The BellHouse team was originally approached in 2019 by Climateurope to appear at the Climateurope Festival in June 2020 in Riga, Latvia. We were going install and to play, on BellHouse, the delegates’ data in the form of their live presentations. In the same way as at the Met Office in 2016 (for EUPORIAS), BellHouse would also play video data and animations that the delegates could supply. The aim is to explore how “hearing” climate data helps us to think about how that information can be communicated.
Due to the outbreak of Covid-19 the festival became an online “Webstival” and the team was asked if we could appear, but this time remotely. Rising to the challenge, we have installed BellHouse in the Kaleider Studios in Exeter and Katja, the teams’ creative technologist, has been working hard to re-frame the technical elements of BellHouse to make it resilient for this new process of interactions.
Jocelyn, the producer, has been steering the ship magnificently; coordinating the installation, liasing between the team, the organisers of Climateurope and the participating delegates.
The opportunity to hear the bells clearly and to think about the data being presented has been really valuable. In consequence, there has been more opportunity for back-and-forth in the conversations between the BellHouse team & the scientists which has helped to develop the final interactions.
It has been a different but meaningful experience. Without people around the sculpture watching, listening, enjoying and asking questions with the noise of a conference going on around it, it has been a slower, more quiet installation, but with more purpose to the interactions.
Since September, we have worked with 8 teams or individuals from around Europe who have submitted data following our call out. We have been communicating in the ways that we are all becoming used to in the present situation and have documented these activities on this website (see the timeline in the Climateurope header page), using the comments section to allow the conversations between us to be recorded as much as we can.
In these “Playtests”, Roop has been filming the BellHouse playing back the data so that the scientists we have been working with can see & hear something of how their visual data sounds. We have then been able to make modifications either to the data or the way it is played, listening for patterns or the overall “compositions” that best communicate the ideas behind the data.
To the non-scientist BellHouse, and the process of listening to the data, helps to break down and open up this information. By translating the data into sound BellHouse is asking the audience to ask “What am I listening to?”, “Why does it sound like that?”, “What is the information that is creating the sound about?”.
Research of this kind is by necessity often hard for non scientific audiences to grasp fully. The ideas and language are dense and foreign, full of terminology and concepts that are easy to misunderstand without the time and patience that most of us don’t have in daily life. By making it beautiful, playful and approachable, BellHouse aims to facilitate the process of enquiry and discovery, helping the audience to develop their understanding of the issues and opportunities brought about by this vital work.
For the scientists, the hope is that, through this kind of interdisciplinary process, they can see their work through another lens and identify ways to help them communicate their ideas to a wider public to promote awareness, understanding and possibly changes in behaviour on a wider scale.
This is especially true in the field of Climate Services, where so much important work is being done to use climate data to pursue strategies of resilience and opportunity. When for the general public, news about climate change is most often gloomy; about environmental, health, economic and social challenges, the field of Climate Services offers positive pathways to change which need to be understood more widely to build the consensus for action in the public sphere.
It has been really useful to be able to video the BellHouse, and show something of the way the data is played, but in this experimental stage we can’t show the data that is being played at the same time.
However, we been lucky enough to have had the chance to work with Preston Street Films to make films of the end results of five of these interactions. In a first for the project, the data being played on BellHouse is presented alongside the film of BellHouse playing it on the same screen.
In conclusion, the pandemic has created a valuable and different installation for BellHouse.
The necessity to work remotely has meant that some of the joy and intrigue of meeting BellHouse face to face has been missing. In common with many “live-not-live” events at the moment, we miss the “gathering”, the direct emotional response to the physicality of the people, the object and the event. Meeting people and things on the internet seems to leave a gap; where there is not enough information for all your senses to fully engage with the experience. The “atmosphere”, that thing which is a synthesis of all your perceptive abilities combined, the background to the subject of any event is dulled as a result and so your perceived satisfaction of the experience is diminished. This is an experience I think we are all aware of at the moment and are doing our best to understand and work out solutions for.
However it has allowed time, space and a lack of distraction to focus on the data and ideas, which on occasions, get left behind in the bustle and energy of the “show”. The satisfaction is possibly more of a conceptual one, more quiet, considered and analytical.
There has been quietness, which is important when trying to listen. To hear the sound the data produces more clearly requires focus and absence of distraction. It has been a real experience to hear it on it’s own in a quiet space and often after a day of working with BellHouse, it takes a while to shift back into a normal state.
The interactions have had time to develop. To hear the patterns and analyse the sounds requires time to listen over and over again, to become familiar with it and then the time to reflect and act in response.
Lastly, there has been space to engage and think around the data, for more thoughts to occur on the process and new ways to express this kind of information. Through visualising raw data myself through code, or with the three dimensional approaches and materials I am more habituated to using – possibly a combination of these again.
Every time we use BellHouse, it seems to teach us something new. I really like that.