Walking down Ladies Mile

Eleanor Rycroft is a Historian of walking & theatre. She documented a women-led night walk, taking a route that is historically associated with sex-work, connecting the walk, and its participants, to a lineage of night-walking women.

Eleanor’s soundwalk is one of the shortlisted pieces in the Sound Walk September Awards 2022. Here, she talks about the context of their work.


On the 23rd of July, 2022, Bristol Steppin Sistas and researchers from the University of Bristol, walked on contested ground, taking a route down Ladies Mile and skirting the perimeters of Clifton and Durdham Downs, in Bristol.

The Downs hold a central and symbolic role in Bristol’s history. In 1856 the Society of Merchant Venturers promised “to maintain the free and uninterrupted use of the Downs” [….] leading to The Clifton and Durdham Downs Act of 1861, that preserved the Downs for all Bristolians “for ever hereafter open and unenclosed”.

The preamble to the Act says “Whereas there are in the immediate neighbourhood of the city of Bristol two downs or commons which have from time immemorial been open, and largely resorted to as places of recreation for the inhabitants of Bristol and its neighbourhood, it is expedient that they should be so maintained”.

However, even from its inception, the idea of the Downs as belonging to all Bristolians has been troubled. In 1871, a plea for a “People’s Park” was made: “You will say we have Clifton and Durdham Downs, but these are mainly for rich people who can afford to live in that neighbourhood.”

This historic tension between Clifton residents and wider Bristolians in relation to the Downs remains, coming to a head recently in a legal battle between the Society for Merchant Venturers, and the organisation Downs for People. As Bristol 24/7 reported:

Downs for People learned at the end of May 2020 [..] that the zoo had been granted a licence in secret that allowed it to park [on the Downs] for another 20 years, from the beginning of 2020 to the end of 2039. […] In a settlement out of court […] the Downs Committee and Bristol City Council, agreed that the green space will not be used for parking for activities that don’t [take] place there in the future.

Downs for People member, Susan Carter said “We are most grateful to all those who have helped us fight this case. Let this be a warning to those who would trample on the rights of ordinary Bristolians”.

The place of the Downs within Bristol is also problematically implicated in their part ownership by the Society for Merchant Venturers, who play a key role in Bristol’s history through their role in the Transatlantic slave trade. The Society’s connections to slavery have led Downs for People to call upon them to relinquish rights to this land and return it wholly to the people of Bristol. The pedestrian occupation of the space of the Downs by women of colour was therefore a politically significant act.

The route we took also had an important place in terms of the city’s history of sexuality and gender. The lavatory where we gathered on Durdham Downs was a lesbian meeting place in the 1930s according to the ‘Know Your Place’ map project as well as a memoir by toilet attendant, Victoria Hughes. The immediate area was also a cruising spot for gay men.

More well known is Clifton Downs’ connections to sex work with records stretching as far back as 1884. According to Victoria Hughes memoir, Ladies Mile was a notable site for sex workers before and after the Second World War. Hughes notes it heterotopic nature: “Just as the ladies with the right accents used to ride their horses along there on Sunday mornings, the Marys… offered another kind of ride after dark” (Victoria Hughes, Ladies Mile (Abson Books, 1977) p10-11). While Hughes’ memoir contains just as much judgment as it does information about sex work during that period, it shines a light on another sort of nightwalking with which this area is associated.

Historians have argued that the label of ‘nightwalker’ emerged alongside prohibitions against women walking at night in the 17th century. At this point in time the association of night-walking with male criminality is displaced onto women and perceptions of their deviant sexuality, with the aim of social and sexual control.

This condemnation of night-walking women remains to this day and early modern ideas continue to condition the view of women who walk at night, affecting their safety. The route that we undertook would have represented real danger to us if we had walked it alone: as recently as May 2021, Clifton and Durdham Downs have been the site of the sexual assault of women. So – again – while the Act of 1861 promotes that Clifton and Durdham Downs should be a place of “recreation for the inhabitants of Bristol”, distinctions between Bristolians along lines of class, race, sexuality and gender have historically and continually hindered their freedom to use it.

On the 23rd of July, 2022, we walked back against our exclusion from night-walking as women, defying its associations and its dangers. The soundscape of the event captures the stories and reminiscences shared by Bristol Steppin Sistas as they reclaimed this land through walking. We all occupied space from which we have been historically denied, and in doing so, exposed women’s – especially women of colour’s – lack of freedom to walk where they like, when they like.

The questions that our sound designer, Alice Boyd, asked were intended to elicit honest responses, and we were thrilled with the diversity of feelings that our walkers had about the walk. The soundscape is intended to be a transparent, albeit edited, record of the event, and at points the sound quality suffers a little because of rain. At 10.54, incidentally, you can hear, very faintly, the sound of a car horn, and then a man shouting at 10.56. While we were largely left alone during our walk, it is interesting that our unusual act could not be left completely free of comment and disruption. Whether the beep was one of criticism or solidarity we will never know.

The Downs Tennis Court Bristol

Here’s Alice talking about her experience:

When Ellie reached out about this project I was incredibly excited. After two years of working mostly from home due to the COVID pandemic, I had been looking for more ways to get into the field with my compositional and sound work. I was struck when watching C’mon C’mon, Mike Mills’ 2021 film about a radio journalist played by Joaquin Phoenix, by the following quotation on interviews: “The work offers the subject a chance to speak of things they have never spoken of. A chance to see themselves as subjects worthy of time and attention. The work offers the subjects the creation of an image of self, the distributions of which they cannot control, on a global scale, in perpetuity.” Previously, I hadn’t thought much about sound recording and interviewing, however C’mon C’mon highlighted both the power of the medium in giving people a platform, as well as the ethical considerations of the editing process. I wanted in!

On the day itself, the trials and tribulations of sound recording in the field became apparent. It started raining and I had to quickly figure out how to balance an umbrella over my sound equipment, while also holding the microphone in one hand, the questions in the other and maintaining conversation with the interviewee. It was fascinating listening to the women speak about their experiences and their thoughts on walking at night, particularly when they contrasted with one another. Common themes began to arise. All unanimously agreed they would likely not do the same walk alone. Many had stories about feeling unsafe at night. Many wished they could do it more. I hope that through the compilation of the interviews, each women felt their voice was heard and that the diversity of the stories told give a insight into the various ways women feel when walking at night.


Find out more about Brigstow Institute Experimental partnership Walking and Recreation.

A View of Mars: HydroPoetics at the Martian House

As she pulled back the blue and green curtain that closed off a small sleeping pod built into the wall, with just enough room for some comfortable pillows and light bedding, we looked up to a screen – which served to represent a window onto a Martian landscape – with an image of red rock and a barren land laden with dust. Katy spoke about the experience of someone living in a Martian home. She spoke about the dust storms, the implacable cold, the constant threat of radiation, all contained in that image of barren stone. It was at that point I realised the importance of a small garden space to people 109.22 million kilometres from Earth.


On the banks of the harbour at Museum Square there is an unusual building. Seen from a distance one can make out a bright red structure topped with a shining silver dome. This is the Martian House. The exterior is captivating, and upon closer look it is beautifully decorated with murals, posters, and information detailing the Martian House project, its origins, its outcomes, and the questions it inspires about our future. However, the true wonders of the Martian House are found within its airtight walls.   

I was part of a small group of hydroponic enthusiasts and inquisitors into the future of human ecology who arrived at the Martian House to take part in artist Katy Connor’s HydroPoetics workshop. The building is composed of two repurposed shipping containers and a large dome. On Mars the domes would be constructed out of a combination of Martian soil and concrete slurry. The houses would be placed on top of natural craters to increase living space, and each house would be connected to a central community space thus forming an interconnected Martian hamlet. As we walked around the Martian House the walls were adorned with designed objects that you may want or need on Mars. The items were made from reused materials, all low-tech and easy to construct. A hammock made from parachute, an amp made from a coffee tin, and a guitar made with the fewest parts possible. One could imagine a Martian citizen, reclining in the hammock and strumming a few gentle chords.  

These items were imagined and decided upon through the project’s interaction with the community, an essential aspect of its research practice. The story of the Building a Martian House and HydroPoetics begins with Ella Good and Nicki Kent, freelance artists with a participatory, socially led practice. They formed an artistic project entitled A Decade with Mars which is focused on understanding Earth through understanding Mars, and exploring visions of the future. In the fourth year of this project, the Brigstow Institute funded an ideas exchange entitled Life on Mars? Building a Martian House. This ideas exchange brought the artists together with Dr Lucy Berthoud an expert on Spacecraft Systems Engineering and Hugh Broughton an architect who designed the Halley VI British Antarctic Research Station. This led to the design and eventual construction of the unusual and extraordinary building we had found ourselves in. In 2022 this project further developed with Growing Liveable Worlds: Ethical Encounters Between Human and Plant Life a Brigstow funded experimental partnership inspired by Natasha Myers’ work on the Planthroposcene. This experimental partnership introduced artist Katy Connor into the project alongside cultural geographer Franklin Ginn, and biological scientists Jane Memmott and Bethany Eldridge to consider the speculative scenario of terraforming Mars through a hydroponic technogarden. With HydroPoetics the art project reflected on questions of science, technology, botany, materiality, and ethics. Throughout all its developments and iterations, the artistic and research projects that surround the Martian House and HydroPoetics have been driven by interdisciplinary research and practice, creative public engagement and community driven feedback. This ongoing and malleable art/research project has constantly questioned the relationship between humans and their environment, exposing what we take for granted and envisioning the potential paths this relationship may travel in the future. 

Returning to our small group in the Martian House… After we examined these minimal-design-house-items, Katy led us up a narrow set of metal stairs into the dome. We first entered the ‘dining area’, where we placed on lab coats to protect the hydroponic plants from potential pathogens. A tea set sat on a small table in the corner, containing a dark liquid steeped from the leaves of lemon verbena that had been grown in the adjacent room. As we passed through into the hydroponic room, Katy began to explain the set up and process of hydroponic gardening, explaining both her experience and the envisaged experience of future Martian humans. From these conversations the wealth of the research project was evident. We discussed the potential of hydroponics as a response to climate issues and resource scarcity; the benefits to mental wellbeing offered by the practice of plant growing and the presence of greenery (first noted on in an astro-context in the 1970s by Soviet cosmonauts during their experiments with germination in microgravity); the human-engineered lifecycle of resources, the important question of where they came from and where they will go when ‘used’; the problems of hydroponic pollination in Mars due to the absence of bees and Katy’s collaboration with Bristol Robotics to trial tiny swarm robotics or a pollinating robotic arm; the issue of sourcing alternative substrate to toxic rockwall or plastic sponges in which to grow the plants; the problems of planned obsolescence in current hydroponic systems and the ecological cost of international shipping and manufacture; the use of bioluminescent algae as a handheld lamp on Mars; the lack of a ‘dormant period’ for plants in modern industrial farming, akin to a lack of sleep for humans; and the human experience of confronting the vast emptiness of space, in all its wonder and terror, and the comfort that a small part of Earth, found in the growing of hydroponic plants, would bring to those future extra-terrestrial humans.  

In these discussions the poetry of hydroponics came out. The hydroponic plants seemed to serve as living sculptures signifying the complex relationship between humans and plants and the silent poetry contained in our bond.   

Katy explained to us that as an homage to the long history of humankind’s relationship with plants and their manipulation of the planthroposcene, she had been planting the seeds in accordance with the lunar cycle, an ancient agricultural practice. This introduced an interesting question, as the same would not be possible on Mars, which has no moon. This led us to wonder what forms of modern agricultural rituals would develop within the first colony of humans to Mars. The Earth and Moon are visible with the naked eye from Mars. From Mars an observer would be able to watch a unique form of lunar cycle, one in which the Earth and Moon fluctuate between appearing as a single point of light and appearing as two distinguishable objects, which occurs as the orbit of the Moon carries it from one side of the earth to the other. Perhaps this would form the basis of their own lunar agricultural ritual and provide them with another link to their home planet. 

Reflections on Calming Cushion Project: A different perspective

Robotics and Everyday Life: Strategies for improving the sensing performance of personalised therapeutic products for people living with dementia

My experience of co-working in this team has been very positive. It has been an excellent way to form connections within and outside of the university that you wouldn’t normally have the chance to make. This has been especially prescient during and in the wake of covid, as opportunities for social networking have been greatly reduced.

Working on something with a physical presence and opportunity to have a real-world impact on public health and wellbeing has increased my sense of worth as a researcher. As Johann Hari describes, connection to meaningful work is vitally important for us as human beings, and working on a project like this where the direct effects can be clearly traceable over a relatively short timescale is a positive and self-affirming experience. As a researcher you can spend a lot of your time on theoretical work that may never make it out to the public or takes a long time to filter into other work – the societal engagement of this project is extremely gratifying and helps contribute to a sense of being grounded. It is also great to be a part of work that can help strengthen links between academia and the public and show people the importance of the research that is happening at our universities. I would like to pursue opportunities to work across disciplines or with creative partners in the future.

The positives and negatives of working in an interdisciplinary team are often two sides of the same coin. Take independence for an example. In a team such as this, you are often the designated expert in your field. This is a freeing experience as it allows you to complete your tasks as you wish, making the decisions as you see fit, and your team members will generally defer to your expertise. The flip side of this is that your colleagues may not be able to see where you have gone wrong and correct your mistakes. You must be confident in your abilities but also aware of your shortcomings, and practice critical open-mindedness to take on feedback from people with a different perspective. As I was brought onto this project by one of my supervisors in Psychology, I have had the benefit of independence but also discipline-specific support for my role in the project, which is an ideal set-up for introducing early career researchers (ECRs) to interdisciplinary work.

Working in this way also feels much more egalitarian – it makes a change from the traditional supervisor-student relationship that ECRs usually work within. This is great as it can show you your worth as a researcher and how much knowledge you have acquired, as opposed to always comparing yourself to your supervisor who is infinitely more knowledgeable (or so it seems!). However, this equality can feel like it could lead to stagnation if members of the team are not intrinsically driven to complete the project. Having a strong project lead and setting deadlines is key to keeping everyone on track, especially with people who are often working to very different schedules. Personal accountability as well is essential, and in a good team this is implemented by each team member for themselves. I can see how problems could occur if some members of the team had less intrinsic motivation or personal organization than others, and in these cases strong leadership would be vital to ensuring the team works cohesively and the project progresses well.

This work has shown me the potential for robotics as aids to wellbeing, especially for more vulnerable members of the population who may find it harder to interact with other people. I believe there is huge scope for these devices to be developed for a range of groups with varied needs, as well as neurotypical individuals. Dysregulation of the stress response has been linked to a multitude of diseases, from cancer to heart disease, while deep and slow breathing can help reduce anxiety and promote physiological improvements. By developing a calming breathing cushion that is accessible to all we have the opportunity to give people back some control over their stress and their health.

Reflections on Calming Cushion Project

Robotics and Everyday Life: Strategies for improving the sensing performance of personalised therapeutic products for people living with dementia

Having the expertise of a broad range of researchers and creative partners has added great value to the project. With each person bringing detailed knowledge of their field more areas have been covered than if the individual areas were working alone. Things are thought of which wouldn’t necessarily been a priority to each person who is working on their own part. For example, while focusing on the engineering, media communication may have arisen as an afterthought. It’s valuable to have another person prioritising that and making sure it is anticipated and addressed at the right time in the project timeline.

The main challenge of working in an interdisciplinary team is coordinating calendars! With such a wide range of people with varied priorities and responsibilities finding a time to get everyone together is difficult. We managed though! Another challenge of working in an interdisciplinary team is communication, however I find this to be one of the greatest benefits also. Each person comes with specialised knowledge which leads to a lot of specific language being used that would not be understood by everyone. Having to communicate with each other has required simplification of the language used which leads to clarification of ideas.

Developing the sensor system for this project has really helped crystallise my skills in sensor engineering. Creating a system which integrates into an existing product to produce data for other people to use has honed my thought processes to be more aware of the end goal during the project development. Increased familiarity with the applications and implementation of sensors in a robotic object will certainly be of use in my future research.

My background is quite broad and overlaps with that of many members of the team. I have therefore found it fascinating to observe how each discipline approaches this project. It has really helped me understand through which lens I am seeing when I’m approaching my own research.

I have really enjoyed working in this team and believe greater value has been gained through the addition of multiple perspectives. Collaborating with so many people who really know their stuff at such a high level has felt like a great luxury. I will certainly be on the lookout for this kind of working relationship in the future.

Involving societal engagement and/or co-production in a project is something I feel very good about. While we had a great diversity of individuals on this project one could argue there is still some homogeneity in perspective. The opportunity to get more input from a broad range of people, particularly from indented users (co-production), has the potential to enrich the development process with new ideas and helps ensure products are actually effective for those who want to use them.

 

Reimagining bad sounds – a creative approach to sound pollution

The acoustics industry has long been focussed on the mitigation of noise to reduce annoyance and stress to hopefully ensure that citizens are in good health. Quiet spaces are needed and appreciated by people. Many hours of research have gone into understanding the meaning and importance of tranquillity in urban areas. In terms of sound, tranquillity does not always mean quiet or silence, to paraphrase Natural Tranquillity by Clive Bentley, tranquillity can be defined as a serene state of mind – a feeling.

But what other sounds could have potential to improve wellbeing by perhaps being energetic as well as meditative, what about art? More often than not, art can bring communities together, Bristol is a prime example of this with its numerous art festivals and exhibitions. Can placing well designed sonic art in our cities provide a pleasant and inspiring rest-break from our rapid paced lives? What if we stop and imagine a future with drones and ‘silent’ driverless cars, surely their sounds would have a dramatic effect on how they are perceived? Perhaps we should take the time to pause and imagine how to design the sounds which makeup our future cities.

A few months into the Building Instruments project, new team members, Szabina Orosz and  Ainolnaim Azizol brought forward fresh perspectives from their own disciplines to our highly  multidisciplinary project. They provided a wealth of theoretical understanding from musical composition to qualitative analysis methodologies to incorporate into the citizen science and exhibition aspects of the project. How far could we take things, how far should we take things with the time we had?

The contributions from each team member to the Building Instruments project was valuable.  It was enjoyable to dream up creative and often abstract ideas. We settled on the bold vision of people encountering guerilla sonic art installations placed all around the city. whilst we did push this train of thought we discussed how the use of citizen science could help us understand people’s perception of a soundscape using data collected within a mobile app. In the interest of budget, time management and attainable targets, we prioritised our ideas into practical methodological steps.

From data to soundwalk exhibition

Before the development of our soundwalk exhibition, we needed to establish a baseline idea of what kind of reaction or emotion the general public already had to the acoustic environment around them. We did this by interviewing the public in a few locations around the city, Queen Square, The Centre and Spike Island. We managed to capture a wide range of reactions from a relatively small data sample in these locations.

Our initial ideas to situate physical sonic art installations, such air vents playing windchimes or solar powered speakers playing modified audio of the recorded environment around the City of Bristol had to be reimagined as we didn’t have the capacity to safeguard the physical installations. After creating a long ‘short-list’ of locations in Bristol to present the art installations to the public, we concluded that a proof of concept in one location (Spike Island) would be far more achievable and therefore beneficial to the research endeavours. We approached artists Kathy Hinde, Dave Meckin, Dan Pollard and collaborated with Tom Bonnett to reflect on our research and create acoustic exhibitions to present the changing soundscape of Spike Island within Echoes.xyz as an exhibition for Bristol Open Doors 2021, which had a footfall of over 1m people.

Soundwalk Exhibition

Jameson at the Soundwalk for prepared for the Bristol Open Doors Festival

The purpose of the soundwalk exhibition was to encourage participants to listen deeply, to the existing urban acoustic climate, and reflect about whether changing the acoustic climate may have a positive effect on health and wellbeing. The exhibition used museum style narrations to guide participants around digital sonic art ‘installations’ which were played over headphones  to provoke thought beyond the existing acoustic environment. Abstract sounds (defined as relating to objects that were not visible at the time) and practical ideas (such as digitally modulated sound from air conditioning vents) were also presented, as well as, sounds captured from carts on the harbourside rail tracks that mimicked historical merchant trailers and present day workshop sounds.

A contraption made by Ainolnaim to record sounds from the harbourside rail tracks

The responses we received from the questionnaire sent out post-event suggested that we had presented an engaging experience that may have not otherwise been considered by the general public – a first step to discovering whether sonic art can evoke positive emotion which can improve the wellbeing of the public.

Future views

We have just scraped the surface in this topic and are looking at the final product of the research and soundwalk as a medium or augmented reality tool from which we could start to investigate some follow-on questions related to the wellbeing aspect of soundscapes.

  • could actually create positive emotions that reduce stress and improve wellbeing
  • could we encourage people to imagine what a future soundscape could be like and
  • how they could be involved
  • could we provide a platform where people unfamiliar with the notions we were exploring could consider the impact of sound on our lives for the first time

We hope to find out and hope to continue the project.

 

AD4 Games: Working in an Interdisciplinary Team

The project took an interdisciplinary approach where audio describers, game developers, academics and participants with visual impairments worked collectively to produce and evaluate different styles of AD.

Interdisciplinary teams are fundamental to the design of new technologies and their efficacy within real world contexts. While interdisciplinarity should be embraced within research teams, it is also crucial to further such participation with the actors who may be affected by innovation. Thus, individuals and organisations should be consulted at all stages of technology design and development. Taking a ‘user-centred’ design approach that embraces democratic principles of inclusion and empowerment is necessary in order to produce innovations that are more representative of user’s needs.

Adopting an interdisciplinary approach greatly strengthened the project in many ways. Most notable, was the ability to quickly receive feedback from people with varying perspectives on the different AD methods used. The audio describers could discuss the strengths and challenges of each method used, the game developer could then reflect on changes that could improve the audio describers experience, while the visually impaired participants were able to provide insight into their experience of the game throughout each AD method. All the while allowing the academics to collate and document the challenges and opportunities for each stakeholder and begin formulating guidelines for future game developers and audio describers.

Below, some of our project team members reflect on their experience working in an interdisciplinary environment.

Dr Xiaochun Zhang – Senior Lecturer in Translation Studies and Team Leader

“It has been a pleasure to lead and work with a team of very talented people with diverse backgrounds on such a multidisciplinary project. With shared goal and passion, we had thought provoking discussions, experimented various methods of providing AD for game streaming, and explored multiple solutions to making video games more accessible for visually impaired players from diverse angles and experiences. Knowledge is exchanged among academics, audio describers and participants with the user-centred research and game design approach.”

Dr Stuart Grey, Research Associate, Department of Computer Science

“This project addresses an under-represented group within video game research, visually impaired players. From our engagement with these groups within this project, it would suggest that this is reflected by accessibility shortcomings in the design of commercial games, and the subsequent marginalisation of these players. In exploring the concept of audio described games that leverage live streaming environments, we have begun to unpick some of the key barriers for visually impaired players. Moreover, we have produced a number of preliminary insights about the potential of audio described gameplay to tackle this.”

Dr Jane Devoy – Audio Describer

I normally write AD for film and TV so this was a new departure for me. Writing AD for a video game was a very different experience. The main difference was that the game is dynamic and changing each time a player plays it, rather than a pre-recorded, scripted video/film.

The first AD that I did was for a recorded game play so that was fixed, and I was able to describe it in the usual way. The main difference here was that there is very little dialogue and therefore a lot of screen time to describe. There was also lots of graphic detail to describe as well as movement. Hence it was very time consuming per programme minute.

When we were working on scripting a live play, I found this tricky because each time the game is played, it is different. As such I didn’t know if I had explored every space or narrative element when I played. At this point it was crucial to get the input from Claire the designer who was better placed to know all the content of the game. She made a useful spreadsheet and rough script of all the elements that needed describing then myself and Sonia edited and added to these as necessary.

In the end we were able to produce AD that vastly increases the accessibility of the game. In commercial terms, the barriers may be to do with compensating for the time it takes to AD a game. However, we discussed that if AD were integrated into the design of the game from the beginning, then it would be easier and potentially more effective.

This was a fascinating project and very important work, spearheaded by Xiaochun. It was great to work with such a talented and professional team and progress accessibility together in this new avenue.”

Claire Morwood – Game developer, 3-Fold Games

“Developing a solution to the challenge of implementing audio description in “Before I Forget” as part of the AD4G team was really exciting due to the multidisciplinary nature of the project. Working together with academics, audio describers and people with visual impairments allowed us to approach the challenge from a number of perspectives, and all of us were able to provide different ideas and insights into the design process. I personally found this very refreshing in terms of the approach to discussing implementation of various solutions to the game, and also enjoyed learning more about audio description during the project. I hope that I will be able to take some of this knowledge forward into my own future projects too.”

Mairi Deighan – Digital Health PhD student

“I thoroughly enjoyed my experience working in an interdisciplinary team on such a crucial and exciting project. Coming from a background in biomedical engineering I was new to the field of audio description and game development and found working with experts in both fields extremely valuable and insightful. Producing effective AD for video gaming is a highly under-researched and complex issue, this project has effectively uncovered key considerations that will hopefully inform and assist future game developers and audio describers in making gaming accessible for visually impaired and blind users.”

Dr Tanvir Bush – Visually-impaired Collaborator

“I am not nor have ever been a gamer.  It seems strange to me, as a lover of films, books, comics and graphic novels that I never side stepped into Final Fantasy or any of its ilk. I seemed to just miss that boat.

I remember in the mid-90’s, house sitting for a friend who had the latest Nintendo, whatever the thingy.  I was a film producer at the time and the film’s director popped over for a quick chat before work. He saw the gear and dove straight into a game – without a moment’s thought. I placed a cup of coffee next to him and went to work. When I came back 8 HOURS LATER, he was still sitting in front of the screen, coffee cold and untouched by his side.

What evil is this? I had thought. (Coffee is very important to me!) Why would I do that when there is so much else to get on with?

Now, added to the ‘why would I?’ is the fact that I am registered blind. I have a degenerative condition that causes a slow erosion of sight, starting in the peripheral vision and moving in.  I have had it for over 35 years and now have only have a very small tunnel of functional central vision that can blur or white out depending on the light. It also affects my light and colour vision as my rods and cones in the retina become damaged.

However, I am always game to help out a fellow researcher (see what I did there?). So, when Xiaochun asked me to be a participant in her study into audio described game play, I said yes.

The first time we experimented with the game, designed, and built by her team, I had someone audio describing live.  This was great fun as we were both finding our way. It also meant I could ask for help in real time when I got stuck, share jokes and thoughts about the game and experience.  That first iteration needed a few more sound clues and contrast, but we got through the game as a team.

Then later, I had a crack at the next iteration. Now the audio was embedded not live. There were more sound clues, better adaptations to help guide the VI gamer but I still kept getting stuck in space and wheeling around looking for something interesting to click on. I quickly become bored and slightly nauseated by the constant zooming in and out and searching.  I admit I am not the most dextrous when it comes to the controls.

In retrospect, I liked the teamwork aspect of being guided in real time and exploring the virtual world together. On my own, although I found the sound effects and contrast more conducive, I didn’t have enough curiosity to help push me past the places I was consistently getting stuck, and I didn’t have the energy to keep asking for help to get out or move on, so I bailed. This was partly because I had already played the game once. I knew the plot twists. But also, and importantly, because I felt more uncomfortable with my visual impairment.  Without a live guide, my blindness was more frustrating, and I lost my sense of humour.  In the actual world where I, and other disabled people, are constantly having to adapt, re-think, strategize and find workarounds, why would I want to go into a fantasy world where I experience the same?

I know that resolving this is exactly where Xiaochun and her team are heading so I hope my participation will be of use and perhaps in the next game we can have some kung-fu?”

Find out more about AD4 Games: making video games accessible for visually impaired players.

 

Collaborating on the Brigstow Metre and Memorisation Project

Literary research is, by and large, a solitary endeavour. Writing poems, which I also do, tends to be no more sociable.  In both cases,  the most important process of collaboration is a matter of second thoughts that happen when drafts are finished enough to be shared with peers and editors.  I had noticed interdisciplinary research projects out of the corner of my eye, but I had never seen the relevance of such projects to what I did myself.  I could and did learn from work in other disciplines, but my research methodologies remained very much those of literary studies.

Then there came the day that the methodologies of literary studies proved considerably less helpful in addressing my research questions than they had been.  While researching the poet Walter de la Mare, I had been revisiting the pioneering 1920s work of I.A. Richards, a critic and theorist who established key norms in the academic analysis of poetry.  Back in the early decades of the last century, Richards had learned much from the empirical psychology of the time and was speculating interestingly on the psychological effects of verse.  Assuming that some of these questions might have been settled in intervening decades, I started to read around, first in English studies and then in psychology only to find that, while we certainly knew more now than they did then, some of the most interesting questions Richards, and indeed de la Mare, were raising remained unanswered.  Yet the majority of these questions ought to be amenable to empirical investigation – or would be if one knew a great deal more about the ins and outs of psychological research than I did.  The time had come to speak to someone else.

I contacted the Brigstow Institute, explained the problem and wondered if they could put me in touch with psychologist who might be interested in similar questions.  The first name on the list was that of Professor Chris Jarrold.  Not only were Chris’s research interests pertinent to the topics I wanted to investigate, he was also at the time the Head of Department in Psychology.  We met for coffee, and I explained to him the problems that were intriguing me, and was delighted to find that he was interested in them too.  Chris also put me in touch with Dr Nina Kazanina.

Soon afterwards, Nina and I also had a productive first conversation, but we didn’t have coffee.  The pandemic had arrived and the era of the online meeting had begun.  Still, these online meetings developed our ideas for studies, particularly around poetry memorisation.  We also realised that in this new, socially isolated world, poetry memorisation could be an activity in which many might find enjoyment, stimulation or solace, and that this might take place hand in glove with both the internet technology we were now using for our meetings and the sort of studies we wanted to conduct.  All this fed into the research bid we made to Brigstow that became the Metre and Memorisation Project, in which the three of us were joined by Rebecca Jackson from Psychology, our Research Assistant, and Meg Dyson, from English and Classics, on a Brigstow Studentship.  We were now designing and then conducting studies to find out how different memorisation methods affected the learning of similar poems (our participants learned sonnets by William Shakespeare). We would also run a schools’ verse recitation competition, which led to us launching, Bristol by Heart, a collaboration with the organisation Poetry by Heart.

Working together across disciplines was successful because we were both interested in the other’s fields, we also respected one another’s strengths.  I had been reading up in relevant psychological research, so I was, I hope, able to enter into meaningful conversations about what we wanted to find out. But the very reason for this collaboration was to bring together people of different strengths.  We would ask each other why we were doing something, or what a particular finding might mean. Here the intelligent question from someone not used to the usual subject specific answers could prove really helpful in thinking through what we were doing and why.  At the same time, it was the subject specific expertise that supplied the convincing answers.  I recall for instance Meg and I both worrying about whether the Excel spreadsheets we were using were calculating participants’ memorisation of the poems in a way that was sufficiently accurate.  But it was Chris who knew about something called Levenshtein  Distance. Likewise, for someone coming from a subject where so much is arguable, it was wonderful to debate possibilities and then have the point settled by an elegant graph from Nina.

Here’s what Chris  had to say about what he learnt about the practice of doing interdisciplinary produced research:

I think it helps a lot if all the partners are invested in the research question. I’m not sure that has to be an exactly equal investment on everyone’s part, or it might be that different people are particularly interested in different aspects of the project. However, we’re all sufficiently busy that it’s not really in anyone’s interest to be collaborating to just provide a service, doing something as a favour without really seeing any value in it to you. In my experience a big barrier to effective interdisciplinary research can be the difference in theoretical perspectives, approaches to research, assumptions, and even terminology across disciplines. I think our project has worked well because that gap is not very big. William happens to think like a psychologist. Conversely, I don’t think Nina and I are complete philistines and we have an interest in art and literature in particular (Nina certainly does). So we understand where everyone is coming from and what they are trying to achieve, and, to some extent, what they think in the way they do. I think we’re also clear on the unique contributions that different members of the team bring. William had the idea behind the project and brings with him the existing theory on poetry memorisation. Nina and I have strengths in designing experimental studies and in data analysis. William was clear at the outset that that’s what he wanted in this project, and as Psychologists Nina and I are always looking to do work that is properly theoretically motivated.

The project has provided an opportunity to extend some methods that we were already using within my research group to a somewhat different area, specifically how we score and measure people’s memory. This isn’t a radical extension of those approaches, but has raised interesting questions about how they generalise and need to be modified for different situations. A somewhat more substantial extension of my thinking has followed from the fact that this project looks at long-term memory while most of my previous work has focussed on short-term memory. There’s a surprisingly large different between these two fields and thinking about how our theories and methods bridge across this gap has been very useful. And because William’s starting point and initial theoretical questions weren’t too far away from my interests I’ve been able to learn a lot from the knowledge he’s brought to the project from his own reading. A good example is the literature that suggests that we chunk or hold on to in memory as many words as we could say in a single breath. That’s not a hypothesis I was aware of before now, but it’s an intriguing one and one that does has the potential to inform my own thinking.

For those stuck at home in a pandemic, the Metre and Memorisation project was a social boon.  Not only did the team meet and talk on the different virtual platforms, like a good modern office, we also had a Slack channel, where the friendly interchange of ideas and information would keep up. Soon, I was talking to Julie Blake and Tim Shortis at Poetry by  Heart, and, in time, my fellow judges on the competition, Ife Grillo and Lorna Smith. When the study started, the project’s social horizon widened even more.  There on Zoom were our participants, interacting with us – but also with each other.  After each of the study sessions was concluded, Rebecca or Meg would ask them about their experience.  These conversations were often revealing to us.  But, as participants reflected on the experience they had just shared and on life and poetry more widely with one another, they were clearly also valuable to the participants themselves.  At the end of all the experiments, I, along with Dr John Lee, a Shakespeare scholar from the Department of English, invited participants a couple of much longer discussions.  These were hugely informative about the process of memorisation, but also about diverse personal experiences around poetry, Shakespeare and learning by heart. Not only did I now know more about what our experimentation had meant to our memorisers, I also realised that my research collaboration had been not just with my fellow investigators but also with our participants.  Likewise, the lovely feedback we received from children and teachers involved in Bristol by Heart was in its own way a form of collaboration.

One last memory.  A month after our last experiment I happened to walking along Deal Pier.  A young man had sat cross legged to recite a Shakespeare sonnet while a thrilled circle gathered round him who, when he had finished, burst into applause.  It wasn’t a particularly well known sonnet, but it was one we had chosen for our experiments.  I didn’t go up and ask him, but I could have sworn he was one of our participants.

Find out more about about this research on the Metre and Memorisation webpage.

Urban Sound Pollution – Beyond the decibel

The ‘Building Instruments’ project was created to explore how we might sculpt soundscapes around the public’s perception of acoustic comfort.

To do this we put together a team of people from very different and complimenting disciplines:

  • Ainolnam Azizol – Sonic Researcher (Intern)
  • Pete Bennett – Digital Artist and researcher
  • Jameson Musyoki – Acoustician
  • Szabina Orosz – Qualitative Researcher (Intern)
  • Joshua Taylor – Principle Investigator

Urban areas are designed and redesigned in order to meet the needs of residents and visitors. Over time, pavements or roads get widened, green areas are introduced, supermarkets and workspaces are constructed, to name a few. The design of the spaces is highly multidisciplinary involving town planners, engineers and architects. An important aspect of urban design is in considering how noise can affect people. According to the World Health Organisation (2018, p. 2), noise is the second most potent pollutant in our environments. However, focussing on noise alone neglects the full picture of how a space is used, perceived and by people.

Fog horns on a Bristol Harborside Ship

International ISO and British Standards evolved from considering only noise in terms of the Decibel (dB) sound level measurement unit, to considering the acoustic environment and context in a more holistic way which can be used to consider the effect of sound on the health and wellbeing of citizens. ISO 12913 Part 1 (2014, p. 1) describes the soundscape as the peoples’ perception of an acoustic environment while taking the context of the surroundings into consideration. By defining noise as unwanted sound, acousticians afford themselves some flexibility to consider urban areas in terms of unwanted and comfortable sounds that contribute to a space’s soundscape. This way they can advise how to mitigate unwanted sounds and perhaps introduce some well fitting and pleasant sounds to help mask the unpleasant noise.

Jameson jamming with an air vent

The ‘Building Instruments’ project was created to explore how we might sculpt soundscapes around the public’s perception of acoustic comfort. At the start of the project we found the key was simplicity and by setting a broad scope. We were able to keep focus and adapt to the needs of our research project.

How can we create acoustic environments that evoke positive feelings using sonic art installations and therefore potentially improve wellbeing?

First Steps

We set ourselves a broad scope to guide a Building Instruments’s narrative towards creating positive acoustic environments for the public.

We approached Design West with our proposal which included mapping perceptions of the acoustic environment of Bristol, creation of sonic art installations and then presenting a soundwalk exhibition for Bristol Open Doors, where members of the public walk on a predetermined route listening to and reflecting on the acoustic environment, inclusive of sonic art installations. We also reached out to Landsmith Associates (founders of Bristol Soundwalks) who already contribute to mapping the perceptions of the acoustic environment of Bristol through use of the Hush City App.

Our first cohort meeting with the Brigstow Institute encouraged us to explore beyond this linear thought process and pose further collaborative questions touching on ideas behind the politics of environmental sound, something that we would take on-board whilst creating our reading list, which of course would be guided by our broad scope.

Team Perspectives

Our first brainstorm was just after a COVID-19 lockdown. We decided to do the right thing and have a brainstorm coffee – in a real cafe! By this time Brigstow had facilitated the provision of  two more researchers to the team and we had already started understanding each of our perspectives of the project and brainstorming. Keeping things simple also made our collaborative efforts go further.

Our project was designed to look beyond the current soundscape design standards (ISO 12913-1, 2 & 3) and to understand how sonic art interventions could be designed into spaces, inclusive of assessing their effectiveness in evoking positive emotion of passers-by. One key issue we realised was that technical terms and methodologies needed to be coherent across disciplines. For example, I myself (Jameson) am an acoustician and have  a strong interest in more than just the Decibel  to describe the sonic environment. During the project I was eager to understand how to apply citizen science and qualitative analysis theories to gather information on people’s perception of the acoustic environment. Although the team agreed we wouldn’t be able to gather enough data required for a robust analysis we could still get a flavour of how acoustic environments may be generally perceived.

It was also useful to realise that the term ‘soundscape’ itself has a few definitions, the earliest being R. Murray Shafer (1977, p. 274) which included any physical or abstract (e.g. musical) sound environment to be studied, and the most current within ISO 12913-1 (described earlier) which includes capture of human perception as paramount. Understanding could then be shared with Ainolnam Azizol and the sonic artists who also defined the soundscape differently, solely as the sonic space created within a musical composition or sound design. This then allowed coherence as our project intended to use the ISO definition for soundscape to understand how members of the public may perceive the sound art installations we intended to create.

Initial Ideas –  wider broad scope

Alongside our brainstorming sessions and development of a literature review, we experimented. For example, we explored how to modulate unpleasant urban mechanical sounds into something more musical or meditative, as well as, getting stuck into the creation of instruments that would make (hopefully pleasant) sound whilst blowing in the wind, and also a plate reverb that could amplify everything! We also tried flipping the narrative from positive to negative to provoke conversation. ‘How would people perceive the sound of the M32 being played through loudspeakers within Cabot Circus’? Art, as we know, can be used to cause a reaction from an audience. So evoking a negative reaction, we thought, could be an interesting counter-experiment to pursue. However, awareness of the ethics behind subjecting the general public to something unpleasant, even though for the most benevolent reasons, caused us to not pursue this notion further moving forward.

Pushing forward and keeping our research question in mind, we reestablished the key objectives of the project as a basis for content for our literature review and our overall project aim:

  1. Capture views of the public to noise (the map)
  2. Improve soundscape by using (interactive) instruments (in sound installation form)
  3. Measure views of altered soundscape during exhibition

From this point we then went on to turn the Vision into Reality……..

 

References

  • British Standards Institution (2014). ​​ISO 12913 Part 1, 2014: Acoustics — Soundscape — Part 1: Definition and conceptual framework. London: British Standards Institution.
  • Schafer, R. Murray (1977). The soundscape: our sonic environment and the tuning of the world. Rochester: Destiny Books
  • World Health Organisation (2018). Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Union Available at: https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/383921/noise-guidelines-eng.pdf

 

Using arts-based research for temperature, weather and climate.

In conversation:

Dr Alan T Kennedy-Asser, Research Associate, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol.

Dr Clifton Evers, Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Newcastle University.

Clifton: Let’s discuss your Temperature Life Stories project today and the use of arts-based research. For those of you who don’t know, or aren’t familiar with this term, arts-based research is the use of Creative Arts practices in research about any particular topic, for example social life, the sciences and across engineering and the business world. Creative arts practices used can be anything from knitting, to filmmaking, to soundscaping, to poetry.

Alan, can you tell us a little bit about your project? And if as a scientist, you’d come across arts-based research before?

Alan: I’m a climate scientist by background. I started my studies with geography and I specified into physical geography quite early on. But based in a geography department, we’ve also got cultural geographers, so quite a broad spectrum within the subject and I’d kind of been exposed to little crumbs here and there – that this is a way that people might do research – but I’d never really given a huge lot of thought to it myself.

For the project Temperature Life Stories, I was interested in how an individual would experience temperature extremes because my day-to-day climate science work is all thinking about temperature extremes. How we classify something as ‘extreme’ or ‘not extreme’ is of fundamental importance when we want to figure out if extremes are changing in the future with climate change. The threshold of what is extreme or not extreme is different for every single person, because some people maybe grew up in a warm place, some people grew up in a cold place, some people might have a medical condition, which means that they can’t tolerate high heat, or they might live in a house which is not well adapted to high heat.

I thought it’d be interesting to produce a life graph of temperature for individual research participants, so they would see how the temperature had varied in the places that they lived throughout their life. I wanted to do something creative, so I spoke to a few people in the university and they suggested working with Caleb Parkin who is a poet, so people could articulate their experiences of temperature through poetry. Then we could compare the graphs and the poetry and see if the two matched up. If people remembered the hottest bit of their life, does the data actually match up with their memories of what they think they experienced. It struck me that there are certain days that I remember feeling very hot and uncomfortable in my own life, but they were generally days when I was stuck in an office in Bristol. It was hot for Bristol, but technically it wasn’t as hot as when I’d been on holiday. When I was on holiday I was kind of prepared for heat, maybe on a beach, I was dressed for the occasion and mentally prepared. Whereas when I was just trying to get my work done at a hot office in Bristol, it was it was really uncomfortable and grim. This is the sort of thing I wanted to explore. We had lots of really interesting ideas that came out through the project.

Clifton: So temperature became about stories. Often when we think about temperature is often associated with data, and we read data in our own ways. Data tells its own stories, but people also speak a more everyday data, for example, through particular stories. They might say “it’s 30 degrees Celsius” but then they’ll go into description of being “sticky”, or say “we didn’t walk here because it was too hot, so we stayed in this place.” Other people pick up on the signals and read them, so stories are a form of data sharing and making through the everyday. Arguably, arts-based research can enable you to explore this data.

One of the things when you’re doing arts-based research is the question: how much control do you place in the process? Sometimes it can be a case of giving participants complete freedom: “here, go create something.” Sometimes that works then at other times people ask for more guidance and structure. So what did you do? How much structure did you offer compared to how much freedom?

Alan: What I had envisaged at the start was that everyone would tell a story with one particular narrative about one particular event and it would compare to some point in their life graph. A clear structure. In some cases, that did happen, but in other cases people brought micro stories to the event – little tiny insights. I think it was because of the first poetry exercise we did called “I Remember”. Caleb got everybody to begin with that phrase – just let everything kind of spill out from your memory. Some of the things that came up were so graphic that you could put yourself back there, scenes you could see, smell or sensations. They were full of all these details, golden nuggets. You could have had one long narrative and it would be one tiny detail that just makes the story complete. I thought that was amazing and I really would claim that was data, a very different kind of data to what I was used to but I think that was a great way to start the workshops off.

In terms of the control, I’d already come in with this idea that people would have a complete single story but really, it was it was an awful lot more scattered. We gave people the skills in poetry, because that’s what Caleb was coaching people in, but we also said to them we want to do an exhibition at the end of three workshops and to bring whatever you want, in whatever format you want, whatever works for you. We did three workshops, two as a kind of actual training and the final one was the exhibition. At the end of the second training workshop, we did ‘graph-jamming’ where people were encouraged to think about how could they reinterpret their graph. What creative method could they use? Could it be turned into a flower bed or a stained glass window, or you know, whatever. People started suggesting these mad ideas and I was like, “that’s crazy,” “no, you couldn’t do that,” “that’s just too mad!” Like soap opera, or docu-drama, an acrobatic aerial silk show. They went away for two weeks and came back and some of them had actually done these ideas that they’d suggested!

So I think one of the things you need to have is a good level of trust within the group to do that. I also think the group size was quite good. I believe that Caleb created an environment that people felt safe to try these things. It’s really essential to have that kind of safe space feeling to be as productive and creative as can be.

Then there was the timing of the workshops: we did three workshops. We did one then we left a week and the second and then we left a two week gap with an optional one-to-one drop in. There was enough time to give people a chance to create something like a piece of artwork: two weeks to go away and compose that but not so long that they kind of lost interest and lost momentum. If we had just done one full day workshop, people would have come up with all these great ideas but not necessarily have had space to build upon them.

Clifton: I quite like this idea – it is a fine balance. You have a goal but it’s a flexible goal. You have quite clear research questions you want to address that you will revisit depending on what the participants bring. People have creative skills and they want to use them. I think an important thing coming out of the project is about a space of safety, confidence, support. If participants felt like they needed some skills, you could offer them skills training but it’s more like a more nurturing environment rather than an extractive environment.

Often when we do data collection, it can sometimes feel to me that when people use some more traditional approaches, be it in the social sciences or physical science it can feel like you’re extracting something from the community. But what you’ve given them is a change to grow and create data alongside you and to make use of it collaboratively. Often when people participate in research projects they’re left behind. It is good practice to go back to them but, as you know with a scientific paper some people might be interested but other people less so. This arts-based research is an opportunity for them to clearly be part of the contribution to knowledge. That’s a really powerful outcome of using arts-based research. It does raise an interesting issue about authorship and ownership of research. Participants present important data, these golden nuggets. Does academic publishing need to better accommodate different modes of authorship, different modes of ownership of data?

Alan: I haven’t given that a huge amount of thought to this point and it is probably the next step. For this whole project, I didn’t know what to expect going into it because I’ve never done this kind of research and used these methods. So much of it was new for me as a physical climate scientist. It was first time I’ve ever had to do an ethics form – if you’re just studying climate model data it’s not seen as having feelings and emotions that you could hurt, so you may abuse the data. That said, the point of doing the climate science with model data is to contribute to making informed societal decisions about what we’re going to do in a changing climate and there is an ethical side to that. I feel that the fact I’ve never experienced an ethics form, or had to think about that at all, as a physical scientist, is quite surprising.

In terms of what happens next with the research, because I’m new to this, I didn’t really envisage before I started that I would actually count this as ‘data’ and research. For me, with a straightforward background in sciences, you prove that you’ve done research by having a publication, or that your name has been cited in some sort of policy report. Doing this project has made me like reassess what actually useful research is. Is it useful if it can be used by society at large through some sort of policy? Or is research about me as the researcher having a shift in my own thoughts and my own views which will then trickle into my worldview which will then inform future publications and reports and feed into the wider academic community.

I think that’s kind of where I’m at now: I realised that actually that’s what some research is about. The common format as a scientist is to write a paper, but actually there’s lots of ways I can change my viewpoint, and then I’ll go out and have conversations with my colleagues in geography or elsewhere based upon those little golden nuggets. In the future, how this may make it into a publication, and how people need crediting for that, I’m not really sure at the moment. I just feel like I was in that group of participants, I was a participant as much as the others were, and we all learnt together. I’m just more likely to be in a situation in the future, potentially, than some of the other participants where I’ll actually have to talk about it and process what the bigger picture was from all of those little nuggets and stories that people brought to the workshops.

Clifton: I love that idea that the methodology is a learning experience that everyone is involved with. You’re showing people’s work, you’re building a website to show the contributions to knowledge and you’re valuing everyone’s contributions to knowledge. That is an acknowledgement. There are some great examples out there when it comes to acknowledgment. For example, the CLEAR lab in Canada, headed up by Maxim Liboiron, who put everyone down as co-authors. They bring a very, very different ethics to science research. I think Temperature Life Stories worked out a lovely model. That’s credit to the way both you and Caleb have run this project. In terms of advice going forward, I know you haven’t done a lot of this work, but what advice do you have?

Alan: Although a project can be too small meaning you cannot pay an artist like Caleb to facilitate it, I wouldn’t have wanted it to be too big either – it’s quite nice to start small-ish. For someone like myself who’s new to this kind of research, it’s quite nice to have that small to medium sized funding pot for something like this.

I don’t know how much of the success of the project really came down to the luck of getting the participants who came along; if we’d got a different group of people who just didn’t really click with each other or were disinterested, the whole thing might have been a bit like “it was interesting but I wouldn’t do again,” whereas I loved it. I thought it was really, really good. I think, for me, that was kind of the perfect size of project and the perfect length as well. I couldn’t have justified costing in my own time without knowing that it was going to be a useful experience, and I didn’t know it would be useful before I’d started. I think was more than just a pilot project though. I think it really generated stuff. It wasn’t just a proof of concept.

Besides the money and the practicalities of running it, it does require a very open mind. I’m not saying that every scientist has to do it. Just like not every artist should have to interact with the sciences. But it’s also really important that there’s some people who bridge the gap between different, approaches. I think it’s exciting because as a researcher I’m curious. I’m sure most other researchers would describe themselves as curious. So why not try something different? I think it helps if you already have a bit of love of the arts. If you’re one true passion in life is computer coding, that’s great: code and code and code and make the code better and more efficient – and that’s fantastic. But if you just sort of think “I wonder what those cultural geographers are really doing, what do they talk about?” then just go out and try it. It’s good fun!

Clifton: Sometimes these projects work and sometimes they don’t. I think we have to be comfortable with failure. Sometimes people don’t gel, it can happen in focus groups but you’re learning something anyway. And I think that experience, that willingness to be open minded and experiment and to explore has a place in a research setting. Given the challenges we’re facing in the contemporary era we have to have these urgent conversations and collaborate: we’re not going to accomplish any changes alone.

Find out more about Temperature Life Stories .