Which Beacon Storytelling Approach Is Best for You?

As we’ve been creating Asunder, we’ve been delighted to discover other site-specific sound installations. All are unique, but if we look at them from a content framework, we see that they use one of four broad content strategies, each with distinct pros and cons.


1. Fiction narratives

Custom fiction narratives provide the highest level of site-specificity and offer writers almost no limitations. While open endedness offers the most freedom, it also makes these stories the most challenging to create. If you are considering doing a fiction project, enlist talented writers who are prolific, fearless, and flexible at generating non-linear narratives. Close collaboration between writers and the project team will be a necessity. Expect many iterations and rounds of revisions.

Some writers begin by taking an existing work and adapting it to be location specific. Others will prefer using the locations as the starting point for their inspiration. Either way, keep your writers on track by continually asking them—”How does the narrative enhance this location?” And conversely, “How does this location enhance the narrative?” Our Writing Guide and story patterns can help writers develop custom fiction narratives for Beacons.

If you speak Dutch (or even if you don’t), check out this clever fiction project. It's called Vondel Lekt and features a cast gossipy statues dispersed in Amsterdam’s popular Noord Park.

Klasien van de Zandschulp's Vondel   Lekt

Klasien van de Zandschulp's Vondel Lekt


2. Curated Themes

Curated themes are less site specific than custom fiction narratives, but they have the advantage of repurposing pre-existing work. The bedrock of a curated theme is a unifying concept. The challenge is to find a concept that enhances and is enhanced by the location. Once the concept is in place, the next steps are research, and then permissions gathering.

Creating a curated themes requires more collecting and combining than writing. However, if you opt to include original content, commissioning themed writing is fairly straightforward, since you can provide freelancers with well-defined and narrow parameters.

Another advantage curated themes have over fiction narratives is that the nodes can be more independent. The theme provides the continuity, so there is less of a need for story nodes to be tightly interconnected or interdependent.


3. Soundscapes

Soundscapes can be narrative or pure audio. What both types have in common is that they have listeners to travel through a dense field of nodes. This approach asks the audience to explore a defined area rather than finding, stopping at, and then traveling to multiple locations.

Our advice: choose an already popular destination—as Blue Brain did for their Central Park Listen to the Light. This way, you won’t need to lure your audience from spot to spot.

Successful soundscapes “crossfade” between nodes. In other words, as the listener travels, the closest node gets louder while receding nodes get quieter. This free-form navigation allows listeners to choreograph their own unique sequence and to interact with the soundscape via movement alone. Consequently, soundscapes have the potential to be the most ambient and seamless Beacon experiences.


4. Hidden Narratives

Hidden (or historical) narratives require the most amount of up-front research. Our cities are teeming with interesting real-life stories, the trick is seek them out.

The magic of hidden narratives is in their discovery—both for the producer and the consumer. It is incredibly satisfying to see and understand something new about a familiar place. Ghost Creeks is a wonderful example of this. This upcoming installation will mark the paths of the forgotten surface waterways that ebbed and flowed in San Francisco, "before development forced their paths into culverts, tunnels, and sewers." While this is not a beacon project, it's easy to imaging how narrative could be integrated into this visualization. 

Historical narratives also have the amazing potential to weave multiple points of view into a single story, promote dialogue, and even spur civic action. Our advice: Include subject specialists as well as everyday people. Dig up and re-contextualize documents and artifacts. Bring historical figures to life with dramatizations, sound design, or augmented reality. Get the audience involved by having them submit photos or stories.

Concept sketch for Emily Schlickman's Ghost Creeks

Concept sketch for Emily Schlickman's Ghost Creeks

Civil Bikes is a guided bike tour in Atlanta that focuses on key locations of the Civil Rights era. Again, not a Beacon project, but could easily be. Virtual Story of Resistance is yet another Beacon project by our friend Klasien van de Zandschulp which beautifully combines audio narration with augmented reality to transport the audience to an act of anti-Nazi resistance by the 'De Vonk' in 1942.

Nedra Deadwyler of Civi Bikes

Nedra Deadwyler of Civi Bikes


Which Is Right for You?

As you embark on your own Beacon project, we hope that this closer look at content categories will guide you and help you consider the various options.