I asked Jane and Samantha from Pesky People to give some honest feedback to the creative audio-descriptions Joseph Young and I created for Knitting Time. I wanted to get a more in-depth response from a VIP perspective. This is how they responded.
We started noting down our thoughts, after discussing each piece. We didn’t want to provide notes on each piece individually, as we’d end up repeating a lot. I’ve used ‘I’ a lot for convenience, but have summarised our thoughts and our discussions.
Galleries often confuse audio guides, and audio description. I think audio guides can often be dull (read your blog). There is usually a risk in trying to interpret works in audio description, as the describer is presuming to speak for the artist, and therefore may be imposing an interpretation that is not what the artist intended. Of course, in this case, you are both the describer and the artist, so this is avoided, and having the two roles together is definitely a real strength.
The pieces are nicely evocative, they’re beautiful, creative, there’s a real sense of place and time, and your description works, from a purely audio description point of view. For the majority, I’m able to build up the image in my mind, which, after all is the point. Some of them, there are details I’d like to know about the piece that aren’t included, for example, Bird Song – I’d have liked to known the scale and medium of the piece. And I love the sound effects, they really add something. As do the cats, who have been summoned to the study by the calls of birds.
Your audio functions as both audio description and audio guide, which is very inclusive, and means it is likely to be of interest to sighted visitors as well as those with impairments, as having biographical details and artist’s intention enriches the work.
The only suggestion (not really a criticism, as it’s probably a stylistic choice), is the ordering. Having biographical/ technical/ artist’s intention information, then the description of the visuals of the work, then more biographical information, as you do in the first track, may discourage some listeners who just want to access the description only. Think of being a sighted person in a gallery, you see the image and form an impression and emotional response to the piece, then you go and read the information. So having information before the description, might affect the response to the piece. But maybe that is intended, in which case, all good. Drowned, which has the description earlier, for me, works better for this reason than some of the other pieces.
It’s certainly far more interesting and engaging than audio guides generally are, and works as a piece of art in itself. You could listen to these as standalone pieces, they could go out on Radio 4 as stories. Where you’d made reference to poems, I’d have really liked to have heard the poems included.
Knitting Wheel works less well, it’s interesting on its own, but doesn’t really work as an audio description of the work, I don’t know the colours, or size, or texture of any of the pieces. They are speaking as though you can see the piece in front of you. But this doesn’t mean it’s without value.
If I was wanting to be excessively picky, and if you wanted to take the accessibility to the next level, I would suggest providing a version with just the voice, with no sound effects, maybe on one ipod, for visitors who are Deaf Blind, and therefore, may find the sound effects difficult. But that is being really, really picky, given the vast majority of galleries and museums provide no audio description at all.
What’s really innovative about what you’ve produced here is that it has so obviously been a key element of the work from inception, rather than an afterthought. It being so integral works really well, and, sadly, makes it a much greater shame that they messed with the descriptions.
It’s brilliant that you’ve provided the audio online so people can download it to their own devices prior to visiting, as this is what I’ve told so many places, it circumvents the need to learn and operate an unfamiliar device, and is always my preference.