Synthetic or human? The changing voices behind transport announcements

The recent sound recordings done in train stations and airports got me thinking more about how the synthetic voice has increasingly becoming a ubiquitous characteristic that directs and informs our movements within the environment. This comes after making a few recordings in a few shops earlier this morning, ‘Have you swiped your Nectar Card?’ the automated voice asked me in Sainsbury’s. From research, I found an interesting article in The Guardian which further adds discussion on synthetic voices; the article argues whether the automated announcements are killing personality. As an EFL teacher, I found the article particularly engaging in other areas too as it touches on issues surrounding language, pronunciation and grammar.


The Guardian, Ellie Violet Bramley (February 2016)

Synthetic or Human? The changing voices behind transport announcements

Will Self – Isolation, Solitude, Loneliness and the Composition of Long-Form Fiction

In Will Self’s lecture at Brunel University earlier this year, here ,  speaking  with his usual wit and erudition on isolation, the novel and the culture of the codex. A very thought-provoking lecture, on many issues, some we don’t really consider deeply and some taken for granted. For instance, reading in solitude/isolation is a skill we have learned to do over time. I never thought about it like that. There are other points mentioned in the lecture which  I thought useful for my current practice such as his views on the importance of reading and its origins. Below are a few notes taken from the lecture, some relevant, some non-relevant and some just for humor value :

“I believe the era of the codex is coming to an end”

“A shift from dead tree culture to a binary on/off culture”

“The writer needs isolation” (then Self answers is own question when explaining why he gets up so early in the morning) “Solitude, silence and having your own mind present to you”


  Q: “If writing is the act of a solitary man or woman then what else is? – Reading”

   A: “It requires solitude”

“Reading isn’t like speech we’re not high-wired for it, it was a technology that was acquired over millennia”

“……how the alphabet came into being you can see how complex, remarkably involved and socio-culturally relative a skill it is”

(mentioning one of his favourite anecdotes) “Augustine of Hippo and Bishop Ambrose, Augustine went to see Ambrose (4th  century) and the bishop was in his garden in Milan and Augustine came upon him and Bishop Ambrose was reading silently, Augustine was profoundly shocked, he’d never seen a man read a book, not aloud”

“The model of reading was a monk reading to his brothers or a mother…”

“You’ll put vast amounts of cognitive activity into your visualization or you’re imagining what the writer is trying to convey to you”

Self’s rhetorical questions to consider:

“What’s going to happen to it (reading) in the wired world?”

“What will happen to this quality of solitude that is required by both writers and readers in a world that we’re all permanently connected and permanently in conversation with each other?


“The global village and the medium is the expression” phrases coined by McLuhan

“There are a lot of digital immigrants trying to teach a lot of digital natives and a lot of digital immigrants are what McLuhan would call Gutenberg minds, minds that are formed by the idea of the codex”

“Those Gutenberg minds have learned how to commit a lot of data to memory”

“Almost all human knowledge is digitalized and easily and readily accessible”

Re the text: “It ceases to be this isolation module, it ceases to be the form which represents your unitary consciousness in that way”

Re the novel: “It’s entered a kind of care home where it’s being looked after”



Enemies of Promise (Cyril Connolly, 1938)

Understanding Media (Marshall McLuhan, 1959)



















Public Information Film Project: Contextual Research Notes



“A new medium is never an additional one”

McLuhan (Understanding Media)


“All reading is multi-sensory”  Crucial Link: “The sensory-motor experience of the materiality” of written work and “the cognitive processing of the text content”

Anne Mangen



“Hyperlinks alter our experience of media. The hyperlinks are designed to grab our attention. Their value as navigation tools is inextricable from the distraction they cause”  N. Carr (The Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing The Way We Think)


“A new mail announces its arrival as we’re reading a newspaper’s site. Our RSS reader tells us that one of our favorite bloggers has uploaded a new post. A moment after that, our mobile phone plays the ringtone that signals an incoming text message. Simultaneously, a Facebook or Twitter alert blinks on-screen”

N. Carr (The Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing The Way We Think)


“We are plunged into an ecosystem of interruption technologies”

Cory Doctorow


“A few clicks and the text duly appears on the computer screen. I start reading but while the book is well-written and informative, I find it hard to concentrate. I scroll back and forth and search for key words, and interrupt myself even more often than usual to refill my coffee cup, check my email, check the news, rearrange files in my desk drawer. Eventually I get through the book and am glad to have done so. But a week later I find it hard to remember what I have read”

David Bell (Historian) when reading The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda” 

“Although mildly disorientated at first, I quickly adjusted the kindle’s screen and mastered the scroll and page-turn buttons. Nevertheless, my eyes were restless and jumped around as they do when I try to read for a sustained time on the computer. Distractions abounded. I looked up Dickens on Wikipedia, then jumped straight down the Internet rabbit hole following a link about a Dickens short story, ‘Mugby Junction’. Twenty minutes later I still hadn’t returned to my reading of Nickleby on the kindle”

Christine Rosen  (Ethics & Policy Center, Washington, DC) when trying to read Nicholas Nickleby on a kindle


“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers”

Charles W. Eliot




Oskar Fischinger-Rhythm is a Dancer

“Well, it’s a bit flat in areas and it could do with more movement if you’re looking to get more energy from the drawings” 

Not exactly word for word but enough to make considerations. The comment was from a friend who is also a film maker when giving his two-pence worth on my project. I took his comment(s) on board. This prompted me to  have a look at experimental animation, other animators that draw directly on film and a few title sequencers.

I’ve noted some inspiring stuff from  Len Lye , Norman McLaren,   Dylan Kendle,  Saul Bass  and Maurice Binder . However, it’s  Oskar Fischinger ’s sensory animation, Optical Poem (1938) that has given me the most inspiration. I’ve paid a lot of attention to his ‘dancing’ shapes in total sync with Franz Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody. Also, what is more remarkable is that the animated imagery is done with paper and fishing line then each frame was photographed individually. That must have been mind-numbing!



Selected frames have been cropped, adding circular and square forms provide more frenetic movement, highlighting abstract forms. Overall, the visuals are a more engaging spectacle but will it be too much on the eye when animated? At this stage I prefer the isolated sequential frames


S1 Frame 1




S5 Frame 129



S 11 Frame 357



Public Information Film Project: Persuasive Narratives (part 2)

Continuing with a bit of research then some experiments. As my practice which involves persuasive narratives in technology, here I’m documenting, though very briefly, issues related to violent narratives in video games.

Many of the public information films I watched on the telly in the 1970s and 80s were generally aimed at children, raising awareness to ‘outdoor’ dangers such as playing near ditches, building sites, railway lines and talking to strangers etc. However, in the past 20 years, due to the social platforms we use, the dangers are now  ‘indoor’ activities- playing video games or ‘gaming’ as it’s commonly referred, being one example. As this issue is extremely broad, I’ve picked out an argument for and one against. Steven Johnson’s book, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, is on my to read list.

Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter- Steven Johnson.

Published in 2005, it is based upon Johnson’s theory that popular culture – in particular television programs and video games – has grown more complex and demanding over time and is making society as a whole more intelligent. The book’s claims, especially related to the proposed benefits of television, drew media attention.[1] It received mixed critical reviews.

Johnson states that he aims to persuade readers of “two things:

  1. ‘By almost all the standards we use to measure reading’s cognitive benefits — attention, memory, following threads, and so on — the non-literary popular culture has been steadily growing more challenging over the past thirty years’
  2. ‘Increasingly, the non-literary popular culture is honing differentmental skills that are just as important as the ones exercised by reading books’


From Wikipedia- Video game-related health problems  

‘Console game-related health problems can induce repetitive strain injuries, skin disorders or other health issues. Other problems include video game-provoked seizures in patients with epilepsy’

Research has found that kids who spend too much time playing video games may have more trouble paying attention in school. Researchers found that children who had more than two hours of game time per day were twice as likely to have trouble paying attention.

Video games have also been linked in some studies to aggressive behavior and violence or fearful behavior by its players in the short term although other studies have not supported this link.

Physical signs linked to excessive video game playing include black rings in the skin under the eyes and muscular stiffness in the shoulders, possibly caused by a tense posture or sleep deprivation.

Existing literature on gaming is inconsistent, and studies occasionally produce contradictory results. Some studies show strong correlations between gaming and psychological issues like increased aggression in males, and increased depression in females. Whilst another study claims that girls who gamed were less likely to experience depression but were more likely to get into fights.


Watching my son and daughter playing on their Xbox with their virtual friends sparked my attention. At around 6:00 p.m. , the lounge becomes an amusement arcade. In this instance, it is a constant noise of gunfire, you know, the sounds you hear when a BBC war journalist is reporting news from Baghdad. As they’re engaged in battle, I’m allowed to shoot some of the coverage.


Sound: The original sound is stripped and replaced with some ordinary battle sound bites from freesound. org

Footage: Not done a great deal, just slowed down footage after a killing incident. The graphics display, wording such as WASTED, pulverised you or shotgunned you.




Ended the sequence with the credit Killing for Fun? Not really any impact visually.




Switched to widescreen and lightened the footage exposing more graphical elements. Added more titling with overlays  in heavy block impact font.



Blank screen with audio merging to visuals. Visuals cut to 15 seconds




More emphasis on sound and negative space as opposed to visuals and blending sound/visuals. The cuts being sharper with the intention that the persuasive message is now more succinct.





Digital Human: Series One

As an alternative to reading, generally contextual information for my practice,  to break that cycle, I often switch to listening to podcasts on the BBC i-Player Radio. When I’m not in the UK, like now, I can only listen to podcasts which are ‘available now’ unless I install a virtual network address on my pc. But I don’t. One, I can’t be bothered and two, it might bugger up my pc. Anyway, I came across this interesting series presented by Aleks Krotoski.

Aleks Krotoski

Aleks Krotoski explores the digital world in the series Digital Human

The series might be four years old but I feel the information is still very relevant now and gets you thinking more.


Episode 1     Capture

Episode 2     Control

Episode 3     Conceal

Episode 4    Conviction

Episode 5   Crush

Episode 6  Crowded

Episode 7  Chance





Evan Baden-Technically Intimate

Chicago-based photographer, Even Baden’s photographic series, ‘Technically Intimate’ explores an issue, sexting which is briefly documented in my latest project. Baden’s series of photographs, explores adolescent sexting. Incidentally, the word ‘sexting’ became a word in its own right and entered the dictionary in 2012.

For the process, he uses  models to recreate scenes in adolescent environments  from intimate photos found online.I find the images startlingly graphic. They really make us consider the issues that surround privacy today. The word in the title ‘intimate’ has to be a contradiction though. These shared intimate photos between people may begin as private. However, will remain in the domain of social media where intimacy and privacy is pretty much non-existent. Claire Lontis from Base Magazine adds further comment:

Starting the body of work in 2008, Baden’s premise is this; to observe and display how “the Internet was changing how youth culture viewed sex, intimacy, and privacy”. It is not uncommon to have, among a circle of friends, a few who have been made a fool of after an intimate self-taken photo intended for their significant other has been circulated once the relationship turned sour. Baden stumbled across websites which paid for such photos. “I began to find many sites that trafficked in sexually charged and explicit images that had been taken by young women and sent to a second person, most presumably a boyfriend. These images then somehow ended up on the Internet for the world to see. And what’s more, the images seem to move from one site to the next, spreading like a virus across the web”.



British Public Information Film: Fatal Floor (1974)

Apparently, this rather comical public information film reduced slippery rug accidents by 50% in 1974. Was this a big problem in the 1970s? I always thought you had to be quite well-off to have a polished floor in your interior. After a bit of research, the eye-catching statistic is this, in 2004 (a bit dated but nevertheless) The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents reported that the number of casualties involving accidents on polished floorboards and parquet floors had risen by staggering 400%! From 2,900 in 1998 to 12,300 in 2003.

A 21st century remake had been suggested though I haven’t come across any. I did wonder if a remake would bear all the comical narrative hallmarks that made the 1970s film so memorable.  For example, easy listening background music, a Dr Who (Patrick Troughton?) narrator, a disobedient, terrifying object such as the man trap, a catchy ending line “and to think he’d only just come from the hospital” and the dramatic frozen ending still. It would be interesting to see how a contemporary public information film tackling this issue could be devised. Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean) would obviously play the victim falling while playing a Google plus game and listening to One Direction on his tablet. Very cliché in terms of a suggested narrative but just a thought.

Helping Johnny Remember

Since researching public information films for my practice and Research Paper, I’ve tried to find artists that have used public information films in their practice. Apart from a few Dark and Lonely Water remixes on Youtube, I’ve not had much success. However, a heads-up from a good friend last week led me to an American artist from Brooklyn, Ashleigh Nankivell.  Her 2010 project involved manipulating an original American PSA (Public Service Announcement) from 1956, titled Helping Johnny Remember. The film is about a young boy who is rejected by the other children for being uncooperative and selfish. Nankivell’s process involved reanimating and remixing using Adobe After Effects CS4. The aptly soundtrack comes from Good Old Neon’s haunting/hypnotic One Never Says ‘Verbal’ When One Means ‘Oral’  Very creative, even if using original footage and soundtrack!

Helping Johnny Remember- Ashleigh  Nankivell 

British Public Information Film: Broken Glass (1973)

Alex Davidson, Digital Producer for the British Film Institute (BFI) and former curator for the BFI National Archive was spot on with his comments on this 28-second British Public Information Film masterpiece, Broken Glass (1973) .

“While ‘Charley Says’, ‘Splink’ and ‘Lonely Water’ may remain among the most famous COI (Central Office of Information) films, the films were at their best when the output was at its simplest. ‘Broken Glass’ eschews animated cats, complex acronyms and the Grim Reaper in favour of a brutally minimalist approach, and is all the more effective for it”

The film pays close attention to sound and movement. The ambient beach sounds; seagulls and waves combined with the boy’s breathing and running through small puddles of water, set up a terrifying narrative. What is unclear but engaging, is that the young boy while running briskly over the dunes and onto a desolate beach seems distracted at something overhead. The moment of impact reaches its climax as the footage is frozen to the sound of seagulls and the narrator’s enunciation of the word ‘Glass’. Rhythmic montage, as they say in the trade.



British Public Information Film: Searching (1974)

A British Public Information (PIF) film which was broadcast in 1974 and shown during television advertisement breaks. Like many PIFs in the mid-1970s, the film deals with safety issues at home. This film pays attention to the dangers of children playing with matches in a home environment.

The narrative is predominately voiced through sound and the visuals containing horror characteristics. From research and recalling PIFs shown in this period in my own youth, the horror aspect was a very familiar trait in the mid-1970s. It seemed that the more evocative was the more effective. Though whether there is any truth in that fact remains to be seen. The trajectory of the hand-held camera (being the person) stealthily moves through a dilapidated interior. The narrative makes it clear for the viewer that the dweller, a family member, is returning to the devastation. Objects on the kitchen table being  theatrically arranged as the camera scrutinizes the pitiful remains. The audio really does   dominate the visuals, penetrative echoes and cries of the family members provide visceral qualities.