I am currently working on a prototype multimedia tour for the San Jose Museum of Art. The tour makes use of the iPhone or iPod Touch and the Safari Mobile Browser that comes standard on it. It is fairly simple to design for because you are simply designing webpages. Because you are designing for one specific browser you are not constrained by the bugs and troubles that other browsers contain.
If you would like to see the iPhone prototype you can see it on an iPhone or an iPod Touch at www.sjma.mobi
Operation is easy. The user is presented with large buttons, each denoting an exhibition. The user selects one of the buttons and is presented another list of button with all the artists in the exhibition. Selecting one of thoses will present the user with additional digital information, i.e. digital images, video, audio, etc.
Chester Arnold, Tailings, 1996. Oil on linen, 60 x 72 inches. Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art.
Challenge: In 2005 the Executive Director at the San Jose Museum of Art, Daniel Keegan, tasked the Museum Experience and Education Department to create an iPod tour for the museum. The museum up until that point had no experience in the area and the department was at a loss as to how to create one. It was decided that the exhibition to focus on would be the politically charged exhibition Visual Politics: the Art of Engagement. Additionally, the museum had committed to be the trial museum for a new company called Guide by Cell, which offers audio tours via visitor cell phones.
Action: At the time Dan Keegan put forward the challenge to the Museum Experience and Education Department I was currently employed as the Assistant Registrar. I had been reading a lot about podcasting and about a mode on the iPod called Notes-Only, or “Museum Mode” and was eager to become involved with the project. After some negotiations between departments I received the green light.
Using my iBook and the iLife suite of applications on it I was able to create 12 tour stops for 12 works of art in the exhibition and an introduction by the museum director. The scripted stops were recorded by two vocal talents associated with the museum. The scripts written by the Director of Education and the Manager of Visitor Services tied the subjects in the selected paintings with current California events. Using the recorded vocal tracks I spliced in popular music at the beginning and ending which related to the themes and subjects in each featured artwork. The combination of music and vocals created a rich audio experience used to enhance the visitors understanding of the artwork. Here is an example of one for artist Dihn Q. Le:
Ten video iPods were purchased by the museum which were offered to visitors who did not have their own. With the audio loaded on each device I was able to lock each one into Notes-Only mode. In this mode when the iPod is launched the typical iPod menu structure is non-existent. Instead the user is presented an iPod “note” which is basically formated like a small webpage. The note can contain links to other notes, audio, video or images. Here is an example of how it works (on a different exhibition):
Additionally, as mentioned above, we offered the content via cell phone as Guide by Cell’s first prototype. The audio clips that were created were uploaded to the Guide by Cell system and made available via visitor cell phones. The works that were selected to have audio commentary were labeled with special labels directing visitors to either checkout an iPod or take out their cell phones. On the label was a number which visitors would enter on their phone to listen or match up the number to a list presented on the iPod note page.
Results: The tour was well received and eventually led to the creation of my position as Manager of Interactive Technology. The director Dan Keegan, who has since moved on to the Milwaukee Museum of Art, saw the need for an additional layer of technology in the galleries because of our location in Silicon Valley and the movement of museums towards a participatory culture. Since this first introduction of iPod use in the gallery we have consistently offered some form of iPod component with at our museum in selected exhibitions.
Our exhibition, Visual Politics: the Art of Engagement, traveled to the Katzen Arts Center at American University, and when they heard we had the audio component to the exhibition they insisted on offering it to their visitors.
The cell phone component garnered the museum the most press coverage because it was one of the first implementations of its kind in a museum setting. The museums phone was ringing off the hook because an article about it was picked up by Associated Press. Guide by Cell has become a successful company and currently lists over 200 museums, galleries and other institutions who are using their service. I still work closely in my position at the museum with Guide by Cell and offer thoughts toward improving the service and adding new features.
I recently started reading a book that was edited by handheld guide expert Loïc Tallon and fellow Londoner Kevin Walker. The book is a collection of essays by prominent technologists in the museum space writing about mobile guides in museums. The range of information is extensive ranging from best practices to research in the field. The book is highly recommended to those with an interest in this area of digital museum interpretation.
Back in high school I would religiously play albums I liked over and over and over. As I’ve grow older these albums are becoming few and far between. Once in a blue moon I come across one that I can’t stop listening to. Some groups of the last several years are The Clientele, Starsailor, and The Shout Out Louds. Recently I discovered a group called The Last Shadow Puppets, and for me their music has proved to be some of the most exciting and creative that I have come across in recent years. Like a lot of the music that I’ve been enjoying recently their music has a retro 60s feel to it. However, this group has a dynamic quality that I haven’t come across in years. A sense of urgency that makes you think that their music flows out of them like water, more like rapids in this case. The orchestral aspect of their music is definitely the strongest selling point for me. Strings, horns – you name it it’s there. Very good stuff that you should check out today.