Go back in time to hear the Famous Five

Applied Arts Magazine - Today might be Back to the Future Day, but how about a little blast to the past?

With a new binaural audio experience by Critical Mass, you can travel 90 years back in time to listen to a riveting conversation between Canada’s most notable suffragette leaders — and feel like you are in the room.

The Calgary-based digital agency created the 3D listening experience “A Conversation of Consequence” for the Famou5 Foundation to recognize Persons Day on October 18, which marks the anniversary of the Edwards v Canada case (also known as the Persons Case). In 1929, after several years of lobbying by a group of Albertan women known as the Famous Five, a judicial committee overturned a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that stated women were not “qualified persons” and therefore unable to sit in the Senate.

Calgary’s Famous 5 Foundation, established in 1996, encourages the work of future female leaders and celebrates the legacy of the Famous Five, who were the driving force behind women’s rights in Canada in the 1920s. The foundation had recently tasked Critical Mass with updating its branding and identity.

When presented with the opportunity to honour Persons Day, the Critical Mass team looked to other commemorations of the Famous Five for inspiration. Two identical groups of statues in Ottawa and Calgary of the Famous Five at a “pink tea” informed the direction of the recording, says Stefan Smith, senior copywriter at Critical Mass. “We were inspired by these statues and their circular shape to create the corresponding immersive audio circle that we did.

This led to the idea for a reenactment of a pink tea, a secret gathering of women who would discuss the women’s rights movement, and frequently held by not only the Famous Five but other suffragettes, particularly in Britain. “A Conversation of Consequence” is specifically set in 1925, when Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henriette Muir Edwards began their quest to have women be considered “persons” in Canada.

While the conversation is not a transcript, Smith explains that a tremendous amount of research, including consultations with a local professor, informed the script. “For the rest, we used some artistic license to imagine what could have been." They then worked with a playwright to determine flow, blocking and how the script might sound as an immersive experience. “We wanted to make sure the experience was rousing and inspirational while staying true to the content,” he says.

The binaural recording, which employs sound recorded by two microphones and transmitted separately to each ear of the listener, was the agency’s first. “Binaural is really neat because it simulates how the human ear hears things,” explains Smith.

To create the recording, the Critical Mass team placed a dummy head with 3D microphones in each ear on a stand in the centre of a room at Calgary Heritage Park. Actors in costume sat at a table surrounding the microphone and read the script in one take while drinking tea as the Famous Five would have. “It really gives that sense of authenticity,” Smith says.

Most of the sound effects were recorded on the spot. A few elements were pre-recorded and added live, including a clip-clopping horse, which sounds to the listener as if it's moving from one ear into another.

Critical Mass created a simple, effective visualization to play alongside the audio recording using the Famou5 Foundation’s pink branding. A white circle fluctuates with each speaker and emulates the roundtable of the “pink tea” concept. Says Smith, “The video gave the conversation a sense of place — it enhances without taking away anything.”

Listen to the audio below, and happy time travelling.


Client: Famous 5 Foundation

Conor Brady, Chief Creative Officer
Christiaan Welzel, Creative Director
Jared Folkmann, Group Strategy Director
Stefan Smith, Senior Copywriter
Kyle Bottoms, Senior Strategist 
Nick Warren, Motion Director
Cameron Benedict, Art Director
Kathryn Whiteside, Senior Designer
Tom Kucy, Motion Designer
Natalie Matti, Account Director 
Katherine Nixon, Associate Strategist
Sabrina Krivan, Project Manager
Emily Bontje, Account Manager
Amanda Duke, Associate Producer
Scott Goetz, Senior Developer
Natalie Meisner, Scriptwriter
Six Degrees Studios, Audio Production

Originally published in Applied Arts Magazine