Brighton Festival 2013
Fixing Point is an interactive media piece for one audience member set in beautiful Stanmer Park in East Sussex. It takes as its departure point the story of the disappearance of Seamus Ruddy, killed at the hands of members of the INLA and his family’s attempts to recover his body.
An usher provides me with a smart phone and a set of headphones and points me in the direction of a clump of woods a short distance away across a field of inquisitive cows. I’m going to be using GPS to locate some sound files that will reveal aspects of the story of a disappearance. The story threatens violence, loss and mystery. ‘You’ve got half an hour’ the usher says ‘You might not get to hear all the story fragments… but that doesn’t matter’.
I set off. The incredible beauty of the East Sussex country side at this time of year and Chris Clarke’s sumptuous and spacious score of electronic and organic sounds, contradicts my sense of the story I am about to encounter. I was expecting more trepidation and unease. Implied threat. Then half way across the field I realise that amidst the ‘docile’ cows, there are also a few bulls sauntering about. I quicken my pace and suddenly wish the woods were closer. Being chased off this patch by a territorial bull and never making it to the woods at all, (although providing excellent comedy for the people sipping tea in the distance on the Stanmer House patio), is not the sense of unease Blast Theory is aiming for, one can only imagine.
I make it to the edge of the woods and encounter my first fragment of story. It is Seamus’s sister speaking about the last time they saw each other. Amanda Jones has Anne Morgan’s rough diamond edges of the Belfast accent down beautifully. I’m appreciative of the rolling bed of sonic context as a kind of emotional homing device for the jagged fragments of information. Then as I move more deeply into the woods, I am irritated that as I search for exactly the right place to stand to activate the story fragment, the ground is unsteady underfoot, there are stinging nettles and the GPS doesn’t respond properly. I spend a long time walking around waiting for the map to catch up. It is as if the covering of the trees impedes the satellite signal… it can’t pick up the signs…! And then the metaphor hits me. The never ending fragments of information played and replayed. A sense of getting no where. A sense of the real story being hidden from view. A sense of everything not adding up.
The experience of ‘Fixing Point’ didn’t really provide me with any more information narratively than I had already gathered from the blurb before setting out, which seemed a rather large opportunity missed for a satisfying theatrical reveal. It also failed to land us emotionally inside any particular tonal landscsape – outside of frustration and uncertainty. The drama of the promised narrative, the powerful promo image of a dead body in the grass, seemed a little lost in the woods like our GPS signal. Never the less, the over all experience was intriguing and pleasurable, a kind of personal sonic treasure hunt in a beautiful landscape.
I make it around all the story fragments before my time is up, encountering a few other participants along the way holding their smart phones up to the sky looking for a sign. I head back out across the field now mysteriously empty of cows.