Difference Engine Stories – Open Call

We are looking to commission two brand new short art experiences that use our captioning tool, the Difference Engine, to deliver a story to individual audience members in an unexpected, beautiful (and Covid-safe) way.

What is the Difference Engine?

The Difference Engine is Talking Birds’ discrete tool, developed to make performances and events accessible to D/deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind or partially-sighted audience members by delivering captioning and audio description direct to their own mobile devices. 

It has been developed by artists, for artists – we made the Difference Engine because we wanted to give more people the chance to access experimental, outdoor, small scale or immersive performance. But essentially one of the things the Difference Engine does is to allow artists to send text to audience members’ mobiles in real time (for more info see the Difference Engine website). This is why we have come up with this opportunity.

The Difference Engine has successfully allowed companies of various scales, from intimate one-person shows through to larger scale outdoor art, to bring captioning into their audiences’ hands. Difference Engine Stories is an opportunity for artists to experiment with the tech and find a new way to build an experience around the delivery of a story to an audience and their mobile at a (social) distance.

What are we looking for?

We know that artists are inventive and this is our invitation to you – to think of a way you might play with the captioning possibilities of the Difference Engine to create something small, beautiful, and a bit different. 

Because the Difference Engine is good with text, we think you might want to use it to tell a story. 

Because the Difference Engine works at a (short) distance, we think you can make something socially distanced for a small number of people – maybe with your artists outside and your audience inside, receiving the text to their mobile devices. 

Because the Difference Engine was created in order to caption live performance, we think you might want to play with the relationship between the text you are sending and some visuals, perhaps performed on the other side of a window to your audience. 

Maybe you will pair the text you’re sending to your audience in their front room with live (silent) action you perform outside their house; or live caption narrate a story that transforms what is actually happening outside the window; or send a story in small chunks of text without visuals; or provide alternative captions to something they watch on their TV…

But because we are also artists, we don’t really want to tell you what we are looking for, we want you to come up with something interesting.

Who is the audience?

This is really down to you, but we expect there will be the possibility to experiment with the relationship between the artist (as the giver of the story) and the audience (as the socially-distanced recipient/s). We’d like the Difference Engine stories to be made for, and shared with, people in Coventry early next year – at the point where the city wakes from winter and looks towards a year as City of Culture (but we’re not asking for the stories to be about these things). 

Within this project, we are only looking for proof of concept delivery – and so, if you are commissioned, we will expect you to decide (with us) how many ‘performances’ you will do, identify and brief your preview audiences, test your piece and collect some documentation and feedback. Although audiences can access the Difference Engine via their smartphone browser, it works better with the Difference Engine app and so, if commissioned, you will have to consider how best to identify and brief your audience (we can support you with this). 

We expect that people with hearing-related access requirements might naturally form part of the target audience, but anyone should be able to enjoy it and, crucially, have a similar experience. 

Who can apply?

As we may have mentioned (!), we’re based in Coventry – so we would love to hear from artists local to our area, but we’re also open to hearing from people further afield – if they can safely travel to Coventry to present their piece, working within current Government guidance. Although the Difference Engine is usually a performance tool, these commissions are open to individual artists or artists groups in any discipline who can work within this brief to make a piece for the Difference Engine.

What’s the idea?

We want you to use the Difference Engine to place a story into an audience’s hands in a completely new way. Remember, the Difference Engine can be used anywhere, by anyone who has a mobile device (smartphone or tablet) in their hand – but we are interested in the intimate relationship between the artists, the tech and the audience. This is not something that could be broadcast via the internet and experienced by anyone anywhere all at once, it is about choosing your “stage” – whether that is the pavement outside a single house, a street, a school, a towpath, a public square (although if it is a public space where permission is needed, you will need to be confident you can gain that permission, if commissioned, and of course ensure all regulations relating to Covid are followed) – and the physical space between you and your audience as you tell your story. 

What we’re offering?

We are offering 2 commissions, of £2,000 each, to an individual, collective or company, to create and deliver their piece. 

At this stage, we are only looking for proof of concept delivery – i.e. the piece is made and previewed with some test audiences whose feedback is captured. 

We don’t want the application process to be onerous, so please just send us up to 500 words about your idea, about you and your work and about what in particular interests you in the combination of the Difference Engine, Covid-safe art experiences, and sending a gift of words over a short distance. 

Send your application to: TalkingBirdsCoventry@gmail.com by close of play on Sunday 10th January

If you have any questions or you think that you might have a great idea, but would like to speak to someone about it first, we can be available for a short chat between 10th and 17th December. Drop us an email via the website including your phone number and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

[Talking Birds 8th December 2020]