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.

Jul 222012
 
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BBC Radio Four’s From Russia With Love

The latest adaptation for radio of Ian Flemming’s From Russia With Love, pits James Bond against some pretty imbecilic Russian hoods, as they attempt to undermine MI6 by brining down and trapping Bond in a sex and murder scandal. While Ian Flemming’s fantasy creation of James Bond isn’t a patch on the detailed realism and depth of John Le Carre, and his chief protagonist George Smiley, Bond is still, after all this time, full of brutish charm and a blasé attitude to violence, murder and misogyny.

This third adaptation of a Bond story for BBC Radio Four by Jarvis & Ayres, is superbly dramatised for audio and handsomely cast. While there is some sense of hamming-it-up, it’s clear that the cast relished the chance to perform these roles and tell this story. There is a clear need to achieve a balance between performance, extemporisation and action in the adaptation of a Bond story. In cinematic adaptations the over-blow spectacle rules. In an audio adaptation the director and cast have to achieve a heightened sense of narrative intimacy or danger in the dialogue. This adaptation has a great sense of interaction between some truly larger than life characters.

It’s a pity that Bond is such a shallow character and that his brains don’t kick-in earlier, enabling him to follow some well voiced suspicions that Tatiana might be a double agent. The chances of Bond being led into such a shallow and obvious honey-trap seem obvious. Perhaps this seems more obvious now when we are more familiar with the levels of corruption and destruction wrought by the security services, but which Flemming couldn’t imagine when he was writing in the mid 1950s?

It takes Kerim, Bond’s minder in Istanbul, to voice these fears. Flemming’s story only gives a hint of the risk and associated violence that would be wrought on the heads of a failed agent in the field. It is left to Kerim to reflect on Bond’s willingness to be led by his more physical, sexual urges. This is a world of British gentlemen spies who can’t imagine double bluffs and double agents, and in which the truth of a woman only comes out when she is being made love to in bed.

Directed by Martin Jarvis, who also narrates the story, and adapted by Archie Scottney, there is just enough control and restraint to hint at some pretty terrifying consequences for the players involved in this game. Indeed, Scottney in his well balanced script, draws direct references to chess and gaming, with a vivid analogy of the balanced powers being like a game of billiards – all balls in motion and pre-set rules of engagement. Flemming’s story, however, feels like a warm-up for a much more complex and larger scale game that will carry on once this local skirmish is over – as is pointed out, beyond the confines of the ‘billiard table’.

Bringing this to life is a brilliant cast of performers. Tim Pigott-Smith is larger than life as Kerim, while Eileen Atkins is nothing but viciousness personified. Toby Stephens brings his calm assurance and charm to Bond, who after all is actually a bit thick and is dependent on his quick reactions, the strength of his fist and a lack of scruples with a gun. Jarvis brings this world to life with an unobtrusive and fluid sense of sound design, and while obvious echoes of the Bond theme of the movies is never far away, the world and the story are immersive and very entertaining.

Jan 312012
 
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Audiotheque Logo 2012

It’s been just over four years since Audiotheque was born as an online space for audio drama enthusiasts and audio content producers to share and develop ideas about audio drama in an increasingly multimedia and social online world. Simultaneously riding waves of optimism and frustration, the Audiotheque project has turned into something of a labour of love for all involved. As the IT platforms supporting the website have creaked and strained at the seams, and as the teams expectations of what can be achieved have evolved, it seems that the challenge of developing a media site for innovative and free-thinking audio drama, while simultaneously building a social media community, is not an easy one. Audiotheque has been through an interesting and prolonged gestation, to say the least.

Sparked by an idea between Connor Lenon (then of BBC Radio Drama) and Rob Watson (De Montfort University), the aspiration of the site has been to mark out a space where creative audio producers, writers and performers can exchange ideas about audio drama and give visitors to the site a chance to listen to some exciting, innovative and up-front audio drama production – the one essential caveat being that they are short, only a couple of minutes long. Largely produced by non-professionals, Audiotheque has sought to define itself through independent production, emerging writing and non-professional story telling. Often exploiting ready-to-hand recording techniques, the aim has been to come up with innovative and interesting narratives in the form of sonic drama. Bedroom producers are as welcome to Audiotheque as professional producers.

When we first talked about the Audiotheque concept with BBC Radio Drama’s Jeremy Mortimer, who is a Senior Executive Producer for Radio Drama, and the guiding hand behind BBC Radio Four’s Plantagenet series (and more recently the adaptation of Charles Darwin’s A Tale of Two Cities). Our discussions focussed on the likely shift of the phrase ‘radio drama’. How could we continue to talk about ‘radio drama’ in an online world? How would the move to online programming progress, and what would be the impact of the (then) to be introduced BBC iPlayer on the consumption of radio drama? How would the audience for broadcast radio drama, built by the BBC across their national and international radio networks, take to this new way of listening to audio drama? Would the BBC’s radio drama audience take to podcasts, streaming and listening through their digital television? Or listening on their mobile phones, or what we now call smart phones? Jeremy has been steadfast, patient and consistent supporter of the Audiotheque experiment, as we’ve lurched from one approach to another, and struggled to give shape to Audiotheque against the backdrop of a whole series of wider changes in online media consumption and audience perceptions.

It is a testament to the resilience of this initial discussion that went on more widely at the BBC however, that the inaugural BBC Audio Drama Awards was not called the ‘BB Radio Drama Awards’, and recognised innovation and online audio drama as an equal with broadcast drama. Things have definitely moved on.

More recent progress with Audiotheque, however, has been somewhat frustrating for all involved, as we’ve struggled to secure a stable foundation for the website. Plagued by spam and a rather dodgy server, the site ended up being inoperative for long periods of time. Momentum was lost and the chance to interact and listen to the many excellent dramas that had been posted to the site was erratic. Combined with some poor web design on my part (not being a web developer but a bodger), the whole thing was in danger of fading away or falling through the cracks of the many other jobs that we are otherwise paid to do. But lets wind-forward to August 2011, and enter David Watts, who describes himself as a ‘web guy’ for the Faculty of Technology at De Montfort University. David has been able to renew and rebuild the site, put it on a more stable platform and give a lot of thought to simplifying the user experience of the site and the way that it integrates with other social media platforms.

The Audiotheque site, for those who are interested, runs on Drupal 7, which is an open source content management system used by the White House no-less. Drupal allows for pre-programmed modular components to be added to the site and extend it’s functionality. Drupal is supported by a network of developers and programmers across the world. It’s an adaptable platform, but it needs some degree of coding skill in php programming and systems management in order to make it function effectively. And even though Audiotheque is hosted in the Faculty of Technology at De Montfort University, the site has received only ad-hoc support – very welcome support – but ad-hoc nonetheless. The trick at this point, therefore, is to figure out how we can now make this ongoing support more embedded, resilient and amplified.

Simultaneous to this technical challenge has been the more fundamental challenge of bridging mindsets. Those with a passion for creative audio drama on the one side, and those with a passion for software and web applications development on the other side, are not easy to bring together. Computer gaming design is probably a field that has had much more success in this area, and made much faster progress. Probably because there is a more defined economic model at work. The perception is that audio drama isn’t a multi-billion pound global commercial industry that sucks in creative talent, but is a rather sedate and at times mature specialist interest that sits more easily with people who read the Daily Mail, who are obsessed with classic literature, and who have been to university. I’m cynically caricaturing, but it’s safe to say that radio drama doesn’t have a hip, young, alternative, sub- and counter-cultural profile. That said, it would be very interesting to put a value to the market for audio drama, and see how much audio drama is actually worth to the UK economy. And this is before mentioning the work that companies like Big Finish undertake with their science fiction and fantasy audio drama series, that are mainly sold online, but are also broadcast as commissions by BBC Radio Four Extra.

The computer games industry can probably offer some useful success models in our search to develop Audiotheque, as the bridge between storytelling and computing has becomes a more integral component of the process of games design in recent years. And indeed, story telling is the beating heart of what audio drama is seeking to achieve. Through voice and through sound we have always told stories. The aural tradition is embedded in our basic cultural make-up, and even possibly our evolutionary make-up.

So how come it is hard to get young people to listen to audio drama? What is it about the way that we consume modern media that leaves little space for younger audiences to get into a mental landscape of sound based story telling? Why is the picture or image so dominant? Why has online music culture exploded on the internet, but audio drama has not? Why do video production sharing sites dominate the creative online mediascape, while audio drama is seemingly confined to the margins? Why doesn’t audio drama have the same allure or resonance? It did once, when radio was the dominant broadcast medium of the twentieth century, so why have we not seen a radical explosion of audio drama production as the tools of recording sound have been democratised and mass produced, and the ability to share audio content has exploded?

Is it something inherent in the stories that we are generally telling in audio drama communities? Is it something to do with the listening skills of younger audiences? Is it something to do with the platforms on which audio dramas are shared and promoted? Is it something to do with the voices that support and promote audio drama? Is it because audio drama requires a foregrounded mental attitude which doesn’t lend itself well with mental multi-tasking? I’m making some very general assumptions that these issues are not being tackled, but in our search for the essential spark that will light the flame of a re-kindled interest in audio drama, the search goes on.

To some extent, it’s obvious to me now that the best way to develop Audiotheque is to do it in a way that appeals to the people who are most closely involved with the project. If the site and be developed and managed in a way that pleases those most committed to investing time in it, then it stands some chance of attracting other people who might share a similar outlook, worldview or sense of their own limitation/endless possibilities?

So, here’s a simple list of things that need to be discussed and acted on as we develop Audiotheque. This isn’t a closed list, but a prompt for further discussion, debate and orientation:

Development Issues With Audiotheque Site:

Credibility with audio production industry?

Sounding-board for willing and motivated contributors?

Needs editor and editorial strategy?

Needs functionality and usability strategy?

Needs social media strategy?

All about CONTENT?

Audio Posts — Articles — News — Features — Contributors — Blogs?

Travels in audiology….

More than a ‘school’ or ‘training platform’?

what models are appealing – Paris Review? Oki-Net?

Gathering and circulating stories using audio drama?

Articles about:

Audio Drama Awards / Who are the cool audio drama producers outside of the BBC?
How does the Computer Games Industry align with the audio drama community?

Take an approach of an underground fashion magazine / subculture?

Looks for a design competence?

‘Free Thinking, Open Source, Audio Drama’

Audiotheque is a place where creative ideas are not restricted by the company or organisation that you work for?

Audiotheque goes beyond working for a brief?

Individuals can be creative for themselves?

Audiotheque is non-proprietorial?

We like to remix, reuse and mash-up material – giving it’s proper attribution for things that we share?

Sharing ideas and leading off other people’s ideas?

Telling stories with audio?

What is the transformative story behind Audiotheque?

What is the role of the editor?

Does the editor support the people who are going to be telling their stories? Does the editor need to be telling stories themselves?

What’s the relationship between Motivation and Guidance?

Interview people about telling stories for audio drama?

Site issues:

Play button for images?
Subtitle on site?
Navigation by lists, type of content, producer & organisation?

Join us online:

Website: www.audiotheque.co.uk

Facebook: www.facebook.com/

Twitter: @audiotheque

Sep 152011
 

Audiotheque – Audio Drama Content Development Project Draft Project Brief:

To produce a series of audio drama podcasts for the Audiotheque website.

Number of Students Needed: Up to Four Content Developers.

Outline: www.audiotheque.co.uk is a collaborative project between De Montfort University and BBC Radio Drama. The aim of the project is to introduce a new generation of listeners to audio drama.

Audiotheque aims to act as an online social media hub for collaboration, discussion and comment about audio drama, allowing people to share and distribute their work, and to experiment with new forms of audio drama.

The aim of the site is twofold:

• To enable new producers of audio drama content to collaborate online.

• To enable non-traditional audiences to access audio drama.

What is Expected from Each Student: Audio content producers will be asked to run collaborative projects that produce a series of short-form audio dramas that will be presented on the Audiotheque website. Content producers will be expected to produce work that is of high quality, innovative and creative in the use of audio, in the sound design techniques deployed, and in the way that it helps to introduce new creative talent to the process of creating audio drama.

To What Standard will the Work be Produced: Content producers are expected to work to a high professional standard, producing audio content that stands with the professionally produced content on the website. Producers will be expected to represent De Montfort University in its capacity as an official partner of BBC Radio Drama. BBC Radio Drama has high expectations about the standard of work that is submitted to the Audiotheque website, as this will be used to promote the project to an international audience of drama producers, journalists, students and members of the public.

What is the Time Frame: All production work to be completed by Easter 2012.

What Skills are Required: An ability to manage complex projects. An ability to work as part of a team. An ability to overcome significant audio technical and production issues. An ability to talk with writers, performers and members of the public. An ability to liaise with representatives of official organisations, sponsors, the festival, agents and other supporting bodies. An ability to write-up technical and editorial production plans and reports in detail.

A positive outcome may result in a supportive statement from a senior BBC representative, and contacts within the BBC Radio Drama team.

To find out more information please contact Rob Watson by email rwatson@dmu.ac.uk or phone 07817 720 688

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