• Soundtrack as Auditory Interface: Exploring an Alternative to Audio Description for Theatre

      Dalgleish, Mat; Reading, Neil (Institute of Acoustics, 2017-11-30)
      Theatre conventionally relies heavily on the visual, for instance to convey narrative and context, and to set the scene. This reliance can significantly hinder the experience of blind and visually impaired people, and can in some cases exclude them entirely. Audio description for theatre attempts to make performances accessible for blind and visually impaired patrons by translating the visual aspects of a performance into a spoken commentary that fits between the gaps in actors’ dialogue. However, while 40% of UK theatres have offered at least one recent audio-described performance,1 its methods remain largely untested and potentially problematic. We describe the use of an ambiently diffused soundtrack as an alternative to audio description for theatre as part of a recent research project at the University of Wolverhampton. Informed by conceptualisations of the soundtrack posed by theorist-composers Michel Chion and Stephen Deutsch, our approach is to use an assemblage of informative and emotive sounds to provide a kind of auditory interface or "way in" to the performance. Crucially, the soundtrack evokes and implies but, contrary to audio-description, does not enforce a single rigid or fixed interpretation. Additionally, use of the house sound reinforcement system also removes the need for specialised and potentially othering personal equipment. The remainder of this paper provides background to the project and related work, outlines the theoretical basis of the project, discusses two trial performances and initial findings, and finally offers suggestions for future work.