Audio Obscura

Experienced Audio Obscura, the Lavinia Greenlaw sound piece, at St Pancras Station today. It is beautiful on so many levels.

Wandering around in noise-cancelling headphones, the first thing I feel is a dislocation from my surrounding, but also extreme awareness of my footsteps. Each step creates a thump in my ear. My choices to move or not become important for their sound, not their movement.

The artificial background noise is persuasive, and the mini-narratives emotive and confusing. But for me, these playlets aren’t the point.

I begin to believe I am eavesdropping on strangers, with no embarrassment. And so I begin to stare at people. If I can listen, I can look, right?

It takes me a while to realise what I was doing. When I do, though, my guilt is focused on my listening – I take the headphones off. When I put them back on, I resolve to only listen, and sit down to concentrate.

Then I realise why it’s a station setting – the characters are all emotionally stationary. The conflict of listening to emotional stasis while watching movement becomes disconcerting again. (yes, I’m staring at people again.)

Re-entering the normal is weird again. It doesn’t feel as real; my superpowers are gone and travellers are once again opaque.

What could we do with this in museums? The idea of eavesdropping on visitors in the exhibition environment is interesting but obvious. I’d like to put recorded project team discussions within the finished space – arguments between conservators and developers about whether an object could be touched, for instance.

It does demonstrate the need to move even further beyond the audioguide, anyway.