Radio Soundscapes

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.

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