Jun 282016
 

The ramifications of the result of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union are going to reverberate for some time. Not only will the decision to leave the EU mean changes to our economy and political life, but they will also have a significant impact on the way that we think about and undertake community media in the United Kingdom as well.

As supporters of community media adjust to this new reality, it is worth sharing some thoughts about the kind of responses that community media advocates might think about. Depending on your point of view, thinking about what got us into this mess, and what might we do to work through it so we can get the best out of it?

The response of community media supporters at this time will shape the future relationships that community media sustains in times to come. We don’t have any idea at this stage how commercial and public service media will continue to be regulated in the United Kingdom, and what changes might come about as a result of the changing legal and regulatory regimes.

One thing that I hope that can be agreed is that the success of the leave campaign was due in large part to a sense of frustration and indignation at the manner in which our economy and civic life had been playing out.

It certainly became progressively harder to keep community media groups running and focussed as government cuts and austerity hit local communities, but there are other factors that are associated with the general sense of frustration. Community media has been run on a shoe-string for years now, a fact that has been pointed out to government by the Community Media Association on many occasions.

One example that typifies this sense of frustration is the rise of the zombie town, for example, in which every high-street is identical, and populated by the same chain stores and brands? These towns give little opportunity for networks of independent and local businesses to take-root and play a strong role in civic life.

I’ve thought for some time now that it is pointless travelling around the United Kingdom because the high-streets are all the same. Is this a factor in the sense of frustration? Did people become frustrated because they have been cut-off from a clear, independent sense of local identity?

Like the high-street, local media has been under considerable pressure for some time now. Newspapers have been squeezed-out because they haven’t been profitable enough. Local commercial radio stations have been squeezed out as the international conglomerates have built chains of stations around formulas, brands and centralised marketing.

Local commercial radio in the United Kingdom is homogenised, formulaic and repetitive, with little sense of local identity. Playing local travel news in between Justin Bieber tracks isn’t doing anything to foster local expression and understanding.

In hoc only to the needs of advertisers the commercial radio companies have forgotten the listeners needs, and killed-off the chance that radio might be a positive and creative forum for discussion, ideas and local identity.

The BBC doesn’t come away from these events with any glory either. The narrow and condescending programming brief that is given to BBC Local Radio is fascicle and self-serving. Prone to being ‘nostalgia’ radio, BBC local stations have been prevented from fostering a local identity.

Just a change of accents from one station to the next, yet the content is mostly identical.

The BBC Local Radio music playlists are centrally managed, leading to a generic sound that is the same everywhere. No local experimentation, discovery or challenge. Just Daft Punk and Lionel Ritche on endless repeat.

BBC Local Radio should be a place of vibrant, integrated community debate and discussion. Did BBC Local Radio tap into the resentment that was expressed in the referendum, or where BBC Local Radio producers just as surprised as everyone else in the media?

It is often said, and always worth repeating, that the strength of community media is the principle that community media is about people representing themselves. Community media has a proud tradition of supporting community discussion and communication, but community media has been chronically underfunded for a long, long time.

This underfunding, and a lack of active government support, both national and local, has left many community media groups clinging on, not able to develop, grow or expand their services. Everyone I know in community media feels lucky just to have survived.

The Ofcom Broadcast Rules stifle debate and creative reposes to differences of community opinion because they have to be packaged in a ‘balanced’ approach, which for many community media groups is out of their reach given the legalistic framework and ramifications if you get it wrong.

This dereliction of duty by Ofcom to foster and support community media, would be pardonable if Ofcom actually gave some support to community media groups to meet the legal challenges of broadcasting. However, all that Ofcom offers is a PowerPoint presentation based on the complex legal documents they circulate to all broadcasters, regardless of size and status.

Community media emerged from lack of civic support as risk-averse. More often community media groups avoid any controversial topics, news or discussion. This has had a negative effect on civic discussion and compounds the democratic deficit and lack of engagement many people experience.

Four million people voted for UKIP at the last general election, and they have just one MP in parliament. Where do these voices get heard in our local communities? Why are political discussions only left to a few high-profile celebrity politicians on national, centralised stations?

Why aren’t the day-to-day issues of community life shared and expressed in community media forums?

The ideal of community media is for communities to speak to of themselves and to themselves, while also speaking with other communities. The challenge is to do this in a way that fosters understanding and tolerance through shared engagement.

This is a message that needs to be shouted from the rooftops by community media advocates, particularly as people try to make sense of the result of the referendum. We have a fantastic opportunity with community media to foster and support communities through open and challenging dialogue, as long as the framework of support is put in place by government.

The alternative is that community media advocates declare their independence and go off and do their own things, using the new social media technologies that are replacing mass media anyway.

I intend to give this matter some serious thought and I’m keen to hear what other people think about it. Is this a moment for community media to step-up and embrace the opportunity to help heal our divided communities by helping them to listen to and understand one another?

Nov 022014
 

I’ve come up to Liverpool to see my mum, and get a bit of culture – with or without the capital ‘C’. Every time I come back to Liverpool I encounter something that is invigorating and engaging. It’s far from a perfect place, but it’s got a lot more interesting in the last few years. We had lunch in the Everyman Bistro on Saturday, which was very nice, and I’m not surprised the design of the rebuilt Everyman has won awards. The café and the bistro feel very intimate and the food was simple, elegant and flavoursome. A simple menu that is done well rather than the over-extended trendy mixture of fusion foods that are done to death elsewhere.

001-DSCF4268On Saturday evening we spent a couple of hours in Sefton Park watching the Lantern Parade and the fireworks. It was great to see how enthusiastically these events are received in Liverpool, and the sense of involvement and participation that people give over to them. I’d heard that last years parade was engaging, so had high hopes for this year. Perhaps the timekeeping and the stewarding could be looked at, because there was a lot of people eager to see the performance, and it took a long time to get all the parade participants into the central arena, by which point many of the families with small kids had given up. A bit of narration would have helped as well. The PA was more than adequate, but encouraging people to spread around the arena would have taken some of the pressure off. But who doesn’t like fire and fireworks in the dark?

On a Sunday morning my mum always listens to BBC Radio Merseyside, which I detest, as Maurine Walsh presents her show like she is the Queen. However, we sat and chatted about why people like her? What she brings to the station and who she thinks she is talking to? And this got me thinking about the extent to which radio stations in Liverpool reflect the COOL agenda that is being developed in the city. COOL stands for Creative Organisations of Liverpool, and is group that brings together many of the established and the emerging creative projects, organisations and people across the city.

And so it struck me that with such as strong focus on creativity and performance in Liverpool, with music, literature, poetry, theatre, visual arts, film making, design and architecture, I don’t think Liverpool has any radio stations that do what ResonanceFM does in London, which is provide an independent and DIY focus for creative outlets and the arts using radio, with a continual discussion of arts, music, culture and performance for the generation of peoples who aren’t stereotyped by a reliance on nostalgia (BBC), football (Radio City) or double glazing sales (JuiceFM).

Walker Gallery

Walker Gallery

I know very little about Liverpool’s community radio stations so I’m probably wrong in thinking that the arts aren’t discussed on the radio in Liverpool, but it’s just that there isn’t a station that is dedicated to it. There may well be people using radio as a creative medium itself, rather than thinking it is just a stepping stone to other things, or a way to provide a warm bath of nostalgia and self-affirmation, so I need pointing in the right direction if anyone has any examples they are happy to share

I’d be very interested in starting a discussion about how community radio can be developed around this idea of talking a leading cultural role, rather than just providing an echo-chamber for a fixed community. I would wonder if talking to the organisations that lead with COOL, the Arts Council, the city council, the other universities and colleges, the music promoters, and so on, might expand the purpose of radio from the very narrow model that we have in the UK?

I interviewed Ed Baxter at ResonanceFM the other year, and he’s much more interesting than the usual suspects in the commercial or BBC radio sector. He hates the whole corporate and consumerist culture that UK radio is locked in. I have two favourite stations at the moment. Campus Radio Montpellier and L’Echo in Montpellier. Find them both on Tune-In Radio to see how different a student/community stations can be from the UK variety. This is radio that is allowed space to breath and lets the listener come to it, rather than being shouted at by a bunch of ego-maniacs who want to tell you how wonderful they are. They are my favourite stations at the moment – even though I don’t understand a word of French!

I’m always struck when each time I return to Liverpool now how much the atmosphere has changed since I left in the late 1980s, and how much more open people are to creative arts, storytelling, musical diversity and so on. With a great tradition of writing, poetry, performance, acting, musical innovation, and all the rest. Community radio with a purpose to foster diversity, creativity and participation in DIY aural/music cultures would get me excited. No charts, no formulas, no fixed schedules, no corporate missions-plans…. (haha, I’d get eaten alive…).

Oct 212013
 

Despite the rain this morning, the students for MEDS3108 Forms and Practices of Radio wandered away from the DMU campus over to Phoenix Arts for a coffee and a natter about the No Quarter Given reports they will be producing. It was good to sit and chat about the different arts and culture events that we are all interested in and would like to hear more about in the regular podcasts from the site. The next few weeks is going to be spent doing some background research and checking out some potential stories. So watch out for a regular update from the site.

Sep 142013
 

Radio is a resilient medium. That was the theme of this weeks Radio Research conference hosted by ECREA and the University of Sunderland. One of the running themes of the conference was the way that radio has the ability to tell stories through the use of words and the use of sounds alone. As Andrew Crissel noted in his keynote lecture, radio is verbal and intellectual – it is about ideas being brought into play.

Soundscapes and the audio drama were noted by many of the speakers as a crucial way of exploring ideas that let the listener fill-in many of the gaps that television and other forms of visual media normally fill with noise. Not the kind of noise that we associate with extraneous sound, but the noise of ideas, of intelligibility and clarity of focus. The think about radio is that it strips ideas back to basics. The word. The voice. Sounds.

Putting these ideas into practice have been audio and radio producers and creative auteurs who have been working in sound and exploring the space between our ears and behind our eyes in which ideas are born. Here’s a couple of examples that stood out and are well worth exploring:

WP_20130912_011Francesca Panetta works for The Guardian. She is a former BBC Radio producer, and is the leading creative light behind the Hackney Podcast series. Francesca’s recent soundscape for The Guardian’s Panorama of London will keep you occupied for hours.

Piers Plowright is an esteemed radio producer who is perhaps most famous for his approach to features and the use of sound and words to tell stories. Piers’ reflects on how some of the modern approaches to audio production and radio are stopping programme makers from letting people to tell their own stories. It is well worth listening to Piers interview on Radio Radio talk about how radio is a ‘meal’ and that each sound should be ‘succulent’, in that the listener should be able to taste each of the sounds.

Audio drama played a significant role in the conference, and one that was given specific attention was the BBC Audio Drama version of Metropolis. This is a reworked version of the famous silent movie, telling a dystopian story of oppression and terrorism. Produced by Toby Swift this is powerful rendition of the novel by Thea von Harbou that fits with the tradition of dystopian storytelling that radio drama does well, wether is is Huxly, Ballard or Orwell. You can download a copy if you search at CC Radio Archive.

Bugs & Beats & Beasts is a German soundscape and music cross-over that was produced in 1999 by Ammer & Console who are a collaborative team who have produced Radio Plays for over fifteen years. One of the distinct differences with the German approach to audio drama is the notion of the Radio Producer versus the Auter, in the sense that the Producer is regarded as something of a ‘fixer’ whereas the Auter is viewed as a more artistic and idealistic creative originator.

There was much more discussed during the days of the conference, it just wasn’t possible to get to it all, but these examples and samples are certainly a good starting point for more exploration.

Sep 132013
 
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Radio Researchers BBC BH Tour

Academic conferences are often expected to be dull affairs that leave one soporific. Nothing can be further from the truth than Radio Research 2013. The ECREA hosted conference organised by Prof Guy Starkey and the University of Sunderland, at their London campus, has been vibrant, absorbing and engaging.

In his keynote address Andrew Crissel reassured the attendees that radio has a strong future based on its focus on words and ideas, and despite all the pressure to ‘visualise’ radio.

It’s great to re-confirm why I became interested in radio in the first place and to be reminded that there is more to radio than just youth and popular radio. Reconnecting with other forms of radio, drama, features and reportage has been heartening and welcome.

So I’ll be heading back to Leicester with a renewed sense of vigour that radio is a rich and enriching area to work in.

Sep 052013
 

wpid-wpid-dscf3235-2013-01-20-14-29-206x300-2013-09-5-12-48.jpgOn what basis would I propose the development of an audio drama module at DMU? How would I explain to colleagues the potential benefits and the opportunities that audio drama represents? How would I explain this to academic colleagues, to potential students, to potential co-producers and to potential collaborators?

Normally in academic circumstances it would be necessary to note and account for the history and the general background of audio drama, to give something of an overview of the historical role and trends that have shaped what is now generally regarded as plays produced in sound. Simply calling this audio drama is in it self challenging, as this description is only a recent development. For the best part of eighty years, what is now known as electronically distributed dramatic sound work, using sound alone, was known as the radio play. So, the first thing that I might ask my colleagues to note, is that cultural production modes change, and audio drama would be a good demonstration of how an established cultural form is able to be re-situated within a different context as technology and social expectations change.

Perhaps the most effective starting point that I could approach this explanation from would be to describe the personal pleasure that I get from listening to audio drama, and to outline the psychological, intellectual and emotional satisfaction that can be gained more generally from using one’s imagination in a similar way. Using sound alone to build mental pictures of characters, their actions and the settings in which they operate, as it is relayed simply through sound, is a definite challenge. I would probably only be re-treading the well-worn notion that a radio play is best understood as the theatre-of-the-mind, and would therefore also only be expressing a popular truism by adding that radio plays are an engaging form of drama because the ‘pictures are better’.

If a contextual history of audio drama, or a semiotic and psychological examination of the listening process, are deemed academically adequate as a mode of study by my academic colleagues, I would probably then describe how the process of producing audio dramas has an intense and satisfying problem-solving component to it – both technically and dramatically (if the two can be separated?).

How would we depict and represent stories and ideas using sound alone? How would we integrate and make meaningful the assembled diverse collection of sound-elements so that they express a coherent narrative and tell a story? How would these sound-elements depict characters or situations? How would these sound elements demonstrate actions in which a story is carried? What would be the most basic constituent elements that we would use to structure our sound narrative? Can we subdivide the individual elements of sound? What role does the voice play, for instance, as a constituent element in sound drama? What are the markers that situate place and time in this dramatic form? The cliché of the ticking clock or the ringing bell is an analogue of time passing. We use stereotypes of this kind because we are familiar with them. The question that I might now be asking my colleagues, therefore, is how do we become unfamiliar with sound again? To what extent we can start to perceive the world afresh by decontextualizing or manipulating sound narratives?

At this point an analogy might be useful in assisting my colleagues in their perception of my argument. It is said that every time we look at a photograph we see the world anew. A photograph is a single moment that has been seen and perceived by the photographer, and arrested using film or digital imaging technology. It is a fresh and unique perspective. What, then, if we were able to do the same through the media of audio drama? What if we were able to re-present the world and the part we play in the world through a process of sound-design and aural performance alone?

Fundamentally, I would suggest to my colleagues, it is possible to establish that the dramaturgical phenomenon of audio drama is based on a focussed calculation and arrangement. That is, we can achieve dramatic meaning by the structuring and use of independent communicative elements – in this case sound alone – that allows us to think about the world in a distinct and provocative way. I would explain to my colleagues, at this point, that there is a concomitant process of technical development to be explored in the capture and reproduction of sound. A technical and creative process that is unique in the way that it is used to tell stories. Should we pursue the technical development of the recordings simply on the basis of expediency, I would ask? Or, would our aim be that of capturing the highest fidelity possible? To what extent would the technical process drive the outcomes of any audio drama production?

I would then ask my colleagues to spare some time to think about the technical process themselves and ask if they are too rigid? Would my colleagues be ready to push and experiment with the technical process in the same way that we might push and experiment with other parts of the creative process? To what extent would our mastery of the technical processes involved in producing audio drive the outcomes of any drama? Are we ready to challenge our expectations about drama that uses sound? Likewise, would we be able to build a convincing dramatic audio production without a comprehensive understanding of the technology we are working with? In sort, what can be achieved in using recording technology effectively for the purpose of producing audio drama? Ought the magic of hi-fi aural reproduction remain tightly sealed as a ‘black-box’? And, if this technology is limited, I would ask my colleagues, what are these limits determined by?

Moving beyond the technical my next question would relate to the performative. Can the same question of technical limits be asked of performance? How can an audio drama exceed and test the boundaries and capabilities of the performers involved? Would the actor and the director be able to extend themselves sufficiently to identify the appropriate mode of working (groove?) in which their performance has resonance? Is there sufficient scope for experimentation and extemporisation through the deployment of the voice alone? What happens to the rest of the body? Does audio drama offer the performer enough space for expression in the way that they are able to depict a response to situations, marshal character and respond to events and challenges? Is the dramatic process able to offer sufficient expression of reflection and internal comprehension in the sound-world depicted? After all, there is no look or gesture that can be resorted to as a shortcut.

The advantage of audio drama, I would explain to my colleagues, is that it can be produced using very limited resources. Audio dramas can be developed in circumstances that are entirely unrelated to the world being depicted. All that is needed is an ‘intimation’, or a ‘hint’. An evocation. Extensive staging is not required. So much can be left to the imagination of the listener that there is no need to exaggerate or to over-claim. True, spectacle is harder to perform, but then the opposite is also true – spectacle is easy to intimate because the staging requirements in an audio drama are so much more theatrical and improvisational (compared to film and television certainly).

For a writer, I would explain to my colleagues, there would be many advantages to be gained from learning to tell stories with sound alone. Learning the craft of telling stories that are deployed with only minimal and simple techniques – dialogue and narration, soliloquy and effects. These are often as far as the technique of audio drama can go in it’s present mainstream generic form. Avoiding excessive extemporisation and linking narrative progression with character interplay is a vital capability when producers seek to give audio dramas their shape. These requirements are free from the visual image, the subtitle, the flash-card, the gesture or the look. For dramatic convenience there has been a wholesale adoption of various shorthand motifs and theatrical devices, however, in the scripting of many audio dramas, I would explain to my colleagues, these motifs are simply conventions that once understood can be tested, subverted and undermined, if one so wishes.

I would then explain that the new techniques of distribution via the internet offer an increased opportunity to reshape the mediasphere and to experiment with the potential to take audio drama beyond the rigid expectations of broadcast radio, and into new forms of dramatic development. Because the distribution of these dramas would not be dependent on cultural conventions associated with demography-based broadcasting, for example the largely stylistically conservative output of BBC Radio 4, then new voices could be encouraged to develop their own formulations and experimentations of audio drama. The freedom that small groups of dramatists and producers could achieve, working independently, if encouraged and supported wisely, offers the possibility of new modes of expression opening a space that new voices can occupy and test new ideas.

This would bring me to my final point, and at this stage my colleagues may think that there is enough to be developed and thought through already. The key difference, I would hope that they have grasped, is that in thinking about audio drama in this way we would be opening-up and unfolding the otherwise restricted and closed world of audio drama production. Audio drama is too precious and important a cultural form for it to be limited and restricted within the cultural echelons of certain professional elites, or otherwise forgotten about as a mainstream cultural medium. Audio drama desperately needs new talent and new entrants who are excited and engaged participants in the production process, and who can leave behind the closed-circles of the establishment by inventing new dramatic contributions.

This new way of producing audio drama will be accessible to people who would never otherwise dream of getting involved in the making of a radio play. People who are otherwise on the margins of social and cultural life, and who do not otherwise have the esteem or the confidence to be able to participate in this process.  In getting involved in the production of audio dramas in this way, any participant does not have to reveal anything more than their voice, and thus they are free from the tyranny of visual representation that dominates and narrows our social idea of social and cultural success. The disembodied voice from beyond the screen or outside the mouth of the cave is a great leveller. This is not to say that the process of producing, writing and performing an audio drama is free from challenge, far from it. There is an inherent challenge and creative risk merely in asking people to think aurally in a visually dominant world.

Asking people with no prior experience to make or performing an audio drama depends on their willingness to engage with the stripping-down sense of cultural expectation that I believe goes along with audio drama. Put simply, audio drama gives us an opportunity to make new sense of what we have known all along. Which is another way of saying that we must strive continually for a reordering of meaning in our lives. In it’s most basic for we would examine how stories are expressed and made to be meaningful. Audio dramas, it could be said, are lacking in the expansive scope of the novel or of movies, they do, however, resonate equally as widely, in my view, with any other dramatic and creative cultural form, and as such should be given our full attention.

Audio drama has great potential for insight, drama and heartfelt emotions. The point, however, is to democratise the process of producing them. To encourage new voices who are passionate about making, sharing and discussing stories made in sound. This is what I would explain to my colleagues in the first instance. There is more to discuss, debate and elaborate, and the mapping process would be far from easy, but this would be the start of a fulfilling conversation and the expression of preliminary thinking. I would hope my colleagues would see the potential as well.

Sep 042013
 

wpid-wpid-DSCF3144-2013-01-3-15-10-206x300-2013-09-4-12-52.jpgWe live in a world of images and signs. We are experts in imageology. These signs are both visual and aural. Our judgements take the form of readings and assessments between semiological differences that are measured in minutiae, though to the outsider these differences are negligible.

The world of appearances prefigures and depends on the surface and its corresponding gaze. These surface images have no depth. They are a mask. They depend on the performance of the interlocutor to make them feel authentic within a corresponding economy of signification. It is performance that contextualises the sign.

Meanings are determined and derived within a system of meanings, an economy of signs, a grammatology of performance.

The aural sign is less easily divisible than the visual sign. Aurality does not have the same degree of mimeticism, though like all media, it can be listed by constituent physiological components. The aural sign is tempered with significance that can only be comprehended in the flow of aural exchange and environment in which it is produced. The aural sign would be alien if exposed to abstraction and de-contextualisation.

Aural significance is achieved in time. Aurality cannot exist without time as it is modulated in flows of energy that sustain and decay. Simply put, audio is a primary medium of exchange and reproduction; a medium that is fluid and ever present (silence being impossible).

Our world provides a rich, constant flow of sound that can only be manipulated through the instigation of control mechanisms that would exclude the extraneous and the impromptu. Mechanical mechanisms for reproducing sound are invested with the capability to isolate and to encapsulate, but never to extract.

All is babble and noise unless otherwise determined through a process of generation, addition and blending.

We live within a series of sound-worlds. These worlds are imbued with many complex systems of meaning. Once mechanically reproduced these systems of meaning are made strange and are reborn as the soundscape of another planet – a planet that is similar and from which it draws resonance, but which can never be reproduced in its performance. Much like the map is not the territory.

Past sounds are only something that can be evoked, hinted at or intimated. Past sounds can never be given complete fidelity. Those who master the art of reproduction know that fidelity goes beyond the performance and is transformed by the process of listening.

The attentive ear is an accomplishment that depends on investment and practice. In a world of inattention we are too often satisfied with the instantly gratifying. Anything that takes time to experience and comprehend, and which depends on the physicality of listening rather than simply hearing, becomes culturally insignificant.

Intimation is much more difficult to grasp than aggrandisement. Because we can hear does not mean that we should talk.

The addition of complex digital techniques of reproduction, emulation and synthesis have compounded the urge to experiment with sounds. The mastering of technique, though, is often mistaken for the constitution of meaning. Because we can does not mean that we ought.

Simply employing a reproductive technique does not mean that we will find some significance in the system of meanings. Indeed, the more that we reproduce – or emulate or simulate – the less significant it becomes.

The urge to mass-produce, and to understand only in the context of mass production, is a tyranny. The consumerist mode is only one form of understanding and thinking about the world. It is not the only means of thinking or system of meaning. Because we can consume does not mean that we ought to consume.

Reaching beyond the consumer ideal, into parallel worlds of significance, those states of thinking and being that cannot be exchanged or officially sanctioned in the marketplace or as part of a the civic process of aggrandisement, is an act of resistance.

A resistant act that is emotionally discordant with the majority and which leaves the perpetrator beyond the ebb-and-flow of prosaic normalisation – the tyranny of the normal!

It takes a genuine act of performance to articulate a distillation of voices and sounds. It takes a concentrated act of will to articulate soundscapes (narrative or other), in the employment of offering or evoking that which is meaningful.

It is a wilful act of resistance to engage with sound through performance and through technique alone. Sound is the constant sense, and so it is the forgotten medium.

Sound is ever-present and the world from which we are reluctant to escape. Sound is either a torture or an expedient. We have developed strategies to manage the contingencies of our sound world, both in order to survive and in communicate – either biologically or culturally.

The audiotheque is simply a response to the problem of establishing a equilibrium in a world of sonic-disequilibrium. The audiotheque lacks pre-determination. It is a place perhaps physical, perhaps virtual, often indeterminate, in which meaning making is encouraged beyond the transactional and beyond the formulaic – though it may deploy both in it’s attempts to find equilibrium.

The audiotheque is a collection, a place of intersections. It is both the recorded and the performed. It is both discursive and expositionary. The audiotheque makes no claims to expertise or unique perspectives, only that it is an experiment, an unfolding through performance in a search for meaning.

Jan 202013
 
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Matthew Performing in the Studio

Yesterday was the first Audiotheque workshop for 2013, where a group of audio drama enthusiasts met up, despite the snow, to work in the De Montfort University audio recording studios and write, perform and record some short dramas. As this was the second workshop day that we’d run, we had a stronger sense of what we had to do, and so we could introduce the newbies to the pleasure of making audio drama much more quickly.

We started off by breaking into small teams, about half of the group are creative writers and half are media or audio production students. The creative writers are great. They have the ability to develop ideas and get them down on paper without any prevarication or procrastination. To help the creative process along I gave each team two randomly generated words from an app on my phone, then each were dealt an Oblique Strategy from another app on my phone, such as: ‘unsaid’ ‘brother’ and “faced with a choice do both”.

Once we had started to form an idea of the situations and the setting of the dramas, it was possible to hunt out and record some sound effects. Ross Clement did his usual sterling job wandering around the Queens Building with his portable audio recorded collecting various sounds, including the noise of the toilets to simulate a locker room, the sound of bashing metal cabinets to simulate the sound of a car crash, and background room sounds to help layer the mix.

Jurgis, Max and Ross took control of the recording studios. It’s a privilege to be working in such a well resourced set of studios. The quality of the recordings that we can capture is really outstanding. It’s great practice for the audio reduction students to be working against a tight deadline and to be forced to make decisions about mixing and editing in a short space of time. As my colleague Andrew Clay is fond of saying, “this is not about storing knowledge, but using it”.

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Jurgis Setting up the Desk

The next stage was to get in the studio and record the scripts. This is where the real challenge comes in, because I’m certainly no performer or frustrated actor, so we are totally dependent on the people who turn-up and their performance abilities. Luckily we had some very engaged and expressive performers with us on the day. The proof is in the final pieces that have been posted. It’s very important to learn that the impact and resonance for an audio drama doesn’t come from the technology or the studios, but from the person who is able to dramatically perform the words that have been written on the page.

The mix can supplement the performance and give it more impact, if the edit is handled wisely. Too much compression or over-use of effects can detract from the believability of the performance. Knowing when to pull-back on fantasy and when to emphasise reality can only be achieved by careful listening.

We managed to all get together at the end of the day and listen to each groups work. There is some strong work here that deals with some pretty demanding and compelling dramatic issues. I can’t wait to put together another workshop. We might go lo-fi in the next one, and certainly getting away from the studios seems like a potentially invigorating opportunity. Have a listen and tell us what you think by leaving us a message at https://www.facebook.com/audiotheque

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Max & Douglas Getting in to Character

Nov 182012
 
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Getting Ready in the Studio

Audio drama has a huge scope for creative development and presents many challenges both in terms of creative writing, performance and audio production. Yesterday we held the first of the De Montfort University Audiotheque Workshops, where a small group of audio drama enthusiasts got together to create some mini-dramas over the course of the day.

The Audiotheque project has been running for a couple of years now, and it’s zigzagged a bit in terms of it’s development. We’ve tended to move in sudden bursts and stops. This is one of our more active periods, which I’m hoping will be sustained and allows us to establish a base where we have a regular crew of people producing independent audio dramas.

I organised the workshop via Facebook, with the help of colleagues at DMU, Ross Clement and Jonathan Taylor. Ross is an audio and multimedia whizz, and Jonathan is a creative writing champion. Between us we managed to get fifteen people to turn up on a Saturday morning to take part in the workshop. We had audio production, drama and creative writing students all working together to produce a short drama.

To get things started, after tea and biscuits, we worked out our ideas. This is always the hardest part, because you are starting from a blank sheet of paper. To help kick-start the ideas I downloaded a couple of apps to my phone. WordDot is a random word generator, and Oblique Strategies is a technique used by Brian Eno when he’s producing bands to help move them one. These helped us set a frame of reference for the stories that would be conceived, which where then put to a setting derived from a photograph shared by the writing teams from their phones. The range and variation of the stories was really interesting, from a car crash to a walk in the mountains, and from a business meal to a fairy-tale with a wooden boy.

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Recording Sessions Under Way

It took us most of the morning to get the ideas defined and scripted, so we had a working lunch. Then we moved into the recording studios, which where ably run by Jurgis Masilionis. This is the fun part, though it had Jurgis working flat out to quickly capture the sessions, but he rose to the challenge admirably. We got a bit perfectionist at one point, when it would have been better to have run through the performances quickly. We learnt that the performance is best done in one take, that way the performance has more energy and there is less to do afterwards in terms of adding sound effects.

Ross was brilliant at collecting sound effects, and he stretched every sinew of his imagination to find sounds that supported the actions and the interactions of the characters. Padding a jacket as a substitute for footsteps on a mountain worked wonders. Adding the noise of a glass of wine being pored and drunk, added the punctuation that moved the story from being something that is merely being talked through by the characters to something that is lived and experienced.

At the end of the day we were all pretty exhausted. We didn’t hit our target of getting the pieces on to the Audiotheque site in the same day, but there are promises that they will be edited, mixed and posted to the site very soon.

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Jurgis Setting Up the Studio

We are going to run another workshop day in January, but in the meantime we are going to try and produce and share some simple dramas made on mobile phones and recorded in impromptu places, like cafes and shopping centres. Keep an eye on the Audiotheque site and listen out as more of the dramas are posted up.

Oct 242012
 
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Mark Lisle – Produced DemonFM’s Oxjam Sessions

Saturday 20th October was the day when Leicester went live music crazy. Oxjam is the annual national music festival designed to raise funds and awareness for Oxfam and their campaigns to fund essential services in countries and communities who are faced with extreme deprivation and poverty. Leicester’s Oxjam contribution was a takeover of the cities Cultural Quarter, over fourteen venues and two hundred bands and performers. This is turning into a monumental event for Leicester and showcased the immense amount of talent in the city and the passions there is for live music.

DemonFM played it’s part by running the stage at Thread and broadcasting live for the day. Twelve bands performing live and broadcast to Leicester is no easy thing to do. There’s a lot of organisation and planning that has to go in to getting people and equipment int he right places at the right time, being informed and saying the right things, while also having a good sense of fun and ensuring that the listener at home gets a full sense of what the event is about.

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Jess & Caz Producing DemonFM’s On-Air Oxjam Content

Originally the DemonFM volunteers wanted to broadcast from 1pm to 5pm, but it soon became apparent that more could be achieved. Mark Lisle, who had taken the helm for organising the event was unruffled by the many twists and turns. He was well supported by Jess Temby and Caz Harby who provided support and back-up for the broadcast, Among the presenters for the day Chris Longman and Dan Ansell did stirling work in keeping the listeners engaged with the flow of the day. With Aaron, Sam and Danni working the desk and the stage throughout the day and ensuring that the bands started and finished on time.

I only intended to hang around for a couple of hours, but the whole event was such a buzz that I ended-up lugging equipment back into the De Montfort University studios well past midnight. It had been a long day for the team, and they looked shattered, and yet the elation at having succeeded in producing such a memorable outside broadcast was tangible. I can’t wait for the next OB to take place.