As part of the Geohack workshop in the Fascinate Conference in Falmouth, I spent two days working aboard a ferry boat. The Tamar Belle runs the 20 minute route between Falmouth and St Mawes. It’s a little boat that dreams of adventure.
On our first trip, J.R. Carpenter joined us to read from her thesis “Transportation as Communication, from Tall Ships to Packet Switching”, musing amongst many other things on the analogies between the common language of digital networks and shipping networks – the maritime origins of words like router (from rudder), port, ping, for instance – no surprise perhaps when telecommunications 1000 years ago would be a messenger aboard a ship. This was a wonderful provocation firing ideas around the fluid substrate of digital communication networks.
We dreamt up a piece people could play as they took the boat from one phonebox in Falmouth docks to another lurking in an alleyway in St Mawes. At the heart of this, the character of Iris, named for the mythological messenger of the rainbow, a spirited and capricious messenger of the networks addicted to the romance of long-distance communication. And how to make something of the patchy phone reception: the ferry is a boat of routine travel, but it might daydream of drifting into uncharted water; good mobile reception exists in the routes the satellites map of where people most commonly travel, so to have patchy reception means that you’re at the edge of the map.
We spent several trips making field recordings and conversations with passengers, people and dogs: the man who crewed the tea bar and his very nervous dog, the locals ruminating on how long the oil tankers wait offshore before the prices fall, the father and son fishing for crabs using bacon as bait, the mother and daughter trying on her (you couldn’t make this up) sequinned mermaid costume.
We didn’t have time to make the piece we dreamed, but there are a few little pieces of material we scratched in no time at all for a sharing to the rest of Geohack, and which can be shared with you now.
With a UK mobile, you can follow the instruction I’m holding up top – text HELLO IRIS to 01326 702037 – to discover some of what we made.
And you can watch this film by Jason Crouch for more.