Hairy Hands FM is a new immersive audio experience by Nottingham-based company Chronic Insanity that seeks to recreate a century-old urban legend inside your room. The story is derived from the real-life sightings of a pair of mysterious ‘Hairy Hands’ that motorists blame for causing numerous road accidents in Dartmoor, Southwest England since the 1920s. Combining binaural sound design with an interactive web app design, the 20-minute experience invites audiences to tune in to a fictional local radio station wherein something dark lurks about and the radio host asks for your help to put away this mythical creature once and for all. Written and directed by Joe Strickland with Hannah Parsons on production and sound design, this show was commissioned by New Creatives – a talent development scheme launched by BBC Arts and Arts Council England.
Audiences are invited to join a web link using a mobile device and a pair of headphones. Here, they are greeted by a smartphone dial pad (with numbers 1 through 9) and are asked to dial into a local legends radio segment for a phone-in contest. Whilst re-creating the tactility and interactivity of the smartphone into a web version doesn’t particularly add much to the show’s aural medium of choice, it helps the audience contextualise their presence in the overall narrative – you are greeted by a temp at the station, voiced effectively by Charlie Basley, who patches you through to the main studio where the host, played by Alex Stedman, is in conversation with another participant, played by Abbi Davey, about the legend of the ‘Hairy Hands’ that continues to intrigue local residents. This conversation is interrupted abruptly by a loud cacophony of a mysterious, unearthly presence and the evening quickly goes sideways – this creature is intent on wreaking havoc and you are tasked to stop them with the radio show host stepping in to help you out. It’s at this part of the experience where its binaural sound design starts to shine, with Parsons cleverly using the technology to play with the audience, using spatial audio to accentuate the movement and sounds of the creature as it lurks about looking for you. What’s also interesting is the use of interactive audio, with the radio show host setting you a series of tasks and prompts that wait on your response before proceeding ahead.
Whilst the show succeeds in creating some true moments of horror and surprise, the narrative journey of the text is slightly inconsistent and predictable, relying more on the brief magic the binaural audio provides to provoke the audience’s imagination and the fallacy of interactive audio wherein the audience’s response doesn’t actually influence the narrative since it’s a pre-recorded show. However, the overall sound treatment of the piece stands out, especially initially where it succeeds in creating the ambient, humdrum environment of the radio station and its various inhabitants. The web UX of the project looks promising, with room to play with the smartphone dial pad and screen as a scenographic space for the action – maybe the ‘hands’ can manifest on the screen and offer another playful, visual provocation for the audience to fight for control and themselves more in the experience.
To summarize, Hairy Hands FM is an intriguing experiment that seeks to bring a chilling real-life urban myth to a dramatic space, going a step further to allow audiences to engage more viscerally with it using their aural imagination.
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 27th March 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★