Jenny Lee – Heartbeats & Algorithms


In 2015 I worked on the sound design for a piece of new theatre Heartbeats & Algorithms. Written and performed by Jenny Lee, this one woman play tells the story of Banks, a programmer who develops an algorithm that can predict the decisions people will make.

A woman designs an algorithm that will predict the decisions of people in seemingly unpredictable predicaments. In the process of perfecting the algorithm she ends up creating a programme that gets to know her better than she knows herself, and discovers her most intimate secret. As a result, it predicts that she will soon find herself in an unpredictable predicament…

Heartbeats & Algorithms is a dark, heart-achingly funny story that conjures up a seductive, inescapable world of information use and abuse and examines the leading role our technology plays in our lives.

We worked with Director Valentina Ceschi (Dancing Brick) who opted for very minimal staging with no set and simple but effective lighting design that focuses attention on the character, her story and the sound which plays a significant role in supporting the narrative. The sound design consists of ambient sounds signifying the various settings in the story both literal, such as Banks’ office and a tube station, and the abstract, virtual space of an online forum. I was also tasked with creating a sonic representation of the algorithm that haunts and torments the narrator. For this I used induction coil pick up recordings of computers and other electronic devices. The play has the feel of a techno – thriller reflected in the cinematic approach to elements of the sound design.

Following a successful preview at the Kings Head Theatre in Islington on 27.07.15 the show ran for the month of August at Pleasance This at the Edinburgh Fringe 2015 to good reviews.

**** Exeunt – Catherine Love “a timely warning against an existence defined by data”

**** Fest – Tom Wicker    “Valentina Ceschi’s production, with its moody lighting and ominous soundscape, plays on our expectations with its thriller-like overtones”

**** A Younger Theatre – Chris McCormack “The sophisticated script has consciousness-led passages through London life in pen strokes close to Virginia Woolf.”

**** The Scotsman – Sally Stott “As understated sci-fi, the story provides a pertinent commentary on how the personal data we give away online can be used by advertisers and governments to erode our freedom.”

**** Financial Times – Keith Pattison “This is a sharply written, heartfelt piece about self-determination in the internet age.”

*** Arts Award Voice – Bhavesh Jadvar   “The only narrative catalyst beside Lee was the sound. This deserves praise in two ways. Both in its design — hyper-functional and well-suited to the high-concept nature of the show — and its length and timing. It worked in tandem with Jenny Lee’s intrinsically well timed performance to make a fluid, fully comprehensible play.”

*** The Guardian – Lyn Gardner “This has the tightness of a psychological thriller, and real intelligence as it explores the casual way we hand over valuable information. It asks questions around free will, and individual and corporate responsibilities.”

Subsequent performances of Heartbeats & Algorithms:

Soho Upstairs, Soho Theatre, London on 30.08.16 – 03.09.16

The Studio, Derby Theatre, Derby 26.09.16

Burton Taylor Studio, Oxford Playhouse, Oxford 10-11.01.17

**** Plays To See – Mel Cooper “This is the kind of evening that restores your faith in the real value of contemporary theatre to entertain, enlighten and provoke relevant debate.”