Knot: A trilogy from Darkfield Radio
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Darkfield have been producing immersive experiences in pitch-dark shipping containers since 2016, and winning awards and international acclaim for this work – so they were well placed to adapt their output as 2020 required, and create Darkfield Radio: immersive audio productions for people to experience in their own homes. Season 1 of Darkfield Radio ran from July-November 2020 and featured two shows to be experienced by two people in a home, and one to be experienced by a lone person in their bed. Knot is the first offering in Season 2, and runs in the UK for 6 weeks from 25 June 2021.
The process is simple: you buy a ticket (relatively expensive for an at-home audio experience, at £22.50), download an app to your smartphone, put in the code you’ve been given, and then, at the appointed hour on the appointed day, audio will be streamed to the app over the internet. All you need to do is plug in the best headphones you’ve got, and locate yourself wherever you’ve been told to.
In the case of Knot, there are three locations: a park bench, the front passenger seat of a car, and then the largest room in your house. Each episode of the story begins on the hour, and the first two last 20minutes each (the third half an hour), so there’s plenty of time, in theory, to get from location to location. If you don’t have access to a car, or can’t leave the house, you’re advised to set up the best approximation of these locations that you can in your home.
These are binaural sound experiences – totally immersive, 3D, surround-sound audio delivered directly (or so it feels) into your brain. It’s the audio equivalent of a mirage: your ears are playing tricks on you. I was completely willing to accept things I knew not to be true: that my two-seater car had back passenger doors; that there was space for someone to be sitting behind me; that it was raining.
In keeping with a dystopian atmosphere common to Darkfield shows, there is a pervading sense of menace throughout the narrative, and certainly one feels a touch vulnerable sat with eyes closed, in plain view, but internally in a parallel universe. The production is advertised as suitable for age 14+.
The narrative arc is pleasingly interwoven so that unexplained elements in part one (a phone call heard only from one side) make more sense when they happen again in part two, which takes place on some level simultaneously, while part three ties all the ends together, but also doesn’t – in that slightly off-kilter, discomfiting way that is very familiar to lovers of immersive theatre, and of David Lynch.
I felt alternately invisible – a fly on the wall – and very firmly present in the action. Neatly, I found myself wondering 'Who am I? How do I fit in to all this?' exactly as characters in the story expressed those same questions about themselves. The whole experience hovers around a theme of existential angst and confusion, and in this respect it is truly immersive and immensely successful – rather than watching a story unfold, you participate in its unfolding, no more knowledgeable and no less helpless than any of the characters around you.
Meanwhile there are layers of audience experience, because I only have to open my eyes for a fraction of a second to find myself in a completely different universe – the ‘real’ one… or is it? And there is something thrilling about the thought that elsewhere in the country, other people are separately and simultaneously going on this lone journey from park bench, to car, to a room in their house – asking themselves the same questions, and experiencing the same almost-tangible but ultimately absent rain.
Darkfield have developed an education arm, offering workshops to colleges and universities, to give students an insight into their methods. Workshops are bespoke and can range from a couple of hours to a three-week or even full-term residency. There is much to learn from this work. Performance will never be the same again, the pandemic, the internet, and other technology has transformed the way audiences interact with art and entertainment – as a prime example of what that technology and innovation can do, I highly recommend Knot.