Duncan Speakman

"We thought: can we make the world feel cinematic?"

HDYD Session

"We are constantly using devices that enable mobility, but close us off from the rest of our surroundings.
We wanted to work on theatre pieces that would connect people. Like this interesting moment of connection that you can share with a stranger.

We enlisted a group of volunteer performers that would follow the instructions on the mp3. We gave them a story and soundtrack as well.
So we started a subtlemob. We actually want to make something really boring. The mp3s consist of beautiful soundtracks and instructions. We send up this mp3 and people can listen to them in a certain area. We act like documentary makers, we record everyday life. People in the play are reenacting what we have seen in the streets before.

We send out two different mp3's. Next to the instructions, there are narrative descriptions about the world as well. People that are not part of the play will just notice that people are being nice to each other, they don't notice that there is a play going on. It didn't work that well in Ghent, because many people participated, but there weren't many other people around, so it became too obvious.

In our new subtlemob we have four mp3s. In the first piece it was always about you participating in a kind of film (it's just without a camera).
For our new project we allow people to perform a reconstruction of a crime. So they don't act like themselve, but they play a charachter.
We don't use a venue or equipment. We mail our mp3s to the people that registered when the file is finished, and then there is nothing we can do about it anymore. So when people don't show up, there will be no play. Because it's not perfectly synchronized, there is a sort of flutter in the performance. The experience starts when you get the first email.

For our new project The Speaker Symfony, we thought: can we make the world feel cinematic?
For the project, we use 40 portable speakers. Each speaker is a different instrument from the composition, together it is an orchestra. Each speaker is controlled by GPS, and it triggers one part of the composition. The speakers will call out for other speakers, so people can look for each other when they are close to eachother. We put people nearby so they will most definately find eachother.

We think about these moments that people normally do not pay attention to. When you go to the movies and you wait in a cue for popcorn, it is part of the experience too. We actually design these kind of moments. Furthermore we love sound, especcialy the sound that surrounds us outside. We now made headphones with microphones on the outside, so the sound of the outside world will be actually mixed with the soundtrack."


Duncan Speakman is currently involved in 'Circumstance', a company that creates narrative audio experiences in unexpected locations. But there aren't any old audiotours. The Subtlemobs they create are cinematic and emotional.

Subtlemobs? They are surprisingly difficult to explain. But once you're done one, you're a fan. The idea is that, contrary to a flashmob where sudenly a public space is transformed, in a subtlemob the people who are 'in on it' never reveal themselves. Instead, they follow an audio narrative on their MP3 player that instructs all the participants to perform certain actions. They all play different actors, together weaving a story with real interaction moments. It's a surprisingly immersive experience.

Picture: participants in a subtlemob playing characters

Why we invited him

The subtlemobs that Duncan creates are one of the first really immersive forms of location-based media that we've come accross. We want to know how he came up with the format, and how he uses knowledge of theater and technology to create immersive experiences.


*Watch Duncan Speakman's interview for REC Radiocentrum at http://vimeo.com/53092163

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