Interactive Landscapes residential retreat

I’ve just got back to Birmingham after a week-long Tour of T’North. Phase I was the Interactive Landscapes residential retreat hosted by Invisible Flock and Compass Live Art.

I keep telling the Midlands folks that it was “up near Filey”, but no-one so far knows where that is, so it’s here:

Hunmanby. Near Filey. Up and to the right; before you get to the wet bit.

About 8 artists were selected to take part and, together with the Invisible Flock trio and a few small canines we took over a B&B for a day or two. When I say “took over” I mean that fairly rapidly a lot of surfaces began to look like these:

workplace essentials

typical tabletop

Invisible Flock had brought along a load of different technical things and our remit was just to try things out and have a bit of a play.

These GPS trackers were something I was already familiar with, although in not quite so large a number…

GPS trackers and blinkenlights

I’d spent the previous week wrangling laser cutting, Arduino code and an assortment of electronic components, so I found myself bringing some low-tech tech to contribute to the proceedings: a camera obscura, a pen knife and some magnetic compasses. Looking back at what I selected, I think they were all connected by a certain sense of wonder and fascination. I think they were a reminder for me to consider the magic that simple devices can hold and maybe a call to go back to first principles.

After the table-top tech-prodding of the evening before, we headed out to the beach at Muston Sands. You know that sense of wonder I was talking about? It’s there in that first moment when you see the sea, too!


We descended the track down to the sands and then basically we had a few hours to do whatever we wanted. My foot was misbehaving, so I couldn’t roam far, but I decided to turn this to my advantage and to instead concentrate on the details of a small area.

Here it is (click for full-size version):

I spent my time slowly moving through what probably amounts to only the left-hand half of that image, paying close attention to the decisions I was making about where I went and what I stopped to look at and why. I stooped; I peered; I stretched; I surveyed; I zoomed in; zoomed out; I took photos and I took notes. Lots of notes.

feets and noticings

The Flickr album is here, should you be inclined to look at a lot of beachy details.


stepping stone

The exercise was sort of practice for a project that’s been lurking in the back of my imagination for several years now, and I think I may finally have found a tool that might do the sort of thing I’m asking of it: Twine, for a series of inter-related word-pictures that you can navigate through, with the intention of capturing – you guessed it – the small details that go to make up the character of a place.

Text isn’t something I work with a lot in my practice, so I’m gradually feeling my way through this one. I’m getting a sense for what the process might involve, but at the moment I’m still a bit stuck on what sort of a thing the final experience might be – should it be something that takes you back to the original physical space, or is it about taking the essence of a place so it can be experienced elsewhere?

Probably a lot of that will get resolved when this turns into a fully-fledged project with the secondary agendas that usually accompany a commission. So, if any of that sounds like a project you can support, then get in touch because I’ve got some ideas I want to make tangible!

…In the meantime, I’ve got some notes to go through and some test branching narrative to construct…

mscape for randomised story-telling

Just before Christmas I responded to a call for artists from a Primary school looking for ways of

  • Making use of the “outdoor classroom”
  • Exploring the creative potential of ICT
  • Enhancing literacy teaching and learning
  • Actively involving pupils in documenting their own learning journeys
  • Supporting reflexive practice

I think I had my application in – suggesting application of mscape – within an hour of first getting the notification email.

Experience has shown that it can be a bit tricky explaining the principles of the software to people who are not familiar with the technologies involved. Talking sticks to the rescue.

In preparation for meeting with the project coordinators this morning, yesterday I prepared a quick demonstration mediascape to hint at how these things might be used as an impetus for creative narrative. (I’d never been to the school before, and so didn’t attempt to try and create something specific to the location).


Although it was only intended as a quick demo, I’ve become quite taken by the idea so I’m blogging it in case anyone’s interested in providing motivation or situation for putting it into practice. :)

It’s a very simple set-up in terms of the coding involved: just a series of regions placed around the (in this case) school environment with onEnter/onExit events that trigger an alarm that randomly selects a sound file for addition to the playlist.

The interesting bit came when trying to decide what the sound files should consist of.

The context I’m imagining is a small group of pupils carrying a talking stick-esque device around with them as they set off on an improvised adventure around the designated area. This could be based on a classic journeying quest; be it to find an object or explore uncharted lands. Our intrepid adventurers move around in real space, but use their imaginations to reinterpret their surroundings and invent new things within it.

The role of the talking stick-esque device is to randomly interject prompts that the adventurers must respond to in real time within their narratives: if the stick yells out a warning to “hide!”, then hide they must; if the stick wonders if anyone lives here, then they should assess the surroundings and decide if it’s a suitable habitat for whatever characters are in the story…

Here are the prompts I used for the demo: (Many thanks to @goodhen whose response to my twitter request added a large number of these to the list.)

Look out! | What was that noise? | who’s this? | And so, off they went | oh no… | Good news! | Don’t move! | Shhhhh! Listen | What’s that over there in the distance? | Is anyone else getting that strange feeling? | Whatever you do, don’t make any sudden movements… | I think we need a change of plan | Be careful | Quick! What are we going to do? | What’s that smell? | Is there something hiding in there? | What was it he said again? | Quick, run for it! | Hide! | What should we do next? | Is it safe? | Look! Up in the sky! | Oh! That reminds me! | What *is* that?! | I feel weird. What’s happening to me? | I’m hungry | huh, is that an elephant? | I don’t believe it! | Of course! | I knew that was going to happen | oh, wait a minute | hang on | are you sure this is a good idea | what do you think will happen? | [Gasp] | ouch | do you think anyone lives here? | Is it a message?

What type of prompts inject the narrative with the sort of elements that make for a gripping narrative and what sort of prompts inject the narrative with opportunities for pupils to develop the sorts of skills their teachers might be looking for? And are these things different? …oh, and how can they instigate interactions with/responses to the surroundings too?

Also for consideration: How to start off the story – should you set a particular scenario and then can you tailor your prompts to that? Would it work equally well with trigger regions placed randomly, or should they relate to the ‘interesting’ features of the landscape? With more knowledge of yarn-spinning, would it be a good idea to add conditional logic to the prompt selection such that if x has already been played, then do/don’t play y?

two kinds of tents

2 done, only another 27 left to go.

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