Multisensory Storytelling - Notes on Blindness

I feel pretty mixed on this one. Not being familiar with John Hull before this, it wasn't very long into listening to his audio diaries when I understood why the folks behind this project made it–his voice and his choice of words are captivating. It's the sort of audio you can close your eyes and drift away to, which is part of why I think this wasn't wholly successful as a VR piece.

For the most part, the way that "seeing" with sound is represented visually strikes me as pretty bland. The blue particles are pretty enough, but they also seem like an entirely arbitrary choice. Hull lost his sight as an adult, meaning he knew what things in the world looked like. If the object was to deprive people of their own sight, then I feel like the particle art doesn't go quite far enough in forcing a person to grapple with absence and to key in more to the sounds. The forms of people, animals, and objects aren't difficult to discern. I found it much more effective in the Epilogue when the particles were abandoned for a world bathed in a variety of colors done with painterly strokes. It was more abstract and quite beautiful, which I felt did a better job of visually communicating the idea that there's plenty to enjoy in a world defined by sounds.

Some of the interactive elements worked better for me than others. Overall it was a very smart choice to tie activations or steps forward in the story to gaze–I think more VR work could stand to borrow the idea from the Panic chapter of looking at sets of footprints to engage in smooth, beginner-friendly locomotion. Some of it felt a bit unnecessary or like busy work, though. The scene with the rain had great spatial audio, but swiveling my head all around to look at objects to progress through it added nothing for me. I also think those instances snapped my attention to basic looking 3D models or looping animations that stood out as particularly artificial when compared to the detailed sample and soundscapes.

The scene that I enjoyed most was the Choir scene. For one, it dealt directly with a tension that's present throughout the piece: Hull is communicating his experience to a sighted audience that can only do so much to understand now he perceives the world, and when an attempt is made to bridge that gap (like his friend telling him how the children in the choir looked), it's not always effective or appreciated. Notes on Blindness is a great vehicle for getting people to engage with Hull's observations, but it is not a simulation of his experiences, nor should it be. At its best, it presents interpretations of the sort of beauty Hull appreciated and cherished after becoming blind, and I think that the ending of the Choir scene with the singing children (finally) being represented in a wide variety of colors is a particularly moving interpretation, even visually, though most of the heavy lifting is done by Hull's narration and the spatial audio work.