Post Thumb

A subtlemob is live performance somewhere between art, theatre and game. The audience take part in the experience by listening to an mp3 soundtrack that sets the emotional landscape and instructs them to make physical actions.

'as if it were the last time' is designed to be experienced in pairs. In advance, you both download one of two mp3 files and are told to wait at a specific street location. Everyone is instructed to press play at a specific time. I saw it in the Broadmead open air shopping centre in Bristol, but it has now been performed (in localised versions) in many cities around the world. The soundtrack mixes a beautiful and evocative musical composition and narration that gently tells you where to move within the location and gives simple instructions like 'try to make eye contact with everyone you pass.' The effect is extraordinarily powerful as the soundtrack takes you out of your body, whilst you are very much aware of being in a public space amongst people who may not be experiencing the same as you. Who is a player? Who is a bystander? What is a player or a bystander? As you stand in the early evening shopping street amongst office workers hurrying home, the narration encourages you into a charged emotional state. You are instructed to study yourself in the reflection of a shop window, then imagine someone you love, but is absent, looking at you. You are told to place your hand on your partner's shoulder in such a way that they will know you will be there for them if they need you.

The subtlemob format has some great strengths.

  • The soundtrack in your head is a very direct way of bringing an audience into a story world. In the case of 'as if it were the last time' this is not a narrative, but a prolonged emotional journey into sense of self in a public space - loneliness, belonging, connection with and distance from others.
  • There are no performers and no audience. The audience are the performers, as are the passers by.
  • Ask an audience to perform a complex set of physical actions and create characters with huge emotional depth and it will fail, give then simple instructions like make eye contact with everyone you see and they are able to perform completely unselfconsciously.
  • The use of mp3 files means that almost anyone can do this. Most cheap phones will play mp3's if one can master the art of getting it from your computer onto the phone.
  • The instruction, 'press play at 8pm' means that all the pairs will start at slightly different times. This discrepancy adds to the depth of the experience massively. If everyone were in perfect synchrony, looking around the street one would see a bunch of people following instructions. When they are asynchronous, odd combinations of behaviour occur that create new and un-predicted resonances making it a much deeper experience.

I recently made a subtlemob in a couple of hours to play to some students. They loved it and the next day they made their own one, Flood. In the early days of the workshop their attempts at creativity had been self-conscious and emotionally shallow. In making the subtlemob, they were immediately able to create a piece with great emotional power.

On his web site Duncan writes: WHAT IS A SUBTLEMOB?
We’re not sure if we know yet, but this is what we think it might be . . .

  • Imagine walking through a film, but it’s happening on the streets you live in
  • Subtlemobs usually happen in public spaces
  • This is music composed for those spaces
  • This is about trying to make films without cameras
  • It’s about integrating with a social or physical space, not taking it over
  • The audience listen on headphones, a mix of music, story and instructions
  • Sometimes they just watch, sometimes they perform scenes for each other
  • A subtlemob is not a flashmob
try to remain invisible . . .