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'What if your sonic sphere wants to lead you through a brick wall?' and other awkward questions...

Updated: Dec 14, 2018

Photo Ray Lee

My instinct told me that we needed to postpone the test. We had people coming specially to 101 Outdoor Arts Creation Centre from Oxford and Newbury and we just weren’t going to be ready in time. Working with Steve Symons and Stavroula Kounadea we’d planned to do a ten-sphere congregating test at the business park on the old Greenham Common Air base and we were excited about the prospect. Steve's been developing the software to enable the spheres to 'congregate' and Stavroula is helping to develop how the spheres are managed and how the process is communicated to the audience.

Our plan was to set groups of three or four volunteer sphere testers off from three different locations on the business park and see how they got on. Did they understand the sphere’s sonic commands? Did the sphere manage to guide them sonically to the same congregation point?

However, fitting the GPS to the spheres and testing the updated software took longer than we expected. I think I was trying to test too much all at the same time. I’d organised sounds for the final zone, and these weren’t really doing what I wanted them to yet. We were staying over in the centre’s artist accommodation portacabins and despite working until 1am the night before, I could tell we still had too much to do. The sub-freezing temperatures outside didn’t exactly help when we were walking around the business park in the dark with beeping sonic spheres and getting suspicious looks from the security guards patrolling the site in their little vans. When I saw Steve’s anxious expression at 8am the next morning I decided we were better off saving our volunteers a journey. I’d spent all night dreaming all the various things that could possibly go wrong and Steve dreamt he had a long beard which had turned grey overnight….

In the end we had nearly all ten spheres ready by lunchtime and grabbing anyone at 101 who had a few spare minutes we were able to do an impromptu test with the spheres setting off, carried by our testers, from three different locations.

We were interested if our strategy of personalising the spheres would help the sphere holders to understand what the sphere wanted them to do. As we gave each of our volunteer testers a sphere, we told them that the sphere wanted to go to a specific location and it was their job to help the sphere get there. If the sphere was travelling in the right direction it would sound ‘happy’ or 'content'. If for any reason the human sphere carrier diverted from the correct course, then the sphere would start to sound a bit unhappy; if they deviated even more the sphere would start to sound cross and if it went in the opposite direction it would be positively angry! However, the spheres always want to go in a straight line, as the crow flies, in order to reach the final destination. They might, for example, want to take the holder through a brick wall, or a building, a hedge, across a river, or another impassable barrier. So, the holder, the sphere carrier has to accept that the sphere will be a bit unhappy whilst circumnavigating the obstacle, trying to get it back on the right path as soon as feasible…

Using these directions our testers were successfully guided to the same location, all arriving from different points of the compass. Next step: a multi-sphere congregating test, probably in Oxford or Bristol.


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