This review will consider an immersive audio experience, SAFE, written by Alexandra Barker and directed by Barker and Andrew Rutland. To listen to this performance, download the Wiretapper app on your mobile device.
I should start by explaining that this performance is 15 minutes long, meaning that this review is notably shorter than it otherwise would be, and this will be my first consideration. As I shall detail below, this is a very good, articulate and engaging performance, offering a transportive and, indeed, very immersive experience, but its main downfall is its short duration. Whilst it succeeds in generating the exact atmosphere it intends to, and whilst the dramatic text is efficacious and communicates itself well, I believe it could benefit from being at least 25-30 minutes long, instead. The main reason I believe its length to be an issue is due to its somewhat unipartite and repetitive structure: building, tense, dramatic crescendo of sounds…silence, a singular sound that intensifies, joined by others…and the crescendo begins again. Whilst very clear and distinct structures provide shorter pieces with a well-needed backbone, I believe this structure renders the experience somewhat predictable and slightly weaker than it otherwise might be. A longer performance could allow for a tension that grows gradually throughout, perhaps allowing for an entire ten minutes of this eclecticism desired by the intenser moments of this text.
Another issue I have with the crescendoes has to do with volume. The volume is simply too loud in these moments, and not in an effective, anxiety-invoking way. This should be addressed. And this brings me on to the overall sound design (also by Barker and Rutland). Sound is extremely well designed, with the layering of multiple tracks being very well managed so as not to be too chaotic. In terms of the audio selected, all sound effects are pertinent, reminiscent, indeed, of the types of sounds and settings one would experience when spending long periods of time at home. Effects applied to these — to muffle or distance, for example — are also effective and slick. Overall, an extremely clean and crisp design, allowing for a compelling and successful escapist experience.
The main voice we hear throughout, Barker’s, functions very well as a guide through this performance, providing us with the necessary details of our own function in the given context of the dramatic text. The inclusion of this voice is very effective in this way, not only enabling us to understand what we should imagine ourselves to be doing and feeling but also allowing for a lack of agency and a sense of powerlessness as someone else dictates what we should do and feel. Barker also provides us with more esoteric and abstract quotes, however, not directly relevant to what is happening in the text, and these provide a deeper reading, invoking awareness of more existential fears and distress. It was a good idea not to introduce this character, considering this, as this remains someone with whom we are supposed to feel comfortable but also someone of whom we perhaps remain cautious throughout. In these ways, this voice is most articulate and well conceived. I would just perhaps provide listeners with a tad more context in places, as an over-focus on our actions can sometimes be alienating as to where specifically we are in the home or what we are performing these actions for.
Lastly, I shall note that perhaps the creatives’ description of this performance is slightly off-kilter. An investigation into the safety of our homes and its fragility would imply an exploration into the physical security that homes provide, into the permeability of the walls, the possibility of burglary or trespassing, the dangers that could penetrate our houses to feast on our vulnerability, etc. However, this text is not so much an investigation into such a compromise of our physical safety but quite the opposite: our over-reliance upon it, the intense hope that our homes are as secure as we believe them to be. As we sink relievedly into the safety of our homes, we become more and more aware of the dangers of the outside world, in the neighbouring houses, in the streets, and we develop habitudes, rituals and routines that reflect this, such as those typified in the text, making use of the materials and resources available to us only in our homes: muting all technology, locking the windows and doors, pulling the curtains, hiding from the window by lying upon the floor. In this way, the focus is not on the fragility of the apparent safety offered by the home but the fragility of our own mentalities as we so heavily rely upon its fabric, a direct result of a certain developing agoraphobia. There is nothing in this text — unless we consider the inclusion of the trespassing fly alone — that suggests that the safety that our homes offer is actually fragile. I am afraid, then, the creatives’ understanding of the work is just ever so slightly misaligned and needs to be adjusted in this way — but this is by no means a severe subtraction from the excellence of this work.
Overall, this is an extremely refined and visceral performance. I would certainly recommend it.