For the past four years, the ScoutMob-Goat Farm Halloween Party has been the sold out main event for Halloween night in Atlanta. Billed as a night of avant-garde immersive artistic performances and installations set among the ruins of a nineteenth century factory complex, the party is always an unforgettable experience.
When Second Story Atlanta heard there was space for a sound installation less than a week out, we streamlined our creative process and got cracking. We worked eagerly and efficiently to create a compelling experience that fulfilled the party’s notorious standards for boundary-breaking work and our studio’s passion for storytelling.
We created Recital, an intimate audio installation that carries listeners to strange and wonderful worlds. People step under a bright narrow spotlight where they experience sounds only they can hear that take them on an imaginary elevator ride. We harnessed a curious effect made possible using HyperSound directional speaker technology. These speakers create a narrow, focused and stealthy ultrasonic beam that carries sound but is only audible when some object (such as your head and ear drums) interrupts the beam. It bounces and reflects off of hard surfaces, and can be carefully tuned so that it sounds like a faint echo unless one is directly within the beam area.
In Recital, you hear the sound of the elevator around you dinging and opening to distinct floors, opening a new world at each stop. Each time the elevator stops, the doors open to a new world. The background audio suggests a recognizable setting, and computer generated voices babble and read lists as if identifying the objects in the surroundings. In the basement, a mad scientist ticks off solvents in a bubbling lab. On other floors, voices recite types of wet weather as frogs croak in the rainforest, or they enumerate kinds of marine mammals along to whale songs. On another floor, we start on the launch pad and when the rocket finally arrives in space we hear Sputnik’s pings along with the distant beeps and messages of that historic spacecraft.
Given the tight timeline, we sourced audio from the public domain and recorded lists dictated by Apple’s pre-recorded Speech profiles.
Recital’s other ingredient was light. In a dark room, spotlights signal a promise — whether for interaction or performance is not clear. People discover by walking inside the light beam, where they become the audience to the immersive soundscape. To onlookers, they appear as performers on stage. They hear one recitation, while they act out another.
Coordination & Install
The party was a huge, multi-installation event requiring careful coordination to provide and test locations, lights, amplification and power. The night before the party, we affixed speakers and spotlights to the old factory’s high beams. Back on the ground, we listened to the soundscape and rode our elevator to the next level. It was resonant, powerful, wonderful. It was time to go home.
The next night, hundred of party-goers arrived on Halloween to find Goodson Yard awash with sound. Recital’s audio struggled to compete with the overall decibel levels. Between the chatter of hundreds, stage amps and passing freight trains, our soundscape was drowning.
But still, people stepped into the light. So we watched.
Eyeing the Unexpected
The spotlights served a purpose to the costumed crowd: Well-lit areas in very dark rooms are great places to take pictures. The circumstance we had to confront made us keen observers. Even though Recital couldn’t speak to people, the people spoke to us by demonstrating how to create an experience of their own design.
They retrieved chairs from lounging areas nearby to use as props and invited strangers whose costumes offset their own to join them in the beam. The spotlight succeeded in creating a stage for performance. It invited people in, successfully attracting participants without any promise of a payoff.
The concept for Recital aimed to craft a zone of individual experience surrounded by the crowd. We wanted individuals to share their experience with others in a ‘hey-you-gotta-try-this’ kind of way. In a quiet room, this totally worked. On the dance floor, it bombed.
But like our public installation that covered a Dumpster with magnetic illuminated boxes inscribed with words that people could rearrange, we again observed that simply giving people the tools to express individuality can inspire creativity and social activity more naturally than prescribing behavior through explicit prompts.
As an innovation center, our studio needs to embrace risky work and take chances. It’s why we put our first-drafts in front of people—to explore unknowns around exciting ideas. By getting real fast, we iterate on insights and wrangle dynamic possibilities at the intersection of art, technology and storytelling.
– Ashton Grosz, Experience Designer & Andy Pruett, Interactive Developer