Looking past the obvious in LA: Aric Allen on Hollywood

“Location-aware audio walk” doesn’t trip off the tongue, does it? It’s a phrase for a technical medium, with lots of moving parts, and sometimes VoiceMap’s storytellers get bogged down by all of our publishing tool’s many mechanics.

The result is a list of facts instead of stories, with the things that are physically most obvious at the forefront – the monuments, buildings, and landmarks that get mapped out right at the beginning of the process – instead of the stories that made the walk compelling in the first place.

Aric Allen’s Hollywood walking tour Gambling Built the Sunset Strip is an interesting example of how location-aware audio can go well beyond the obvious, into the very essence of place.

Aric gets this right all through his walk, but at one particular location – a location he calls Thousand Waters, which plays after Aric has pointed out how many landmarks have been torn down and replaced – the script digs right down to the bedrock of Hollywood’s dream factory, where transcendent success and dismal, self-destructive failure are both just moments away. It goes past it too, by asking us where our own sympathies lie – with the predator, or its prey.


Let’s pause here.
This strip was already a path before the city bloomed to the south. The settlers stretching out from the old pueblo followed this existing trail, following the water. Hollywood used to have sheep pastures and orange groves. And before that native tribes would burn the grass lands around the foothills because it triggered the growth of more willow trees and willow trees were good raw material for their baskets. And before that the yellow billed cuckoo favored the dense canyon waterways up the hill, staying close to streaming currents, sitting motionless, waiting for the movement of an ignorant caterpillar, swooping in to get a quick eat.
The seasonal feast and famine, the burn and the regrowth, the ever changing nature of this land is baked into the rhythms of this town and effects what gets built here and how it’s built, and who prospers. Are you the yellow cuckoo or are you the caterpillar?

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