A benefit of being based in the sunny seaside of Brighton and Hove is the wealth of culture that surrounds us. Space Doctors have been exploring the Brighton Festival and the warren of discovery and creativity that it has formed in our hometown. Director Mariah Hartman and PA Helen Wilkinson take us through the extraordinary ‘The Encounter‘ – an aural jungle experience that transforms its audience and provides a trail for deeper brand connections

Sound creates a physical response – we all know this at some level. But despite having recently conducted investigation and work in the world of soundscapes and creating sound signatures I was still completely unprepared for just how strongly sound can affect you until I experienced ‘The Encounter’.

As part of the dazzling annual Brighton Festival I was lucky enough to experience Complicite and Simon McBurney’s ‘The Encounter’. The event centres around an account from Petru Popescu’s ‘Amazon Beaming’ about National Geographic Photographer Loren McIntyre and his run in with the Mayaruna tribe in the Amazon of Brazil. Already an intriguing subject matter, but when it was described as an intimate “journey into the depths of the Amazon rainforest using binaural technology to build an intimate and shifting world of sound,” I was captured.

26 - Emily Garthwaite for Space DoctorsA sparse stage, a grey head on a stand, a table and chair, speakers, a few other microphones, and a box of unwound video tape gaped empty as we walked into the theatre, took our seats, and put on our individual headphones. The program itself also started auspiciously with a demonstration of the technology, but these were no ordinary sound effects. The binaural mic made it sound, and feel, as if Simon was just behind, and even inside, your head. The first hint of the kind of experience this was going to be came as Simon blew into our right ear invoking a gentle, yet unsettling warmth, that triggered shivers to slide down my spine, from just the sound alone. From there we were sucked in, deep into the Amazon with our hero Loren, his spirit guide Barnacle, and our one link to reality, Simon. I won’t give away the plot, twists, surprises, or other characters, for with this show it is not so much about the story as the experience. What is worth talking about is how strongly I ‘felt’ during the whole encounter.

At moments I closed my eyes as the story unfolded in sound. However the visions invading my brain were so vivid and frightening my eyes flew open, I even jerked in my chair. I needed to see the man, just the single person at the center of this experience, walking around the stage speaking into microphones. That was real, the world swirling in my ears was not. Even with my eyes firmly open for the rest I struggled to hold onto reality; it was truly astounding and transporting. It rained and I was cold. There was a crackling fire and I got warm again. We were running scared and my heart began to race. I got chills, goosebumps, smiled, laughed, and ultimately felt spent.

At the final conclusion silence rang out in the theatre. Then a new sound exploding, clapping, whistles, and cheers. For once it is accurate to say the crowd went wild. After adding my enthusiastic applause, I sat down. I turned to my friend but couldn’t speak, shaking and dizzy. We finally moved outside and feeling a need to reconnect with the physical world I sat down in the grass. Finally, after decompressing, we were able to talk to each other, both all at once. Stunned, indescribable, “shit what was that”?

Waves of ColourThe power of sound made me feel as though I was drugged for the 2 hour story, the after effect still pounding in my brain. ‘The Encounter’ was not just a great evening out, it sparked visions of what infinite uses there are for sound and storytelling and started to reveal how brands looking to build an ‘experience’ and create an emotional connection with their consumers should be turning to sounds more and more. What will it mean for retail environments? How is it different on-line with so many visuals competing for our attention? How can we use people’s connection to their headphones to deliver a more complete surround sound experience? How will exploring sound technology change how we tell stories? I can’t wait to continue to learn and explore the world of sound more and how it can power brand experience in ways more compelling than we had considered possible.

By Mariah Hartman and Helen Wilkinson