Company VR offers an immersive and interactive version of one of Samuel Beckett's lesser-known novels, and one more akin to technological theatre that the author anticipated but was unable to fulfill at the time of writing. Having personally recorded the 96 individual paragraphs that describe the plight of an unnamed subject lying and crawling through a close, dark space in the presence of a formless, light-shedding voice, the Unity VR design was contributed in various parts by members of the transLAB to form an eclectic, if cohesive, audiovisual experience of memory, solitude and disorientation. The project is still ongoing, but I may present my own recordings and plan for the VR experience for others to add to and manifest at a later date.
The user finds himself in a six-square-metre space, empty and unilluminated at first. The surfaces are all black basalt, the user is non-corporeal and forced to wander abstractly about the space. Incidental noise are the user’s own breathing, and the constant presence of the voice (my voice, reading Beckett's words) from the text, playing continuously with each section starting with a short pause after the previous one’s conclusion and emitting an amorphous light along with audio as an object in VR space. The voice source spawns randomly in a space analagous to the dimensions of the MATLab whenever the user enters its immediate vicinity, at a distance from the user proportional to the length of the initial section of text. The user can avoid the voice in the confined space, but never escape it entirely, nor stop or direct the playing of the sequences, though the main Instructive sequence (1-44 on the annotated PDF) are soon joined by the secondary Memory sequence (A-L) as a second voice feature emitting a second, distinctly-coloured light for each section and playing continuously. Rather than evading the user, these objects transport the user to a separate visual sequence corresponding to the relevant paragraph, as designed separately by members of our Transvergence group (or soon to be!).
Quotes from the book describe the qualities of the voice, to be obeyed accordingly. It comes from central, above source, to be faced by lying prone.
Story: A VOICE COMES TO ONE IN THE DARK. IMAGINE
Positioning: YOU ARE ON YOUR BACK IN THE DARK.
Audio: APART FROM THE VOICE AND THE FAINT SOUND OF HIS BREATH THERE IS NO SOUND. NONE AT LEAST THAT HE CAN HEAR. […] THE VOICE COMES TO HIM NOW FROM ONE QUARTER AND NOW FROM ANOTHER. NOW FAINT FROM AFAR AND NOW A MURMUR IN HIS EAR. IN THE COURSE OF A SINGLE SENTENCE IT MAY CHANGE PACE AND TONE.
Video: BY THE VOICE A FAINT LIGHT IS SHED. DARK LIGHTENS WHILE IT SOUNDS. DEEPENS WHEN IT EBBS. LIGHTENS WITH FLOW BACK TO FAINT FULL. IS WHOLE AGAIN WHEN IT CEASES. YOU ARE ON YOUR BACK IN THE DARK. HAD THE EYES BEEN OPEN THEY WOULD HAVE MARKED A CHANGE.
The volitional actions of the user can correspond to those later in the text which observe crawling, rising and stirring motions in their subjects. The voice imagines them in the text, in a sense, and the reader is made to imagine these motions accordingly; accommodating them in a VR experience makes them much more evocative – this relentless forward motion is very much part of the Beckett ethos: IN THE SILENCE YOU MUST GO ON, I CAN’T GO ON, I’LL GO ON.
The book therefore challenges us to go so forward over so bare and rough a surface – and yet, a book can be put down. The relentlessness is part and parcel of Beckett’s existential horror, and this VR must be both explored and, to a sense, endured. Just as a space includes, so it traps; just as a voice gives company, it imposes; as soon as silence can be calming, it becomes oppressive. The main theme is in the title: COMPANY. The most minimal qualities of book: writer and reader; and of voice: speaker and lister. The most fundamental atomic bond of one to one, signifier and signified, intention and interpretation, that constructs all meaning. And it is a quality that expresses itself socially, spatially, in the phenomenon of live theatre.
Instigation Marcos Novak (MAT)
Main Participants Diarmid Flatley (MAT) Henry Coburn (English) Josh Bevan (Film and Media Studies) Riley Henningsen (Art, Technology, and Environmental Studies) Steven Howard (Computer Science) Ryan Watt (English) John Shranck (Comparative Literature)
Occasional Pcarticipants Griffin Danninger (ECE) Sahar Sajadieh (MAT) Gustavo Rincon (MAT) Tim Wood (MAT) James Darling (MAT)
Technical support Anshul Pendse (MAT)