Invention : Phantastic Phonetic Phactory

As with Elementary Poetry, the Phantastic Phonetic Phactory was an early fairground size game, and the machine solved the problem of how to ensure that words of a certain type (here, describing sounds) could be built up letter by letter in choices that were guided, not predetermined, allowing "made-up" words like sizzam or splink to appear.

The Phactory worked for a week on each site. When players first came in they signed on at a clock that converted the time outside the Phactory into `Word Time' - giving four different coloured letters. These were written on a date-stamped time card and the player was ready to start manufacturing words on the silver Anagramma machine with its seven conveyor belts of colour coded-letters.

Players rolled the belts forward, starting with one of the letters on the time card, until they had lined up a `noise word' such as FIZZ, GURGLE, WHISPER or even SWONK - any noise so long as the player could say what made it and every letter in the word was the same colour. Players made four words, one for each letter on the card, and stencilled the words onto a tile with four gummed shapes - the same colours as the words.

The poem used the four words as a framework for ideas. Players decided what had made the sounds - HISS could be a snake or steam, SPLAT could be a slap in the face or a fallen fried egg. They then worked from the ways the sounds were made to make the poem, but the `noise words' themselves were not allowed to appear in it.

When the poem had been written, and written out on computer print-out paper, players moved to a studio (a large cupboard) where the tile was added to a growing pattern of tiles on the wall which charted the shape of the recordings so far and determined the order in which the player would add the next sounds. Then the player recorded the poem, and added machine noises and sound effects, sometimes made with the body, sometimes with objects or simple instruments.

Players were also invited, before or after the recording, to build one of the four `noise words' out of a variety of materials - often card, but polystyrene, latex, foam rubber or fabrics were also used. These words, ranging from one to five feet in height, were then hung, piled or stood around the Phactory.

At the end of a week the tape of poems was tidied up and the sculptured words re- arranged into a maze on which spotlights of the four colours shone and in which tiny lights twinkled. Those who had worked in the Phactory, and many others, came to listen to the poems and sounds and look at the sculptures. At the end of each show a different game was played using the maze to create a new communal poem.

The game was designed for the long summer playschemes, but it was slow and labour intensive, especially in getting the machine through doors and upstairs. A later smaller-scale version using coded cardboard templates in place of the lettered tapes worked well enough but is too fiddley. In fact, the game presents problems of choice entirely suited to computer play, and basic data is available, but we felt that it would be difficult to get child- players off the computer and into the poem.

Of course the sound words could be drawn at random, or from various bags with different starting letters, or chosen from a list on a big display board, or written down and passed about. Vice-versa, a sound can be played and the players choose a word to describe it.

The words set the context for discussion - what is causing the noise? where is it? why is it happening? what relationship is there between it and the other sounds? The solution might be an ingenious fiction or a memory, but in any case if one word turns out to be unnecessary or would be too awkward to connect, discard it quietly: after all a poem can come from one sound or silence.

For further information on this sort of game click on games listed under INVENTION in the INDEX side bar.

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