There are two main literary sources for Thaw: Georges Perec’s writings on endotics (his proposed study of the everyday), and chapters 55 and 56 from the Fourth Book of Rabelais’ Garagantua and Pantagruel. In the latter, having strayed into Arctic waters, Pantagruel and his crew start to hear “various Words that have been thawed” which are the remnants of the sounds of old battles that had been frozen in the Arctic winter. This scene provided the model for the Thaw installations, and my original intention was to have a number of hotspots in which the customers would hear fragments of sounds around them. I wanted to use directional speakers to create these hotspots, but the financial cost and a lack of sponsorship ruled this out.
Another means of delivering the sound projection was required, and so I opted for a conventional sound system with a trigger mechanism (webcam motion recognition: the sounds playing when someone walks into the frame, and cutting-out when the frame is once more unoccupied). With directional speakers, I could have put the sound-pieces on a continuous loop, as no-one would have heard the sound-pieces unless they were inside a hotspot. However, with a conventional sound system the problem of noise pollution arose, since the potential disruption to staff and customers had to be taken into account. A loop was no longer a feasible option, so I opted for a trigger mechanism to deliver the sound when it was required.
For me, an important element of Thaw is having the customers moving around the bookshops and coming across the sounds. However, the cost and availability of equipment restricted me to one sound projection in each bookshop. So, I opted to use QR codes* as a substitute for multiple sound projections, by placing codes for individual tracks around the store. This also allows me to extend the period that the sound pieces remain on site, as the codes will stay in place for some time after the main sound projection has been removed. However, there are drawbacks to their use, including a reduction in accessibility (not everyone has a smart-phone, myself included), and unfamiliarity with the technology (not everyone who has a smart-phone knows how to use QR codes). Furthermore, the QR codes loosen the connection between the artwork and its physical environment: a potential dislocation/relocation since, after the initial scanning, the user can access the sounds off-site. These are just some of the issues with using QR codes: there are others I have not had space to mention.
Aside from this, there are some technical adjustments concerning ease of use, which I should address. The combined joys of technology and field work!
* The use of QR codes is a compromise. Early in my research, on coming across Dr Chris Speed’s Oxfam Shelflife app (2012), I had considered using them, but I decided against it as I thought it was inappropriate for the project. I won’t outline here my reasons for believing so, but doubtless I will come back to this as my blog progresses.