Alastair unzips a small fabric shoe bag to reveal two live firearms: Smith & Wesson handguns that previously belonged to the Merseyside Police. He prefers their sturdy steel construction to the modern plastic alternatives, as they are far less likely to explode in his hand. It’s 8.30am on a cold April morning and we are at the Kelvin Hall Sports Arena to record the sound of a starter pistol being fired indoors.
We’re not recording the sounds of gunshots so that we can make a Scottish gangster-rap hit; we’re attempting a fancy audio production technique called ‘Convolution Reverb’. Convolution reverb is a technique that allows you to capture the unique echoes of a room and then create a digital effect that can be applied to any noise to make it sound as though it was recorded in that room.
Today we’re capturing the sound of two spaces at Kelvin Hall: a small gym hall and the massive athletics arena. We plan to use these recordings as effects for our interactive musical composition.
Rather than producing a physical souvenir we’re making a virtual one – an app for the iPhone that will be like an audiovisual postcard of Glasgow. When you open the app you will see an image and hear some music. Exactly what you see and hear will be determined by where you are in the world and by which direction you are travelling in relation to Glasgow, more specifically the Commonwealth Sports Arena in the east end of Glasgow. While the app is running the music and pictures will change depending on whether you are moving towards or away from the city. If you are moving in the direction of Glasgow the music and visuals will become richer and more complex and if you are moving away they will become more minimal and abstract. In order to experience the most complete version of the music and pictures the user will have to be standing in the Commonwealth Sports Arena. In effect our souvenir actively encourages you back to the place that it commemorates.
Our souvenir app is called Great Circle after the ‘great-circle distance’ method that we are using to calculate the user’s distance from Glasgow. It is a digital software application that doesn’t require any physical manufacture. Instead we are collaborating with Chemikal Underground who will act as the publisher for our app in the Apple App Store.
The app fits into a larger theme that FOUND are currently investigating: the music industry’s obsession with a definitive version of a piece of music. We are interested in exploring new ways of adding value to music and distributing it in formats that cannot easily be pirated. Our Great Circle app will provide a unique experience for each individual user every single time it is played.
How does your work for Scotland Can Make It! relate to the notion of 'the souvenir'?
A souvenir is normally a physical object that reminds you of the location where you bought it. We decided to subvert these expectations, asking how virtual products could ever be a souvenir. Our app relates very strongly to a place by using the GPS features of modern phones, but is delivered from the “cloud” – a realm with no clear physical locality.
Does your souvenir create associations to a particular time, place or memory?
The music in the app changes depending on how far the listener is from Glasgow, and also whether they are moving closer or further away as they listen. In this way, the app itself “calls” the user back towards the place it is commemorating. The same is true for the artwork in the app, which features drawings of locations around the Commonwealth Games site prior to the completion of building works. These drawings deconstruct as the user moves further away. As with the music, distance leads to greater abstraction.
The app can also be used to send physical postcards that reflect the current state of the artwork. In this way, both Glasgow, and the user’s distance from Glasgow can be captured for posterity.
How does Scotland or Glasgow manifest itself in your souvenir?
There are a near infinite number of variations of the music in the app (which is itself a song reflecting memories of previous games). However, the user of the app is only likely to get the fullest rendition of the song when they are standing within the site of the games themselves. The app also shows the listener’s distance from Glasgow in meters at all times. This distance is calculated using the so-called “great circle” method, and effectively treats all points on the earth’s surface as concentric rings of equal distance from the Games.
In addition, the sounds that make up the music in the app were sampled in part from athletes practicing for the Games. We captured the unique acoustic signature of some of the venues, by recording the sound of a starter pistol fired in the venue. This allowed us to give the user an impression of the music coming from within the venues themselves.
How important is it that your idea is developed and manufactured in Scotland?
We feel that both music and software development are important aspects of the Scottish creative industries. Although our app does not involve physical manufacture in the traditional sense, it taps into new skills and emerging traditions that are likely to shape Scotland’s future.
What is the cultural value of working closely with industry partner based in Scotland?
As the app’s concept is so tightly bound to a particular geographic location, it makes sense to work with partners who also have a close relationship with that same place. These considerations may help ensure an authenticity that is typically hard to achieve with purely digital products.
In what way do you feel Scotland Can Make It! challenges or sits alongside the traditional idea of mass produced, low cost merchandise usually available to commemorate such large-scale events as Glasgow 2014?
It is, of course, unusual to commission souvenirs in this way, but our app is not intended as a critique of mass produced, low cost merchandise. Indeed, it may be one of the cheapest souvenirs that can be bought for the Games. Also, the distinction between boutique vs. mass production dissolves when it comes to digital products like smart phone apps (or, indeed, digital music). If anything, we hope to challenge how people see the digital world rather than souvenirs in particular. Rather than giving identical experiences to a faceless mass of consumers, our app will shape itself to an individual’s location and never sound the same twice.