Pilgrim is an AR audio documentary that I experienced at the IDFA DocLab premiere as I was walking through the streets of Amsterdam. Co-director Lauren Hutchinson captured audio stories of people as they were walking the Camino de Santiago trail in the north of Spain, and you have a chance to listen to their transformational stories as you’re walking through an urban environment. If you stop, then that pilgrim continues on and you wait for the next pilgram to come along with a new story. They used prototype AR glasses with spatialized audio that were connected to a phone, which used ARKit through camera to track your movement and rotations as your turning around.
I had a chance to talk with co-director Hutchinson, who collaborated with Saschka Unseld and the Tomorrow Never Knows team in order to create this location-based, interactive AR story set to a specific loop in downtown Amsterdam. Aside from the phone providing directions, the overall experience was screenless. It focused on augmenting your experience with interactive audio in order to recreate the serendipitous interactions that you might have if you were taking pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago trail.
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Most people on the trail have some sort of reason for being there, and they captured a number of people who were in transition or had just gone through some sort of transformational experience. There is a very specific depth of sharing that happens in the context of refuge which was recontextualized, remixed, and overlayed on top of the context of a bustling urban environment. The creators wanted to highlight the vast differences of these different contexts, and so they embraced this chaotic balance between fate and free will where sometimes there are circumstances beyond your control that might trigger a change in the stories you end up receiving. It’s a form of branching narrative where you may not even be consciously thinking about the stream of consciousness segments you’ve receiving, which led to some profound serendipitious moments in my experience of it.
As the tracking technology and spatialized audio solutions on mobile AR glasses continues to improve, then we’re going to start seeing a lot more of the immersive theater type of stories where actors are physically moving their bodies through space and you have the ability to follow them. But the first iteration of location-based AR stories will likely be more like a guided tour or a more linear branching story with explicit opportunities to make choices through the experience.
But what’s made clear to me with the Pilgrim experience is that there will be all sorts of different location-based, AR audio stories that are overlaid on top of specific locations. And as spatialized audio solutions start to come out on AR glasse, then that’s going to open up more screenless options for creatives who won’t have to use visual components in order to tell a compelling story.
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