BLOG: We Are Forests

Published on January 9th, 2011

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We Are Forests is a mobile sound work being developed by Emilie Grenier & Duncan Speakman. It will use mobile technologies to connect strangers intimately in public spaces. See our photos at

Arrivals and introductions, Budapest week 1 1/2 Uncategorized emilie @ 8:22 pm

I missed my train from London.
He left at 4am and got there early.
This tells a lot about who we are.
(He was, I must say, not surprised)

Reflecting on these past few months, I realize that what has moved me most – because of its unexpectedness, is the nature of collaboration itself. Beyond authorship and choreography, performance and technology. Beyond what we had set ourselves up to discover…

But this is not (really) about that.

Onwards with Budapest.


We arrive at an uncharacteristically calm KIBU, where we were given the tour and handed the keys to our (amazing) flat. And although courtyards seem to be a banal architectural affection to locals, we feel like royals. We both have rooms with doors.


Patiently awaiting our turn to speak at the weekly team meeting, we are pleased to hear a familiar ‘hey guys!’ amongst the Hungarian chatter. A few (20) minutes to describe the project later, we find a desk, a wifi passcode and reboot the piece.

KIBU is alive, filled with dismembered robots and knowing makers. Absolutely welcoming.

We had left Amsterdam with We Are Forests running on an Asterisk phone system and the desire to move things along the open source hardware route. Objects soon to be part of the internet of things.

We had also been meaning to revise our working schedule, as 10-18 – we found out the hard way, is more depressing then useful. Myself being mostly grumpy until 12.

Happy beginnings.


KIBU is hosting a noise workshop. This is driving us completely mad, but we remain focused and enjoy the happening. Noise is good.

Yet an escape to the great market hall allows for food and illuminations.
And we fall in love.

‘high above your head, iron struts hold up the arching orange roof.
light floods in from the hundreds of square glass panes,
illuminating the infinite pattern of pale and darker tiles lining the alleyways.’
– We Are Forests (rethink_v03)

This piece had found its public space. A market.


Duncan is ill.

The weekend…

is spent battling illnesses and writing new structures on post-its.

We (mostly) talk about the market, and the adjacent bridge, about the reverence of cathedrals and feeling like a guest in a space.

We devise choreographies, and imagine stories beyond walls.

We think about crowds and lost intimacies, about the sited and the specific.

We remember the busker in the Amsterdam square, who played out of tune (with the piece in our ears).
In the end we had given him money to listen to our mp3 and play accordingly.
And it was beautiful. An unperfected bleed between We Are Forests and, well… this is your (real) life.

And Sunday night…

we meet Lawrence.

Lawrence is a friend of a friend, a brilliant musician and british expat living in Pest. He takes us to a local jazz bar, where the ‘chef’s favourite soup’ is followed by Pàlinka.

We tell Lawrence about the busker, and ask him if he knows a singer with the balls to perform the audience contributions in the market, a cappella, at a key moment in the piece.

He says: sure!

And that singer is now Lawrence.

As of Monday…

We geek out on Gumstix.

Duncan fires up the engines (with Tim, live from Dublin), writing up PD patches and lines of Linux to make sense of it all.

And I ponder.
‘What would you whisper in a stranger’s ear?’…
What if this piece was ever really meant to connect only two people within a crowd?

Our phone system was built with the gall to connect as many participants as possible, creating a choir-like narrative layered onto public spaces in real-time.

But what of this second piece? The object-based – more intimate piece… Could we actually change all the rules?

I travel the city and find a tin music box that László happily takes apart to find room for the Gumstix. The top tier sounds like the creepy ‘eye wide shut’ score, and I make scary faces while winding the handle. And leave it at that.

Lawrence visits with Dori to rehearse the a cappella moment. We hand them mp3 players and imagined bits of narrative. And as they sing of lost sisters and broken windows, we finally hear the piece. Whole. And everyone applauds.

Meanwhile, Arjan (the great) is still hacking away at the Asterisk phone system and connected web interface, as we’ve sent him weird structure diagrams he must now make sense of. And all the way from Amsterdam, we receive pings and urls with progress updates and eventually, a final product.

With the Gumstix alive, the phone system kicking and our three producers flying into town, we are ready for our first market test.

Friday (today)

We test.

Duncan meets Lawrence and Dori at the market while I explain the rules to our willing participants.

Phones in hand, we make our way through the busy streets, and into the even busier market. It’s almost 12 and locals are stuffing themselves with cabbage as tourists fill their shopping bags with souvenirs.

And as our system now allows for calling out instead of in, we hit play, and mobiles start to ring.

‘Welcome to We Are Forests. Press 1 to start’

In the Panorama bar, on the top tier of the building, Lawrence and Dori are scribbling down participants’ contributions as they are being recorded in real-time on the lower level.

‘Strawberries. Sausages. A giant lamp.’

Duncan pushes the narrative and instructions sound files as I walk along, recording wild sound with my ‘chic white’ project phone.

The choreography seems to be working. People are navigating the space as planned.

‘we’d like you to be part of the crowd again,
because this moment was never just for you

make your way back downstairs to the central walkway of the market.’
– We Are Forests (rethink_v05)

The singers are now facing each other in the centre of the market. From the top floor, we hear the lower chords of Lawrence’s song. But the space is giant and to notes are lost.

And as the piece finishes, and participants make their way to find us. We hope for the best. The tech system worked flawlessly, but what of the stories? of the intentions?

The feedback is good, helpful. Our newest canvas is understood, and people are moved.

Now what?

This last leg comes with a deadline.

We are pleased to finish the residency in Bristol, as it feels like the project will be returning from a long journey abroad. Yet the timetables are tight, and we’ll only have a few days to re-write the script for the space, and show and tell. And then there is Future Everything

But we are here. And here is great.

‘let us take this moment and remember it
so that we can see change
and know if we are moving forward
let us build a document of now
for the sake of comparison’
– We Are Forests (rethink_v05)

week 2 – budapest

Uncategorized duncan @ 3:38 pm

Dear Emilie,

It’s good to be back on the project and exciting to be in a new city. Kibu is such an active space, a big shift from the meditative calm of the NiMK artlab. Once again we’re resettling in a new world and just like the last two venues it’s amazing how welcome we’ve been made to feel. Have you noticed how the drive of the institution affects our workflow and interests.

The fact I’ve thrown myself at programming and microcomputers is definitely inspired by the fact we’re surrounded by wires, robots and geeks. We said that we’d make an effort to change our working patterns for this leg of the residency, and in this second week it’s definitely happened. How are you finding the late start very late finish? I enjoy the fact that during the day there’s a lot of people and discussion but then it becomes easy to focus once it calms down in the evening.

I’m glad we’re still exploring two systems (phone + gumstix) and I especially like the suggestion you made to turn the gumstix branch into a two person experience. It makes sense to me to explore the intimacy/public space question as a one-to-one experience, it’s a good counterpoint to the multiple participant space of the phone system. I like where you’re going with the idea of the music box as an object to contain the technology, do you think there’s a risk it has too many nostalgic connotations? The music box itself looks good, if somewhat overly scary . . .

It’s been interesting to rework the script for the phone piece too, delving into the details of intonation and suggestion, trying to keep it poetic while still remaining pragmatic about how to shape the contributions and choreography of the audience.

I’m looking forward to today’s first proper test of the phone system. I’ll write more afterwards.



Backend joy

Uncategorized duncan @ 10:47 am

here’s the new web interface Arjan has concocted for the phone version of We Are Forests

Two thirds

Uncategorized emilie @ 3:34 pm

I’m unclear as to where to start.
I was meant to go home, but I lingered instead.
We parted on a cold morning, near the invisible recycling bins.
This was 13 days ago.

Since we’ve decided to take some distance from the project, I feel almost every sentence and every thought spill out of the place in my body were We Are Forests lives.

This is what you’ve missed.

In Amsterdam…

I became obsessed with the archived voice, even though most of it broke my heart. {}

We broke up with cloud API start-ups (you know who you are) to build our own open source wonder. {}

We traveled to Belgium to be led around a museum in headphones and blindfolds. {}

We adopted a square, with a courtyard beyond and a name we (still) can’t pronounce. {}

We asked you to leave us voicemails, which you didn’t do and we got slightly upset. {}

I read about the Fukushima reactor collapse whilst sat in the Trans-Natural symposium (and was suddenly thankful to work with melancholic sound and not creepy futuristic bacteria). {}

I listened to the Sounds of Montréal and felt a sudden gash to the heart. (‘Lonely lonely that was you’) {}

We devised a new scheme in which we remove an audience from their home town for two months, play them police radio and make them weep. {}

Instead, we curated a structure and gently extorted stories from an audience. And as he fought with writing music for phone lines, he later payed a busker to play our track live during the final show. And it was beautiful.

Then he found the kill switch and I raised the flag.


I’m unclear as to where to start.
I was meant to go home, but I lingered instead.
We are meeting on the Gatwick Express platform, heading for Budapest.
This is two days from now.

PS. We also came up with a safe word to ensure we would remain friends, and remember to laugh. {}


Week 4: Last tests

Uncategorized duncan @ 2:55 pm

so we head into our last week with renewed vigour and a pick-up of the pace . . .

We ‘ve planned for a couple of live trials so monday is a day of site recces and we finally choose Spui square.
Today’s point of discussion was about research methods and the value of the everyday. Should you always research the history/legacy of a place when creating a work that will be experienced there? Does a deeper understanding of the past let you write better for the present, or should you just observe and react to what you can experience for yourself.
We attempt a mixture of both and begin to sculpt a rough structure for the work, a series of ‘frames’ for the participants contributions to sit within.
We start with the cinematic, a description of the buildings and a wider view of the location. Inspired by an episode of ‘this american life’ where a postman talks about what he knows (and guesses!) about the occupants of the houses he delivers to, we begin to incorporate fictions around the people who may be in the houses. The text then continues a wide circular description, drifting over the places beyond the wallsm the places you can’t see, before returning to the square.
This is followed by a series of framed sections that shiftfrom one mood to another, eventually pushing outwards and reversing back around the original circular description.
Each of our frames sets up a way of ‘thinking’ but we know from past tests that this isn’t quite enough to guide the vocalised contributions of the audiemce, so we plant ‘seeds’, scripted contributions from fictional participants. We also add a section of music, to add a break in the soundspace. On top of all this we try out Arjan’s new software for the first time., allowing us to move away from the conference call mode and have the individual contributions recorded and then played out to the rest of the people taking part, queing them one after the other and removing the layers of noise.
So with all these new things to test . . . . it of course goes completely wrong and we have a serious technical failure! Undeterred we revert to out conference call mode but include the new frame structures.
I don’t really feel we learnt much about how the piece worked, but we definitely reminded ourselves that testing too many things in one go can be difficult!

Some tinkering from Arjan and a dash of re-writing by us leads to our next (and final) test on Thursday.
This one begins much more successfully, people respond well to the seeds, but it’s clear we aren;t shifting the tone enough from one to the other.
We had tried to start incorporating some physical choreography, encouraging them to go to locations that they’d heard described by others, or maybe to find the other contributors. This wasn’t strong enough and didn’t give enough drive to move with purpose. needs a bit of a re-think.
The sense of connection between people is obvious, but we are still working with a group that know each other (or at least were all together at the start of the test), so it’s still hard to guage how people would speak if they didn’t know who they were talking to.

A small addition to the music also created some expected and unexpected results. On the tuesday there had been a busker in the square playing violin beautifully but incrediblly loudly, and rudely he had chosen not to play in the same key as the music we were playing to our audience, causing an uncomfortable soundclash. When I arrived to set up with Arjan on Thursday the busker re-appeared, so I jumped at the opportunity to try something I’d been thinking about for a while. A short conversation in broken english + spanish convinced him to become involved in our piece. I gave him an mp3 player to hide in his pocket, for the majority of our test he just played as usual, a fixture in the environment for the audience, but then when they started hearing our recorded music in their ears the violinist suddenly shifted his playing to duet with it, a beautiful bleed between the unpredictable (real? hmmm) and the choreographed.
This created some strange experiences for the audience, as much as the bleed was slightly magical for them, they also suddenly brought the busker and his audience into the narrative of the piece, building a story around people they now thought were all ‘in on it’.

We had intended to try out an addition to the ‘circular’ structure, where towards the end of the piece we began to playback contributions people had left, but play them in reverse order, tracing their way back to the start of the piece, to see if simple, lightweight early contributions take on more importance once the audience has gone through the experience, and their contribution becomes a memory of that space, and when they hear other peoples whether they reflect on what they were doing/thinking when they first heard it. Sadly it turned out we had a hidden kill switch on the phone, which I accidentally pressed and it shut down the entire system! oh how we laughed!

Week 2 Fri: Dogtime + Saviours

Uncategorized duncan @ 10:21 pm

Once I thought we might be getting somewhere with the phone system and decided that we may draw on the power of music in the piece, I started experimenting with music through IP phonelines. oh joy!We all know phone quality is bad, but through these software systems it gets even worse. The funniest thing is that the compression/filtering systems that they seem to use create the kind of sound processing that electronic musicians spend all their time working with. Sending a bit of Maria Callas through a Tropo conference call leaves it sounding like an Autechre b-side, sadly sending an Autechre b-side through it doesn’t end up operatic.  This is going to create some limitations for us but at the same time we can play with what it offers us, the fragile breaking up of musical strains.
The evening saw a visit to a local exhibition ( of the local Dogtime course )and a chance encounter courtesy of my friend Marieke. A friend of hers happened to be experienced with using Asterisk (the open source phone system we wanted to use), plus he was an artist, worked with the fantastic Mediamatic, and was interested in our project, ladies and gentleman, let me introduce our new project collaborator, the wonderful Arjan Scherpenisse

Week 2 Thurs: ‘Twitter baiting’

Uncategorized duncan @ 10:17 pm

With Dan away in SXSW I set to work tackling Tropo, after successfully setting up an answering machine service I began to drill into our conference muting/unmuting problem.

Spending a while in IRC chatrooms with their technical and customer support teams we eventually got news that a new development build would be released the following week, so we should sit tight.

It was also the time we realised the power of twitter baiting, especially with new competing start-up companies! Mention one complaint/bug about a company on twitter and before you know it the company is replying to you and offering to sort out problems, then the other companies chime in with their own services and offers of even ‘more’ support.

Sometimes they can be a bit over zealous in their monitoring if twitter though. In one case we had been testing things with Twilio (a competitor service to Tropo) and found problems with their international phone support, we emailed their helpline but got no response, but then we mentioned the problem on twitter and got an @reply from them saying, ‘we can help, just send us an email’

– guys, sometimes it’s worth checking your email before you check your twitter mentions!

Week 2 Wednesday: Sound + Faith

Uncategorized duncan @ 10:15 pm

As we were going to be working with some realtime sound processing (on the gumstix) it felt right to go back into a bit of research, specifically into rjdj, definitely the most known and commercially available realtime sound processing ‘experience’.I’d like to forword these thoughts with my absolute love and respect for rjdj and the people behind it, I love what they/it are offering to composers/artists/musicians/audiences, and there are some great outcome so far, but ….
the constant frustration for me with many of the rjdj experiences is their lack of structure. They have a strong novelty factor but there rarely seems to be any thought about the possibilities of narrative.

One work (‘a tool to experience the city’) suggests so much but in the end falls in to the trap of just being a set of random sound processing (looping, resonating, echo-ing) the sounds around you),  the possibilities for structuring the processing over time woudl give it the drive of a composed experience, rather than a random drift, which although often rewarding, doesn’t ever ‘say’ much.
We tried the ‘Inception’ app,  which has been highly publicised and successful.  For me it’s greatest strength is the use of music and the fact that it’s clear about ‘when’ it shifts into different processing modes and musical shades. The fact you unlock different modes also lends it some form of narrative structure. I have to say I was a bit surprised by the cheesy bubbling melody that accompanies entering the ‘dream state’, i felt more like some cheesy 60′s sci-fi moment rather than Hans Zimmer’s stunning film score. (c’mon Hans, you worked on this application!).

Some of this led to me thinking about the physical narrative of our piece, similar to the way we’d moved the Bristol test group from College Green to inside the Cathedral, I started mapping out spaces and ways we could move our ‘participants’ from one to the other.

When we finish this project I’m definitely going to write a narrative time-based experience using the rjdj system.
Our other research carried on into how simple layering of music and voice can be a powerful tool. (not that we didn’t know this already of course)One wonderful experience available online is the ‘you are listening to …’ series, From cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Montreal you can listen to a live stream of police radio mixed together with ambient music by local composers.

What is essentially mundane material combines to create a melancholy and richly atmospheric experience. I searched around for similar radio streams in the UK and only managed to find some CB radio enthusiasts in a shed somewhere just outside london, I tried mixing it with some of my own compositions, but somehow ‘you are listening to Essex’ didn’t have the same mood as north American emergency service calls.

Week 2 Mon/Tues: Beginnings

Uncategorized duncan @ 10:13 pm

After the heady days of 5daysoff and our varied workshops we got back to digging through some of the conceptual frameworks and opportunities our project offered.  Here’s some of the questions that drifted around

-What’s the difference between privacy and intimacy?

-What does it mean to work with a phonecall?

– What are the assumptions we make when talking on the phone, the quality of voice lets us know it’s a phone, and background sound lets us know the location of the person on the other end. The other common assumption is that it’s one-to-one communication, whereas the intention of our project is to connect numerous people, how will this change the way you speak/listen.

– What happens when all messages are ‘recorded’ as opposed to live?- As we planned to base our phone system around queued audio (i.e. not a live conference, but a system where your input is recorded and ‘then’ played out to everyone) we decided to start researching phone messages, how do we speak when we know the message will be heard later?
We also took this time to realise that there were two clear routes we wanted to explore (mobile phone based and/or custom electronics), and decided we didn’t have a clear answer so decided to develop in parallel and see which was the most useful output for this residency. Both systems bring their own qualities/potentials and therefore would create two very different works, as opposed to the ‘best’ solution to this project.

We also spent this time with Dan trying to push Tropo into a shape we could use for testing, sadly no luck there as bugs still prevented us being able to have a conference call in whcih participants could mute/unmute themselves (we thought this would be a solution to the huge washes of ambient sound that fill the call if 10 people are connected in an outdoor space)
We also took some time to meet with Rachel Feuchtwang, who reminded us what a leap of faith it was for us to undertake this new collaboration which involved living/working together for almost 3 months. It was a bit of a wake-up call to remember that this was really our first proper collaboration and we were putting our friendship and working relationship on the line.



Uncategorized emilie @ 10:10 pm

5daysoff, 1 day later

The adrenaline rush wasn’t lurking behind the Artslab door this morning. It was quiet. It was weird.

(The re-purposed hospital bracelets have been cut off from around our wrists.)

We have talked, engaged, asked and answered questions. We’ve invented sound machines and played street games. We’ve finally found Dam Square – where a Hunter was taking his Princess into the woods.

This is (also) We Are Forests.


Sat 5th March

Uncategorized duncan @ 10:06 pm

We move accommodation, to a wonderful house in Jordaan and spend a little bit of time running up and down the stairs (and away from each other) and relishing the space! Then it’s onwards to NiMK and our second pop-up workshop. We’re yet to fully collate all our notes from the workshops so this will be more of a step-by-step description than a careful analysis.

Again it was a small group made up of excellent contributors, so really useful for us in terms of testing.We started with our new favourite game of phone hide and seek, rule set is simple. Played one-on-one, you are the phone with your opponent, then you take turns to describe what’s around you one sentence at a time, back and forth. Both players can move freely around and it’s the the first person to see the other.

We played it through the different spaces in NiMK and it’s great to see how hyper people got when playing it, and also to see how they use the ambient noise the phone is picking up to identify the location of the other player (made somewhat easier in a building full of sound installations)

After this playful session we went on a point to point walk towards Dam square. Everyone was free to make their own way there (about a 10min walk) but we were all connected to each other via a conference call. Similat to Bristol we set up the mode as silence but invited people to speak if they felt moved to do so. The sense of connection to each other was interesting, at the beginning (while still in eye contact) some people found the connection more apparent,  then once we were on our own lost in the busy Saturday crowds the voice on the other end of the line became a sort of lifeline to friends.There were a number of great moments of strong connection but my favourite was when I had seen kids playing with confetti on a bridge and then a little later I heard a voice on the phone describing confetti on the floor and wondering where it had come from. I had a sense of knowing a secret, but also of someone retracing my steps, not stalking me but somehow walking through my past and in turn triggering my won memories.
Once we reached Dam square we tried an experiment in fictional narratives. The group spread out across the square, all connected by a conference call again, but this time we recounted the story of Snow white to each other. Each person would fill in a line of the story when they remembered it.  As it continued people started to draw in elements of the surroundings as either memory triggers or modern day representations of the story.  Snow White’s moment of lying in the glass coffin in the forest became the group of tourists standing in a circle around a street performer as a flock of pigeons swept up into the air.  Sometimes people held their phone up to street buskers to add a soundtrack to the experience.

Our last experiment involved a bit of sensory deprivation to test out trust in the voice on the phone. One participant was blindfolded and then guided over the phone by someone else walking at a distance from them (myself an Emilie stayed with the blind walker as a safety back-up, don’t worry, we’re not trying to kill anyone).

As was to be expected people found their olfactory (so rarely do I get to use that wonderful word) and tactile senses heightened, but for me the most interesting thing was the blind walkers awareness of the callers situation.

As the instructor was remote the listener had to be physically in one space while listening to another.  At one point the  instructor in my group tripped over and the blind walker suddenly had to deal with hearing their ‘lifeline’ get into trouble, but they had no sense of the instructor’s location, it could be close (therefore putting the listener potentially in the same danger) or far away (unable to be helped). A weighted moment in the call, double danger.

Fri 4th March

Uncategorized duncan @ 9:26 pm

Today we ran our first pop-up workshop with a small but well-formed group.  Benjamin came which was really useful as he has a design head but also has spent a time with understanding acoustics and audio transmission of for his nomadic sound project. We began the session by looking at material sound properties of objects and then set-about making small broadcasting devices. We moved on quickly to communication devices for shared spaces and then for remote locations.


I think I most enjoyed Emilie, Annette and Benjamin’s dance routine with different materials for banging on walls.  As much I’d had doubts about this tangent approach of Emilie’s it was really rewarding to spend time sticking, cutting and folding our way around the core of mediated sonic communication (wow, that phrase seems a little bit over the top!)

The evening saw my first proper night of engaging with the dancefloor at 5daysOff. Bit of a drab start with the micro-genre of (what I later learnt was called) ghetto tech and then a bit of ‘laserbass’ (i hope that by the end of this project we are forests can invent it’s own micro genre). Evening rounded off being swept away by Kode 9 + Spaceape’s dubstep hymns.


Wed 2nd March

Uncategorized duncan @ 7:10 pm

We spend a morning arguing about the content/process of the workshops, and take some input from Goat Island’s use of creative response, but as always our debate leads us to the core of the idea and we get the outline finished.  That evening 5daysoff festival opens with Ben Newland’s ‘Nomadic Sound System’,  a glitzy marching band where the instruments have been replaced by horn speakers and distributed music playback. After a few radio transmission issues it hit it’s stride as we approached Melkweg and we danced along behind it as James Blake’s album echoes across the canals. (which is good because it has also been our soundtrack for dancing in the workspace)

There’s some info about Ben’s project here . Seeing the band start to spread out as they marched, we got quite inspired by the idea of being able to throw sounds out across the urban environment, but rather than just out to speakers, maybe straight into people’s ears. Partially a development from my previous piece ‘sounds from above the ground‘ and Emilie’s Derives’s , we started drafting possible ideas for how sound might spread.  And what form the listening device might take, it’s easy for us to throw sound out to an audience (using radio receivers, possibly embedded in wearables) but it’s harder to get contributions back from them.

We considered headphones and a custom device for listening and then using their own phone to contribute content, but the act of speaking into a phone that you’re not listening to may crate a bump in an experience that we don’t want.
here’s some sketches of distributed sound methods –

Bastard child : this is the offspring of ‘sounds/derive’, but with a phone call added for audiences to add spoken content into the system

Pond ripple: where one central sound input distributes out to all listeners. This sound input could be roving, but how would participants use it? Could it be a visible icon that they can track with their eyes?


Pass the parcel: what if the sound input is being passed from participant to participant? but what would the rules for passing be, is it like the conch in ‘lord of the flies’?

I keep wanting to write ‘audience’ in these descriptions, but end up falling for ‘participant’, not sure why, it is something to unpack later . . . .

Thurs 3rd March

Uncategorized duncan @ 4:10 pm


As we’ve decided that portable electronics and sound would probably be part of the project it was time to try and bring my gumstix back to to life (super-tiny-micro-computers that can run Puredata audio software).Thanks to the wonderful work by Tim Redfern on a previous project of mine it wasn’t as much of a headache as it could have been, it was actually quite fun to get back into full-on geek mode.  Biggest problem faced was trying to access the gumstix across the network. A bit of tweaking routers that we found lying around NiMK allowed access but we (sorry, ‘I’ )also managed to accidentally create an open wireless access point into the office network,  NiMK weren’t too happy about that, whoops!.After getting them up and running (and playing a drifting ambient soundscape in the room that would alternately please and annoy Emilie) we got ready for our first public presentation in Amsterdam.

A small but attentive audience came to see presentations by Ben Newland (see previous post) and Roel Wouters/Jonathan Puckey of panel discussion afterwards was interesting. Flitser is also a project that crowd-sources its content.  The conversation circled around the issue of wanting artistic authorship of a piece at the same time as wanting to open it up to a collaboration with an audience.  Emilie commented on how during our tests in Bristol we’d told the first group that ‘there were no rules’ but when the second test group took part she kept thinking ‘you’re all doing it wrong’. Somewhere in these projects there is a key that involves creating the right ‘frame’ for the audience to work within.  After our discussion with the DCRC in Bristol I’m still hooked on this idea that we are actually trying to create new contexts for situations that already exist in the world.  Roel talked about two of their projects, one which asked people to create single frames for a music video and another where they asked people to follow instructions to create a section in a short film. He pointed out that they had much less contributions for the film.  His explanation was that it wasn’t really due to the amount of commitment people had to put it in, but more to do with understanding the outcome. A music video is easy to understand, and you know what your contribution is about, but the film was less clear, it didn’t really have a plot or reasoning apart from ‘we want to make this film with ‘you’ the viewer’. In the end it all seems to come back to the ‘invitation’ you extend to the audience/participants. The more explicit the framing, the clearer the audience understands their role, and maybe the easier it is to shape their shared experience?

Amsterdam 1st March

Uncategorized duncan @ 3:04 pm

We head to NiMK where Annette introduces us to the team and the building.  I don’t think we really had any idea what the scale of the institution was, huge media archive, exhibition spaces etc etc. and then there is free lunch provided everyday for staff and visiting artists ( take note PM studio ;) ).  Everyone is incredibly welcoming and interested in what we’re up to, looks like it will be a good month.We kick straight off by organising a couple of pop-up worshops. One is on lo-fi sound machines, partly inspired by our tin-can phone session at the PM studio, but also an opportunity to work at a tangent from technology driven communication, and look at what cardboard and sticky tape have to offer.The second will be back to fun with phones, developing some of the tests and games from Bristol.

Amsterdam 28th Feb

Uncategorized duncan @ 3:03 pm

We’re still trying to find the best way to use this blog.  At the moment I’ve taken on the role of the pragmatic diarist as a balance to Emilie’s poetic missives. First week in Amsterdam is over, so today I’m posting a series of daily notes and reflections on what we’ve been up to-


We arrive and settle into the tiniest of hotel rooms,  the sort of place where it takes high-level geometry skills to work out how to get both suitcases through the door.  Luckily there are only 5 days and we’re both stick-people so we don’t have to suck in our stomachs too much when someone wants to pass to go the bathroom.


The Netherlands bureau

Uncategorized emilie @ 4:39 pm

Amsterdam, day 1

We’ve know each other for two years. We’ve been living together for two days.

He’s often asked me for poetry, and I for intention. We craft stories and narratives. We think about sound, and the weight of the human voice. We drift, often, and observe public spaces when we can.

We both are haunted by the idea of intimacy through technology, and have expressed it through objects and experiences that today, culminate in We Are Forests.

He likes to listen and I seek to play. We are both passionate (hot headed) and strive for debates (arguments). This is how we decipher the important from the trivial.

Our presences are usually remote. But now that we share a space, we’ve doubled the speed.

This is We Are Forests.



Uncategorized duncan @ 2:12 pm

While I was away from Bristol, Emilie set us some simple tasks . . to design some lo-fi soundmaking devices and some communication systems that don’t exist. Here are a few of my contributions (partly shown here as a reminder as to why I work in audio not visuals)


Uncategorized duncan @ 1:57 pm

one of the lovely things at the PMstudio is the soft of input we get from the variety of deep thinkers floating around. A morning session with Jon Dovey (of the DCRC ) helped us to clarify thoughts around the project. The one that ended up sticking in my head the most was the idea of ‘the default mode being silence’ – here are some other thoughts that came to the surface –

curating memory through themes
see what emerges
what is the affect?
moment vs space
connected forests
emotional (affective) narrative
set of emotional responses
seed questions and themes
something that lives in the data space, after the event
invitation filters
responses: memories, quality depends on the tone of voice of the invitation
‘go to a place that is meaningful to you’ → Rider Spoke
the shifting identities of the performance/performers
open invitation(s)
emotional audio map of public space
whats if? → lack of interesting material from the public?
who is the writing voice?
the physical affect of hearing a voice through head phones
beautiful affordances
road to the gate that starts the journey
establish silence as the default mode
quaker meeting
what do we do with the content of silence
collective set of thoughts
invite people to focus on something
getting the dramaturgy right → the tone of the invitation
verbal responses to streams of thoughts
quality of the voice that invites you to play
curate examples that express the intention
you vs we vs them
collective identity
drifting through voices
woven identities
tide of voices
begin the piece with a sense of drift
voice is the present
present as memories
generate memories from the present, the instant
sense of flow in the beginning
silence state that will be interrupted (but be returned to)
flow → drift → collective (we)
connected consciousness
layered voices that transforms into a singular, crystallized state
the choir calming down
how will i know when it is my time to speak?
hearing one’s own voice
must all be heard?
poetics of randomness
allow for composition time
tailoring towards silence
adam greenberg’s walkshops

Words from Martha (my dear), on the Bristol test

Uncategorized emilie @ 4:55 pm

“She held up a piece of paper, with a telephone number written on it in black ink, large enough for the group of us to see, there were about 7 of us. We put our headphones in our ears, and dialled the number. After the signal problems we were all connected, we could hear each other and each other’s ambient sound. We were sharing each other’s listening. We were invited to drift. We were told to spread out and wander, told to stay within sight of the large square of grass and listen for instructions. We heard a mans voice telling us that there were, ‘ten people in this square who had not seen their mother for five weeks’, that there were ‘three people who were having a bad day at work’ and so on. As I heard these lines I watched a man in camouflage try to mount a unicycle with the help of a lamppost. I wanted the text to be slower so that I could look at the numbered people. We were then invited to speak when we felt moved to do so. No one spoke for a long time. We listened. I listened and wandered. It was damp, damp-cold, cold around the edges. I tried to keep a distance from the other participants, I wondered what to say. I wanted to ask ‘are we alone, are we here alone?’ Am I alone? But I didn’t. I felt the pressure to speak, the rise of a thought, the catch of a breath, the tension towards a sound and then the pause and release again into silence. The relief when someone spoke. A female voice drew our attention to a woman with two shopping bags. We watched her from different angles. The first time I spoke I wasn’t sure if it was working because when I spoke I couldn’t hear my own voice through my headphones. Could they hear me? Was it working? What I said out loud was not the things that were in my head. One voice began to narrate the journey of another who was following others, following those that seemed ‘not to know this place’, those that seemed to be tourists. This follower commented on his own following. We watched the follower following. We all spoke about the wet grass, about the avoidance of the wet, muddy, grass. I watched a girl in plimsolls slide up a grass verge and turned to watch the voice of a woman who was crossing the grass. She said ‘I am crossing the grass’ in answer to another who had said it was ‘too wet to cross the grass’. They asked us how we were feeling, I wanted to say ‘a bit cold’ and then I stopped myself and thought am I really cold? It is more of a damp chill round the edges and then I thought, I wonder if the others are cold and then I thought, its not really cold, I don’t feel really cold and then it was too late to say how I felt and I thought how do I feel and I thought isn’t it odd how I don’t feel more free to speak. I wish I felt more comfortable with my voice, I wish I could speak without so much thought. I wanted to say that I wondered how long until the trees would have leaves again, but didn’t. I didn’t because I thought maybe it is obvious, or maybe I should try to work it out. I thought, see how odd the lights on the trees look in the daylight, I wish it was night and I could see them lit up. I heard a voice tell me that two people were waiting for each other outside of the hotel, they didn’t know each other, I could see from afar that one had a green coat. I wanted to go and make them meet somehow. Even though I had noticed the church between the shops at the bottom of Park Street many times before I noticed it again when someone noted that they had never noticed it before. Then a voice told us to open the note in our pocket, which we were given at the beginning, it said HANG UP THE CALL. I didn’t want to. I didn’t know if they really meant it. I hung up and the sound changed, the space changed, it shrunk, again, back to me, back to only my internal world, only my parameter, only my individual sonic reach. I could only hear the church bells once. No longer doubled through the distance of the network. I was disconnected and I felt a sense of loss. There was somehow more silence and yet at the same time less. The silence, that had been a deep sharing, was over and now, only the silence of noise.”

– Martha King, PhD Researcher | Exeter University Drama Department


Tactical warfare

Uncategorized duncan @ 1:37 pm

The most interesting thing about this collaboration for me so far is the clarity of the arguments between Emilie and myself.  We come from quite different backgrounds of practice and this leads to some difficulty around taxonomy, in my head I think we are heading towards making a performance, a description which Emilie finds uncomfortable, our resolution leads us to think about creating a ‘moment’, which is a way of thinking about performance in public space that I find really appealing.
Our arguments, or ‘debates’, also let us see what the cornerstones of the project are.  The possibility of creating something which connects multiple cities looks appealing, and our continued disagreements on its validity set it up as an important thing to explore within the project.

Emilie had never tried the tin-can telephone method so it felt like an essential early experiment to prove to her it wasn’t a myth.



Uncategorized duncan @ 1:37 pm

the first few days at the PMstudio were filled with the usual admin that comes with such residencies, especially when there are numerous partners and artists arriving in new countries.  With admin tackled during the days the evenings became a time to start re-examining our original ideas., especially thoughts around co-authorship, whether that between us and the audience or within the audience.
We decided quite quickly that we wanted to lead the audience towards the idea of speaking out loud, and not throw them into it. We devised a series of written tasks that we published on a vague website, the original invitation was simply ‘what would you whisper in a stranger’s ear’ with an anonymous comment system and no information about the context.

See the website at

Slowly we added new tasks over the following days, and a little bit more contextual information about the project, eventually we added a comment system where participants were encourage to draw their response to the question. This shift into visual contribution was an uncomfortable diversion for me, but it has rewarded us with some beautiful responses.

the PM welcome

Uncategorized emilie @ 11:11 am

Bristol, day 4

I’ve just arrived and settled. He’s off to Japan.

We’ve sent each other tasks to stay connected. Thought maps, inking journeys, inventing machines, prying on strangers.

In the meantime, we’ve had an idea, and put it online for others to help it blossom. This meant we needed a name, an anchor.

Margaret Atwood asked: Where do the words go/ when we have said them?

This is We Are Forests.

[ps. We bought matching white project phones]


Uncategorized duncan @ 1:34 pm

I’ve worked with Emilie in varying different ways on my some of my own projects over the last 2 years, and we’ve started a few collaborations remotely but physical separation became a barrier in bringing any of them to fruition.
The idea for this residency was dreamt up in a bar before Emilie fell asleep on the sofa. We started with our shared interests, sound and intimacy in public space, but where it was to go from there was fairly open, and hung around the question ‘what would you whisper in a stranger’s ear’.  Somewhere in our early discussions we gravitated towards the idea of a live event of some form, and there was a common interest in headphone listening and hacked electronics.

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