Over the last 3 months we have been doing some research as part of Sound and Music’s ‘Audience Labs’ project: surveying the people who have seen our latest commission: ‘Pod’ by Alison Ballard and Mike Blow. Pod is an installation (and soon to be a performance) consisting of 2-meter diameter light and sound filled spheres. We are in the process of developing Pod with the aim of touring it to festivals, contemporary music events and outdoor arts events including town centres.

We were conscious that Pod would be seen by non arts going audiences – particularly when it is situated in places such as Town Centres, so the question arose: What sort of language would people find engaging, as opposed to off putting? Do we use terminology that restricts people’s access to engaging with the work?

We created an Audience Survey (which can be found here) looking at the language we have used in the past and the sort of language that appealed to our audience. We conducted the survey during times when we were presenting the piece (both times outside, once in a university campus and once in the high street) Both times we had a mix of audience from those who had come to specifically to see it and those who came across it by accident.

Essentially, we discovered that whether people are regular visitors to the arts or not, they preferred language that didn’t use jargon much. Interestingly, people also preferred language that allowed them to imagine the work emotionally, as opposed to cerebrally.

Interestingly, we also discovered, that the phrase ‘sound art’ or ‘sonic art’ (Contemporary art that uses sound as a medium) can be more confusing than helpful when used to describe the piece we are creating. Even so, it is arguable that these phrases are important for some people as it helps locate the piece within a certain context. As a result of this project, we have concluded that when using ‘important’ or ‘essential’ phrases that may be complex or jargonistic, they should be accompanied by some sort of explanation, that enables a broader access to its meaning.

Although there are further studies to be done, the research has given us confidence about how to approach audiences with language. The full analysis of all the results can also be found on the above link.

Edmund and Anna Harcourt from Hogarth Productions are the producers and commissioners of Pod: www.whitleyartsfestival.co.uk