“Think of the rise and fall of Rome or Mexico. Yes, Oxford is an established city of 1000 years, but in light of all the changes we are currently experiencing in terms of climate change and the environment, as sea levels rise and flooding increases, fires rage, and we face severe drought and weather extremes, what will happen to Oxford?” asks Dr Dane Comerford, Festival Director of IF Oxford.
Dr Comerford is explaining the concept behind Only Expansion, a soundscape tour of Oxford with headphones, which starts tomorrow, one of the more lateral and interactive experiences in the current IF Oxford Festival of Science and Ideas line-up.
Designed specially for the city by the renowned Duncan Speakman, an international composer and sound artist, it boasts an audio narrative that suggests what the future might entail.
“Only Expansion is about what all these factors might mean, because the world is so connected however stable Oxford might appear,” Dr Comerford continues.
“The flip side is that we are also trying to encourage people to divert from their normal everyday paths, to notice new things, new directions, new paths – to take a different route, to find a quiet place and listen to the sounds of the city and notice what is going on around them.
“Because while Oxford is 1000 years old, it is also changing constantly with new buildings and developments. We are trying to show it in a new light, through sound, set against an urban background of our daily lives.”
Duncan Speakman creates narrative sound led experiences that engage audiences in uncontrolled public and private spaces, particularly urban audio with contemporary ecology, so was perfect for If Oxford’s desire to extend their remit and ambitions in terms of what science is, as inclusively as possible.
Oxford Playhouse have embraced the piece as part of their Playhouse Plays Out programme and their contribution to IF Festival.
“Only Expansion helps you to see things in a different way for 45 minutes, despite being in a familiar cityscape, because once you put the headphones on you will see things in a new light,” Dr Comerford promises.
Since the original science festival was reimagined in 2017, the new schedule endeavours to introduce many other innovative and exciting concepts for us to enjoy.
From panel discussions and Q&A sessions with eminent scientists and experts in their field to dinner in a dinosaur for children at The Westgate, or speed dating at Waterstones – the team behind If Oxford has really pushed the boat out this year with their 11 day programme.
From multi-sensory art, to interactive dance or coding, the team aims to change out viewpoint on what science encapsulates, and its endless possibilities.
And while some subjects have been seen as dry in the past, new life has been breathed into specific areas.
“When people are emotionally invested then you can open up the discussion. Phones have already done that for technology, but we are breaking down barriers and the jargon to make it more relevant for the students, tourists and locals who inhabit Oxford, even if only for a day,” Dr Comerford adds.
“They don’t need a PHD to join in, just shoes and socks, unless they are the Naked Mathematician,” he laughs.
“We want people to engage with these concepts so that they have a say in their futures and what happens in the next 10-50 years. Things are moving on much quicker now thanks to social media – the pace is changing so we need to keep up.”
But the other main consideration is to ensure people enjoy the festival and to get their voice heard so on one hand you can listen to thorny debates about AI or go to physics in the pub or a comedy night.
In 2018 the festival attracted 13,500 people and organisers hope the figure will increase this year.
“People have such an appetite for science and festivals now – they are smart and want to be in the know. It’s up to us to make that fun and interesting, but there’s no dumbing down here. It’s just more accessible,” Dr Comerford concludes.
If Oxford runs from October 18-28. if-oxford.com
Only Expansion runs from Saturday 19 – Sun 27. 01865 305305 or oxfordplayhouse.com