Leaf Catching ~ Magnus Genioso
Close the eyes, listen to Magnus Genioso’s river walk. Sound shapes our sense of place, he says, defines our environment. Through the independent podcast, Where@bouts, his collaborative cohorts remix sounds to further emplace, to listen to its beauty even if (or because) it’s a protest rally.
The fifth series of Where@bouts centered on the piece “Yasmeen’s Rally.” Less talking, fewer explanations. This is ‘something else,’ explains Magnus, of a recent anti-Trump protest.
Magnus Genioso podcasts collectively at Mad Manor via Where@bouts. Explore the entire “Yasmeen’s Rally” series/tracks.
Don’t forget to take off your headphones …
Sound Is the Most Sound Medium ~ Jess Shane + Michelle Macklem
Visual culture dominates the North American worldview. As a result, there’s a tendency to talk about radio as “a visual medium” (see discussions via Transom, Radiolab and Third Coast Re:sound— here, here, here, here and here).
This extends to the critical language we producers use to describe the work we do. Radio suffers from both a cinema and journalism hangover. It’s time to reject the notion that the primary purpose of sound is to create ‘movies in our heads.’ Instead, we must consider how we can harness the unique qualities of sound that visual mediums lack. Sound is immersive, spatial, temporal, emotional and transportative. To advance this medium, we should think about how we can make these unique sonic properties sing.
We often think in terms of reporting ethics instead of documentary ethics and aesthetics, even when we’re representing personal truths rather than facts and figures. But as the medium grows and evolves, and is increasingly being used as an artistic documentary medium, we need to broaden our voice by looking to other sonic mediums as inspiration.
Sound is spatial
Space doesn’t have to be a black canvas upon which a story plays out; it can be a crucial part of the story. How can changing how we think about sonic space shift how we record, edit, and mix our programs?
One place to start is to consider letting listeners hear the space more. We don’t need to over-explain a scene if the listener is allowed to spend more time in the space of the recording. Let the background noise, sometimes used only as roomtone, take centre stage. Let the tape play longer than is necessary to get the facts across to let the poetics of the space come through. Beyond the who what why, there is a deep where that can be captured through field recordings. Spend more time recording and foregrounding some of the sounds of the environment.
This extends to how we often consider studios as the home base for interviews. But the studio isn’t a blank canvas either – the studio is stacked with power dynamics. Often, people sound very different in spaces where they feel comfortable. Brainstorm with your interview subject all the places and sounds you can record. Try recording with people in their homes, on a walk, in their neighborhood. Get the heck out of the studio and into the world where life happens!
Janet Cardiff, The Murder of Crows, mixed-media installation, images above and below, 2008
Sound is immersive
Sound isn’t visual. Sound places the listener in a multidimensional space, more akin to installation than watching a screen. Increasingly, producers can gain access to tools that can help create this spatial experience with the work you create.
Beyond stereo recordings, innovations in recording technology mean that we can record space and people interacting in space. We can create distance and emotional space. In Marvel’s audio fiction podcast Wolverine: The Long Night, producers drew blocking maps to think about how best to immerse listeners spatially within the world of the story.
When you go into the field, try preparing a ‘sound question line’, a checklist for sounds you want to capture. What happens when you only work with the sounds you record in the field? What can placing this limitation do to your produced work?
Sound is present
When we seek to create movies in our listeners’ heads, we are in some ways encouraging them to turn away from the world and create new worlds internally. As much as we’d like to believe that listeners are sitting down and concentrating solely on our content, the reality is that most listeners are listening on commutes or while doing the dishes.
We’d like to believe that this is one of audio’s great strengths. Have you ever noticed that when you’re listening to an story in sound, your eyes start to wander? You start mapping the story in your head onto the space around you or observing your current space more closely. There are few other mediums that we can take with us into the world in this way. If we let them, stories told in sound can ground us in our present environment.
On the producer side of things, a lot of us have edited stories completely based on transcripts. Try listening to your raw tape without taking notes or reading transcripts. What do you remember most vividly when you focus solely on the voice and sounds of the tape? Molly Webster from Radiolab suggests listening to your raw tape under your desk. Emily Botein and Anna Sale suggest going for a walk and listening to your raw tape.
As audio makers, it’s useful to make conscious efforts to listen to the sounds we interact with every day but haven’t been noticing. What does being on the bus sound like? What does walking down the street sound like? What does a tree sound like and how does it impact your relationship with it? How far away can your ears reach, and how does listening in this way change your experience of the present?
To wrap it up…
Sound is a visual medium, but to leave it there is an oversight. It is through engagement with diverse sonic mediums that we can push radio and podcasting to be considered as their own groundbreaking form; one that other mediums want to borrow from.
Some places to start looking and thinking (with some links to get you started):
● Music (think pop music production and sample based music, everything from Taylor Swift to Kendrick Lamar; it uses really obvious production techniques)
Stop thinking about podcasts as movies in your head. Sound brings sensations, spaces, and the perspectives of others into our heads; tones that make our skin crawl or tickle, situations and scoring that move us, dynamic range shifts that wake up our bodies. We want to inspire listeners not only to imagine new worlds, but invoke a curiosity to engage with the world present around them in a new light. Don’t forget to take off your headphones. Be in the world. If we want to produce continually innovative work, podcasts should not be our main sonic source of inspiration. There’s a whole world of noise, start tuning your ears to it.
Sound artists Jess Shane and Michelle Macklem produce podcasts for the CBC in Toronto and independently, as Constellations. Visit their growing compendium of sound artists making experimental work that floats beyond the borders of radio and podcasting.