This one-of-a-kind audio experience will leave you questioning reality.
This year’s Venice VR Expanded featured plenty of firsts, including DOUBLE by DARKFIELD RADIO, the first immersive audio experience to showcase at the legendary international festival.
“They adapted to new formats, making an entertainment experience that is beautifully designed, using incredible technology, as something that can be experienced at home,” said Liz Rosenthal, curator of Venice VR Expanded.
Uprooted from their location-based immersive audio experiences conducted place in shipping containers, DOUBLE is the first piece to be directly broadcasted to people’s homes on DARKFIELD RADIO. The unique experience offers an unsettling exploration of yourself, your partner, and your reality, as you sit at home in your kitchen, in the dark.
All you need is a partner and a pair of headphones. At 8pm this past Saturday, I tuned in to a show with no news, no music, and no opinion.
There can be no spoilers either, as the story unfolds alongside your imagination. The reality of the show that I experienced will be different than yours.
At the beginning of the show, I was asked to consider my partner on the other side of the table, to remember everything about them, and everything about my surroundings. Then, I was asked to close my eyes, and reality began to unravel. What followed was a series of questions about the other person in my space. I was asked to question my memory, what I could and could not remember, and if my perception was the right one.
DARKFIELD RADIO producers David Rosenberg and Glen Neath have been experimenting with binaural audio experiences since the 80s, using it to transport their audience to other places.
Originally, they used more visual aids, but, according to Rosenburg, “the issue we found is that by using images the audience would get attached to those spaces. They wanted to use audio itself to bring the stage to life, “so total darkness is the way that we did this,” he said.
By choosing the kitchen, they were able to play off similarities between people’s spaces; “to be able to create a tiny amount of doubt of whether something has happened in their real space,” said Rosenberg.
“It’s a dream narrative and then we use certain sounds to give each of the room’s a certain type of atmosphere. You’re basically as an audience member designing the set,” said Neath.
Then, your partner grounds you while the radio host enters the stage and begins to disrupt your sense of reality. You are taken somewhere else that is, but not quite, your kitchen. The host storms around you disturbingly, and even whispers in your ear. The producers have gotten it right: the sense of someone’s voice approaching you, lurking, slowly, whispering, and then rapidly retreating.
While I was calling on my memory to animate a lifelike double of my partner, the radio host eerily began to describe this person with a freaky sense of familiarity; as someone I had known for years, describing things about their appearance that this otherworldly host should not know. It was as if they were seeing through my very own closed eyes.
Initially, I thought that there might be some type of data scraping at work; some sophisticated bot using my partner’s name and ticket registration to access public information and feed that data to a voice actor in real-time.
Rosenberg and Neath enjoy this assumption. “It’s how psychics have been so successful for so many years, we are surprisingly consistent [people],” said Rosenberg, “It’s much easier to make assumptions, or to make what seems like a coincidence.”
“There’s a lot of connections with how we are trying to tell stories, and with how VR tells stories,” said Rosenberg. “VR is also about improving believability, and it was through this interest in immersive VR that opened the opportunity for DOUBLE to showcase at Venice VR Expanded,” he said.
“VR is so dependent on this steep curve of this availability of technology, and it’s moving so fast, so the experiences that were available a couple years ago are very different to what is available now,” he said. The same goes for audio.
By focusing solely on immersive audio in DOUBLE, you have no choice but to stick to the narrative and play along. Hence the slogan: no news, no music, no opinion —“One of the things it also says is ‘no choice’. There’s this limitless on-demand tyranny of choice that we are all suffering, and it’s so damaging,” said Rosenberg.
The host is there with you the entire time, speaking about your immediate situation and actions, bridging the gap between your reality and this new fictional one. DARKFIELD sets the framework of the story as an investigation into Capgras delusion, a condition in which the sufferer is convinced that a loved one has been replaced with an exact replica with malign intentions. This narrative opens up the floor for questions as a preamble to manipulating your sense of reality during the broadcast.
“We are right at the beginning of learning how to make these narratives where interactivity contributes. There is a tension between itneractivity and narrative,” said Rosenberg. “In a 360 experience, even the choice to turn your head and see what else there is in the room can be a conflict with the narrative.”
By getting you to close your eyes, DOUBLE nails this auditory drama. We suddenly become active participants in our own journey, in our own reality, which is a powerful sensation.
“Our thought was to hide the technology, to make it feel as if the show was happening in the room around them. There’s a fictional space around the real space, and we play with that real space,” said Neath.
Catching up with Michael Salmon, Director of Partnerships at DARKFIELD, he said that, “While starting as a pivot due to COVID, DARKFIELD Radio has become one of our most celebrated projects. I am looking forward to watching the platform development as we create new shows, develop the technology, and open it up to like-minded creators interested in co-production.”
So don’t miss out on the action. Find a partner, head to your kitchen, and enjoy a captivating audio experience that will leave you questioning reality.
DARKFIELD RADIO is broadcasting now.