In March 2016, I attended a production that involved a blindfold. Sadly, I wasn’t at one of the shows Naomi Westerman gets to see but it was Out of Joint’s production of All That Fall, Samuel Beckett’s radio play. Beckett’s estate had one requirement, this was meant for radio and, as result, a full-scale production was vetoed. Out of Joint came up with an alternative which involved a blindfolded audience who could only hear the actors as they moved around them. Whilst I didn’t rate the play as a piece of work it was a great showcase of sound design, a severely under recognised skill.
Good sound along with good lighting can save even the most budget stricken production. I recently attending An American in Paris and the sound suffered problems in the second number, I am not sure it ever recovered from this. In 2009 Matt Trueman wrote about all the headphones that kept being shoved into his hand for productions but it hasn’t really taken off. It relies on good technology plus an adaptable space and besides audio description, which is used by the minority and only available to a few at large production houses.It isn’t common to walk into a theatre and be given headphones or a blindfold.
This may change though with the emergence of binaural technologies. The most well-known use was Complicite’s The Encounter, which is currently on a world tour. Its sound technology won the Evening Standard Best Design and even if you didn’t see the production in the flesh there was an option to watch at home.
The reason for my interest in binaural sound is the rise of the ASMR video (Autonomous sensory meridian response). ASMR is probably my guilty pleasure because it all stemmed from a need to recreate the feeling from spa treatments I had in the past but could no longer afford. I came across a video channel from Emma, AKA WhispersRed. On April 29th Emma will be performing ASMR for one night only (the early bird tickets have already gone) at The Courtyard Theatre.
Emma is a bit of YouTube celebrity, working from her shed on roleplays such as sleep clinics, ear cleaning, beauty therapist and tea shop worker. It sounds utterly baffling to anyone unfamiliar with her work and I haven’t even got on to how comforting her kitchen paper tearing is. ASMR is part of my bed time routine and I am anxious I will fall asleep on my friend Catherine, who has agreed to come along but it is important for mediums to expand. As good as it is for Emma to bring her show to a live audience it is also good for theatre that ‘new media’ such as YouTube stars want their personal interaction. I often question if theatre is a dying art but it still provides sensory experiences that even the best technology cannot