Cutting through the fog

This post explores the 'breakthrough' period we had last week, when we knocked heads and came up with a finalized model for how the Jekyll 2.0 experie

A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven, but the wind was continually charging and routing these embattled vapours; so that as the cab crawled from street to street, Mr. Utterson beheld a marvellous number of degrees and hues of twilight; for here it would be dark like the back-end of evening; and there would be a glow of a rich, lurid brown, like the light of some strange conflagration; and here, for a moment, the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths.

—Robert Louis Stevenson, Jekyll and Hyde (1886)

London Fog

Making our way into the last month of this three-month Sandbox period, it’s not difficult to draw analogies between ourselves and the fog-blighted protagonists of our source text, as they grope their way through the crepuscular London cityscape and its equally shadowy interiors. In her latest producer's post, Jo has already mentioned that long dark night of the soul many of us Sandboxers are experiencing. Simon’s post about the frustrations of relying on the tech to do its job suggest that our tribulations aren’t too different from those of poor old Henry Jekyll, who couldn’t quite get the subsequent mixtures of his potion right precisely at the time when he needed it.

In our various conversations, we’ve been hammering away at the narratological framework for Jekyll 2.0. In the course of doing this Simon, James and I have realised that the most important nut to crack is the structure into which we’ll fit the bio-actuation and technical wizardry. That’s front-and-centre in our project: one of our key research questions considers how can we render textuality within a pervasive media context that offers a meaningful context for the use of biodata. If the story isn’t working, we could have all the technical bells-and-whistles we might dream of, and it’d still be a steaming pile of … fog.

So, last week was something of a breakthrough period for us. Taking advantage of a gap in our calendars, we were able to meet at the Pervasive Media Studio three times, and move from exciting (but ultimately intangible) concept diagrams and notes towards a substantial iterative model for what we want to achieve. Having toyed in previous weeks with a soundscape that we hooked onto a pilot locative Bristol app gave us a good departure point for developing a clearer sense of what we want to, and importantly can, achieve in our final product.

I’m sure that I bore both Simon and James to tears by banging on about 'the importance of the three-act narrative', which I'm convinced will work really well in ensuring what we're seeking to accomplish. The three-act paradigm is a conventional one, but it's conventional for a reason: it's simple, clear and effective. Watching or reading any gothic/horror narrative makes it clear how our ideas could coalesce very usefully into this kind of structure. Our points of reference in discussion were movies like Scorsese’s Hitchcockian Shutter Island (2010) and the less worthy, but sometimes quite effective, Silent House (2011), in both its Uruguayan and American incarnations. Both films offer a traditional structure of mystery/confusion/explanation, which fits very nicely with what we’re seeking to do with Jekyll 2.0.

Putting our heads together, we came up with a three-act structure for the experience, which maps elegantly onto Stevenson’s novel, and follows a mystery/transformation/revelation paradigm. Each act  fits very effectively with other tripartite divisions as well: as the participant’s role shifts from detective through accomplice to miscreant; from Utterson through Jekyll to Hyde; from exterior realism through internalised psychodrama to shocking self-confrontation; and from praxis-led action through phantasmagoric, increasingly disruptive encounters to a synthesis of plot and phenomena.

We managed to get the first (mystery/plot) and third (revelation/synthesis) acts sorted out by the end of our first day. But like the fog of war at the centre of a realtime strategy game, there was a big empty space that was the most trying battleground: our Act 2 centrepiece. Developing (and agreeing upon) what should fill this space became our determined focus for the week, and we managed to come up a structure with which (I hope) we’re all happy. My feeling is that it elegantly connects the different aims and aspects of the project quite effectively, and allows us to very clearly embody the text: that is, transform the fundamental experience of reading Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde into a pervasive media context that is compelling and seductive. More on that in another post …

Acts 1 and 3 sorted!

Acts 1 and 3: sorted!

Getting there ...  Getting there ...

Getting there ...

Arrived! Act 2 sorted.

What has really paid dividends, though, is our close readings of the novel over and over, combined with our deconstruction of the text into a soundscape: working at this granular level, while remaining informed by the context of what we’re trying to convey (the anxieties of a world in the grip of a scientific modernity) and sensitive to the mechanisms of gameplay (ludicity, affect, motivation). One of our exercises involved parsing the text of Jekyll and Hyde through the fantastic Voyant Tools platform. One of Voyant's tools enables users to map a timeline of particular keywords (or 'tokens') graphically. Running the novel through this revealed how we’ve managed to quite effectively ‘map’ our three acts of Jekyll 2.0 precisely to the reading experience of the source text, as its focus moves from Utterson through Jekyll to Hyde. Specific segments of the text are sequentially dominated by each of these characters, while the narrative itself similarly metamorphoses from detective mystery, through scientific exposition to gothic confessional. For me, the graph corroborates that working at the rockface of the text (words, phrases, descriptions, dialogues) has enabled us to remix it at a macro level in a way that remains faithful to the original text while promising to offer a surprising and disturbing experience to the participants of Jekyll 2.0

Voyant analysis of Utterson, Jekyll & Hyde's frequencey