BBC’s new Radiophonic Travel Agency offers interactive sonic journeys for armchair travellers.
From a gondola ride along Venice’s Grand Canal, through a hike in Wyoming’s Yellowstone Park, to the buzz of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, the new BBC Radiophonic Workshop recreates travel experiences via digital storytelling, highlighting the importance of sound.
The Radiophonic Travel Agency is a timely idea – with so much physical travel being curtailed, the concept allows people to share worldwide travel experiences with rich audio and visual content. It has been created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop using BBC Research and Development’s StoryKit – a collection of tools that facilitates the creation and sharing of personalised interactive experiences.
StoryFormer is StoryKit’s authoring tool. “It allows anyone to easily construct interactive and personalised media experiences using a simple graphical interface without needing coding skills,” explains the BBC.
Immersive and characterful storytelling
Samples of the stories are now available on the BBC website.
The team hope the Radiophonic Travel Agency will grow and are looking for more contributions from sound recordists. They are hoping for “immersive and characterful recordings, particularly those which are long enough to spend time with and get lost in.”
The team have also developed a StoryPlayer app that can be downloaded and shared – so the online community can share a story at any stage of idea development. Tools are quickly evolving with open-sourcing being used to develop and extend the capacity for interactive storytelling across multiple formats.
Some of the field recordings to date last up to an hour – the ultimate slow travel experience. The journey is part of the experience – traveling to Heathrow Airport by underground, taking a flight, driving to your destination. Images accompany the sounds. In Yellowstone Park, for example, you hear birdsong over a lake against the lap of water. You then choose where to go next – a hike to a cabin, or to the Upper Geyser Basin. Canada Geese fly overhead before Old Faithful geyser erupts. Further choices allow you to explore the national park in a leisurely manner.
Further journeys include a vibrant exploration of the Grand Bazaar in Iran’s Tehran and a relaxed taxi drive through the ancient city of Persepolis, Shushtar. A 45 minute gondola ride is a mesmerising way to experience Venice; you can also visit the Duomo di Milano or Hefaz’s tomb in Shiraz.
Creators of the Dr Who theme tune
The BBC Radiophonic Workshop grew out of one of the sound effects units of the BBC. It was initially created to produce music for radio and, later, television. The Doctor Who theme tune is one of their most famous creations. The workshop also created the incidental sounds (hoofbeats, animal sounds, background traffic) for dramas.
Upping the sound in theme parks
Sound design has often been overlooked and underappreciated in the past. However attractions are increasingly realising that, in order to create truly immersive environments, they need to focus on audio.
Chester Zoo used sophisticated soundscaping in its £40 million immersive experience Islands back in 2015. The network-controlled audio soundscape changes through the day, as it would in the islands and rainforests of South East Asia. It went further still, incorporating scents so visitors would smell the rainforest.
Theme park compilations
With so much of the industry closed during lockdowns, music helps visitors remember happy days at their favourite attractions. Blooloop asked industry insiders for their favourite themed entertainment soundtracks. Choices included the theme tune to Nemesis at Alton Towers, Chiapas theme at Phantasialand, and the Harry Potter music at Universal Hollywood. You can access the playlist here.