Distributed Listening - socially engaged art

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Arts, English and Languages

Abstract

The 8 month impact proposal builds on past AHRC funded research into network music performance. Those results are here applied in a participatory theatre context. The main impacts consist of enabling theatre practitioners and participating communities to engage in network music performance strategies/technologies, normally only available in HE institutions. This engagement will have transformative qualities for relationships between sound, everyday life and mobile transmission technologies. The PI, a musician and theorist, investigated how performers make music together when not in the same physical space, specifically how they listen to each other. This research used different types of musical notation (3D rendered graphics, improvisational strategies, graphic scores). The PI carried out ca. 20 different types of network performances including performing with musicians in a virtual world. The experience of playing different types of music (strictly notated jazz tunes, guided improvisation, graphically scored music and entirely free improvisations) led to questions of who leads, conducts or makes decisions in a situation where several cities are connected with musicians in each place. It was found that physical absence of another performer allows musicians to focus closely on the relation with their instrument, their breathing and gestures; and finally, it ask performers to listen in quite different ways, what the PI terms 'distributed or network[ed] listening'. In the network musicians listen to their own sounds, to the sounds of remote performers, but also to sounds circulated through the network, which can be 'jittery' due to often fragile technical infrastructure. The network reveals subtle differences between being 'here' and 'there', between the 'self' and the 'other', between 'listening' and 'being listened to' and between body and instrument.
This impact proposal aims to extract such type of fragile listening, 'distributed listening', to an environment outside the well-equipped university context. Therefore, we will develop a custom-designed app for mobile devices (smart phones) that allows young community participants to explore such listening, while at the same time enabling them to play and create together in a distributed setting. We have teamed up with two theatre companies, the Lyric Theatre, Belfast and 42nd Street, Manchester. 42nd Street is a young people's mental health charity providing innovative services to young people with mental health problems. Both companies regularly work with community participants, practising 'socially engaged arts', a form of active citizenship, art that intends to effect social change, that is artist-led and participant focussed. Both theatre companies have identified 20 young adults each who, during 8 weeks workshops will learn to use the app in order to create a creative theatre piece based on the idea of 'distributed listening'. Each city will create a context specific work, using the custom-designed app. Each community group will showcase their work in 2016.
A video artist will accompany both companies' working processes, creating video diaries for documentation on the project's website. The custom-designed app will also be used for a one day of hands-on workshops with school children in Northern Ireland, taking place at the Science Festival, which is supporting this project. The final part of the project includes an impact conference where all participants from Manchester and Belfast will meet, and, alongside invited industry speakers, will share the project's creative outcomes, including the video diaries, the documented showcases and the app design.
The project was developed in close communication between the named theatre companies, the PI, Co-I, the Science Festival, Arts & Business NI and the Young Vic, London, to ensure greatest possible impact and visibility.

Planned Impact

The 8 month project was designed collaboratively with 2 theatre companies to engage participants outside of the academic research community; thus it responds to the needs of a well-defined user base. Built on the PI's previously funded AHRC research, we bring a research component (distributed listening) into a portable form in the shape of a newly custom-designed app for mobile devices. This allows transfer of previous research into a new community beyond a well-equipped research center and thus can enhance the value and impact of that former research. Two theatre companies, with whom this project has been developed collaboratively, identified a specific need of engaging young people in listening and in discovering the role of sound in everyday life. The proposal was developed according to those needs, and we will collaborate with the Lyric Theatre, Belfast and young adults aged between 16 and 25. They run a weekly theatre school, using professional theatre practitioners to deliver a series of drama classes. Our project will run within these classes to bring a new component, that of distributed listening to their creative work.

We will also work with 42nd Street, directed by Julie McCarthy, a young people's mental health charity committed to supporting young people (aged 11 - 25 years) under stress. 42nd Street has an extensive 30-year track record of providing innovative services to young people experience mental health problems. They specifically target young people who are at a higher risk of mental ill health due to poor access to services, including LGBT young people, disabled young people, young parents and carers. In 2016, they will transform an empty Victorian shop into a three storey creative space for young people. This project is connected to their on-going work and vision of socially engaged arts, a form of active citizenship, commissioned to effect social change. At the heart of our project are the participants who will, under the guidance of professional theatre facilitators, develop a piece of creative work based on 'distributed listening'.

Both groups will showcase their work after an extensive workshop period in Belfast and Manchester respectively. Impact is evidenced by theatre communities gaining access to bespoke mobile audio technologies, which can have transformative effects on how participatory and socially engaged drama develops. The workshops will enable participants to gain a greater understanding of the effects of distributed listening. This stands in contrast to starting creative processes from visual view-points, and it will engage the communities in the role of sound in everyday life. They will be able to adopt into their work practices strategies, which were developed under the PI's original research.

The project benefits from close collaborations with all partners, continuous meetings plus well-defined milestones. We have designed a public engagement component for school children in NI, teaming up with the Science Festival NI. There, the PI will run workshops for school children to use and explore listening strategies in a creative and fun way, using the custom-designed app. The project's well-defined activities of workshops and showcases in two different cities plus public engagement events for school children are integral to the proposal. We benefit from the support of Arts and Business NI, the Young Vic, London to ensure guidance on best impact strategies.

An impact conference in Belfast will unite all project partners, participants and invited speakers who will contribute to the impact agenda on socially engaged arts. An impact paper will be published collaboratively with all partners.

The innovative and creative project package will enhance the value and impact of the original research while creating a portable output in the form of an app, which in turn constitutes longer-term sustainability for potential impact beyond the award period.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Hidden - a show co-produced with young carers in Manchester 
Description An interactive immersive show co-written by young carers on the future of caring, using the LiveShout app. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Please see here for all relevant materials: http://www.socasites.qub.ac.uk/distributedlistening 
URL http://www.socasites.qub.ac.uk/distributedlistening
 
Title Theatre Play 
Description "Once More", a show produced by Amanda Coogan at the Lyric Theatre Belfast, using the LiveShout app. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact Please see the project website for all relevant materials http://www.socasites.qub.ac.uk/distributedlistening. 
URL http://www.socasites.qub.ac.uk/distributedlistening
 
Description We have developed a new listening app, building on a previous AHRC funded award on network listening.
Exploitation Route The app can be used by others and explored in other directions.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.socasites.qub.ac.uk/distributedlistening
 
Description This project was designed in collaboration with 2 theater companies to engage participants outside of the academic research community. Two theater companies identified a specific need of engaging young people in listening and in discovering the role of sound in everyday life. The proposal was developed according to those needs and brings a research component (distributed listening) into a portable form in the shape of a newly custom-designed app for mobile devices. Throughout 2016 we collaborated with the Lyric Theater in Belfast and young adults aged between 16 and 25. We also worked with Manchester based charity '42nd Street', a young people's mental health charity committed to supporting young people under stress. This project was concerned with socially engaged arts, a form of active citizenship, commissioned to effect social change. At the heart of our project were the participants who, under the guidance of professional theater facilitators, developed a piece of creative work based on "distributed listening". The Android Version of the app was launched in 2018.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Title LiveShout - a listening app 
Description liveSHOUT is an interactive audio streaming mobile app. The app is designed to facilitate multiple streaming points and multiple listening points, what we call 'distributed listening'. The app has a simple interface which has been designed to facilitate interaction while on the move. liveSHOUT tries to transmit and receive audio with the best possible quality dependent on the network connection. The user has full control over parameters which affect the performance of the streaming and the quality of the audio. liveSHOUT was designed in partnership with Locus Sonus and was made possible through this Arts and Humanities Research Council research grant. liveSHOUT allows users to interact with a global network of audio streams. By using the built in or external microphone on a mobile device, users can stream their sound environment as well as listening to any other online users. Users can listen to individual streams or mix up to three streams in a binaural mode. In the mixing mode, each stream is panned according to its location. This provides a "3 dimensional" audio mix, which changes dynamically according to the location of the listener in relation to the chosen streams. liveSHOUT has integrated Twitter functionality which allows for users to communicate and coordinate under #liveSHOUT. liveSHOUT interfaces with the Locus Sonus Soundmap, a live worldwide open microphone network online since 2006. By creating an account on the Locus Sonus Soundmap, liveSHOUT users will be able to send and receive streams which will be visible on the map and accessible to other users. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact The app has been used in several plays, festivals and public engagement events since its development. 
URL http://www.socasites.qub.ac.uk/distributedlistening/index.php/liveshout/
 
Description A play about the future of caring, staged in Manchester 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Play, entitled 'Hidden' was co-created with award-winning interactive theatre makers Tom Bowtell & Annette Mees
It ran from 31st Jan - 11th Feb 2017 at The Horsfall, 87 Great Ancoats Street, Manchester.
The play had a cast of professionals mixed with young carers and was led by Andrew McCain (Burmese Theater Workshop) and Nicky Hargreaves (Guildhall).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.socasites.qub.ac.uk/distributedlistening/index.php/event/#tabs-25-0-1
 
Description Invisible Places 2017 Sound, Urbanism and Sense of Place - Listening and Craftsmen - Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact For this workshop we propose to work with invite a local school to join us in an exploration of listen in order to engage young participants with a A newly developed listening app, called LiveShout. This app developed at SARC was funded by the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council and will be used as a platform for discovering ways of listening participation and collaboration (AHRC). Part of the workshop will entail showing the children the process of the app development and we will practice using our smartphones in creative listening ways.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://invisibleplaces.org/2017.htm#workshops
 
Description Once More Performance Lyric Theatre Belfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A final show at the Lyric Theater in Belfast for around, attended by ca. 60 people. The play used the listening app, which was developed as part of this project and enggaed around 20 young theater actors. The play was directed by Amanda Coogan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.socasites.qub.ac.uk/distributedlistening/
 
Description Reflective Conservatoire Conference 2018 Artists as Citizens (Workshop on Distributed Listening) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A workshop showcasing LiveSHOUT and past projects associated with the development of the app as well as the concept of "Distributed Listening".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.gsmd.ac.uk/about_the_school/research/whats_on/reflective_conservatoire_conference/confer...
 
Description Science Festival NI 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The research from the grant has led to two curated workshops at the Science Festival NI, one on smart listening, the other on creative technologies. Both workshops were held at the Sonic Arts Research Centre, with a large community of doctoral students supporting the event.
http://www.nisciencefestival.com/event.php?e=292#
http://www.sarc.qub.ac.uk/nisciencefestival2015/
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
URL http://www.nisciencefestival.com/event.php?e=292#
 
Description The Society for Musicology in Ireland (SMI) - Distributed Listening: Using a Mobile App for Exploring Listening in Everyday Life 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This proposal addresses 'musical listening' and the 'role of technology in the construction of everyday life'.
An AHRC funded project by Dr Schroeder and Prof Rebelo at the School of Arts, English and Languages, has allowed the development of an interactive listening app for mobile devices. This app is at the center of the research which explores 'distributed listening' (people listening in physically disparate locations).
The app allows users to interact with a global network of audio streams, and by using a mobile device's inbuilt microphone, users can listen live to a space, while being able to share their listening experience through a P2P network with other devices.
The contribution to the SMI conference will be in the form of a short technical description of the app called liveSHOUT (co-developed with France based company Locus Sonus) with several examples from its use in recent socially engaged projects, such as "Smart Listening" shown at the 2016 Science Festival in Belfast, where we designed several listening pieces for children. The app was further used at The Lyric Theatre Belfast in a piece devised by Amanda Coogan and young actors, where the auditory experience was the starting point for creating the narrative of the work. The work "Once More" engaged with Shakespeare's Crispins Day Once More unto the breach speech, re-contextualising the aural, auditory and experiential as a unique, multi-sensory and unpredictable audience experience. Once More not only investigated diverse spaces in the Lyric but also asked the young actors to perform and listen carefully. The fragmented and re-contextualised text invited listeners to create individual narratives as they travelled around the Lyric building experiencing the performances.
Recently the app was employed by a mental health charity in Manchester (42nd Street) in a work called "Hidden", where listening and eavesdropping made for a spectacular site-specific, immersive show over three floors of 42nd Street's building. The work was conceived with young carers, exploring the future of caring, asking the audience essential questions of the nature of caring in the 21st Century.
Please see: http://www.socasites.qub.ac.uk/distributedlistening/
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/smi2017/Programmedetails/#saturday
 
Description web Audio Conference Keynote on Disrtributed Listening 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk Abstract:
The sonorous network has changed how we make and listen to music in many exciting but also challenging ways. Whereas traditional performance spaces exude notions of unity, togetherness, coherence and situatedness, the network has challenged performers to listen closely to the superimposition of acoustics, while being confronted with the socially dynamic and the often musically unknown.
As performers we find ourselves in this almost schizophrenic state of being in a distant and sonically less identifiable space (something we grasp better with our ears), while also occupying a rather intimate and embodied listening space (something we grasp with our ears but also through touch).
As a performer I will draw on a few musical performance scenarios to explore this sonic flânerie, a musicking where our ear is urged to reach across nodes, and which ultimately positions listening as a corporeal and multi-dimensional experience that is continuously being re-shaped by technological, socio-political and cultural concerns.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://wac.eecs.qmul.ac.uk/keynotes