VoiceOver is an urban scale communication infrastructure – a hyperlocal social radio – that everyone in a community can listen in on and contribute to, lighting up their windows as they join the conversation.

First deployed in March 2016 in Horden, East Durham East Durham, and later in Finsbury Park, London, UK, VoiceOver is a participatory audio-visual communication infrastructure, designed and deployed by Umbrellium in collaboration with local residents and organisations. Each time VoiceOver is rolled out in a community it naturally ends up quite different from the last time. Initially commissioned by Forma Arts and Media as part of East Durham Creates, the next planned deployment is VoiceOver Brighton planned as part of Brighton Digital Festival in mid-2018.

VoiceOver Finsbury Park by Umbrellium
VoiceOver Finsbury Park

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.

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.

VoiceOver Finsbury Park by Umbrellium

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.

VoiceOver Finsbury Park by Umbrellium
VoiceOver Finsbury Park by Umbrellium

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 by Umbrellium
VoiceOver Finsbury Park by Umbrellium

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 Finsbury Park by Umbrellium
VoiceOver Finsbury Park by Umbrellium

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.

The story of VoiceOver

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 conversations

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.

VoiceOver by Umbrellium

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.

VoiceOver call to action video