Although the official timeline and AHRC funding for Tangible Memories has now drawn to a close, many of the team are still busy working with our Story Creator app in care homes, sharing our research through conferences and publications, and applying for funding to progress our work with older people, well-being and technology.
We are thrilled to share news that we have been awarded funding from University of Bristol’s Brigstow Institute to develop the Soundscape rocking chair and explore the use of technology in bringing the benefits of nature into healthcare settings.
For this phase of the project, we are really excited to be partnering with the BBC Natural History Unit to use their wildlife archives, and co-designing our prototypes with Brunelcare, the Teenage Cancer Trust and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust.
Some of the research questions that we will be asking include:
Can technology and/or nature enhance well-being while a person, relative or carer is in hospital, visiting hospital, or in long-term care? If so, how?
What are the differences between experience of real world nature and a digitally mediated experience of nature? Which is more beneficial in a healthcare setting?
What sound would you miss, if you could no longer hear it?
BBC Natural History Unit
Last week Helen presented at a seminar at the University of Bristol organised by the fantastic Ann Rippin who collaborated with us as a member of Bristol quilters in organising interactive cushion production at our conference. Ann is an academic in Management Studies who works closely with the Bristol Quilters on a number of projects. Ann has Mary Beth Stalp visiting as a Benjamin Meaker Fellow who has worked extensively with quilters in the US. The seminar last week was a great opportunity to talk about Tangible Memories to a different audience and the other presentations really gave us food for thought, especially in relation to taking the project forward using textiles and quilting.
Ann blogged about the event so for those interested do read below – and if you’re really interested do visit Ann’s blog in which she talks about all kinds of fascinating events.
Ann’s blog post: Quilting Cradle to Grave
The day started with a great presentation from Tom Keating who is a PhD student in Geographical Studies at the University of Bristol. He was talking about the work of Josh Barnes, who is working on putting together technology and textiles for children in hospital. The technology will enable children to get video messages from their parents while they are in the ward so that they can keep in touch. They do this by scanning a code on the quilt and seeing the message on an iPad or iPhone (other smart technologies are available). I thought, as he was talking, that this links with academic writings on portraiture, that they allow the absent other to be present – so a monarch can be present in 2D form in any part of the kingdom or empire, and this helps to maintain presence and thus control over the subjects. Hence, as Simon Sharma was telling us on tv last week, there are so many standardised and ritualised portraits of Elizabeth I.
This departure was interesting because it allows children to play and move around, and gives them the comfort of the quilted textile. It is active because children are playing with it, and passive because it remains a watching and listening activity. What was so great was that Tom was dealing with high-end, difficult theoretical work but adapted it really well to an audience of non-specialists on Deleuze and Guattari. I think he also loved meeting quilters who gave him the kind of fearless critique of his work that only women of a certain age can give, but which was constructive and positive and helped him think through some of his ideas on making.
Next up was our very own Val Dixon from Bristol Quilters who talked about the work that the group does providing quilts for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Southmead Hospital in Bristol. We make tiny, light and bright quilts for premature babies and fabric covers for the incubators. Val said that we had made 200 a year for ten years, and as we saw at the group’s AGM later on in the day, there are still plenty more to come. Every baby gets a quilt and regardless of whether they survive or not, parents get to keep the quilt. I was interested with my academic hat on about the uses that the incubator covers have. They are backed with dark fabric to protect prem babies’ eyes, and they make the room much less stressful for the mothers, but they also have what is described as user-determined uses. They are used as playmats when the babies go home, and also as physiotherapy mats as some of the babies require so much care. What came across to me from Val’s excellent presentation was that the quilts are as much a gift to the mothers as to the babies, and, to use the academic jargon, that are very tangible actors in an economy of care. These are the very first possessions of these tiny babies, and although they are sometimes buried with them, the quilts are always theirs.
Marybeth came next and talked about quilts as life bookmarks. They keep the pages on our special life events and memories. Although most quilt scholarship is about the objects themselves and their histories, Marybeth is interested in the living, talking makers and the circumstances which we think are special enough to make quilts to mark. She is sometimes controversial in her claim that ‘Quilting causes tension in the home’, but she has found that when older women take up quilting or when a woman has plenty of domestic obligations and duties, the time and space the hobby requires can cause tension. This is along the lines of, ‘I know you are making a family heirloom which will last generations, but where’s my dinner?’ She showed us something of the shadowy side of quilting with a fundraiser quilt for the KluKluxKlan, and some break-up and divorce quilts. We also had a look at the cartoony ‘The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue’ which is a piece in which in every panel poor old Sue is killed in another fiendish way. Marybeth showed pieces from her own history and career, and introduced me to a new idea: a Solomon’s quilt, which is where when someone in the family dies one of their quilts is cut up and made into another set of smaller quilts and given as a keepsake to their relatives.
I then showed some examples of ersatz memorial quilts that I have made to demonstrate my latest talk, oh, and my wedding quilt, made for me and the Medieval Historian by my mother.
Finally, the wonderful Helen Manchester talked to us about her work at the other extreme from the babies, the very elderly and end of life people in care homes. This is part of a project to look at enhancing their experiences and helping them to capture their memories and it includes textiles as they can be such a source of comfort. So the lovely thing about this is that it might finally prove a way into inter-generational work as young people are very familiar (usually) with the technology such as smart phones and the older generations have an existing creative repertoire of quilting, stitching, knitting and so on, which can come together to form talking cushions and so on. Helen described her project as thinking about moving from physical care into relational care through textiles, and building a community through stories about coping with loss. I love Helen’s project because it is so imaginative and helps me to feel a bit less terrified of a lonely and isolated old age. It is full of optimism and I love the fact that the quilts are part of that.
Following on from our pop-up exhibition of audio stories, produced from our winter visit to the MShed (see Memories and Museums) we have been developing another auditory experience using chairs, and inspiration drawn from venturing outdoors. Here I introduce the concept of a therapeutic rocking chair for older people with dementia.
Early on in the Tangible Memories project, we recognised that access to the outdoors, and specifically to the natural world, was very limited for many care home residents, often due to a decline in their physical mobility, or particularly if they were suffering from the more advanced stages of dementia. Equally, when we asked ourselves as a team, ‘what would we want in a care home of the future?’, we identified the simple routine of being able to go outside and experience the elements as something that would be of great importance to us all.
So throughout the project, we have been seeking different ways to incorporate aspects of life outside the care home environment into our technologies and prototypes, for those who are not able to venture out independently, or as often as they might like.
To begin with, we explored virtual travel using the Oculus Rift VR headset (see Virtual Reality Storytelling), with 360˚ stitched photographs of local places and museums:
We also offered VR experiences using moving imagery, sending residents to a virtual Tuscan villa, up in a hot air balloon, and even into the solar system on an animated space journey. Closer to home, we had previously recorded a kind of video postcard that reflects on the beauty of springtime in the countryside:
In this short film, as we focused on the many calming and uplifting effects of nature, such as birdsong or the sound of a river, we felt that adopting such a therapeutic approach would be particularly beneficial to residents living in the specialist dementia care home. Anxiety, agitation and memory loss are recurring symptoms of advanced dementia, so rather than placing the onus on an individual to remember past realities, we wondered whether it would prove more positive to provide an evocative soundscape of the natural world, without visual stimuli, where a person’s imagination could wander freely, and enjoy fact or fiction, in a peaceful listening experience.
With this in mind, the concept of a therapeutic rocking chair evolved, and was partly in response to Pete Bennett’s brilliant Resonant Bits harmonic user interface. This app triggers sound content on an iPhone or an iPad using a kind of rocking movement from simple subtle gestures and a slow meditative motion response. In his research, Pete asks:
How can interfaces support slow and meditative interaction in a fast paced world? How would it feel to be able to ‘tune in’ and interact directly with digital ‘bits’ of data?
Thinking about the meditative field recordings that I had already captured from nature, and wanting to combine these with Pete’s app to create a calming user experience and interaction, the traditional rocking chair seemed like an appropriate medium for a therapeutic listening experience, simply by embedding some speakers in the headrests. Rocking chairs can be a familiar item of furniture for many older people, the type of chair which provides an opportunity to dwell, ponder and relax, with its motion considered to be very comforting. (Perhaps why babies and young children are typically rocked to sleep).
In essence, this therapeutic rocking chair would play calming, comforting sound content triggered by the rocking motion. The soundscapes of nature, poetry or music would fade away and change track as the rocking motion stops and starts again, making the interaction as simple and intuitive as possible. (The chair would be silent when it was not moving). Here’s a quick demo, using just the app on an iPhone:
The rocking chair would offer this spontaneous and relaxing listening experience through hidden stereo speakers in the headrests, connected to the Harmonic User Interface app on an iPhone.
Alongside this concept development, what a bonus it was to discover a medical study published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias which cites the psychosocial and physical benefits for dementia patients who regularly rock in a platform rocking chair:
Read the findings online here: Rocking chair therapy
The US study used traditional platform rocking chairs and their rocking motion alone as a form of therapy, which researchers found could improve balance, muscle tone, emotional well-being, and resulted in a reduction in the number of requests for medication to treat aches and pains in the majority of older people they tested.
If such results could be achieved with support and persistence, using a traditional piece of furniture, what more might we be able to offer residents by embedding therapeutic sounds triggered by the rocking motion? One of our key aims on the Tangible Memories project is to develop assistive technologies that enhance the social, personal and emotional well-being of older people, in addition to addressing their physical needs.
So I set to work, hacking an existing platform rocking chair in order to integrate stereo speakers into the headrests and create a quick iteration of our initial prototype so we could test the idea and get it working:
The next step required uploading an adapted version of Pete’s Harmonic User Interface app (currently called ‘SoundChair’) to my iPhone and then adding the sound content via iTunes.
The app can play any m4a, mp3 or aac file which is triggered by the rocking movement.
In addition to the sounds of nature, I’ve added other content known to be beneficial for dementia patients, which includes the rhythmic repetition of poetry, as well as classical music. Here are a few examples to give a flavour:
‘Sailing By’, Radio 4 shipping forecast theme:
The sound of waves on the seashore:
‘The Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth:
Next, the speakers were crudely connected to a battery power pack and my iPhone….
…..and we’re ready to test it out!
Gather a shell from the strewn beach
And listen at its lips: they sigh
The same desire and mystery,
The echo of the whole sea’s speech.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Sea-Limits, (1919)
After discussing and trying out various possibilities for the illustrations, we decided that sea shells (particularly conch shells) were the perfect visual metaphor for the Tangible Memories project and an ideal vehicle to trigger audio clips within the book, app or any other surface that they may appear on. You hold a shell to your ear and listen to the memory of the sea, just as memories are held within books. The rich visual qualities and the variation of different types of shell are similar to a person’s life and the memories that are collected over time, this idea became more prominent the more I studied the shells and realised just how intricate and complex they were!
Visiting the care homes and meeting the residents and carers was an integral part of this project for me. I was able to experience the fundamental notion of the Tangible Memories project first-hand; communication and the sharing and recording of memories. The process of recording people’s memories and stories, whether it be through writing, taking a photo or audio recording engages both the resident and the listener. Listening to people’s stories and memories was hugely inspirational and being able to preserve these memories in a tangible way is fantastic! I am delighted that I was able to contribute to this project.
As a Third Year University of Bristol Drama and Film Student coming to the end of my degree, I believed I possessed a certain level of comprehension with regards to the variety of ways Theatre and Film exists in and aids the community. Perhaps this assumption subsequently forced me to search for something more diverse and distinctive in my placement opportunity, attracting me to Stand and Stare and specifically their Tangible Memories project. This enticement stems from my desire to broaden my knowledge about theatre before I complete my time at university.
I have been working with Stand and Stare for eight weeks now and have been fortunate enough to observe how far the project has progressed even in this short amount of time, this is testament to the passionate team working enthusiastically and consistently to achieve their aims.
A key creative progression that has taken place over the past eight weeks is the inception and the execution of creating distinctive illustrations to act in the same way QR codes use image recognition. These illustrations will trigger the audio in the books. They needed to be universal enough so they could encapsulate any story but distinctive enough to be observed as separate images. Thematically, a collection of shells were ideal as they represent the activity of listening and the image itself triggers a fond memory of playing on the beach as a child; using shells to listen to the sea.
I truly appreciate that I have been lucky enough to be utilised in all areas of Tangible Memories. Undeniably the most enlightening aspects of assisting with this project are the visits to Blaise Weston Court and Stokeleigh Lodge. Meeting the residents, discussing their stories and observing the effect the Tangible Memories books have on these two care homes is a rewarding experience. A person’s memory is undeniably unique, being able to listen to a diary of their life and being trusted enough by the person that they are willing to share these tales with you, is truly an engaging activity. My comprehension of the project in the early stages was assisted significantly by meeting a variety of people from both homes who were all contributing to the project in a diversity of ways. All were at different stages in terms of starting out, completing or editing either individual books or books for the home consisting of memories recorded by a selection of residents. After multiple trips you begin to devise a routine to capture the most intriguing and fascinating memories shared by the residents; I found that using photos either from their possessions or sourcing them on the internet lead to stimulating conversations. Whether it is an account of the life of a Lancaster Bomber Pilot Engineer, how they first met their spouse, the preparation and upkeep that goes into being a beekeeper, a fond story about their children or the crude conditions of the boys school toilets in the 1920s, I have truly learnt a lot from being privileged enough to listen to and record these fascinating memoirs.
Currently I am half way into my placement and although these eight weeks seemed to have flown by, the amount I have learnt already is innumerable. I have come to understand that there are many strands of theatrical practice that exist outside of the boundaries of a theatre and my work with Stand and Stare has fortified this view. My role in this project so far has only made me more excited for what is to come. Hearing the ways in which the books have been used already (as stated by one resident who reported that her book initiated a communal reading on Christmas afternoon by the whole family), emphasises that the book isn’t just a product, it is an experience that is evidently having a positive effect on all involved.
As the augmented reality develops for the interactive books and app, Stand + Stare have been working with talented illustrator Hugh Cowling, to produce a series of beautiful shell drawings that trigger audio stories when they are scanned, functioning in a similar way to a QR code.
Here are some of Hugh’s wonderful illustrations, much more aesthetically appealing and poetic than a typical QR code:
Alongside the application of these drawings to the book/app prototypes, we are also exploring their potential for use on fabrics and textiles, while textured surfaces and soft objects such as cushions are considered to have some therapeutic uses for those living with dementia. Here are some examples of early tests using hand printed methods on cotton:
and a digitally printed version, on a tactile faux suede:
Evolving partly from the ButtonTuner musical cushion, we look forward to testing out the tech for these pillow cases and cushion covers, as well as developing the user experience.