Rain Reminds Reflections

Behold! The video of The Smell of Rain Reminds Me of You. It’s also on the updated site which contains some choice quotes from participants too.

I thought it would be good to reflect on the process of putting together #rainreminds in a slightly structured manner, as it could be a useful case study in successfully putting together and marketing an event, almost solely online, in a very short amount of time (two weeks). So here we go, headings and everything:

The provocation:

‘We have 100 umbrellas, and a finishing slot in the (pervasive gaming and interactive arts) Hazard MMX festival. We want to do something like a flashmob, we need good pictures.’

This is what I was given to begin with from Larkin’ About and the Green Room, Manchester. The requirements were something impactful in the city, interactive, that involved group action, and good photo opportunities. Having just completed http://walkwith.tumblr.com , the opportunity to work simultaneously with a number of participants was a good next step, so I suggested a soundwalk for up to 100 people. Duncan Speakman’s subtlemobs are the closest to what I was thinking of. The umbrellas led me to ideas and significance of rain that I’d been developing with Walk With Me – the idea of how we used to need rain to make things grow led me also to the idea of spaces like Picadilly Gardens, and how we inhabit these transient spaces differently when young. Then I thought of kissing in the rain, and how it’s quite a ‘young’ relationship thing to do. (as one of the stories I went on to collect put it: “As we get older we tend to get a bit more pragmatic. Instead of lingering on wet pavements, enjoying a romantic embrace, we are more likely to head for the warm and the dry, where we can get on with the more urgent act of fucking.”) So I went and started making.

The process – making and marketing.

I started out by having these as two headings, but really, for the most part, they were one and the same. The very first sniff of the piece in public, was also me testing out my ideas. It all began with a small twtpoll, which discovered that nearly 60% of people (50 answered) had kissed someone in the pouring rain.

From finding this I decided to try and collect some of these stories, so I set up a tumblr site that allowed anyone to submit to, named or anonymously, stories to be shared under a creative commons license. In approaching a piece done by many I wanted my piece to reflect different kinds of experiences. You can see (and still submit to) the collected stories at http://rainonymy.tumblr.com. This is where I first found the title of the piece, people were able to naturally follow up ‘yes I have kissed someone in the rain’ provoking a memory, by then writing down, and the ideas of kissing in the rain, and story telling were tweeted and blogged far and wide.

Looking at the collected stories, Walk Between The Raindrops leapt out as fitting very well with my creative thoughts so far, and I began to write around that as a central thread, whilst also having in my head the sound/aesthetic of Duncan’s As If It Were the Last Time – with the recorded remembrances that sounded as though they came from an answering machine, from a time passed. The writing thickened up as I found my way through, scored through 3 distinct eras – the first kiss, the first broken heart, and the time when you leave the transient public spaces behind for your owned ones. This mingled with 3 key visual moments in order to provide the photos for the GreenRoom – the opening of umbrellas, a moment of precipice – tip toes and first kisses, and a moment on the bridge, telling a story to a place in which they normally only pass through.

I used the hashtag a little cryptically at first, not quite explaining myself, which garnered a few interested questions, and I think those people were the first to re-tweet when I did disclose what it was all about. Roughly a week before the piece went up I released the site, facebook group, and blogged about the project. The facebook group, here, turned out to be the most useful tool, though I don’t like facebook for day to day communications, for ease of inviting people to and spreading events, this still won – especially because it was a location specific event; Twitter spread the event further and to more people, but facebook spread it more usefully. Flickr provided the CC-remix shared image that went on the site, teaser trail, and facebook group.

Because of the different stories I wanted different voices in the final piece, so using friends all over the country and their smartphones I collated readings of some of the stories – I specifically didn’t prescribe which ones, I wanted people to gravitate to ones they liked, as well as making them better readings, it hopefully also meant furthering a degree of universality. I also crowd-sourced 5 minutes of ambient noise from the exact spot the piece was to happen in Manchester, without having to go there, by putting a call out on Twitter. (Do go and read the credits on http://rainreminds.tumblr.com to see all the lovely people who contributed)

The swap teaser was my ‘final push’ bit of marketing, besides all of the tweets. I sent facebook and twitter the offer of a teaser of excerpt audio in exchange for hitting 30 ‘definitely’ attending on the facebook group. This almost doubled the number of invited people on the group, and gave people a better reason to look at the teaser – it wasn’t something I was pushing, but something they’d won. Not that I was thinking that at the time, I was mostly thinking ‘even I’m bored of hearing about this, how can I make it interesting again?’

With a first rough edit tested on my sound engineer brother, and two artsy friends I headed to Manchester to test it in the space intended, for timings and general atmosphere. It was at this point I discovered my big finale of telling stories to the water, which to account for the rare chance it mightn’t rain, I was directing towards the fountains, was well and truly scuppered by their being turned and fenced off. A hosepipe ban. In MANCHESTER. When they split the Higg’s Boson I bet you a fiver they find Sod’s Law written through it like a microscopic stick of rock.

So that night and the following day I re-recorded a new ending (which actually I think turned out more visually interesting, though which also may have made people a little more nervous of speaking out loud as per the final instruction) and re-edited the tumblr site to include the teaser and the download plus instructions. I sent the facebook reminder and tweets, and retired to the lovely sound of silence, highlights of which were not hearing my own voice on loop.

The happening

rainreminds-23

The event came up at the end of the day, and a very healthy turn out of about 35 people arrived with furled white Green Room umbrellas. Most had the mp3 downloaded and were ready to play, about a 15% had heard about it on the day or were stewards/others who had heard about it as a flashmob only, and grabbed an umbrella to join in. If my next piece offers more of a budget, 10 £5 mp3 players for accessibility and walk-ups will be a must. The piece went ahead, about half the people seem to follow it as I had intended (‘intending’ may have been a mistake) a quarter might have been expecting something else, and played a bit more (no less a valid reaction!) and the other quarter had no track so were a bit bemused by the lack of action, or were sharing headphones (missing the left and right ear specific bits! Lesson learnt on that one). The key visual moments came together beautifully, and the reaction of the crowd was brilliant – “I tell you, they’re recording an episode of Dr Who or something!”

The feedback:

Timings were an issue when there were more people, what worked for me on my own, when I know what I’m doing and where I’m going, will less so for a group of people new to it and nervously checking if everyone else is moving too. In situations where there is no discernable leader, group action is more hesitant. Syncing everyone up is still problematic too. I thought a single air horn blast would fix the issues with mistimed watches that I’ve encountered with other pieces, but it didn’t, and it also meant that people clumped a little too much to begin with. The pictures and video look good though, there was a real buzz and audience as the piece culminated, and Larkin’ About and Green Room seemed quite pleased.

Here’s some nice things participants said:

“I overheard one of the other participants describing it as one of the most peaceful things they’d ever undergone.” – Sam Evaskitas

“It was a perfect blend of anticipation, mystery, cohesion, anonymity, observation, reminiscence, poignant melancholy, beauty and tranquility.” – a facebook comment

“Some lovely moments of reflection – about our relationship to transient, ambient ‘non-spaces’, especially as we grow older” @thederminator

Also someone called my voice ‘narcotic‘. I think that’s nice. I’m not sure.

My thoughts

You can’t predict people, you can guide them; with audience centric work, testing is key. Always add on a bit more time than you think. Find a better way to describe what a soundwalk/flashmob cross is. Find a better way of beginning things. Supply mp3 players on the day wherever possible. People are nice, and generally open to new things as long as you support them. Part of supporting them is not letting the track get ahead of them. People are awesome at telling other people about things if it is intriguing, if they like you, if they get some value out of it, or if they have put some value into it.

Want to listen to it? Right click, save as: The Smell of Rain Reminds Me of You

Thanks for EPIC READING.

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One Response to “Rain Reminds Reflections”

  1. Quiet Riot Girl August 15, 2010 at 11:13 am #

    I was so honoured and chuffed to find you had used my story in your final audio piece, and I loved what I saw and heard of it.

    The fact it didn’t rain on the rainy city, I know posed some tough challenges for you, but I think it is kind of lovely that something so unexpected happened, and the theatre emerged out of the unexpected.

    Congratulations, belatedly! xx

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