Friends, Visitors, Countrymen, Bend me an Ear

Step into The Listening Gallery in Settle where audio exhibition The Sympathetic Ear awaits your troubles. 

The Listening Gallery is the worlds first audio gallery in a phone box that Settle Stories adopted and then restored in 2018. The gallery is now open 24-7, 365 days a year for all. 

Local writer Graham Brand has created a variety of wonderful scenarios for us to call and listen to from the dinky telephone ear-piece in the gallery. We asked him about his sketches:

Q: What gave you the idea for The Sympathetic Ear?

Seven or eight years ago, I improvised a sketch along the lines of 'A Nice Cup Of Tea' for my wife one day, just to make her laugh, and we immediately thought it would make a fun phone app: you would talk to the app and it would make sympathetic and occasionally humorous responses. I never got round to building that, but the idea seemed like a good fit for the Listening Gallery. Incidentally, there are now various apps out there that take a serious approach to this, providing both automated and live counselling through your phone

Q: Do you think in our day to day lives we, as individuals, have sympathetic ears to offer those who need to offload?

Some people are naturally good listeners but, yes, surely any of us could find the time to support each other, without judging or trying to 'fix' things.

Q: Some of your sketches are scenarios most people can relate to, for example ‘The Hairdresser’s’ and ‘The Headmaster’s Office’. Then others are outside most people’s life experience, for example ‘The Mobster’s Lockup’. And then there is ‘The Dungeon’ which is historical and ‘The Dream Collector’ which is fantastical. This is quite a wide selection of scenarios. What lead you to use these?

The starting point was everyday life, but I normally write science fiction and fantasy so my brain pops up the more fantastical ideas unbidden. I wanted each piece to be distinctive which meant that each needed a strong character and setting. Since we don't hear the voice of the person who is troubled, the responses of the sympathiser and the ambient sound effects have to suggest enough of a story to draw the listener in without being too prescriptive. Adding in the more surreal scenarios gave me a wider range to choose from and let me use a more varied set of sound effects to keep things entertaining.

Q: I like how in ‘A Bandstand in the Rain’ you have turned the situation around from what I would have expected it to be with the vulnerable person the one offering support. Tell us more about that.

That's an interesting observation. I hadn't realised this is what I'd done until you asked this question. With ‘A Bandstand in the Rain’ I wanted to evoke a feeling of someone struggling with a problem that's led them to walk and walk and finally to find a refuge out of the rain. I imagined ducking under the roof of a bandstand, soaked, to sit down, maybe on a chair left from a concert earlier. So who would also be there to lend a sympathetic ear? Someone whose life is spent out on the streets. Someone with far deeper problems but who still has the time and the humanity to listen.

Q: How do you imagine people will react to the silences in these sketches?

I would love it if people filled in 'their' side of the conversation out loud. However, I knew I was writing for the Listening Gallery in January, which meant that I needed to keep the pieces short and they had to be entertaining simply as one-sided conversations. I chose to edit the sketches to tighten up the gaps between responses accordingly. If you listen to a piece a few times you can join in, but for this exhibition I think it's enough to evoke a sense of what 'you' might be saying, and perhaps people can dream up their side after the track has ended.

Q: Who do you turn to when you need to offload?

My poor wife!

Thank you Graham Brand!

Step into the gallery and listen for yourself. Which one is your favourite? And what did you find yourself doing during the silences? We’d love to know. Let us know what you thought of the Listening Gallery on Trip Advisor.

This exhibition is on until Mid April after which a new exciting experience will be there for you to hear. So don’t tarry folks. Step in and have a listen today. This is one you don’t want to miss. And remember, all our audio exhibitions are FREE. And you’re FREE to make a donation too. Donation box inside the phone booth. 

Find the Listening Gallery on Duke St, Settle, BD24 9DJ (near Settle Post Office)

Written by volunteer writer Andrea Ward