story trail

Where Water is its own Performance

With the story trail being previewed this weekend and ready for the public on Monday (eeek) our attention turns to the performance. Following our site visit we were able to finetune the piece to embed it to its narrowboat stage. And with the story trail episodes all in place we were also finally in the position to insure the live performance connected with all the other elements of the story – as well as the contributions from participants.

towpath_night_03The performance is another layer to this many layered story. Plus it has the benefit of us all engaging fully with you, the joys of liveness that comes from performance. This immediacy is what makes the performance, especially with its focus on the present timeframe of the story – the past and possible futures being covered elsewhere. It will also feature the origami boats, more projections and fleeting references to text from caches and zap codes.

As with everything else about the story, it has only been possible because of being made by four of us. The fabric of humour, politics, fantasy, improvisation and theatrics gives the forty minute show a real energy. We’ve written it so it doesn’t matter whether you trail before or after the performance.

With it being on Friday evening, there’s the weekend in which to explore the rest of the story. Equally we’re imagining people will have trailed the other episodes before coming to the story. Just like the trail, it won’t matter where your entry point is, just how to piece it together and what you take away from it. Just like water, it has a cycle, where there is no start, no end.



Untangling the Tib

What you have above is the inner workings of our collective mind. Hmm. Step away, and be grateful you can. We’ve just had to get closer and closer to the swiggles and arrows, to comb them out and smooth out their relationship to each other. Which reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s description at the beginning of Slaughterhouse 5 of how he writes plot:

I used my daughter’s crayons, a different colour for each main character. One end of the wall paper was the beginning of the story, and the other end was the end, and then there was all that middle part, which was the middle. And the blue line met the red line and then the yellow line and the yellow line stopped because the character represented by the yellow line was dead. And so on.

character map june dev labWhich in turn reminded me of this arch Vonnegut explanation of writing stories. He makes it seem so simple. Which of course is how you want it to appear. So perhaps foolish of me to reveal the minds-map. Especially as it may only serve to confuse: the characters you may be able to read of here, if you squint, do not appear like this in the story. Like all people they’ve changed in some way, certainly they do not entirely represent their early incarnations.

Let’s take the purple line, called Clown in the above. No longer. Nor is the ‘she’ ‘he’ ‘we’ idea we sketched out. Instead we have a fluid character call Tib, who might (you’ll have to follow the story trail) carry all the elements of he/she/we. Tib is also the name of a river in Manchester. Once a river, then a sewer, next… ?

It’s all zapping together

I’ve been on a learning curve over the last few weeks, teaching myself how to make Zappar codes. The process is something between making a little web site (in terms of interactivity) and a short film or animation (in terms of narrative progression). I’ve had a few frustrations – it is after all a new platform, and there are bound to be some bugs, plus some things i just don’t know how to do, like transparent videos – but I am getting there! And it’s satisfying to begin to see the results.

One concept I didn’t immediately get was the tracking image. This is like a background image which you can use to anchor the posiition of your elements, but it’s not actually part of the Zappar code – it’s the actual image that viewers are seeing through their device’s camera as they scan the code. Since our Zappars are located outside and we want people to be looking at the environment around them, our original idea was to use photos of the location as tracking images. However, I soon realised that unless someone was standing pretty much exactly where the photo had been taken from, and pointing their camera in the same direction and at the same angle, the tracking image wouldn’t really be identifiable. Other variables such as the weather, light and traffic would perhaps also alter the image. Tracking images should really be a static image such as a poster or card where the viewer is aiming their camera to scan the code.

sticker_making_3This weekend, as I made the stickers that we will use to place the Zappar codes in our chosen places, I had one of those sudden moments of revelation: here is the tracking image! We want people to be looking around at the environment but they will have to first point their device’s camera at the sticker, so that can be used at least initially for the AR to emerge from. It seems pretty obvious now … but that’s the thing about working with technology: there will always be exciting revelations, large or small!

So, I’m about to remake the 5 Zappar codes with new tracking images. At the same time, I’m going to improve some of the graphics and make timing and size adjustments now that I’m more familiar with how it all works. Maya has sent screenshots of two codes tested on location, which has also been very helpful in thinking about how it appears in the actual site. I’m testing on a tablet, however probably most people will access it via a smartphone, so I need to think about the size. We’ve also added a line to the stickers advising people to use headphones, since traffic and other ambient noise makes the audio hard to hear – and the audio is very important!

It’s all coming together now – I’ve got the concepts clear in my head, a good understanding of how the media elements are going to work and interact; and I’ve also had friendly and helpful support from the people at Zappar when I’ve needed it. It will be interesting to see how the public respond …

Story trail playlist – Track 1

For those of you planning to follow our story trail in search of the geocaches and zappar codes, I’m starting a suggested playlist of songs that are connected to the themes and images in our story.

Here’s number one: Stolen Shark by Rozi Plain, a beautiful and strange track from Inside Over Here. If you like this one, her whole album is well worth purchasing, and YES, this track does contain a little hint to an element of the Towpath story…something to listen to while you wander the trail.

The story trail opens on October 6th, the first day of the Manchester Literature Festival, and it will be open every day throughout the festival.

Counting fifty millionths of a nanosecond…

As you already know the story for the trail is all about water... I don’t mean just water as an environment, but the threat that is facing water. And the biggest deal I think is that no one knows what the consequence is. Yes, we know seas are warming, becoming more acidic, and that obviously threatens the marine life already balanced to the chemical make up of the sea, but what actually will happen is really anyone’s guess.

Our story is not concerned with the sea, per se, but the water in the canals and rivers of Manchester. (Although you could argue, that just as all oceans are the same body of water, the cycle is delicate and interconnective) There is a prophetic element in our story, dealing with the various possibilities of what will happen to our water in the future.

flotillaWe found research about water memory suggesting that water is more fragile than we’d suspected, to the point where the hydrogen bonds within its molecular structure can be broken down within fifty millionths of a nanosecond. This has potentially disastrous outcomes when you consider the ongoing degradation of plastics – what generally ends up in the water: be it canals, drains, the sea. All the plastics that have been made are still in existence in some form. Plastic breaks down and breaks down to microscopic particles, but as yet it has not completely disappeared. Water, fragile as some suggest, is vulnerable to this morphing of plastic. In some, possibly not too distant, future it may no longer be written as the familiar H2O compound but a new unfamiliar descendant. Cue mythological creatures that have adapted to such an environment….


No Spoiler Alerts

With most of the story written and tallied (all of it won’t be completed until we have YOUR contributions once you’ve walked the trail) I can confidently say I would have never written this story on my own.

Back in June when we first came together to discuss our interests: what we wanted from the story, what we wanted others to get from it, and what we cared enough about to focus on; we cooked up this mythic idea, spanning from 1804 to 2060, with reincarnated characters, super-evolutionary species and a water deity.

helenI don’t know what the others thought then but I was thinking how the hell are we going to pull this off? Naturally I didn’t voice the doubts. Just smiled courageously and offered to start the draft of the present time frame. Don’t look up. Don’t look down. I kept telling myself. One small step. Etc etc. Sure it was baffling at times. You know how annoying it is when time-hopping stories just don’t add up, if something happened in the past that disintegrates the place or humans involved in the future scenes? Well, we had a few near misses. And a few events that couldn’t have happened in places that hadn’t been built yet. And a few of those moments when you just don’t know what the hell is going on…

The beauty of collaboration is that someone spots the glitches. Not everyone can be totally close to the each element of the story, so there’s always someone with that gorgeously benign and essential ‘objective eye’, that cunning mirror that reflects your ambition and mistakes, illuminates them. So between the four of us we’ve created this amazingly fluid, playful story that could not happen anywhere but Manchester and will hopefully live on in all readers’ minds and hearts whenever they walk the streets and waterways of the city.

And that’s just the story content, I couldn’t have begun to make zappars and formatted geocaches by myself.

Cache construction ahead

I spent the weekend making caches for the geocaching element of our story trail and have discovered that what was once a familiar part of my life has now become a relic: film canisters. I managed to root out three of them between Maya’s house and mine, and am at a loss as to where all the others have gone. Ten years ago they were commonplace, and now they sell on ebay in listings marked specifically for geocaching. I’m glad that these handy little containers are finding a new niche in a digital world.


Little pieces of the towpath story will go in each cache. Follow the breadcrumbs for more...

Little pieces of the towpath story will go in each cache. Follow the breadcrumbs for more…