Double, by Darkfield Radio – Fantastic sound. The story? Not so much.

This week New Zealanders get the opportunity to try a new web based entertainment experiences called Darkfield Radio.
This audio only entertainment is the first to gain entry for the Venice International Film Festival. Its creators, David Rosenberg and Glen Neath, had previously toured shows in shipping containers.
Simon put on his headphones and listened to a preview of the new show, called Double.

The good news, indeed the very good news, is that the audio design of Double is really really good. Its creators bounce sound around your headphones deftly and if you are sitting around your kitchen table with your partner, eyes closed as requested, you may well be jolted out of your seat. Someone is walking to your left, and then a chair scrapes on your right. The sound is in front of you, behind you, and then all around you. Make sure you have a good pair of headphones and you may well be so scared you’ll fling your eyes open despite yourself. It’s creepy but it’s more than that. By closing your eyes and letting your mind conjure a picture of what you are hearing, the sound in Double allows a visceral horror to unfold.

Well, that’s what the sound does, or at least that’s what the sound effects do. But Double is also a story, with a narrator. Actually “story” isn’t the right word. The narrator, in his American accent, invites you to recall the face of the person next to you, in all its detail, and he then guides you through an exercise in identity and self awareness. I guess it’s a spiritual/psychological exercise, in which you consider the existence of demons.

Either you’ll buy into this or you won’t, and I didn’t. I found it all just tipped into psycho babble and it lost me. You can have the greatest sound effects in the world but if you don’t accept the story then you’re not going to get the experience you want, or the experience the creators of Double are hoping for.

That said, I’m not arguing you should ignore Double. My reaction is doubtless due to the mindset of someone steeped in decades of journalistic skepticism, and it may very well be that others will be happy to go along for the ride and will end up thoroughly entertained.

What Double does in no uncertain fashion is emphasis the brilliant opportunities to entertain afforded by pure sound. Let’s not forget that generations were glued to their radio sets long before television came along. In 1938 Orson Welles narrated The War of the Worlds and reportedly convinced listeners that Earth truly was under attack from Mars. In the 1950’s Spike Milligan wrote surreally funny Goon Show scripts, and through the use of voice, sound effects and music, conjured wonderful, unrealistic passages that you knew made no sense but you were happy to accept. “Stand on my shoulders and then pull me up,” said Eccles to Ned Seagoon in one episode, and that’s just what you saw happen in your mind.

So Darkfield Radio is undoubtedly on to a good thing. This type of superbly constructed audio experience could be applied to all sorts of stories. Horror, sure, but also drama, comedy, adventure, sex, you name it. Even if Double doesn’t turn out to be your cup of tea, it may well be worth waiting to see what the next Darkfield Radio offering will be.

Here’s how you can access Darkfield Radio.

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