Sensory Postcard: The Ghost Train

November 10, 2012 Posted by Milena D

This is going to be a picture-less, sound-less postcard, but nevertheless I feel compelled to comment because it was such a unique, simple, yet savory experience. I was really charmed by the simplicity of multi-modality – an open train or real tracks, in the brisk cold night, huddled with strangers going through a narrow passageway with scenes from various fairy tales unfolding off to the sides. A combination of real actors, props, detailed fabrications of scenes from fairy tales just enough to evoke memory of each one, really gave the train ride a sense of presence. In some ways it made me aware  (and hopefully others) how used I am to the flatness of experience provided by media – whether it’s my TV or my computer, or even my beloved iProducts.

Auditorily, the delightful part was that each fairy tale scene was announced by sounds first, before it became visually present. But let me backtrack. The train itself has cheapo variety park speakers built in and played music constantly. Let’s see if I can describe it. It was a cartoonish melody but it wasn’t contemporary or popular, and not too childish. Had a fairy-tale character, perhaps reminded me of old vinyl records I listened to of dramatized fairly tales, or perhaps other people were reminded of their Disneyland experiences and so on. In any case, even tho it appeared to be ‘generic’ in a sense, it was actually a custom mix, because it mixed in elements – melody, voice and sound effects that represented in a refreshingly subtle way the fairy tale scene that was just about to materialize out of the darkness ahead. A particular highlight for me was the sound effect of hundreds of mice scattering and screaming in that pattern mice do, sound intensifying as we came up on a fabricated scene on the side of the tracks of a fake corpse covered in at least 50-ish plastic mice/rats.

Reflecting on this experience, again, I just can’t say enough how refreshing it is for me to re-conceptualize this notion of ‘multi-modal’ display/interface that gets thrown around a lot in the interaction design community, and for that matter, in education(al technology). The way this train ride was multimodal, with the darkness of the forest around us, eery branches and leaves, fog-covered pond, water reflecting the moon hiding monsters below, cold biting night air, analogue metallic clanking of wheels on rails with its distinguishable crackling when direction changes, the low-fi sound melody and effects played via speakers, plus the immediate sounds of the live actors on the various fairy tale sets. It was a truly multi-modal experience with a presence that the most sophisticated piece of technology hasn’t been able to get close to. The sheer depth of – that’s how I can really think about – the depth, dimensional effect of different sensual experiences layered together, sight, sound, touch, temperature, smell, emotion….Makes me realize – duly so – how limited the conceptualizations of even the most contemporary forms of multimedia, multimodal, tangible technology are.

 

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