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iBeacon Live Documentary – a world first

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“Replacing the visual with the sensual and integrating interactive technology within vivid documentary storytelling… this is a blindfolded journey into the psychology of navigation.”

This blurb from experimental documentary makers and  fellow Pervasive Media Studio residents, Anagram, describes their latest project, Door Into The Dark. Claiming the title of the worlds first interactive live documentary using iBeacon technology, Door Into The Dark uses an aural soundscape to heighten the sense of total immersion as recordings triggered by iBeacons  carve out the participants’ pathway through the piece. An iBeacon is an object that signals its presence through a radio signal over bluetooth low energy technology.

iBeacon Infographic

Most early adopters of iBeacons are using them primarily as tools for retail promotion via micro location personalised notifications, receiving a discount code on your phone when you walk past a shop window for example.  Door Into The Dark, however, is a great example of how iBeacons can be used differently and illustrates how much potential this technology harbours.

Here at Calvium, we had the pleasure of working with Anagram as their technology partners in producing the project. We spoke to Amy from Anagram to find out more about the origins behind the project….

“May, who is the other half of Anagram, and I have been making documentary films for nearly ten years. Outside of making films, we would often go along to see pieces of immersive theatre and feel curious about whether you could use documentary content in that form. We had never encountered anything that did that in an interesting way, and documentary film being our specialism, we always wanted to give it a go.”

Anagram began their residency at The Pervasive Media Studio in December 2013 where they began working on making Door Into The Dark a reality.

When we applied for the residency we knew we wanted to use some kind of responsive tech. I knew Calvium were in the PM Studio so I had a meeting with Tom Melamed who first suggested we should use iBeacons.

Estimote iBeacons
Estimote iBeacons

Tom Melamed explained that at Calvium, we love using new technology and working with people to find the best tech’ for the things people are trying to create.

“When Anagram told us what they wanted, we brainstormed lots of ideas and then quickly settled on iBeacons. iBeacons are a really interesting new technology and the world is still figuring out what they can be used for, so it’s great that we get to collaborate on such an innovative use of them.”

“Working with Anagram was a joy. We took a staged approach. Firstly we worked with them to get to a point where we all understood what it felt like triggering audio based on iBeacons in a contained space. Then we built a system so that they could quickly and easily tweak the experience without needing to ask us for every change, this gave them the control they needed and sped up the development process. Finally we added monitoring so that Anagram could track each user and learn from the journeys that people took.I was lucky enough to actually do Door into the Dark and found it moving, thrilling and very interesting.” He said.

As with anything new and untested however, Amy explained how there was a lot of time spent figuring out the technology and how each element of this experience would come together.

“Working out what we wanted the tech to do, and how to get tech to do it, was really interesting and there have been a lot of challenges and surprises along the way. Our desire was to make narrative physical – make a piece that used the body and the senses, but we at first we didn’t know what the details of that physicality would be. We had all these new elements crashing together but the team – set designer, architect, engineer, tech – and their expertise made things move much faster. Calvium were really open and patient. We didn’t know what we were talking about to start with – we just knew what the effect we wanted was and they were great at working with us to see what was actually possible!”

Blindfolded and lead by a rope, a mobile application on a phone hidden in the blindfold plays an audio narrative – including documentary stories and instructions that enable participants to navigate through the tactile landscape.  The stories from Door Into The Dark ranged from an Alpine climber’s encounter with death to the irrational routes through London taken by an architect at the peak of mental illness. The set and the audio content are designed to be of equal importance for the experience of the participant – and it is the iBeacons that make that possible, as they allow audio chapters to be triggered at exactly the right moment.

Anagram are taking Door into the Dark to Sheffield International Documentary Festival and it will be open from June 7th to 12th. They are in the process of planning a tour of Door into The Dark  for 2014/15. Visit their website to find out more about them.

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