Jamie Perera, sound artist and composer, created the soundtrack for Escape to Reality – our film installation shown at FutureFest in June. He shares his thoughts on the creative process he went through to develop the composition.

For the last few months, I’ve been considering the realities behind the people I meet, just as much as the interactions I have with them in the present moment. And it’s all the fault of Guerilla Science and Anil (“Mr. I’m going to blow your mind”) Seth from Sussex University’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science. I’ll explain. And by the way, I’m not ungrateful :)

Guerilla Science had been exploring the idea of a “Sonic Tour of Consciousness”, and approached me for a collaboration. My rather bullheaded take on this theme was an idea where you could experience what it was like to be in someone else’s head, a sort of “Being John Malkovich” scenario to show that everyone has a different experience of reality dependent on past conditioning and present variables.

One of the early ideas we considered was a scenario where the environment that you physically stepped into would somehow infer who you were, what your reality was like, and change your perception accordingly. For example, a simple walk to the shops could be experienced very differently – involving slow walking and fear of people if you had been mugged in the past, or full of wonder at nature if you were tripping on LSD.

During our first meetings, it seemed that this idea was viable in theory. As we explored Anil’s research further with him and his team, it became clear that the best way to do this was to create a set of films, showing that a shared reality could be different depending on who you were. The same film should somehow have different treatments to infer different realities on the viewer. Simple right? 

Cue the entrance of Katharine Round, documentary filmmaker and long-term collaborator. Katharine had already been thinking along similar ideas for a film, and so jumped on the project with an enthusiasm I can only describe as voracious.

Together with Guerilla Science, we made our first set of films, “The Appointment”, and tested these at an event at Rich Mix in Hackney. We showed exactly the same film, but with different visual and sonic treatments to infer multiple realities on the audience. The problem was the films did this a bit too viscerally, with some viewers having strong emotional responses based on their own experiences.

Taking this on board, we debuted our second film series, “Escape to Reality”, as part of an installation at FutureFest. We had more success – and managed to create an experience that played with the audience’s conscious experience.

The film screening was followed by a discussion between neuroscientists from Anil’s department and the audience. One question that came up was, “why are you doing this?”. Good question.

At the beginning of the project I would have said, “because I want to mess with peoples’ minds” – I had a vague sense that people have different perspectives. But through the journey of the project, I now have a more comprehensive understanding that everyone is creating and experiencing reality differently. This is when you are sitting in a coffee shop looking around at people, this is when you are wondering why Dave in accounting is being so tetchy this week. This is when you are trying to reason with your parents that you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers, this is when you are arguing with your partner over, well, anything! This is even when your cat keeps leading you to the sitting room, only to just look mawkishly at you from under the coffee table.

Understanding that our shared reality is different encourages tolerance and empathy for people around us, it leads us to look behind the emotion in a social interaction, instead of just reacting to it with our immediate interpretation of reality. It helps me to seek connection with the reality of people in my life. And somehow it helps me to understand that there isn’t just one reality, they are many. This at the very least makes life much more interesting.

 

I’d like to thank Guerilla Science, Katharine Round, and Anil Seth and everyone at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex.

 

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