Laurence Cliffe

intermedia arts | creative technology | research through design

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The Laboratory of Psychical Research: A Mixed-Reality Sound Installation

The Laboratory of Psychical Research: A Mixed-Reality Sound Installation

The Laboratory of Psychical Research sound installation was created by Aleksander Kolkowski, kitt price and Laurence Cliffe. It was produced especially for the Media of Mediumship research project as part of the Being Human Festival 2021, hosted in partnership with Senate House Library. The Court Room at Senate House, University of London, played host to a reimagining of The National Laboratory of Psychical Research established in 1926 at UCL by Harry Price, psychic investigator.

Visitors explored laboratory equipment, toy instruments that were originally used to detect activity of unseen psychic forces and archival audio recordings of experiential research into psychic phenomena. Along with an in-situ, speaker distributed sound installation designed by Aleksander Kolkowski, visitors were also able to explore the laboratory using an Audio Augmented Reality (AAR) mobile phone application. This application enabled visitors to listen to historical recordings of spiritualist séances, interviews and other sound recordings that were binaurally rendered and spatially positioned at the locations of the physically exhibited objects. This virtual soundscape was overlaid on top of the physical soundscape within the room itself.

This innovative and mixed reality approach to the design and distribution of the accompanying audio experience often led visitors to question what sounds were real (those that existed within the room and delivered through speakers) and which were virtual (those that existed within their headphones and delivered through the accompanying mobile phone application). With voices seemingly emanating from empty chairs and the playback of gramophones being interrupted by approaching visitors, a scene was set that blurred the lines between reality and fiction that very much reflected the original laboratory’s interest in researching psychic phenomena.

The Media of Mediumship research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and follows on from the Popular Occulture in Britain, 1875-1947 research network.