Here Comes Everybody is a contemporary story reflecting on personal freedom and user generated surveillance, in the form of a GPS smartphone app for iOS and Android. Starting at the the Lower Sydenham end of the River Pool walk on Southend Lane, the listener encounters a series of twelve GPS triggered chapters, in the form of an intimate narrative, reflecting on personal freedom in the age of social media. The two central characters, HCE and ALP are drawn from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, each walking along the river towards their own destinies. Close and Remote have worked with artist Peter Cusack to record sounds of the River Pool creating a serendipitous new work. The narration is by Shereen Elizabeth and Cormac Faulkner.
An accompanying installation has been devised at the end of the walk at the bridge where the rivers Ravensbourne and Pool meet. The vitreous enamelled plaques include snippets from the story and QR codes linking to sounds and videos recorded over the summer of 2013 at a series of public events.
Choosing How Much of Yourself You Want to Share
When we were invited by UP Projects to devise a new project and app for the river walk alongside the River Pool in Lewisham, we decided to spend several weeks exploring this lesser known part of London. We spent hours observing people and the ecology of the location. Gradually some ideas emerged around relaying a narrative along the river as a locative experience, but we wanted something that resonated with the area and contemporary thinking on personal freedom.
James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake takes place in all time, yet is located around a few characters and the River Liffey in Dublin. Joyce creates a meta-story where characters stand in place of other things and link across time and space. We decided to work with this as a source because it is so rich in terms of the correspondence between Finnegans Wake and the world wide web. The title of the project ‘Here Comes Everybody’ refers directly to Finnegans Wake and Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (HCE), one of the key characters in the novel. Clay Shirkey also appropriated the same title for his book on human organisation, acknowledging the enduring influence of Joyce in the digital age.
Our commissioners were very trusting in allowing us to move forward on this and have seen us through almost a year of production. One key decision at the outset was to work with artist Peter Cusack on sound development for the project. Peter came on board unflinchingly and when told that we didn’t have a specific narrative yet, seemed completely fine to crack on and record the sounds of the River Pool. Examples of Peter’s sounds are below and throughout this page.
Over the summer of 2013 we acquired a number of devices aimed at recording the river from multiple points of view. These included a quadcopter and some small Go Pro cameras. The Go Pro cameras proved to be an amazing purchase and on a technical level served to shape our thinking. We spent a whole day experimenting with Peter and assistant Maria, at the point where the two rivers meet. This was vital in iterating between devising, conceptual work and technical thinking.
At this point we were clear that the idea of a multiple point of view narrative, devised through sensing the river, was the way to proceed. It also knitted into the spectacle of Finnegans Wake. Later in the development process, re-reading Steve Mann’s writing on surveillance, it became apparent that a key thing we wanted to explore was his term – ‘sous-veillance’ (or inverse-surveillance) – characterised by the notion of everyone watching everyone else. The year 2013 will inevitably be remembered as they year in which Edward Snowden showed that the USA and UK have been involved in a vast data collection exercise on their own people. Furthermore, we decided to play with the idea of ‘User Generated Surveillance’ (our term) to describe the effect of social and locative media as tools to gather yet more data via published or hacking means. Ultimately, this is what our new story is about – choosing how much of yourself you want to ‘share’.
We decided to break the production process down for the project, rather like making a film. Simon had worked with Rachel Lichtenstein and Calvium earlier in the year on Rachel’s Hatton Garden app and gained vital experience in understanding the software development process. We ended up with what we described as a series of layers:
The Workshop Layer – working with people down the river over several workshops to develop, devise and play with the space and surveillance technologies.
The Technical Layer – working with a variety of devices and people to record the river over a period of time.
The Narrative Layer – writing a new story based on key words and aspects of the Wake. (NB – at this point we discovered that Joyce’s Finnegans Wake was just out of copyright).
The Locative and Temporal Layer – we decided to use the lampposts that Lewisham Borough Council was installing that had a numbering system.
Following the workshop phase, we ended up with a huge amount of data on the river and became very familiar with the location. Peter Cusack recorded more sounds and we began to iterate the story over a period of several weeks. The break through moment was the story synopsis, because it enabled us to give Peter a set of sounds that we thought were important to the narrative as it evolved. We knew that serendipity was an important aspect of locative media and we worked on this through various drafts. This single factor makes a locative (GPS driven) experience unlike most other forms, as it is possible to combine narrative and observation for the listener as a readymade experience. This really has to be experienced to be appreciated, but for example there is a point in our app where the narrative refers to a security camera and several listeners in testing have spotted one right in front of them. Of course this could be shaped in various ways – for example Cormac Faulkner, one of our narrator says: “Here Comes Everybody, walkers, runners, commuters, polluters, cleaners, refiners, children, dogs, all-comers.”
When we had a working draft of the script, Sophie spent time walking down the river to see how it worked and this in turn shaped subsequent drafts. We knew however that timing was going to have a degree of variability in terms of how fast people walked along the route. We decided to put all of our layers together on a paper-based timeline and this acted as a vital map of the project. Working with software can at times be overly deterministic and a paper model allowed us to make the narrative work back into code.
We decided to work with Calvium’s AppFurnace cloud developer tool to build the app. The power of this tool stems from the founders’ long term experience of locative media – both Jo Reid and Richard Hull had worked at Hewlett Packard on locative tools. So, we were able to create GPS story zones very rapidly and then record the sound files in and test them. The narrative sound files were recorded by Gareth Jones using the voice of Shereen Elizabeth. We decided to break the narrative down into top-line narrative elements and the stories of HCE and ALP (Anna Livia Plurabelle) so that we could edit three different acoustic spaces (panned left and right etc). Again this was important to shape the narrative and drama of the work. Peter Cusack’s sounds were then dropped into each chapter story zone and mixed down. We then had a working model that we could test along the river using iPhones and Androids. At this stage we decided to allow the narrative to sit with the walker/listener’s pace (as it is possible to walk back into the story zone if you leave it and complete that part of the story).
The design of Here Comes Everybody was strongly influenced by the 1950s comic The Eagle. We particularly liked the bold graphics and slightly space age feel of the main type used in the Eagle mast. Casting around online we couldn’t find anything like the font, so we decided to redraw it for the project. We’ve called this ‘Broken Eagle’ and it has been deployed on bike stickers, the boat template and now the finished app.
The final drive to get the app pulled together was undoubtedly the most difficult part of the process. Our initial deadline was December 2013 for the final work but this became unworkable as we realised that the deadlines for the app publishing, installation production and text sign off just wouldn’t work. UP Projects were extremely helpful in working with us on the sign off and a decision was made to do a ‘listening’ of the audio with Lewisham Borough Council. At this point they could see what we where doing and we were able to articulate our ideas much more clearly. The final software development required us to push hard to get what we wanted using the development tool. We met the boundaries of our own technical ability and had to graft out an experience that was both locative and worked as an MP3 player. We wanted to keep the navigation simple and retain the bespoke design using the Broken Eagle font and colours. We also wanted to design something that sat within the new iOS7 interface and worked with Android.
Publishing to iOS (App store) and Android (Google Play) was an interesting process. We were confident that things looked good on iOS but knew that without doing separate builds we would never get it to look great across all Android devices. This is well documented elsewhere but ultimately here lie the real costs, if you are thinking of embarking on a project for both platforms. It isn’t just a matter of porting over the code, you need to consider the physical size of the assets (both file sizes and graphical). In short with iOS you are aiming for a build under 100mb and Android under 50mb for download over a mobile phone using 3G/4G. This is a big decision when setting out your project in the first place, because every asset (audio, video) counts. So, having uploaded to the App store we sat back and waited for our review. To our surprise the app went through to ‘Processing for App Store’ first time and of course we were delighted to get to this point. A few days later with some judicious audio compression and another build, we got the app up on Google Play.
To download the app for iOS or Android follow the links below:
Conclusions and Summary
It has been brilliant to work on Here Comes Everybody and it was important to have such a supportive commissioner. We followed our instincts to keep things open to the location and not force something onto it at too early a stage. We designed the project so that the workshops were the R&D, giving us more knowledge about the river and its surroundings. We were then able to fold this into the narrative development. It was essential to make a paper model timeline to avoid the technical layer dominating and to allow the narrative to shape around the location. Likewise with the styling we went back to traditional methods of drawing and writing.
The appfurnace software enabled us to test our ideas using the emulation process that it incorporates. We were then able to invite testers to try it out on iphones and Androids. So, a process of iteration was possible towards the finished item. We kept it simple in terms of an audio experience – because a good quality locative project uses the surroundings as a part of the experience – in short you don’t want people gazing down at a phone all the time. Furthermore, we pushed the serendipitous aspect of the project by iteration. Finding a voice like Shereen’s was important but we realised we needed to bookend the storyline, so we used Cormac’s Dublin accent to do this.
The final technical push tested us and the software. At times we needed to get ‘under the hood’ more and this was frustrating. Designing locative apps requires a unique set of skills and we now have much more clear ideas on new projects moving forward.
If you’d like to contact us about a commission or project then email firstname.lastname@example.org