Technology has made it possible to interact with our environment by scanning codes, moving around, and in some cases, by applying augmented reality to our surroundings, but these interactions are reliant on people using mobile devices (usually phones). However, there are artists that have been experimenting with different ways to engage their audience with the environment without even knowing that there was a phone doing any work at all.
AppFurnace isn’t just used by organisations, but by artists too, who are thinking about the platform as a tool for accessing the technology without necessarily delivering it via a phone.
For Circumstance’s Vicinity Songs performances, they asked audience members to each carry a purpose-made wooden cube around with them in the group, as they followed actors around a town centre. Each box contained a speaker, it was also location-aware and played a different musical score depending on where it was carried, so that each time the performance was given, the audience would create a unique melody created by the combinations of which boxes were carried together, along which routes of the performance.
The speakers were controlled by smartphones running AppFurnace apps, with the wooden box concealing the technology from audience members. But by giving them an object that had no other use than playing music, and without any controls, the audience was free to focus on the performance and experiment with how they could change the music, or add their own by tapping the wood like drums.
But, Vicinity Songs is just one example of exploring this use of AppFurnace.
The REACT Hub’s Ghosts in the Garden is another project attempting to take the phone out of site-specific experiences by hiding devices in a beautiful ornate box, hung around users necks, as they walked through the Georgian pleasure garden in Bath. The audience were told the colourful history of the gardens from a crackling speaker, and encouraged to choose a path through the garden that would affect their experience. By adding the physical dynamic of props, the audience were allowed that extra element of fantasy, turning a walk around a park into an adventure through history.
If you’re put-off using smartphones for your performance pieces, due to them being too distracting from your aesthetic or your narrative, this kind of abstraction can be the solution – especially when the technology is as small and readily available as a smartphone.
Photo by Sophie Wainwright