The award-winning team behind Hackney Podcast have released a knee-wobblingly good iPhone app exploring the London Fields area. Hackney Hear serves as an audio-guide to this cultural crossroads, but with several twists that set it apart from the sonic porridge of existing audio guides to London. And, unbelievably, it's free.
First of all, it won't work at all unless you're in the area. The sound is driven by GPS, with stories, poetry and sound effects triggered by your progress around the park. So you have to be there to get anything more than the introduction. Don't let that put you off.
Once in London Fields, the app takes care of itself. Simply start it running, pop your phone back in your pocket and wander round wherever you will. Different voices fight for your attention as you move from one part of the park to another. Down the southern end, near his Albion Drive home, author Iain Sinclair provides a history lesson. To the north, you'll get a song about London Fields Lido. Along the eastern perimeter, a local teenager boasts about the area's gang culture.
What could be a complicated set-up worked effortlessly on our try-out. The big 'oh wow' moment came as we approached the south-east corner of the fields. From the ambient background noise of the app, we began to make out a faint rhythm, which grew louder as we walked. A stone ping-pong table came into view at exactly the moment the audio track resolved itself into the sounds of two people playing.
Further on down Broadway Market we were invited into the Dove for a pint, just as we walked past, and told the history of Cooke's pie shop at the very moment we glanced up and saw it. At times like these, Hackney Hear seemed the embodiment of Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".
The app even remembers where you left each narrative, so if you retrace your steps there will be no repetition. With several hours of audio — and compelling audio at that — Hackney Hear is a must-have for anyone with an iPhone and a love of London. An Android version should appear soon, once they can fund it.
Hackney Hear is available for iPhone from the iTunes store for zero pounds.