A few months back, I wrote about the ghosts in the ipod, who swim about in the diodes and relays of your MP3 player, and choose songs which somehow soundtrack your mood. It is interesting to gaze upon an old, familiar sight, and yet feel new emotions, even notice new things, because the accompanying soundtrack has changed.
A few days ago, I attended a quirky piece of theatre titled Ghost, produced as part of the Leith Festival. Arriving at the venue, you are presented with a small MP3 player and headphones, and sent off onto the streets and schemes of Leith. A narrator allows his story to unfold, while you are told which paths to follow by a robotic, feminine ‘GPS’ guide named Thanos. As you walk past random pedestrians, and sullen truants, you realise you are part of a clandestoine world which those around you cannot access. When you do spot another ‘theatre-goer’, you let slip a conspiratorial smile. Their identical MP3 headphone set is like the badge of a secret society.
The story is one of love, loss and flight, but is not without wit. References to an Icarus-like fall from the Heavens are complimented with a pair of angel wings, discarded in a tree in a church-yard. It is as if William Blake’s angels in the trees have had a nasty mid-air collision. Soon after, the narrator (a Daedalus figure) declares that he has invented the ‘cyborgs’ who walk around you. Look, notice! The man on his mobile phone, or the others with wires coming out of their ears. All robots, following the complex programming they have been hard-wired to follow. It is at this point that you are struck by the realisation that you, too, are following a pre-ordained path around the city. The production company is Puppet Lab: they have created a show where the audience and the puppets are one.
The current run of Ghost has ended, but will be reinstalled for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, when the subtle installations which accompany the narration will be reinstated. However, I think a remixed version (one which gave slighty more detailed directions, and reworked the brief indoor scenes which begin and end the piece), could be very successful as a free-to-download MP3. Intrepid consumers of performance art could download the file, make the journey to Leith, and begin listening to the track at a pre-ordained starting point. The performance has the potential to live on indefinitely, with each retelling differing slightly, depending on the time of year, time of day, weather, and of course the person who wears the headphones. If you see a guy or a girl wandering through Leith wearing headphones, you will never know whether they are listening to some thumping drum n’ bass… or instead lost in a world of flying machines.
This form of asyncrous performance, part mix-tape, part radtio-play, part-guided tour, has infinite potential. Musicians and producers could create sound-tracks for cities, or particular journeys. Tourist boards could create MP3s for obscure guided walks around remote areas.
A related concept to this is something I’ve heard called ‘Urban Orienteering’. It involves leaving a rubber stamp with an obscure pattern on it, in a bizarre location somewhere around the city. For example, stamps may be concealed behind a loose brick in a disused house, or in the cistern of your favourite nightclub. Once the stamp is concealed, you give its location on a particular website, and your fellow orienteers set-off to find it. Their prize is your pattern, stamped in their book. Like Ghost, this game layers another, secret world onto the existing city.