Ambient Literature

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Fac of Arts Creative Ind and Education

Abstract

This project explores what might happen when data aspires to literary form. It asks how can situated literary experiences delivered through pervasive media systems produce new forms of literary experience? The research looks at the history of the book to establish how the physical situation of the reader has effected the nature of the writing itself, it will then apply this historical understanding to thinking about how the reading situation is changing through pervasive and ubiquitous computing. The development of travel, urbanity and mobility through the 19th & early 20th Centuries produced a mobile reading market supplied in the UK for instance by the WH Smith bookstall chain (1792) and later by the Penguin imprint for the easily affordable but literary, pocket sized paperback (1935). Texts and reading practices have been an increasingly dense feature of urban life for the past three hundred years. The 'solitary reading' paradigm of the private collection or university library is actually a comparatively minor part of the history of reading. Coffee houses, newspapers, handbills, fly posters, letters, and signage have all been part of the daily experience of the city. We have extended this range in the past thirty years, first with the Walkman (and the potential not only for mobile music but also for literary text to be delivered on the move), and now with portable screens (plus audio) extending this range of tools once more. Experiences of text interweave themselves into our daily lives with a bewildering promiscuity. Despite the dominance of the solitary reading model, the city has always been a text-mediated experience. Since 2012, these literary modes have been available in the seamless continuity of Amazon's Whisper sync Kindle service that makes it possible for the user to switch between text reading and voice narration in over 45000 titles that have now been recorded. Our reading may now occur in the context of urban information systems that are dynamic, responding to what people do; they integrate embodied and imaginary experiences, material and mediating objects. In short they increase our opportunities for new forms of reading and listening experience. The research draws upon performance, audio walks, and creative writing to commission three new works by contemporary authors that will demonstrate the power of situated literary experience. The Ambient Literature author has the potential to produce work becomes a part of the unscripted shared material world. They can produce an encounter between the reader and their environment where the immediate surroundings become the stage on which the story plays out.

Planned Impact

Our Pathways to impact document lays out how the research will be conducted in dialogue with a) a small team of industry professionals committed to digital innovation b) a wider general public of interested creative businesses, authors and publishers. Through this approach we expect to produce a number of impacts. Firstly establishing a network of researchers, writers, publishers and designers working alongside one another and networking their ideas with a wider public; our experience in the REACT Creative Economy hub is that an appropriately curated network of committed partners will produce unforeseen impacts, it will have its own emergent projects and outcomes. A second kind of impact will be in the publishing sector by changing the terms of the discussion and therefore creating the potential for market innovation, this would be evidenced by the idea of Ambient Literature taking root as a description for the field of situated literary practices. This level of impact would also be evidenced by the adoption of the framework, principles and platform which are at the heart of the project's outputs by industry professionals in their commissioning process, specifically by Hachette, Random House and the Literary Platform our advisory partners. A third kind of impact will be for the readers/users of the new work that we make, the end users of the practice based part of the research. We will then liaise with University partner business development units to identify potential new business partnerships to carry the outcomes of the work forward, we would be looking at the potential for new start ups that would offer situated literary experiences as part of heritage, museum, transport and restaurant sectors.
 
Title *Words We Never Wrote* by Tom Abba public presentation at Arnolfini "Reading Room" June 2018 30 participants over one day installation 
Description Original creative content installed into Bristol's leading contemporary art gallery delivered on audio using a beacon based system. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Request for further information. 
 
Title - *Words We Never Wrote*. Ambient Literature commission (Hay Festival/UWE). May 2018. Booth's Books 150 participants over 5-day installation 
Description Installation of original creative writing deploying a beacon based system and creative props to deliver narrative experience to bookshop visitors. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact 150 Participants : Requests for further information and sign up to project mail list. 
 
Title . 'The Cartographer's Confession' 
Description . 'The Cartographer's Confession' The second of the Ambient Literature commissions features a story written by James Attlee, author of titles including Isolarion, Nocturne, Station to Station, and Guernica: Painting the End of the World (forthcoming October 2017). His new ambient literature work, The Cartographer's Confession, combines fiction and non-fiction, imagined and real locations, to create a story of migration, loss, betrayal, and retribution that builds to a savage denouement.The smartphone app allows you personal access to source materials for the film The Cartographer's Confession, collected by screenwriter Catriona Schilling (CS). It features audio, prose, illustrations, an original collection of 1940's London photographs, 3D soundscapes, and a bespoke musical score by group The Night Sky. Readers in London can immerse themselves in the film's locations, experiencing elements of the plot in the places where they happened. A chapter at a time, cassette tapes of Thomas Andersen's memories, contemporary photographs taken by his childhood friend Alessandro, personal letters, and Schilling's research notes are released, leading you on a journey to the dark secret at the story's heart. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Winner of the 2017 New Media Writing Award http://theliteraryplatform.com/magazine/2018/01/cartographers-confession-wins-new-media-writing-prize-2017/ 
URL https://ambientlit.com/cartographersconfession
 
Title Breathe 
Description Written by Professor Kate Pullinger (Bath Spa University) Breathe was been devised and created in collaboration with Editions At Play, an initiative between Google Creative Lab Sydney and London-based Visual Editions https://breathe-story.com/ Breathe tells the story of Flo, who has the ability to talk to ghosts. As Flo struggles to communicate with her mother, Clara, who died when she was a young girl, other voices keep interrupting. As these ghosts disrupt Flo's search for Clara, they recognise the readers' surroundings and begin to haunt the reader in the same way as they haunt Flo. Breathe is a literary experience delivered through your smartphone that responds to your presence by internalising the world around you. Using APIs - application programming interfaces - the story leverages data about you, including place, weather, time, in order to create an experience that is personal and uncanny. Created in collaboration with Editions at Play, which is itself a collaboration between Google Creative Lab Sydney and London-based publisher Visual Editions, this browser-based book for mobile phones is accessible wherever readers have wifi. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Press coverage in The Bookseller Heloise Wood Jan 30 2018, Evening Standard Katie Strict 16.02.18, The Times Jack Malvern 3.02.18. 
URL https://ambientlit.com/breathe
 
Title It Must Have Been Dark By Then 
Description It Must Have Been Dark by Then is a book and audio experience that uses a mixture of evocative music, narration and field recording to bring you stories of changing environments, from the swamplands of Louisiana, to empty Latvian villages and the edge of the Tunisian Sahara. Unlike many audio guides, there is no preset route, the software builds a unique map for each person's experience. It is up to you to choose your own path through the city, connecting the remote to the immediate, the precious to the disappearing.Written by Duncan Speakman Concept development and dramaturgy: Tineke De Meyer Music: Sarah Anderson, Duncan Speakman, Sean McGhee and Djamila Skoglund-Voss Location research and production: Katharina Smets, Sara Zaltash and Elina Ventere Book design: Krysztoff Dorion Producer: Tom Abba Application development: Calvium Interface design: Tom Metcalfe 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Staged at Bristol. May 2017 London (British Library). July 2017 Stavanger (Screen City). October 2017 Cheltenham Literature Festival. October 2017 International Documentary Film Festival (Amsterdam). November 2017 True/False (Columbia, Missouri). March 2018 
URL https://ambientlit.com/index.php/it-must-have-been-dark-by-then/
 
Title This is Your Part of the Story - A Book of Notes Ambient Literature Festival. British Library. April 2018 
Description A short publication summarising some of the principles of the Ambient Literature findings which also invited participants to make their own contributions. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact This publication engaged users at the Ambient Literature British Library Festival in 2018. 
 
Description We are currently preparing final publications. This research explores how the combination of place based writing and location based technologies are producing new kinds of literary experiences. It shows how situated literary experiences delivered through text and audio running on and sensor based technology systems like smartphones offer distinctive new forms of reading, listening and looking. We argue that such encounters constitute new literary forms in which the authored text lies at the heart of an embodied and mediated experience. The visual, sonic, social and historic resources of place become the elements of a live and emergent mise-en-scène. In each case, there are specific techniques of narration, including, for instance, hallucination, memory, history, place based writing, and drama, as well as reworking of traditional forms of narrative including the novel as well as cinematic and audio storytelling. Such techniques are combined with the work of app design, user experience design, interaction, software authoring, networked content management, localization, and GIS (geographical information systems) to produce 'ambient' experiences where the user is taken through a textual and sonic space that engages with the world surrounding us but doesn't aim to map it, navigate it or be an 'enhanced guidebook' . These experiences are temporary, ambiguous, and unpredictable in their meaning but, unlike the theatre, the gallery, or the cinema they take place in the everyday shared world.

We are preparing the final manuscript of the project publication - appearing in Autumn 2019, with a collection of essays currently under publishers consideration and two further journal articles also submitted.

The key thrust of the book is to make an argument for re framing the category of the 'ambient' as our environments become increasingly data saturated. Previous formulations have emphasised the ambient affordance of existing in a background that is in Brian Eno's words as 'forgettable as it is memorable'. We demonstrate how understanding the ambient as part of our digitally mediated contextual awareness is in fact a critical part of our environmental awareness.
Exploitation Route We have now set up a permanent Ambient Literature Lab in order to carry our work forward with commercial research and creative propositions from publishers and literary festivals beginning to be developed in the pipeline .
Sectors Creative Economy

URL https://ambientlit.com/
 
Description The project is ongoing at this point but the press reports listed under engagement and the New Media Writing Award both evidence that the idea of Ambient Literature is gaining traction with a general literary audience. Since the Publication of our final artefact 'Breathe' the research gained significant press attention evidencing that our attempt to make the research accessible to wider audiences was successful. A full list of the press coverage we have captured is below, some selected quotes, 'Kate Pullinger's latest book knows where you live. It knows you're reading it in your bedroom, it knows it's raining outside and it knows which Tube you get. It knows quite a lot about you. Actually, you're one of the main characters. Breathe is a ghost story but the way you consume it is hi-tech. It's designed to be read on your smartphone and it puts you, the reader, at the centre of its eerie plot. It's part of a two-year project called Ambient Literature by researchers from Bath Spa University, UWE Bristol, the University of Birmingham and a company called Calvium, which aims to explore the technological future of the book. ' Evening Standard Feb 15 2018 'Book trends come and go, from psychological thrillers to erotica, via hygge and lagom.But Ambient Literature is something a bit different. Rather than just a genre, it uses those things we have on us nearly all the time - our smartphones - to tell stories that "exist somewhere between the ethereal and the magical", according to one of the project investigators, Tom Abba.Or, to put it in layman's terms, Ambient Literature is an immersive form of storytelling. It uses technology to turn your phone into an interactive landscape that syncs to the story you are reading; for example, if it's raining in real life, it will start raining in the story, too."What if there was a little extra magic in the world?" Abba asks Stylist. "What if your everyday could be infused with story?" ' The Stylist Magazine Oct 2018 'ambient literature noun [U] UK /?æm.bi.?nt.'l?t.r?.t???/ US /?æm.bi.?nt.'l?t?.?.?.t??/ books that are read on an electronic device such as a tablet and which use information about the current date and time, the reader's location, weather conditions etc. to personalise the experience for the reader "But what say the reading purists? Those who recoil from the mere sight of a Kindle and love nothing more than the smell of a dusty library book. Is ambient literature too far removed from the real pleasures of reading? The initial creators of the genre think that to preserve literature in the digital age, it is crucial to move it forward and appeal to younger, digital-native readers. [Metro, 10 October 2018" From the Cambridge Dictionary New Words Blog site https://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2019/03/11/new-words-11-march-2019/. Evening Standard's 'buzzwords of the season' in summer 2018 (https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/esmagazine/summer-2018-quiz-a3916151.html). https://www.standard.co.uk/tech/ambient-literature-smartphone-books-and-stories-a3767391.html https://www.stylist.co.uk/books/ambient-literature-reading-writing-books-technology-phones-iphone/228309 https://metro.co.uk/2018/10/10/is-ambient-literature-the-new-way-to-read-8024664/ https://fmsblog.azurewebsites.net/ambient-literature/ https://www.mhpbooks.com/ambient-literature-is-changing-up-the-reading-experience/ https://www.thebookseller.com/futurebook/time-tech-and-tricky-titles-lessons-ambient-literature-project-755951 Breathe https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/ambient-literature Online dictionary references - coinage https://www.macmillandictionary.com/buzzword/entries/ambient-literature.html https://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2019/03/11/new-words-11-march-2019/
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Title Marcinkowski, Michael, and Amy Spencer. 2018. "Ambient Literature Participant Research." figshare. https://doi.org/10.17870/bathspa.6286508.v1. 
Description This is a collection of 30 participant interviews of users of Ambient Literature experiences. It is an anonymised collection of responses to the artefacts and works produced by the research project. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Further research for industrial partners made available. 
URL https://doi.org/10.17870/bathspa.6286508.
 
Description "Ambient Literature & the Book": Invited talk, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia, 5 July 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited talk to University Audience
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description "The Ambient Book": Keynote lecture, Books, Readers, and Reading: Celebrating 250 Years of the Leeds Library, Leeds, 20 September 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited Keynote Lecture to an event celebrating 250 Years of Leeds Public Libraries
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description 'It Must Have Been Dark By Then' Exhibited at Electronic Literature Organisation 2018 Montreal, Quebec (Canada) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Selected for exhibition at one of the most important scholarly groups for the development of digital literature .
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description 'It Must Have Been Dark By Then' Exhibition Digital Dozen - Breakthroughs in Storytelling 2018, Columbia University New York 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project Artefact 'It Must Have Been Dark By Then' selected for international festival exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description 'It Must Have Been Dark By Then' Exhibition True False festival (Columbia, USA) March 2 - 4th March 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project artefact by Duncan Speakman 'It Must Have Been Dark By Then' selected for exhibition at international arts festival.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description 4700 Unique Visitors to Website in the 12 month period 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Blog based website at https://ambientlit.com/
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018
URL https://ambientlit.com/
 
Description Ambient Literature Festival. British Library. April 23 2018. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact National one day event - conference + exhibition disseminating & debating the findings of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Ambient Literature Workshops. Hay Literature Festival. May 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Workshops in Ambient Literature run as part of the Hay Literature Festival.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Bristol Launch @ Arnolfini _ November 11 & 12 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Bristol Launch @ Arnolfini _ November 11 & 12 2016
- 85 attendees from a similar range of sectors with a significant local presence from HEIs, fine art, performance, film & photography
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Conference Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Pullinger, K, 'Unprintable Books'; paper, Electronic Literature Organisation; 11 June 2016, University of Victoria, BC, Canada
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Consultancy Presentation by Dr Tom Abba to the Pottermore organisation - the enterprise that manages the Harry Potter digital business. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation on the affordances of Ambient Literature & our findings to major commercial business.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Keynote Presentation by Professor Kate Pullinger of Bath Spa University - project Co-I 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Pullinger, K, 'Unprintable Books', keynote, Book Summit,16 June 2016, Toronto, Canada
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Keynote Presentation by Professor Kate Pullinger of Bath Spa University - project Co-I 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Pullinger, K, 'Archival Uncertainties', paper, British Library Copyright Day, 8 July, 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description London Launch at Hachette UK, Carmelite House _ June 30 2016 - Public Engagement Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact London Launch @ Hachette UK, Carmelite House _ June 30 2016
- 75 attendees from from across publishing, creative/digital agencies, media production, cultural/heritage and academia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://ambientlit.com/
 
Description Presentation by Michael Marcinkowski Project Research Fellow 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Marcinkowski, M. (2016) Ambient literature and the beginning of a ubiquitous everything. The End of the Book, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation by Professor Kate Pullinger Project Co-I 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Pullinger, K, 'Smartfiction'; keynote, New Zealand Writer's Festival; Aukland, 17 September 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation by Professor Kate Pullinger Project Co-I 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Pullinger, K, 'Story +', keynote in conversation with Tea Uglow and Donna Hancox, Queensland University of Technology/Brisbane Writers Festival, 9 September, 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation by Professor Kate Pullinger Project Co-I with Tom Abba Project Co-I 
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 Pullinger, K, 'Ambient Literature'; presentation with Tom Abba; Books in Browsers; San Francisco; 4 November, 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Seminar Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Marcinkowski, M. (2016). In & of: Unstructured planning / ambient literature. University of Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Literature and Culture. Birmingham, UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Social Media 63,300 impressions on Twitter in the last 12 months. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Maintaining an engagement profile for the whole project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018
URL https://ambientlit.com/