VoiceOver is an urban scale communication infrastructure – a hyperlocal social radio – that everyone in a community can listen in on and contribute to, creating visual network display as they join in the conversation.
First deployed in March 2016 in Horden, East Durham, followed by Finsbury Park, London, UK and Brighton, UK, VoiceOver is a social radio project for communities, designed and deployed by Umbrellium in collaboration with local residents and organisations. Each time VoiceOver’s participatory communication infrastructure is rolled out in a community it ends up quite different from the last time. VoiceOver is initially commissioned by Forma Arts and Media as part of East Durham Creates.
VoiceOver isn’t like social media or a hi-tech communication platform. That’s deliberate. The networks of radio boxes and lights are visible and accessible, DIY instead of slick and corporate. The scale is local, the pace reflective. It could be your new network. It could change your community.
Over four weeks in summer of 2018, artist Emma Frankland invited twenty-five members of Brighton’s trans (including non binary) community to archive their thoughts and feelings using VoiceOver radio boxes.
Each week Emma would sent some provocations or questions – Who are you? What is community? What would you say to your younger self? And once a week they would listen to a specially recorded broadcast, made by a trans artist. These broadcasts themselves served as prompts on the themes of pride, love and existing outside our front door; on trans history; on the nature of community and on what it is to be a young trans person.
The participants were asked to share words and music that they would like to be heard by other trans identified people and also to share words for the world to hear. Whenever anyone at home recorded something on their radio box, a banner embedded with LED lights located outside the Marlborough Pub & Theatre responded in real-time by displaying their chosen colour. As participation grew, the banner filled with coloured lights – symbolising all their growing contributions. Each colour in the banner represents a specific participant. Over four weeks, 374 pieces of audio content were generated.
The content is featured in a solo exhibition at Brighton Pop Up Gallery from 28th September to 13th October. Two audio pieces were created from the recordings by Emma and her collaborator, Juan Carlos Otero. One is an audio landscape which is for members of the public to hear. Another one for anyone who identify themselves as trans (including non binary).
VoiceOver Finsbury Park
During January 2018, a network of sound and light spread through Park House in Finsbury Park. Residents of the towerblock were using radio boxes installed in their homes to record thoughts and ideas through the VoiceOver Finsbury Park social radio project.
Furtherfield, a digital arts gallery and community lab which neighbours Park House, worked with residents to install the radio boxes in flats and in the shared foyer. Residents listened to one another’s ideas via a weekly broadcast of the recordings, curated by writer and director Christine Entwisle, and responded.
People passing through Park House’s foyer could leave their reactions, too. What would they change about life in Park House? What will London be like in twenty years? And in the future, what do they dream of doing?
VoiceOver Finsbury Park, co-commissioned by the Museum of London and Thirteen Ways for City Now City Future, is documented in an exhibition open to the public at the Museum of London from February 12 to April 15, 2018.
VoiceOver East Durham
First deployed in March 2016 in Horden, East Durham, UK, VoiceOver is a participatory audio-visual communication infrastructure, designed and deployed by Umbrellium in collaboration with local residents and organisations. People that host part of the mesh network install a Light Antenna (attached to windows on the outside of their homes) that lights up as voices pass down the street, and a Radio Box inside on the windowsill to listen in to what people are saying and performing at VoiceOver Stations that link up surrounding public urban spaces.
As sound passes up and down the streets and weaves throughout a town, each fragment lights up in response to the different voices and sounds passing through it, making explicit the lines of communication, and connecting together people who, in many cases, were never connected to each other before. VoiceOver gives neighbours who have never spoken to each other before an excuse to talk, ask questions and share stories.
Rather than simply being an ‘efficient’ communication tool (a phone would have been better for one-on-one conversations, and WhatsApp probably more private) the aim is to get as many people as possible together at the same time communicating with others they might not even know, and meaningfully involved in creating, installing, supporting and bringing to life a cultural infrastructure, one that actively encourages performance, sharing and storytelling.
VoiceOver East Durham was commissioned as part of East Durham Creates, one of 21 Creative People and Places projects nationally, funded by Arts Council England. VoiceOver is an Umbrellium project, produced by Forma Arts and Media.
Photos by Lee Dobson and Richard Kenworthy.
A very special thank you to the residents of Horden for hosting VoiceOver!
VoiceOver by Umbrellium - original call to action issued early 2016
Every evening from March 25 to 28 2016, we invite you, your neighbours, families and friends from across Peterlee and Horden to take part by ‘speaking out’ along the VoiceOver line. You can do this from one of two ‘VoiceOver Stations’ that will land in your neighbourhood just before the Easter weekend. Use the Station as your personal soap box to talk with someone you don’t know, to sing a traditional song with neighbours, or to tell bedtime stories, and watch as your voice is transformed into light and sound on its journey to the other end of the line.