Binaural sound recording facilitates the creation of a fully immersive sound experience. The listener experiences the recording through his/her headphones in the same way as they would experience sound in real life, potentially coming from various directions or even circling around their head.
Two years ago director David Rosenberg and writer Glen Neath created their first work together – Ring – using the binaural sound technology. Designed to be experienced in total darkness, Ring was, by all accounts, intended to create a sense of anxiety in the listener. Their new piece, however, while no stranger to gory detail, has the mission to put us in the space between sleep and wakefulness.
I would have welcomed an opportunity to fall asleep at several points in the course of the slightly nebulous story in which I’m supposedly attending an event at a hotel, most of the time accompanied by a softly spoken French woman, whispering seductively in my ear. Rather inconveniently, however, in the auditorium we are sitting in chairs even though in the story we seem to be lying in bed or gong up and down in a lift. It reminded me of a piece by the Croatian company Shadow Casters – Vacation from History – in which the audience members were indeed given a bed each and genuinely allowed to fall asleep and to stay asleep for as long as it took after the show ended. Perhaps there is some useful scope for collaboration there.
The binaural sound works in such a way that it creates the illusion that the person whispering in your ear is standing beside you. If you get a chance to see Simon McBurney’s Encounter in the main festival you’ll get a rather more fascinating demonstration of how the technology works. While McBurney takes the fully demystifying approach showing us how exactly our imagination contributes to the experience, Rosenberg and Neath have apparently been interested in exploiting the manipulative potential of this technology in their work so far. For this reason I have found the work unsatisfying – it wanted to put me to sleep but didn’t really give me an opportunity to get there, it wanted to take me on a journey, but it had me a bit lost in its meandering narrative with many incidental characters. The effect of the technology was fascinating for the first few minutes of spatial ambiguity but as soon as I started to move my head around and worked out that the voices were in my ear rather than the deliberately roomy space around my chair, the effect wore off.