It Must Have Been Dark by Thenby Duncan Speakman

Chilled Ambient

I left Greece without knowing his name. Our encounter was fleeting, troubling. Not a summer romance. You can’t romance a dead person. Besides, my heart is already tied up in knots over someone else, and that person — oh, why bother being coy? Arjun. He doesn’t feel the same way about me. Why would he? from Liquid Continent I’ve been absent from this blog for a while as I begin the process of writing the first draft of my ambient literature story. “Liquid Continent” resides within a storyworld I’ve been creating over the past two years; my main character, Flo Evans, is a young woman who can communicate with the dead through her phone. “Liquid Continent” is about Flo but it’s also about student debt, the workplace, families, friends, and the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. It’s about grief, and longing. Plus jokes. Ideally, you will read my story at…

A Communicable Pathogen

August. 2016. Sitting opposite me on the train to London, an old woman pulls out a copy of Silvina Ocampo’s Thus Were Their Faces and begins to read. I wait for a while, a palpable itching in my palms. Then I speak. I reach out to her, indicate that I’m also an adherent of that obscure faith. That we share something. I ask her about Borges, and Bioy Casares. About Tlön, and fiction, and creation. About feminism before it had a name. About Angela Carter and Leonora Carrington, about Kirsty Logan. If it were a year later, we’d talk about Camilla Grudova too. Books are a secret society with a handshake and a badge. They extend out of the immediate experience, and slip into our view of the world. We share books with friends, we recommend and extoll writers who move us, who make us think. The first thing I…

It Must Have Been Dark by Then
by Duncan Speakman

BOOK NOW FOR THE BRISTOL LAUNCH, 6-9 MAY! Do you notice the world around you gradually changes? There is always something happening somewhere else. It Must Have Been Dark by Then is a book and audio experience that uses a mixture of evocative music, narration and field recording to bring you stories of changing environments, from the swamplands of Louisiana, to empty Latvian villages and the edge of the Tunisian Sahara. Unlike many audio guides, there is no preset route, the software builds a unique map for each person’s experience. It is up to you to choose your own path through the city, connecting the remote to the immediate, the precious to the disappearing. In January and February 2017 Duncan Speakman travelled with collaborators across three countries on three continents, visiting environments that are experiencing rapid change from human and environmental factors. What he created on his return is somewhere…

Making Ambient Literature in the Digital Humanities

While most of our posts here on this blog have focused on defining and discussing critical issues surrounding the development of the idea of ambient literature, I want to take a step back and consider more broadly how the mode of research we’re engaged with fits in with adjacent topical and methodological trends. In particular, I want to look at our project’s relationship with the growing cluster of practices falling under the term “digital humanities,” specifically the way in which the ambient literature project might offer a model for a different or expanded understanding of digital humanities research. As it has developed out of humanities computing, the field of digital humanities has been committed to establishing computationally-based methods for the modeling and analysis of data generated from research in the humanities, which could include areas such as anthropology, history, literature, and art history, among others. In this, the aim is…

Is There a Function for Nested Media in Ambient Literature?

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which ambient literature could mediate the participant’s relations with their surroundings, in particular, how narrative devices familiar to theatre and radio drama may function within ambient literature. Here, I wish to briefly compare the use of nested recordings, such as phone calls, instant messaging, recorded interviews, voice messages, memos, and vlogging, etc. within situated and “non-context specific” narratives. Emblematic of this device is Samuel Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape (1958) in which the protagonist plays sound recordings made thirty years earlier, recalling memories of his younger self. Radio has repeatedly utilised nested media; in the sci-fi drama Orbit One Zero (Peter Elliott Hayes, BBC Home Service: 1961) each episode is bookended by the scientist’s recorded audio notes revealing an attempted alien invasion. In Clara Glynn’s tightly scripted tale, A World Elsewhere (director David Ian Neville, BBC Radio 4: 2015), the life of Rida,…

Are We Not Locative?

I recently fell on the new Narrating Space/Spatializing Narrative (Ryan, Foote, & Azaryahu, 2016) as a key book for our project. And indeed it does have lots of really useful frameworks when it comes to reviewing space and place in narrative. The chapters on street names, maps, and landscape help us make our case for the significance of situation, context, and place as already powerful but critically overlooked determinants of narrative pleasures. But this is not a book report — more a specific response to one section. The chapter on “Space Narrative and Digital Media” pushed me into considering again why our term ambient literature is appropriate for the practices that are the object of our research. The authors deal principally with locative media and alternate reality, and in so doing construct them as the identifiable genres where narrative intersects digital. So why are we not a locative media research…

from our own correspondent

I’m one of the three artists that have been commissioned to create a work of ambient literature, right now it’s in progress, untitled and unfinished so for now this is an update, a missive of sorts As a maker it’s always interesting to see your practice framed in academic contexts. While a clear definition of what ambient literature might be still seems to be floating in our peripheral vision, the thoughts that are appearing on this blog resonate and sometimes even describe the kind of work I’ve been exploring for the last ten years or so. It was interesting to read Amy Spencer’s post about authoring the uncontrollable, it describes a world of writing practice that I would definitely situate myself in (along with artists such as Coney, Blast Theory, Ant Hampton, Silvia Mercuriali et al.). I feel that approaches the ambient literature research is exploring have existed for a…

Foregrounding Backgrounds

I’ve been thinking about ambience (unsurprisingly) and what it might mean. I’ve been really keen to get away from the idea of ambience as simply “background/backdrop;” this doesn’t seem, to me, to be what we’re talking about at all. Or it didn’t. But maybe I’ve been doing background a disservice, or, rather, I think background gets done a disservice. Background isn’t unimportant, and it doesn’t just hide or get hidden — background does. Background is constant, consistent, imminent, but it’s also intrusive. Background structures, but not just as something that sets the scene. If ambience is background then I suspect that it’s because background is a conversational thing. If you’re looking at a photo, a portrait, then the background matters. The subject may be a human head, but the background is what makes the portrait. There is no photo without the background; if the photo is so zoomed in that…

Authoring the Uncontrollable

As works of ambient literature respond to the presence of a reader to deliver story, a sense of unpredictability is inherent in this new literary form. Neither the world, nor people, always behave in predictable ways and this is a feature of this type of situated literature. In a work of ambient literature, the reader must be present in a physical location and if, for example, they are prompted to explore a city street then this location becomes an integral part of the narrative. However, this is a part of the narrative that the writer cannot fully control. It is part of their authorial territory but, as they might not know exactly what the reader sees in front of them, uncontrollable elements may become unexpected features of the story. I recently experienced Experiment II, a piece of ambient literature developed by Tom Abba for the Festival of Ideas in Bristol.…

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