Humans in the Machine – Bringing Intimacy of Voice Back to Digital Interactions.

Sam Haren, Sandpit, Australia, Dan Koerner, Sandpit, Australia

Abstract

Humans in the Machine explores the translation of the intimacy of curatorial stories into scalable visitor experiences. Digital tools are becoming increasingly useful and affordable for museums to create personalised experiences for large amounts of visitors every year. A potential downside of digital technology that it can "deaden" an experience, stripping it of the unquantifiable warmth and richness that human interactions can engender. This paper seeks to illuminate new approaches to technology and content generation that bring intimate conversations back to the visitor at scale. We trace the emergence of the curator as the keeper of stories – and the digitising of the curatorial voice, from the first audio tours in the 1950s to present day mobile applications at MONA and SFMOMA. We then explore the creation of our own project, Map-O-Matic, at the State Library of Victoria in Australia, which sought to capture the idiosyncratic voice of curator Carolyn Fraser, and translate her unusual curatorial strategy of linkages into a unique tangible object which guides visitors in the space. Map-O-Matic succeeded in capturing the human intimacy of many of Fraser’s storytelling traits, and revealed many possibilities for further personalisation for future exploration.

Keywords:

Humans in the Machine – Bringing Intimacy of Voice Back to Digital Interactions

Written by Sam Haren, Dan Koerner and Carolyn Fraser

 

Abstract

Humans in the Machine explores the translation of the intimacy of curatorial stories into scalable visitor experiences. Digital tools are becoming increasingly useful and affordable for museums to create personalised experiences for large amounts of visitors every year. A potential downside of digital technology that it can “deaden” an experience, stripping it of the unquantifiable warmth and richness that human interactions can engender. This paper seeks to illuminate new approaches to technology and content generation that bring intimate conversations back to the visitor at scale.

We trace the emergence of the curator as the keeper of stories – and the digitising of the curatorial voice, from the first audio tours in the 1950s to present day mobile applications at Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and the San Francisco Musueum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). We then explore the creation of our own project, Map-O-Matic, at the State Library of Victoria in Australia, which sought to capture the idiosyncratic voice of curator Carolyn Fraser, and translate her unusual curatorial strategy of linkages into a unique tangible object which guides visitors in the space. 

Map-O-Matic succeeded in capturing the human intimacy of many of Fraser’s storytelling traits, and revealed many possibilities for further personalisation for future exploration. 

 

Introduction

The voice of the curator remains the most singular and dominant voice that visitors encounter in museums and galleries. Over time, various techniques have been deployed to tune the visitors’ attention into this voice using a variety of lo-fi and cutting edge technologies. The voice can sometimes be moving, sometimes funny, but always going beyond the mere informational,  injecting human personality into the visitor experience. It is this sense of humanity that activates a room full of objects into something that transcends the banality of a collection- beyond imbuing these objects with meaning, the curator’s voice gives an exhibition an intangible sense of life.

This paper explores the translation of curatorial story and intimacy into scalable visitor experiences. How can the idiosyncratic, personable storytelling of the curator be “bottled” into a personalised visitor experience? 

We explore some of the techniques museums have used across time and context to create vehicles for the curator’s voice. We assess the tangible success of these techniques and the subtleties of their approach. 

The first part of this paper outlines how the curator is charged as a keeper of knowledge and stories, and how they can share these with visitors. We begin with human-to-human guidance; the translation into written text in the interpretative panel; and technologies that digitise and re-render the curator into the space. 

The second part focuses on Sandpit’s Map-O-Matic at the State Library of Victoria in Australia, created by the authors. This project sought to capture a curatorial voice and storytelling into a digital visitor experience. Map-O-Matic creates personalised tours for visitors from a seemingly eclectic collection of objects, linked through unexpected associative connections found by the curator. 

 

Part I – “Bottling” the Curator 

The Voice of the Curator

The voice of the curator resonates deeply through the fabric of the gallery and museum. It can be buried deep within an exhibition, or subtly stitched into the interstitial fabric between the objects, but the curator’s personality can be heard loud and clear – sometimes even quite literally – in the visitor’s experience. 

Tom Morton, curator of the British Art Show, gives us a break-neck precis of the role of the curator across time:

“A very short history of the word ‘curator’ might run as follows. In Ancient Rome, curatores were senior civil servants in charge of various departments of public works, overseeing the Empire’s aqueducts, bathhouses, and sewers. Fast forward to the medieval period, and we encounter the curatus, a priest devoted to the care (or “cura”) of souls.

“By the end of the 20th century, ‘curator’ came to describe a broad category of exhibition makers, from museum employees who spend years working on modest, scrupulously researched displays of Sumerian pottery, to freelancers who approach large scale Biennales of contemporary art as an opportunity to clear their auteurial throat.” (Morton, 2020)

The curator has been the overseer, devoted servant, obsessive researcher, and empowered auteur. In each form, the curator holds deep knowledge of the objects in their charge – and they use this knowledge to organise, select – and ultimately interpret – for the visitor. 

Interpretation of the curator’s work can take many forms – the most primary version is delivered by the curator to the visitor, person to person in physical space. Sometimes the most compelling aspect of visiting a museum or gallery is provided by the dialogue with a person who is able to reveal the stories behind what you are looking at. A curator can understand the interests of a visitor and build an intimate, immediate dialogue as they tour a space with them.

The docent or tour guide is the next step of removal – other people embody the knowledge and strategies of the curator, as a both a kind of proxy for the curator, an re-interpreter of their material via their own personality, experience and knowledge.

The interpretative panel is the first step in disembodying the voice of the curator – their knowledge is transposed into the written word, continuously available to the visitor to read in situ. The interpretative panel begins to solve a problem of scale – it can constantly service visitors day and night, and at much greater volumes than a human ever could. 

As cultural organisations have grown over time, many leading institutions have become huge behemoths both in their physical size and the volume of visitors they need to reach.  The rise of mass media technologies in the twentieth century gave rise to new ways that the human could be more directly disembodied and scaled for the visitor- beginning with the capturing of their voice in the audio tour in the 1950s. 

We will follow a trajectory of striking curator voices- first embodied by the human, then translated into the written word. We then want to examine how technologies have been used to attempt to capture and “bottle” the intimacy of the curator.

Embodied Voice

The stories behind objects can be brought to life in intimate and compelling ways, when they are told to us in person by someone who knows them incredibly well. The curator or docent often brings a lived experience of the object that naturally lends an intimacy and authenticity – allowing us to understand the object through the lens of their experience. 

We encountered the intimate power of such a voice at the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland, which acts as the humble mouthpiece of the National Security Agency. According to its aging website “it shares the Nation’s, and NSA’s, cryptologic legacy and place in world history.”

 Dwarfed by the neighbouring NSA’s gleaming, cubic headquarters building, the museum houses an unassuming collection of cryptologic gizmos such as the Enigma Machine – an encryption device used widely by Nazi Germany during WW2. 

The building and the exhibits themselves are unremarkable in their execution, however, the docents- often former NSA officers themselves- bring the objects to life in a way that is second to none. Beyond the docents being experts in the subject matter they guide visitors through it is their first-hand knowledge and application of the objects that bring a vibrant energy to them. Like Neil Armstrong describing a moon rock, an object comes to life when it is being invoked by someone who has first-hand knowledge of it. 

It is the space between the docent and the object that the visitor’s imagination activates – what would this person look like actually using this device in the field, cracking the code, beating the enemy? What secrets do they know that I do not know? It is in this moment that the docent’s whole life experience is channelled into the object, giving it personality and life beyond the obvious.

Voice into Text

The interpretative panel has a legacy of codifying the knowledge and insights of the curator into a short, pithy text to be read. Over time, the voice of the interpretative panel is less and less owned by the curator- and increasingly by that of the broader institution via its marketing and communications departments. The tension between the voice of the curator- and the institutional brand- can often remove the idiosyncratic and personable qualities that can be so engaging for the visitor.

The interpretative panel can bring unexpected intimacy, as seen in the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) exhibition of works by contemporary Australian artist Darren Sylvester. The NGV is Australia’s oldest museum and spans across two venues in Melbourne, Australia. Its newest gallery – the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia is focussed exclusively on indigenous and non-indigenous Australian art. In March 2019 the Ian Potter Centre presented Darren Sylvester: Carve a Future, Devour Everything, Become Something- Darren Sylvester’s first large scale solo exhibition. Darren Sylvester is a multidisciplinary artist working in photography, sculpture, video, installation, performance and music. His work is preoccupied with stark representations of popular culture with themes of fear of death and loss and longing occurring persistently. For his solo exhibition, the NGV made the bold choice of allowing the artist to contribute to his own exhibition panels. This simple move had a profound effect on the visitor experience, blurring the line between the curator’s voice and the artist himself. The artist-cum-curator not only gave visitors a deeper insight into the works’ inception but also added a layer of personality absent with impersonal exhibition labels written from a removed perspective. The artist’s particular trait of pulling the rug out from under perceived meaning was stark.

Sylvester’s 2014 For you invites visitors into a large scale, sealed off room with a pumping electro soundtrack. A pastel-coloured dance floor illuminates in patterns from below in translucent sheets of perspex. The effect is of a nostalgic nightclub scene dripping in new romantic chic of the 1980s. However, Sylvester’s acerbic voice quickly deflates any joy in the nostalgia interjecting on a nearby exhibition panel:

For you began as paintings in 2001 that were titled I care for you. I wanted to paint however I didn’t want to mix colours, so I contacted Clinique who provided me with their cosmetic range of the season – colours I presumed would automatically look good as they had been market tested.” (https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au)

Here the curator/artist undercuts perceived meaning by playfully demystifying the artist’s choice of colour. His dry voice becomes an additional layer, problematising his own artwork. Much like an NSA officer/docent adding a depth of meaning to an enigma machine, so does Sylvester add the complexity of voice to the objects in the exhibitions that have been handled by the artist himself.

Digitising the Curator

The project of digitising the curator goes back to the 1950s, with the emergence of the audio tour. The voice of the curator could be recorded, and intimately transmitted into the ear of the visitor. 

Beginning with the Stedelijk Museum’s Ambulatory Lectures in 1952, commentary was recorded on tape, and then transmitted to the visitor via a closed-circuit short wave radio. (Tallon & Walker, 2008) The goal was to provide a curatorial voice in other languages – but it was a revolutionary moment of scaling the curator, who could be omnipresent, yet completely physically absent, for a sea of visitors.

As new audio technologies emerged, they were quickly explored and leveraged to give the visitor greater choice and autonomy. Loïc Tallon tracks how this plays out over the decades – the Soundtrek device in the 1960s allowed the visitor to tune into the commentary frequency relevant to them. In the late 1970s, the rise of the Walkman allowed for the prerecorded voice to be placed on each users device for Treasures of Tutankhamun; and in the 1990s the Louvre pioneered random access guide- allowing the visitor non-linear access to the curatorial voice. (Tallon & Walker, 2008)

PDAs, and later iPods and smartphones, have provided the canvas of the mobile computing and applications to transcend audio to provide new kinds of visual interpretation and interaction to the voice of the curator. 

Two contrasting examples, one from the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Australia and the other from San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), exemplify how this canvas can be used by the curator.

The “O” device is a creation made for MONA. The oft-critiqued MONA has democratised the art gallery experience and allowed new audiences to not only experience art but also to find their voice in relation to it. Opened in 2011, MONA is the largest privately-funded art gallery in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Created by businessman, art collector and professional gambler David Walsh, the labyrinthine museum guides visitors on a darkly playful journey through a collection themed around sex and death. The subversive collection includes Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca Professional, a machine that converts food waste into highly convincing human faeces throughout the day. 

Highlighting the resonance the eclectic collection creates in the juxtaposition of its objects, MONA has no text panels- instead visitors are given The O, a modified iPod touch that guides them through the many galleries. The O responds to its location in the building by serving visitors up a selection of artworks that are close by. This frees the visitor to experience the artworks in their raw form and in context with each other – only reaching for interpretive information when they desire it. 

The collection, The O, the building itself, and the many public events that centre on MONA the institution are steeped in Walsh’s character. His shadow looms large across all facets of MONA. Walsh himself has been critiqued for performing his own ignorance of the world- whether he is in on his own joke or not. It is a curatorial presence of voice that can only be achieved by the curators being the multimillionaire who has funded their own operation. Jokes aside, Walsh’s actual voice is present in a function on The O called gonzo. 

When in range of an artwork, gonzo offers some of Walsh’s personal comments on art and artists and buying art which are often very personal and have varying relevance to the artwork itself. It is a pure expression of a curator (or owner’s) idiosyncratic personality in proximity to the collection. MONA is very directly, and arguably egotistically, an expression of an individual’s character.

In contrast, SFMOMA’s exploration created a more singular, immersive curatorial world, driven through the delivery of audio, underpinned by the intelligence of the smartphone.

SFMOMA’s now decommissioned audio tour, created in collaboration with Detour, took visitors on an audio tour of their selection through the galleries. What was remarkable about this system was its ability to respond directly to the visitor’s location in the museum in a strikingly responsive way. 

A base level of composition would play persistently with additional informative content playing out on top when the visitor entered several predetermined zones. At the beginning of the experience, visitors were encouraged to pick one of several tours on their device. “German To Me” was an “immersive walking tour” led by German-American radio producer Luisa Beck. It was a This American Life-esque walk through many of SFMOMA’s works by German artists including Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke who were grappling to come to terms with the aftermath of WW2 and an extremely problematic national identity. 

Beck gently guided the visitor through the works and ponders her own identity while pulling in interviews with her German-speaking mother, grandmother,and young cousin. The soundscape gently underscores her comments as Beck effectively guides visitors from room to room. The voiceover itself was “floating” on top of the score which told you which room to go to next and, as the soundscape plays out, visitors would find their own way in their own time. 

Beck’s voice was afforded a clever intimacy via some simple audio engineering tricks. She largely spoke directly to the visitor which felt particularly intimate via the subtle use of reverb on the audio track. The reverb closely matched the natural reverb of a conversational voice in the gallery. This created the effect of Beck standing very close by. At times when interviewing other characters from her life, this effect disappears spatialising these characters in different environments. Suddenly Beck is not so much standing next to you, but is having a conversation in another place with another person you are eavesdropping on. These subtle effects have a huge impact on the visitor, guiding their awareness of the voice they are listening to and cleverly suggesting a spatial context in relation to it.

 

Part II – Creating Map-O-Matic

State Library Victoria’s Victoria Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, Velvet, Iron, Ashes opens up a new way of seeing Victoria’s unique history and reveals how a wide range of seemingly unrelated objects and stories link and intersect.

In their exploration of the collection, visitors can find out how the armour of infamous bushranger Ned Kelly is connected to cricket’s celebrated Ashes Urn, how fairy floss is connected to Victoria’s Latrobe Valley electricity industry, and why the granddaughter of one of Australia’s prime ministers once wore a glittering velvet cloak that symbolised the Murray–Darling irrigation scheme. 

In early 2019 Sandpit was engaged by the State Library of Victoria (Melbourne’s largest library) to create an immersive experience for their newly refurbished Victoria Gallery. We were connected with State Library Victoria’s senior curator Carolyn Fraser to begin the process of concepting to address the interpretive needs of the Victoria Gallery’s inaugural exhibition Velvet, Iron, Ashes.

The Curator Speaks: Carolyn Fraser on Curation, Storytelling and Linkage

We have been talking a lot about the voice of the curator, so we thought we should hear from a curator herself. Carolyn Fraser was the curator of Velvet, Iron, Ashes. How does a curator see their role, and what matters for translating their stories? 

Making exhibitions can really get in the way of telling a good story. When I first presented the concept for Velvet, Iron, Ashes to the board of State Library Victoria, I showed a hand-drawn mind-map of interlinked stories, and ran out of time before I’d even explained half of them. I’ve regularly thought, this would be a great novel, or why don’t I just make a film, when deep in the research phase of a project. No matter the complexities of these forms, on the surface, they seem so much easier than exhibitions because the authorial voice and its role is understood. When I stand in front of a group of people and tell a story I plan to include in an exhibition, I’m conscious that I’m using the narrative techniques of the storyteller and perhaps the writer, not an exhibitions-maker or a curator. 

For the most part, it’s easy for me to engage an audience. I spend a good deal of time researching subjects, and have the great fortune to work with a terrific collection that provides me with endless avenues for exploration. Once I dig into a topic, I can almost always find something interesting. Telling the story of that interesting something is my favourite thing in the world. So if exhibitions involved me standing on a soapbox surrounded by objects, I’d be quite content. But that’s not an exhibition. That’s a performance art piece at very best. An exhibition is the absence of me personally telling you the story the exhibition is designed to tell. The physical environment, the chosen objects, the interpretive strategy, the overall experience design – this is an exhibition. 

A curator is not the same thing as a storyteller, nor is the curator an exhibitions-maker,  just one element of the greater whole. Curation is about finding and filtering, re-contextualising and remixing. It is a creative, human endeavour. But like the storyteller, the curator has a voice. Sometimes this voice is that of the individual, other times of the institution. Sometimes it’s an uneasy mix of both. Sometimes it’s the voice of authority, of expertise. Sometimes it’s the voice of a friend, wanting to tell you a story, wanting to help you navigate a physical place. 

That last kind – your friendly, informed guide – is the kind of curator I want to be. 

I knew of Sandpit’s work long before we started working together. From his writing, I knew that Dan has a particular thing for libraries, which augured well for our collaboration. But we – State Library Victoria – didn’t really know what we wanted from a digital interactive in our brand-new gallery space. When we first began discussions, we didn’t know what the space should be or how it should work. Sandpit is comfortable in this space, us less so. Dan’s enthusiasm for translating my mind-map in some way slowly developed into an idea to solve the problem I identified in that early presentation to the board – the problem of how to present the great story I can tell in person in exhibition form. 

Creating Map-O-Matic

When we first met Carolyn the exhibition that was to become Velvet, Iron, Ashes was predicated on a curatorial hunch. Carolyn has a particular skill for following her nose through narrative threads and uncovering hidden tidbits of information. In her early thinking she had created an elaborate mind map that stitched some of the key objects in the exhibition together. This functioned as a kind of proof of concept, visually describing a curatorial strategy that could encompass the entire exhibition. We were struck by the impression that the object list, at this stage, really did seem like a bunch of stuff – a bushrangers armour, a dress from a Melbournian socialite and urn of ashes. However, as soon as Caroyln began speaking, the objects came to life, not in isolation but as a sum of their parts. It was not the objects themselves but the space between them that vibrated with narrative energy. Our job was clear- to create a tool that could bottle Carolyn’s energy and deliver it to visitors at scale.

A curatorial 'mind-map' drawn illustration that interlinks objects, people and events of the Velvet, Iron, Ashes exhibition

Figure 1: Carolyn Fraser’s map of associative linkages between objects 

A playful creative direction in our thinking came from mapping out the most tangential associative links between objects in the exhibition. Like a game of six degrees of Kevin Bacon, we began to map the myriad pathways through the gallery. Some links were direct and instantaneous, others took three, four, five and sometimes up to six “stops” in order to connect one object to another. 

In our concepting process, we felt that we needed to develop a specific form that could capture Carolyn’s interlinkages. While an audio guide could have literally captured Carolyn’s voice, we did not feel that an audio format could effectively represent the complexity of the linkages between the curated objects. A mobile application- in the style of MONA or SFMOMA- also did not feel qualitatively right for representing Carolyn’s playfulness and warmth.

We had visited the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT9) at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Brisbane, Australia which had created an ingenious system for visitors to devise a personalised journey through the exhibition. Accessed either online or via a kiosk in the gallery, visitors could indicate how they would be attending (by myself, on a date, in a group, with my family) and how they want to feel (inspired, creative, amazed, challenged, reflective). The system then generates a custom tour based on these criteria which is emailed to the visitor. The custom tour indicates how many stops there will be and how long their tour will take to complete. Coupled with recent experiments with thermal printers Sandpit had undertaken in our lab, we combined this with the GOMA personalised tour concept to prototype a physical map that visitors could create and carry through the exhibition.

Using Google Maps’ multiple destinations view as a user experience (UX) paradigm, we created multiple versions of maps that could guide visitors through their own six degrees of Kevin Bacon. In describing multiple possible links between objects it became instantly apparent that the amount of writing necessary increased exponentially the more objects that were added to the list. Fearing an exorbitant amount of work for a curator to create this content we devised a system where large groups of objects could belong to a zone. By creating 15 zones in total we could write a more reasonable amount of text linking one zone to another rather than linking all of the individual objects. Despite this, our earlier prototypes linked objects to the zones far too loosely, resulting in connections that felt a little too tenuous. We overcame this by writing small pieces of text per object that described their relationship to the zone. This became known as the “stub text” which required its own field in the content management system (CMS) we created.

We collaborated closely with exhibition designer Anita Gigi Budai whose design itself had begun to reflect the playful and tangential style of Carolyn’s curatorial strategy. Bold colours, hidden drawers, nostalgic catalogue cards, and rotary telephones peppered the gallery. This pushed us to consider more creative experience paradigms through which visitors could generate their maps.

Sandpit’s approach is often interested in moving away from screen interfaces, and hiding technology into more tactile forms of interaction. Often we take the capabilities of a device such as a smartphone or a tablet, and translate them into a physical object.

For Map-O-Matic, we did envision a screen as part of the design to display objects and their linkages, but wanted this framed within the notion of a more physical machine. We feel Hiroshi Ishii perfectly captures our interest in a tangible interface:

“The key idea of [Tangible User Interfaces] is to give physical forms to digital information. The physical forms serve as both representations and controls for their digital counterparts. TUI makes digital information directly manipulatable with our hands, and perceptible through our peripheral senses by physically embodying it.” (Ishii, 2008)

We began to investigate physical dials and buttons as methods of interaction and explored the user experience of one armed bandit poker machines as a means of “lining up” different objects. 

Much like poker machines, we looked at how different symbols could be used as a kind of visual shorthand to represent objects in the collection. Early inspiration for the exhibition design had come from the intricate visual worlds of director Wes Anderson so we took the different variations of scout patches from Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom as a visual benchmark for our symbols. Extending the idea of a cantankerous contraption that visitors could interact with, we used all manner of Rube Goldberg machines to inform the user interface.

Until this point we had been using “the Shazam Machine” as a placeholder name for the project- “shazam” being descriptive of the dramatic moment in which two objects could be connected.  We knew full well, however, that “shazam” has become associated with another interactive in recent years and would certainly be confusing for visitors. We ran a naming workshop to find a new direction which resulted in “the Bisociator Machine” becoming a new working title – bisociation being the combination of two seemingly obtuse objects or concepts into a new meaning or understanding. This new name stuck for a few weeks while we tested it out in conversation with colleagues at which point it became apparent that it was something of a mouthful and needed more explanation than we desired. For clarity we finally named the project the Map-O-Matic Machine or, more formally “the State Library of Victoria’s Amazing Patented Map-O-Matic Machine” to adequately reflect its cantankerous nature.

An image of the Map-O-Matic interactive object, a red cart-like object with two dials, a yellow button and a large screen

Figure 2. Map-O-Matic in situ in Victoria Gallery 

Upon completion the Map-O-Matic is a large, red device sporting two large dials and a big yellow button. Extending the exhibition’s playful design, the machine’s form was inspired by a pretzel cart the design team found in Switzerland. When visitors approach the machine, a large screen invites them to spin/turn… the dials to start their tour. Two animated “barrels” appear on either side of the screen which the dials rotate. The “barrels” contain the custom designed symbols representing all of the objects in the gallery. When a visitor selects an object, an animated drawer slides out from underneath with exhibition panel style information about the object along with a photographic image. By selecting another object on an opposing “barrel” the visitor can then push a big yellow physical button to create a map that connects the two objects. The Map-O-Matic then presents the visitor with their personalised map and a randomised selection of objects to guide them through the degrees of separation that connects the initial two objects. The screen also displays approximately how long their tour will take. Another push of the big yellow buttons prints out the physical map which visitors take with them.

A CMS was developed to manage all forms of content (exhibition panel, stub etc.) but also an interactive floorplan of the gallery where pins can be dropped to allow the system to determine an object’s position. The CMS provides the status of the thermal printers so library staff can address paper outages or paper jams. A dashboard also provides statistics including number of maps printed and number of connections made, all filterable by date.

Beyond the obvious increase in visitation to the Library, an important goal of the exhibition was to make the content accessible and available to audiences with broadest possible backgrounds and age groups. In order to do this, we designed the interaction with the machine itself and the language presented on the maps to be both easy to follow and extremely playful. This has ensured that the complex task of uncovering meaning in the exhibition is not only easy but incredibly fun.

In addition to user stats, our Cipher platform allows us to analyse up-to-the-minute metrics on both of the machine’s usage. We have access to immediate reports on interactions (dial turning), data on complete interactions (end-to-end journey), and quantities of maps printed by users per machine, per day, month year etc. Cipher allows us to analyse this usage, and compare it with foot traffic through the Victoria Gallery on any given day. We can then provide the Library with accurate stats on peak periods e.g. in January 2020 when visitation was sitting in the low 1000s per day, on average, 60 maps were being printed an hour. 

 

Conclusion

Our exploration of “bottling” Carolyn as the curator into Map-O-Matic provided a bespoke solution for Velvet, Iron and Ashes’ unique storytelling style – and also opened a myriad of questions and possibilities that could easily be explored in other visitor interactives in the future. 

We felt that Carolyn’s array of micro-narratives perfectly suited a tangible “contraption” that invited the visitor’s curiosity and provided them with Carolyn’s voice in a personal, playful way that they can physically take and explore the gallery with. 

While the serendipitous narrative connections were part of the intended pleasure of Map-O-Matic, we also identified ways that the visitor could have further shaped what the Map-O-Matic gave them- could have visitor been shown a field of thematic interconnections that they could have selected from or prioritised? Could the visitor have nominated time as a parameter, or be sent to a corner of the gallery that they should not miss? 

All of these possibilities are exciting opportunities to encounter and interact with the idiosyncratic voice of the curator, held in a new kind of tangible form that can bring intimate conversations back to the visitor at scale.

 

Bibliography

Ishii, Hiroshi, “Tangible Bits: Beyond Pixels”, Second International Conference on Tangible and Embedded Interaction, Feb 18-20 2008, Bonn, Germany 

Meise, Nils and Zakharine, Dmitri (2013), Electrified Voices: Medial, Socio-Historical and Cultural Aspects of Voice Transfer, V&R Unipress.

Morton, Tom, “A brief history of the word ‘curator'”, accessed 31 January 2020, <https://au.phaidon.com/agenda/art/articles/2011/september/09/a-brief-history-of-the-word-curator/>

National Gallery of Victoria, 2018, accessed 18 January 2020, <https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/DarrenSylvester_LargePrintLabels.pdf>

Parry, Ross; Page, Ruth and Moseley, Alex (eds). (2018). Museum Thresholds: The Design and Media of Arrival, New York: Routledge.

Rich, Jennifer, Acoustics on Display: collecting and curating sound at the Science Museum, accessed 18 January 2020, <http://journal.sciencemuseum.ac.uk/browse/issue-07/acoustics-on-display/>

Schulze, Holger, “The Corporeality of Listening.: Experiencing Soundscapes on Audio Guides” in Soundscapes of the Urban Past: Staged Sound as Mediated Cultural Heritage, Transcript Verlag, 2013

Spadaccini, Jim and McDonald, Hugh, “The Evolution of Tangible User Interfaces on Touch Tables:New Frontiers in UI & UX Design”, accessed 18 January 2020, <https://tangibleengine.com/resources/tangible-user-interfaces-TUI-UX-UI-v6.pdf>

Tallon, Loïc and Walker, Kevin (eds). (2008). Digital technologies and the museum experience : handheld guides and other media, Lanham : AltaMira Press


Cite as:
Haren, Sam and Koerner, Dan. "Humans in the Machine – Bringing Intimacy of Voice Back to Digital Interactions.." MW20: MW 2020. Published February 14, 2020. Consulted .
https://mw20.museweb.net/paper/humans-in-the-machine-bringing-intimacy-of-voice-back-to-digital-interactions/