The Mixing the Irwell workshops initially took place at the Broughton Trust in June and September 2017 and were revived for the Peel Park Fun Day in April 2018. The aim of the workshops is to explore how creative and playful engagement with a range of digital technologies can prompt participants to explore their relationship with the neighbouring River Irwell, in the wake of the Boxing Day flood in 2015. Mixing the Irwell comprises four ‘stations’ prompting different responses and ways of ‘mixing’ the river, with instructions prompting the participant to listen, speak, sing, record themselves and arrange images, to express their individual feelings about and relationship with the river.
The stations are predicated on a principle that playful and creative engagement with a range of materials in combination allows for a fun, but also expressive participation and reflection on the place of the river and participants’ feelings about it. Outlines of these stations and some of the responses they prompted, as well as reflections on the findings emerging from this event are offered below.
Station 1: ‘The Irwell: Past, Present and Future?’
Form: audio track on MP3 with headphones and eye mask, plus audio recorder for responses
Instructions: Sit down at one of the chairs and put on an eye mask, so you can’t see. Jo will help you put on headphones and you will then listen to some words and sounds. Once you have finished listening, take off the eye masks and headphones. Press the red button on the audio recorder and describe what you think the River Irwell will be like in the future.
Click the Soundcloud link below to hear the audio
Responses: A selection of responses to the question of what the river will be like in the future are offered below:
‘I think that the river has been sort of – it’s made a statement quite recently because of the floods and what it can do. I think and believe that the river – people will appreciate the river more. Obviously there are things being done because of what goes on here, what goes on in this area’
‘I think the Irwell in the future will be a great public amenity – I think it will open up and you will be able to walk along it from Manchester right through to Bolton and I think it will be an incredible place – like a big outdoor park. People will enjoy it and hopefully, respect it. That’s what I think it will be in the future’
‘I think the river is such a source of life for the future and development. I love the fact that it’s now quite clean and it’s a place for people to be able to relax because we live in such a stressful world. It is an environment that allows you to de-stress – a wonderful environment’
Well, hopefully, as it described in the audio recording, the river will become more and more taken care of, to the point where nobody will think ‘Oh I’m going to dump my litter in here’ because there’s nowhere else to put it
Station 2: Make Your Own River Irwell
Form: A selection of images and texts of and related to the River Irwell, mounted on foamboard and scattered across a table
Instructions: Build a picture of what the River Irwell means to you, using the words and images on this table. Arrange them under the camera in a way that you like
Responses: see images below
Station 3: Make the River Move!
Form: Two pico projectors, playing looped footage of the river onto a white sheet on the wall
Instructions: Put on a white T-shirt and pick up one of the pico projectors. Working with a friend, play with how you can project the images onto each other and onto the white sheet/frame. How can you combine them? What kind of new river will you make?
Responses: People were drawn to and enjoyed the playful aspect of the small projector and the way the image can move and be moved to hit different surfaces, though they didn’t stay at this station too long
Station 4: Sounds of the River
Form: Sampler with 12 different sounds associated with the River Irwell, or rivers more generally, attached to its buttons, plus a loop pedal and microphone, all fed through a sound mixer and speakers.
Instructions: Look at the descriptions of the sounds on the different buttons of the sampler. Choose two sounds and mix them together. Add your voice over the top by speaking into the microphone and finishing off one of these sentences:
- Living next to the river is…
- When I think of the River Irwell, I think of…
Jo will help you to loop your voice, so it repeats.
Responses: Participants thoroughly enjoyed the prompt of picking sounds, but specifically of choosing songs from those present to mix with the sounds. Putting the voice over the top was something people felt a little self-conscious about, but generally, once it was mixed in, this worked well, giving a rhythm and texture to their description of living next to the river or indeed the river itself.