Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Sound in Game (narratives)

This post will address our use of sound within the Watertower Half Life Mod.

We are treating sound as an essential part of the watertower project not only in terms of describing visible situation, but to add value to an experience by describing what cannot be seen. This form of acousmatic sound will play upon ambiguity of space and time to provide an eb and flow of the past and present. Sound will be acoustically and spatially manipulated as well as time modulated. There is a particular focus to fragment verbal accounts of the hospitals past and present to further describe the space and also to promote individual interpretation through its ambiguity.

We are using the following sound sources:
  • Aural accounts from patients and staff at Selly Oak Hospital
  • Ambient sounds
  • Individual sounds to describe environments e.g. grenade sounds, weaving loom sounds

Sound in Half Life
Initially we intended to place all sound within Half life to be buffered and triggered wherever we wished. Sound could then be placed where desired, made to play everywhere in the map, or to be fixed to a location and heard in proximity to a predefined area.
In reality Half Life couldn't sustain all of the media that we wanted to trigger. The complexity of multiple sample recall and high quality audio caused stuttering during gameplay.

We solved this by placing only ambient sounds into the game so that transitions between areas were smooth and realistic.

The third and final floor of the piece is dedicated to ideas of remembrance for SE hospital, the anxiety of change, and a reach out to new beginnings. This naturally meant that most of the narrative we collected ended up being assigned to the top floor. The top floor was therefore kept free of any other triggered sounds to accommodate this.

Treatment of ambiguous narrative

Other fragments of aural history are peppered throughout the workhouse and wartime themes. Ghost stories feature in the workhouse areas as well as short wartime memories throughout the air raid shelter and surgery room scene. We have tried to make associations between accounts that discuss different blocks of the hospital 'N, S and K block' etc to areas of the workhouse. Conditions in K block are referred to as the 'stink' of the sleeping conditions in the bunk bed corridor on the bottom floor, also quotes like 'different parts pack up', where Lilian (one of our interviewed patients) describes her hospital treatments appear in work areas where links to equipment failure can be drawn.

Treatment of narrative material on the top floor
The top floor features a set of still pictures of the Queen Elizabeth and Selly Oak hospitals. Longer stories and anecdotes are tied to the pictures in a similar way that the staff and patients thoughts and feelings are tied to them. The narrative works on a proximity bases so there will likely be times when you can hear several stories intermingling at the same time.

The floor of the top floor has also houses an interactive light installation (shown below) Each light is turned off or on by passing over it. A user then can draw patterns in the matrix of lights. Shorter fragments of narrative are assigned to several of these lights and by passing over them the participant creates an individual series of sound clips. Each time the space is accessed we hope different areas of the room will be explored uncovering different stories.


Out of 6 interviewees 2 were staff and 4 were patients. They each harbor different views about the move and of course different perspectives of what the new hospital can bring. Some views can be described as broad, some as tunnel visioned, some from an individual perspective, and some of the wider community. We do not know what narratives will be accessed on the top floor at any one time and we hope this leaves a differing message to open debate between people who experience the work.

Ghost Stories
We are featuring several ghost stories in a section of the workhouse. One of three ghost stories will be triggered depending on if the user enters the room on the left hand side, right hand side or centrally. Our desire is to hear a different ghost story every few attempts so viewers of the piece may hear one or two different ones. What is interesting here is that the patients and staff are talking about the same set of ghost stories in varied levels of exaggeration (one of which describes more playing tricks upon staff members). This hopefully will reflect on the audience.

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