.com/alt-text-as-poetry]).
What Does Data Sound Like? An Overview of Data Sonification. (Available online- [https://open-shelf.ca/160201-data-sonification/]).
Audio Description Association. (Available online- [http://audiodescription.co.uk/]).
Key for Reading Transcript
SFX: sound effects
Harsha: Harshadha Balasubramanian
Jamie: Jamie Perera
James: James Burns
Ali: Ali Glover
Lalitha: Harsha’s mum
SFX: Sounds of dancing, female-sounding voices chattering, and fire burning.
What you just heard was not the sound of a party gone wrong, or the sound of a dance by a warm campfire. It’s a bridge. To be precise, you just heard the sound of Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, England. Well, at least, that’s how I hear it now- after making this podcast episode, that is, after trying to get to know Bristol remotely, through the internet but without using a computer screen.
My name is Harsha, and I want to know what things look like online but refuse to be always glued to my screen in the process. This is the story of my journey to discover how we might have the option to step away from our screen and still feel connected to the visual world that it shows.
SFX: Door closing.
Since the widespread lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been required to work and socialise from home. More than ever before, screen-based interactions defined our online presence, where we worked, played, held parties, met people, loved, and took virtual tours. People started complaining about eye strain, sore necks, and stiff backs from being sat in front of their computer monitors all day; others reported the stress and anxiety of having their cameras turned on for long periods of time. The phrase “screen fatigue” emerged to describe these sensations. I am grateful for this word, because it comes close to capturing something that I’ve felt for a long time but have not been able to articulate.
I can’t see, and yet like many of you, I am surrounded by screens. My touch typing on a laptop results in text on a monitor; my fingers on a smart phone feel the same glossy display even when they swipe across many different faces. Even my assistive technology is attached to a screen: my screen reader speaks out loud any text on a laptop monitor, but I can’t use it to read a paperback or anything that is not digitally displayed on a screen.
I am now doing a PhD researching virtual reality, which is 3D computer-generated media content that can only be accessed by having a head-mounted display (basically, that’s a screen mounted on your face). If you’re visually-impaired, like me, these screen-based visuals present a wall of silence. Now of course, I’m not completely against screens for mediating online interactions: video can help to form strong connections and it can be very helpful for people who need to lip read or communicate through sign language. I just want to explore what other options we have for staying in touch with the visual world, if we can’t or won’t use a screen. What if you have to step away from your screen to nurse a pain in your back or even attend to something cooking in the oven, but you just want to know what things look like?
My journey away from screens began in Autumn 2020, by which time the UK’s COVID-19 outbreak was well under way. I was a student based at UCL in London, but my project was about the experiences of Bristol-based artists using virtual reality. Having to work remotely, I got to know Bristol and the communities that I collaborated with from afar, through Zoom conversations, social media, and virtual reality chat rooms. They introduced me to their gaming headsets, their studios, their city and its landmarks through my computer screen. Actually, it was the spectacular appearance of one landmark about which people consistently waxed lyrical: the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Taking 33 years to design in the 18th century, this grade I listed structure is described as the “enduring symbol” of Bristol by its custodians, the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust. Surely, as a remote tourist, I wanted to record the bridge’s appearance in a way that I could sense and understand it from a distance. Being unable to communicate through touch, smell, or taste online, I turned to sound to capture this visual information and relay it to me and any others who would want to listen with me.
This is the sound you might hear if a rainforest appears on your screen (SFX- rain forest).
This is the sound you might hear if a nightclub appears on your screen (SFX- nightclub).
Of course, sounds are already used to represent places online. Usually, these are the sounds we would expect to hear if we were there in person. But what about details that we generally cannot hear that are often on screen, like colours, diagrams, and shadows. Although experiencing visual impairment is completely different from choosing to step away from your screen, my lived experience of sight loss has forced me to engage with technologies that use sound to communicate visual information.
SFX: Screen reader reading- “A fluffy puppy dozing on a doormat”.
That is my screen reader speaking the description of an image: these descriptions, which are generally called alt text, need to be written by those who show the image and need to be understood by the audience.
I wondered: could non-verbal sound be used to represent an image? As it happened, I was in luck!
Software, like MetaSynth, Pixelsynth, and Photosounder, amongst others, can read images and convert visual data, such as colour, into sonic elements, such as pitch. I started imagining running an image of the Clifton Suspension Bridge through one of these programmes. Oooh! It might sound like a piece of jazz or a gospel choir, I thought.
Sadly, the aesthetics could not have been further from my imagination (SFX- distorted sounds). Even if I could stomach the sounds, I rarely managed to grasp anything meaningful about the bridge from them.
Turning to Google for some inspiration, I discovered that the Clifton Suspension Bridge has already been sonified?
Wow! Yes. A project by Bristol University collected some data about the bridge’s movements, monitoring changes to its structure and then converted this data into sounds that can be played by a harp. Another project, led by the artist Di Mainstone, is called the Human Harp, and it took the sound frequencies generated by people using the bridge, and then dancers played these live.
The practice of representing data as non-verbal sounds is called data sonification: an everyday example is a clock, which ticks audibly to indicate that a second has passed.
Unlike me, these projects were not interested in sonifying how the bridge might look. Instead, they sourced data that could provide online audiences access to other stories about the bridge, perhaps stories which may not be conveyed through an image on screen. This left me questioning: should sonification be only used to inform listening audiences about what is visually displayed on screen, or should it also tell them about the other, off screen significance of an object? I wanted to explore the potential of sonification with someone who was very familiar with it.
Interview with Jamie Perera
My name’s Jamie Perera. I’m a sound artist, I’m also a composer. I like to use sound to deconstruct objects and that can be- can be anything could be an orange, or it could be something that’s more complex, an object that’s made out of lots of different objects, and so social issues. I’ve done Maths equations. I’m touring a performance at the moment which sonifies the Anthropocene which is probably the most complex object I could think of.
The Anthropocene is the period of time in which human activity has brought distinct geological change in the environment, and the word anthropogenic is used to describe this human influence on nature.
It’s peer reviewed data objects that describe the human impact to the earth. It’s not just climate data, but it’s also socio-economic data and also suggested anthropogenic events that are in our time line over the last 12 thousand years.
From the intimate to the global, Jamie accesses data about all kinds of objects and makes that data audible. But how do Jamie’s data sonifications actually sound?
If you were to sonify a car, for instance, which is an object, when you’re creating that sonification, does the actual sound of the engine, or the sound doors, or the sound of horns, do they inform any part of the sonification?
Depends on the purpose. So if your agenda is to represent parts of a car with the very sounds that those parts would make, then that’s great. If you were gonu’ represent the car in terms of the amount of pollution that’s released into the atmosphere, then you’d be using a very different sound. Often this is an exploration. You’d start with this abstract idea of ok, I want to sonify the car. But, as you look into the different parts of the object, and all of those things have different sources, they have different stories behind them. So you might discover as you’re doing that that you would find a set of data about the car that you think- ah now this is really interesting. And then, at the same time, that might inform the sort of sounds that you might use to represent this data from the car. So I would probably … I would always roll the ball back to someone and say what’s interesting about the car?
I set out on this project wanting to think about the stories that I would find about these objects and bring to the surface. But actually I think it’s more my relationship with that object and what I find interesting.
Absolutely. There’s no such thing as true objectivity. Someone’s always got to choose what data they sonify. There’s always a kind of agenda behind the type of data that gets chosen, and there’s always a perspective, or a leaning, or an agenda that comes from the person that’s doing the interpretation.
On that note about motivations, I had my reasons for being interested in audio. And I was curious to learn why Jamie had wanted to work with sound. In his answer, he revisited a powerful moment from his performance of the Anthropocene.
I was performing it, and we’d just got to the part where it was an anthropogenic event when the climate was actually changed by the death of natives of Latin America when colonialism arrived, so that’s when the ships arrived, and it actually a difference in the atmosphere. I was actually playing this data, and I really felt like ok well this is important to me. It was a way for me to confront and express and experience issues behind some of these abstractions. Climate change is a very very big word and also it’s a very difficult to concept to break down.
I’m half Chinese Malaysian and half Sri Lankan; it was impossible to discount the colonial nature of how things have shaped our world. There’s an amazing richness in terms of what you can do with sound. If an object is behind another object, you can’t see it, because it’s behind something. But that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case with sound. I was imagining sonic representation of a coffee mug. And as well as describing the shape of the mug, just say that that mug had a crack in it, or it was broken, or it was chipped, sound can also tell the story of why that mug was chipped. It could be the story of how it got dropped; it could be a fight between two people in which it was used.
Then came my nagging question. How do I ensure that listeners can actually enjoy my sound-based representations of the visual world?
Especially when you start with basic sonification, it seems like aesthetically it’s quite difficult to make the sound as pleasing and as accessible as people are often used to hearing in compositions. How do you choose, I guess, the timbre of your sonifications- how do you choose instruments?
Yes. I use acoustic instruments, orchestral instruments, electronic instruments, and then I also use relevant sounds. So if it’s the data trajectory of tropical rainforest decline, it might be the sound of a rainforest getting quieter over time, or even louder depending on how you want to frame things. And in terms of how, remember I’m talking about almost like a iterative process where you’re constantly assessing the quality of the data- not just in terms of the data itself and how kosher it is, but also will this data sound good if I sonify it? And sometimes it’s a case of choosing sounds or instrumentations that you know are going to sound a bit more forgiving. Or when you’re doing combinations of data threads, you might be choosing a group of sounds or instruments that you know will work together well.
In an ideal world, you’d have a great balance of all of these ingredients which I actually presented in something I call the sonification issue sandwich. If I ask you to picture a sandwich: a bottom piece of bread, and there’s a top piece of bread, and there’s three fillings. And the bottom piece of bread would be agenda- that’s your agenda, the agenda of the data, just agenda; and the top bit of bread would be accessibility; and the three fillings would be narrative, accuracy, and art. So it’s about the story you want to tell; it’s about the accuracy of interpretation vs accessibility of the audience; and then art is the question little the time- where is the meaning coming from? So obviously, you want all those ingredients to be as brilliant as possible for the sandwich. So it’s a kind of a metaphor to say all of these things should be borne in mind all the time. Obviously they would develop as you go through this iterative process of doing the work of doing the sonifying.
After listening to Jamie, I felt like the process of sonification could raise so many new questions about an object and its representation. I wanted to ask him how he manages to stay focused on his objectives when all of these other paths of exploration open up.
I created a Journey through Deaths of Coronavirus in the UK over the first wave of the pandemic. As the work evolved, things changed. Because of these various factors that are involved in making, like what sound do you use, what’s the source material for the sound, how does the meaning of what you’re doing shift with your understanding of the issues behind the data, I moved from very much wanting to make a political point about the lack of foresight and also criminal lack of care with regards to the pandemic to much more of an appreciation of the human spirit in terms of how individual people had coped. It’s always good to have an objective I suppose; you’ve got to have an impetus to create anything. But to stick to that above the process is probably a mistake. I think the process actually dictates where the meaning and the I suppose overall work goes.
Thanks to Jamie, I allowed my own process, including my learnings about sonification, to reset my enquiry. If I simply sonified the colours in a screen shot, for instance, I wasn’t sure that this data set would convincingly tell audiences about the various significances of an object. I needed data to feed a composition that could simultaneously tell audiences what an object might look like and communicate what different people thought about it. The answer to my search came from the most unexpected source. It arose while my mum and I sat watching TV, when she described some scenery unfolding before us.
SFX: Washing waves on a shore.
Lalitha: I can see the blue water- loads of people. Kids are playing in the water, and you can see lot of food / street food shops. It’s not evening yet. The sky is clear as well.
That was my mum, Lalitha, describing a scene showing Marina beach in Chennai, India, which is, as it happens, where my family and I are from.
The practice of describing out loud is called Audio Description, and much like textual descriptions or alt text, there is a dependency on words. Yet, after listening to my mum, I realised that these words could be the data I was looking for.
As this project has progressed, I have become less interested in accurately converting on-screen content into sound. My focus has shifted towards sonically representing how different people see, so that those of us who have stepped away from the screen can get these different interpretations and an idea of how different people are interacting with the stuff on screen. Descriptions can do that very well: they record how something looks like according to a specific person with specific biases, and therefore, how that one describer is relating to that object.
The artist Shannon Finnegan has uttered a beautiful call for “Alt Text as Poetry”, launching a project of that name to ensure that the text accompanying online images is creative and far less neutral. With that in mind, it was time to find some poetic descriptions of the Clifton suspension Bridge. In doing so, I wanted to draw attention to a group of people who have a rather special relationship with the bridge, the volunteers at the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust. Could they each send me a line or two describing the bridge in their words? I typed an email (SFX- typing) to the visitors centre, excited but a little nervous about how my random request might be received.
I was pleasantly surprised!
SFX: Outlook notifications of incoming emails.
Descriptions flowed in fast and they seemed so intimate (SFX- snippets of the description read out loud).
Instantly, I thought of a ballet dancer, a female voice laughing, a burning beacon. (SFX- snippets from soundscape in Scene 1).
Now you know what inspired those sounds at the beginning of this episode!
But how else could sound represent the descriptions of the bridge? I tried to devise a vocal performance of the volunteers’ descriptions, and I invited 2 sound artists to compose their own sonic responses to the text. Coming up, we get together on a Zoom call for a musical potluck where we share our creations and consider the future of sound in enriching off-screen connections with the visual world.
I’m joined by James Burns and Ali Glover, the 2 sound artists who accepted my invitation. I’ll let them introduce themselves: James first.
I’m a student a place called Tileyard which is in London, doing my Masters there. Alongside that I release music and short minute long ideas every single day on my Instagram under the name Robbinson’s Village.
Harsha: And here’s Ali.
So I’m an artist. I’m also currently studying my MFA at Goldsmiths as well. I mainly deal with site-determined or site-based interventions sculptures and installations, through either my own practice or my practice with my collective. Sound is something that I’ve only come to in the last three or four years; it’s only had an outlet in the last couple of years when I’ve actually as something to facilitate the artwork.
I wanted to start by asking my guests what had drawn them to this invitation.
I guess it was just natural curiosity with that. Maybe test myself a bit more with this idea of using field recordings for a practice. They’ve always been something on the side of my practice. So actually have something that’s like a concrete piece in itself, drew me to that. As we got to talk about it more, it sounded more and more fascinating- this idea of how visuals are built up through sounds in your experience overall, and that’s something that I’m very interested in.
I’ve never really done anything like this before. My course is very much based on commercial music, just writing straightforward songs instead of something this open-ended. I originally was going to do it in a field recording way, because that’s the kind of way I would typically approach something like this. But then obviously as well finding out that Ali’s doing the field recording thing, I wanted to go for something completely different. And that was a nice aspect that really challenged me and I guess drew me further into the project.
Before we got stuck into the descriptions and shared our compositions, it felt important to situate ourselves. Although all of us had been on the bridge at least once, we were by no means frequent users. Far from that, we realised that none of us were local to Bristol and were coming at this project as remote tourists.
I tried to capture how the volunteers are seeing the bridge and how I’m perceiving their perceptions.
Volunteers’ Descriptions (vocalised by Harsha)
“Awe-inspiring, elegant and strong.”
“To have such a spectacular ravine as the Avon Gorge so close to the centre of the principal city of the south west of England is remarkable. The gorge has steep sides on its eastern face, with quarried faces. On the western side, the gorge has hanging woods of ancient deciduous trees. Thus the location is spectacular and the span of a bridge is terrifying to behold – a visually stunning construction linking the sides of the gorge – pure, breathtaking geometry. The mighty towers impart a reassuring sense of strength to the structure, and the swoop of chains across the gorge are deceptively light. They do their job of supporting the carriageway with both daring and grace. The Clifton Suspension Bridge is an awesome fusion of engineering and nature.”
“I always describe the bridge as graceful, powerful and strong, not heavy and clunky. Looking, more like an elegant, Victorian, slightly elderly lady. She’s tall, streamline, well dressed, but with inner strength”
“Stretching across the gorge like an elegant ballet dancer, the bridge is simultaneously strong yet delicate. When crossing on a windy day, the bridge sways beneath your feet like the deck of a ferry. Children love to point out the cars and lorries travelling along the road beneath, the size of toys from our lofty viewpoint – adults like to watch the lazy ripples left by boats folding the flat surface of the muddy river. In the summer, the roar of the burners on hot air balloons call across the morning sky and in the autumn the tall stone towers shine like warm gold at sunset. When the weather gets colder and damper, the trees in the gorge catch wisps of clouds like cobwebs in their branches. At night, it is not possible to walk across the bridge without stopping to enjoy the glow of the city lights in the quiet distance and the cheery sparkles of the bridge illuminations that make spirits soar!”
“Vast, climbing, flowing, tangible, rhythmic structure.”
“You feel it as you walk across it. The iron you can hold onto as you navigate the walkway, the wind, the noise of cars to your right, the very slight motion of this massive structure, all contribute to a feeling of insignificance in comparison with the solidity beneath your feet.”
“An intact survivor from a different age… A monument to a visionary… A beautiful but expensive vanity project… Conceived in the Georgian era… Built entirely by muscle power.”
“Peaceful, nostalgic, historic, glowing, serene.”
“A beacon of brightness connecting two cliffs”
“Chains of light holding a suspended road”
“Two towers connected by a beautiful beam of light”
Yeah it’s great! Really cool! I really like the stretched out vocal parts- when it really slows down and is drawn out. It’s really really cool.
Yeah it’s really interesting- the fact that you have that reverb or echo on bridge quite regularly. That’s quite interesting in terms of it makes it feel looking down the road, there’s never-ending- kind of really adds to that. It very much sounds like a journey: A, because because of how you’re going through time with all these descriptions and the history of it, but also there’s your breathing in the background as well which adds to that element of travelling through somewhere.
Often, especially when I’m editing, I tend to take out a lot of breath. But I think perhaps because the protagonist in this piece was really the text and the way it was read, and I felt like the breath and where we take breath and where we pause, it felt like really significant in terms of what we want to emphasise, therefore what we’re doing in terms of the representation. And so I really wanted to capture- really exaggerate it and really leave in that breath, and so that’s why there’s that motif I guess going throughout. Echoes and delays on the bridge as well: people kept saying in the description how, although they perceive it in all these different ways- like a lady, like the deck of a ferry, like a ballet dancer, throughout time it’s kind of stayed the same and it’s been a bridge.
Then, we considered the experience of speaking the descriptions. How does my voicing affect the representation of the volunteers’ words?
Although I tried to emulate the excitement in certain phrases, I don’t think I make any other effort to get into character. I kept being steered towards reading it in the way that I’d been taught at school I suppose- in this sort of public reading voice, despite some of the descriptions seeming quite intimate. I suppose that’s what comes with voicing that you might not have with other ways of representing something. It feels very personal. It feels like I’m invading someone’s space almost when I’m speaking their words.
So what happens when you take out the human voice and you use non-verbal sounds to represent the descriptions? This led us to discussing the two compositions that had been contributed by the artists, beginning with James’s piece.
(James’s contribution played)
The overall piece, in terms of the song structure, is super busy at the start and super busy at the end with a section in the middle where you have a lot of long softer notes- creates the image of a bridge. For that influence, I looked at the quote: “The gorge has steep sides on its eastern face with quarried faces, and on the western side, the gorge was hanging with woods of ancient deciduous trees”.
The way that I composed this was entirely using my modular synthesiser, which is essentially a electronic instrument that doesn’t have- you can have them with that- but mine doesn’t have any keys, so it’s not like a piano. The way that you play it is you have random modules that output voltages that go up and down, and basically these voltages vary and affect other things, and essentially the resulting outcome, you kind of almost have to patch in and create the sounds that it makes without really trusting in the traditional way that people make music for piano or instrument- it’s really kind of hard to play. The key thing about the modular synthesiser is that it doesn’t have any screens; it’s just entirely a big block of nobs and buttons. So I felt that accompanied the idea of using descriptive words of the bridge instead of an actual image.
The piece itself has a really majestic tone to it; it’s very rich impounded. I guess one visual I had when listening to it earlier was also a bit like how say you’re on Game Boy or a really old PlayStation game and you’re travelling through somewhere, and then a big screen would pop up where you’re about to travel into. This thought in my head was that the music was going with that.
Yeah definitely. I know a lot of the sounds in it- I ended up getting drawn to those kind of not quite harsh but having a kind of edge to them that likens it to those old video game sounds. I was drawn to that because they’re so rich with harmonic textures and stuff that the richness of that I felt translated to the richness of the bridge.
It’s interesting to talk about the- maybe it’s not interesting- I find it interesting because it’s an observation I noticed as well with the bridge. With the countryside around it, especially from the other side of the bridge- not the main side of Bristol side but the other side- is it a nature reserve? It’s amazing how balanced that feels. It doesn’t feel out of place with that; it does feel like it works in tandem with that, which again I guess relates with you to fading in and out of the piece itself.
Talking of the bridge feeling like part of the surrounding landscape, we then moved on to a piece that has location at its heart: Ali’s composition was formed by field recordings taken while he visited the bridge.
(Ali’s contribution played)
My whole practice in general is roughly situated in some idea of phenomenology, which is loosely defined as a philosophy of experience. So I guess I’m really interested in the sensation of moving through our landscapes and environment and how that feels socially and politically. The way I gather materials and sounds is through field recordings, but it’s through my own interactions with the bridge. So it’s not just gathering sounds that will have been played as cars goes passed, even though that’s part of it. It’s very much how I’m gonna manipulate those sounds; how I’m gonna try and pick those moments out of it. I think the way I used the descriptions that you gave Harsha- I think we spoke about this before- was more treating as someone’s habits or the habits of the bridge and how am I gonna coax them out of it. So I went through the process of just going there for the day with a recorder and would find objects that I would tap parts of the bridge to see what resonance they made, and I’ve got a variety of recordings of me just doing very strange things of hitting parts of the bridge. A lot of the bassier notes are actually made through the cables that run horizontally over the side of the bridge, and you can kind of play them like you would play a bass guitar. So the way I would get to come through the microphone and change the pitch of that is by pushing the microphone into the various cables to change the pitch of that, the pitch of what the strings are making.
Those bassy sounds at the start which are really sick- that’s exactly something that I would love to use in a track or something like that, just the idea of pushing it in there to change the note.
I was hoping Ali would speak more about his fantastic title.
The title is “The Earth Moves Away from the Moon at the Rate Your Fingernails Grow and …’ I’ll just Wait”.
After reading the descriptions about the bridge and visiting it to get recordings, I guests what stuck with me is how much of a strong figure that thing is in the landscape, yet it’s not incredibly imposing- it’s kind of intertwining with that. It’s always been there. It does move but in very small ways. If you watched it, you could see the vibrations of the undercarriage or the bridge just moving a little bit every time a car would pass over. I guess the title does refer to observations that you would only notice really meticulously from being in one spot and just looking at something and guess that idea of deep listening.
Eventually, our conversation turned to discussing what all of this means for our relationship with screens. Could sonic compositions representing images persuade us to look away from the screen? Ali suggested how such a shift might need to be helped by a slower pace of life and work.
It’s hard isn’t it, because even in down time, you’re watching something- your eyes are always stimulated. In terms of sound and audio, it should technically be more capable and adapt to this idea of slowing down. And I don’t whether that’s something to do with attention or patience that doesn’t allow for that maybe?
James pointed out that compositions like these provided refreshing alternatives to existing solutions for hearing screen-based content, like screen readers with computerised voices.
If you had everything in day to day life described to you in a monotone voice, it does take you away from a lot of experiences. Where I feel like the opportunity to represent something through a composition and through a field recording or something like that just really gives you ” just the extra layer of immersion is so important and the variation as well.
Say if you had three different composers, same way that we did sonify one piece, is the same way that if you looked at a picture and then had a film, and then maybe an audio version, and a book, all of the same scenario you get completely different things depending on each different interaction. The more the merrier; the more ways you can get more immersed and finding out more and more.
The practice of describing images and then sounding these descriptions may never replace screens or ease screen fatigue. However, it does capture different ways in which people interact with the world. If online platforms are going to keep being spaces where we share our experiences, then surely we want to have more tools to do share more diverse experiences.
Hearing about so many interactions with the bridge remotely, my curiosity had been peaked, and when the UK-WIDE lockdown lifted, there was only one thing left for me to do.
SFX: Sounds from visit to bridge.
So this is what our microphones can hear when we are here on the bridge. The bridge has been here looking generally the same since the 19th century, but perhaps the bridge’s appearance is constantly made and remade by how people perceive it. Whether a ballet dancer, a Victorian lady, or a beacon of light, the bridge can come to hold many different visual meanings for different people. We have been listening to these perceptions, not what people see but how they see and how they relate to the bridge. With emerging technology, like virtual reality being all about allowing people to interact with objects in different ways, I think it makes sense to sound out loud how different people are seeing rather than forcing them to agree on what they can see.
Before signing off, I just want to say a massive thanks to the team at Caraboo Projects for their generous support and patience throughout my creative process. This podcast episode would not have been possible without the generosity of my guests: I am indebted to Jamie, James, Ali, my mum Lalitha, and the volunteers at the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust for joining me and for trusting me on this adventure. You will find links and references to these wonderful people and places on the Caraboo Projects Website. Thank you for listening.