Radio without scaffolding
From the vantage of 25 years, it’s hard to fathom a national radio network offering its airwaves to the glottal toccatas and ear arias of Christof Migone’s Hole in the Head. His melding of art and media was extremely mischievous and relevant to the scope of buttoned-down radio—then and today.
Migone’s work found its way in the 1990s to progressive NPR affiliates in the States and also to many live radioesque performance spaces. It’s the scaffold-bolstered media platform airing his experiments that seems like a relic to our ears today. Is it, actually? Waves of experiments have always existed alongside ‘news’—long before the DIY internet and chance, self-curated RSS feeds came along.
Radio, here, refers to an action rather than an instrument; radio as a particular manifestation of the act: to radiate. Radio is the loop of a collapsing tree, endlessly emanating static. Whether someone listens is inconsequential to the transmitter. —Christof Migone, 1992
Consider Migone’s conditions for such modernism as a hearkening back to early 20th-century aesthetic enactments. But as he sat at the other end of the century, at the precipice of the internet age, his experiment augurs podcasting’s genius potential today. His manifesto in another project, Radio Naked, impelled the programmer to dispense (or at least question) all of the conventions and expectations of what radio—and now podcasting—should sound like.
These were fun engagements for maker and listener, and perhaps even the gatekeepers. We can’t ignore these legacies. They are the framework for a contemporary conversation around what tributaries podcasting meanders down or in some cases away from all the rushing like a roiling body of water towards some stylistic, data-driven ‘end.’ Over the ballasts anchoring the dam, practitioners’ missives come careening and splashing and overflowing, overwhelming the conventions we’ve come to expect of, particularly, narrative-based, storytelling podcasting, now more than a decade in.
Radio Contortions: A Dialogue
Last year, Earlid hosted Radio’s Art to expand dialogue of the many confluences of terrestrial broadcast artistry amid podcasting’s churning fervor. No one thing was concretized in this swirling. Contributors merrily pointed towards the interlacing of media and its coiling tendrils.
This year, eight experimenters engaged in audio creation and, more diversely, in the podcasting medium, chime in. Their experiences flow along a continuum of curator-collectors; creative interviewers; improv composers—readily offering platforms for discussing artistic practice. Most are engaged in narrative artistry, sometimes injecting fiction into documentary-like shapes and a predilection towards privileging sound over voice.
For newcomers the term “podcast” doesn’t exactly evoke a sense that you’ll encounter a diversity of form, if anything it hints at just a few limited formats. — Adriene Lilly, Long Live the New Sound
Submersing for a year in the hyper-regional flows of improv sound artists in Europe is one approach (That Tuesday); and, just this month, another takes to the open-platform, sprouting an ‘anti-podcast’ RSS feed—the newest incarnation to build without much scaffolding, Long Live the New Sound.
Similarly, every two weeks, Constellations invites curious listeners to keep their ‘starry’ ears open; they feature a fortnightly ‘frequency’ of sounds upon spaces to conjure a place. And alongside the ‘mixtape’ journalism of projects like The White Whale, remix episodes of Where@bouts, and Love and Radio‘s quirky interviews, sits Lily Sloane’s A Therapist Walks into a Bar, where she, too, offers periodic ‘series,’ revisiting themes such as what ghosts mean for our unconscious lives and, more connected to our waking world, why protesters need a therapeutic strategy.
For each, there’s a radioesque signal, albeit of the very 21st-century kind. Never out of range is the transmission calculus of radio—of sound itself—as a grounding and churning of the aesthetic circuit.
Scaffolding may be precarious
There’s an immense freedom in the so-called loss of the gatekeeper. But what about the scaffolding that buttresses these built constructions—whether launched more than a decade ago or more recently?
Some of these podcasters solicit donations, but most support themselves in day jobs, often in public radio. At least one has a more robust support via the U.S. podcast network, Radiotopia, bolstered with ad sales and a paid staff. The producer of Love + Radio questions how podcasters today could readily take more risks, though he’s cognizant of how risks impact his own aesthetics, his audience, his scaffolding.
Thinking around podcasting in less binary ways—regarding ‘listenability’ or even financial support—yields a push towards the intersections between radio and podcasting. Much of the thinking could veer off-course, towards the mystical, as some of these contributors here suggest. Series of linked episodes are not cliff-hanger-ready. Instead, they work more like an open door. Even if a more ‘conventional’ style is at play, the arrival of it through surprise returns, thematically or stylistically, throughout a podcast’s ‘season’ can ignite curiosity.
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.’ —Jess Shane + Michelle Macklem, Constellations
What do these podcasts demand of their listeners? Depth, for one. A commitment to expand their conception of both narrative and musicality. Finally, perhaps more than a quick download and dismissal if it doesn’t jive with the conventions of storytelling, documentary, even sound-art podcasting.
A Century of Static
Podcasting is built out of a referent, it’s constantly trying to justify its existence by other means, rather than simply being. —Garrett Tiedemann, The White Whale
Creators in today’s landscape might find it fruitful to ‘listen’ to what came before—especially in the analogue medium of radio itself. Echoes of early practitioners can be discerned even if recording gear limited the archival process; even if the one-pass glory days of radio languish behind us.
One can, at least, imagine; we can think we hear something when we don’t.
17 February 1913: This date has been inscribed as mythical in the history of modernism, marking the opening of The Armory Show, which brought Duchamp’s visual art to New York (though his Musical Erratum shattered composition styles with its aleatory and sonic expressions).
But it was Luigi Russolo’s futurist manifesto, The Art of Noise, that ushered in an evolution that year (maybe ‘revolution’ is more apt) incorporating the epoch’s increasing mechanization to free the music scene of its arranging and lexical restraints. (Note: the clamor of war was also surging throughout Europe in 1913).
We find far more enjoyment in the combination of the noises of trams, backfiring motors, carriages and bawling crowds than in rehearing, for example, the Eroica or the Pastorale. —Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noise, 1913
Russolo’s categories of sound for a futurist orchestra literally serve as ‘scaffolding’ for three of the podcasters here, a voiced ’roundtable’ of words, concepts and sounds, fathoming links among modernism’s experiments towards this century’s transmissions upon its precipice; its gatekeepers and dreamspace; its mystery.
This ‘art’ of ‘noise’ whispers and thuds.
Leaf + flow: Towards a new Century
Early radio (also launched in this same year, 1913) was born with an electronic side-effect. One can surmise if static can still be heard (or felt?) in the deadness of radio’s ‘air’ online. What do we conjure of our own ‘curating’ and is it the kind of chaos that leads to random and broken narratives?
People need to be able to count on it, don’t they? Yes, but I feel like the podcasting world has become a kind of Penny Dreadful. Oh we do like those, don’t we? —Marjorie Van Halteren, That Tuesday
Earlid’s call for this year’s forum contributors is as random as a radio signal. They straddle edges—bending noises since the very birth of the RSS towards those creations launched this year. They foray towards ‘a’ podcasting built as their platform for ingenuity and exploration.
We’re always landing upon new signals. And a perennial favorite is the now-dark podcast experiment, a vast trove of archived listening:
• Basement Tapes of the Mole Cabal
A blip last year revived Paper Radio, which had been, like Rip van Winkle, a bit sleepy.
Recently, listening to a 2018 series, Radio Silence, one learns that it was supposed to be longer: the producers knew when to stop, already rich with sound.
And here’s an intriguing project from The Organist—a call for submissions to their recurring segment, iTunes Library of Babel, where we all get to imagine the universe as an infinite catalog of podcasts. Just as in Borges’s story, this library goes on forever: it contains all of the existing podcasts, plus the negation of those podcasts.
The lake is the opportunity that podcasting gives us. There are a lot of people waiting there, waiting for those one-of-a kind leaves. We remix everyday ambience … we throw out more and more of those weird-shape leaves … now did this work? —Magnus Genioso, Where@bouts
These makers construct strange kinds of ‘radio’ in order that listeners learn how to hear it. They point to the divisions and desire for intersections between the liveness of radio and the deadness of podcasting—incidentally, celebrating the liveness of sound in the latter.
“In an upending of the RSS feed, someone, someday, will figure out how to use the unique structure of podcast delivery to make something truly special,” surmises Magnus Genioso. “Those receiving technologies are being messed with, in good ways.”
It’s a fathomable and meaningful disruption of the media paradigm. It’s a method of injecting anarchy into the fractured little ‘public’ spheres currently multiplying and separating us (podcasters and listeners), and potentially coalescing some of these ears.
There’s a questioning of these relationships among the body, the technologies used to get the sound to us and the workings of the universe.
Harness those noises, as Mr. Russolo commands. Immerse yourselves.
Begin with a consideration:
How would you listen differently if podcasting had room for being something other than what you hear?
It’s a simple question, not a trick.
The summer 2018 forum is now closed, but all is archived beyond the current exhibit. Happy listening and reading, above and below.
Listen, as an echo, to further conversation around these themes with Earlid’s Joan Schuman, audio artist Adriene Lilly, one of the forum’s contributors, and Tom Roe, co-founder of Wave Farm and its host/producer of Saturday Afternoon Show, Sept. 22, 2018, 4-6 p.m., archived on WGXC-FM.
—Joan Schuman, Earlid, summer 2018
First post!! Whooooo!
See you tomorrow Earlidders…
Something that arose in my conversations with the various podcasters here is an entwined question:
Could more ‘successful’ (buttressed) podcasts leverage their audiences to hear something different from the style they’ve already established without losing listeners and funding in the process? “Funding,” naturally in some sectors means ad sales; in others, a scaffolding of radio itself.
I’d be curious to dive into this concept broadly and specifically across various experiences in the next weeks of our conversation.
Welcome to “Radio Without Scaffolding.”
Thank you so much Joan. I’m happy to be part of the conversation.
In response to your question, this is something I’m sitting with a lot right now. In my latest episode I chose to leave some information out till the end that for some people should have been “explained” earlier. I disagreed – I liked the mystery – so I went with my gut and I’m personally pleased with the result. BUT it’s hard to sit with knowing many listeners will struggle with that choice. My podcast is a place where I’m trying to engage a broader audience both because I’d like this to be my profession and because one of the aims of the show is to get a message about self-exploration to the masses. It’s not clear how many listeners are there for something artful and how many are there purely for the therapy stuff.
This is a core struggle I’ve had my whole life anyway – do we (and our art as an extension) want to be understood as it comes out naturally, through our rawest impulses, or do we bend ourselves with a specific audience in mind? I practice both in different ways and I also find myself often doing something in the middle. We’re constantly translating our inner worlds in order to make contact with another. And yet when the rawer impulses are presented and understood it’s so much more gratifying to me. Sometimes it feels like the various aims of my work are in harmony and sometimes, they’re in opposition.
Each piece I create feels like a risk. I wonder about others’ relationships to risk. Is that even a word that applies for you? Is it something else?
For me, risk is a natural by-product of how our podcast processes the world. I’m currently writing this on a rural island. I assemble my perception of this place, like any location I’ve visited, like a conductor assembles his symphony. The crickets are the woodwinds. The breezes and howls are basses. The way wind current pulls on the blinds in this room? Snare rim shots.
If I am to be true to the way I organize sound to appreciate a story, I have to trust listeners will begin to catalog the sounds the same way I do and enjoy the process. The majority will fall away. The minority will be passionate and tell their like-minded friends. That’s the stage I feel we’re at as a podcast.
Risk is the graham crackers holding together my campfire s’mores. Everybody wants to taste the chocolate and marshmallows, but the cracker is always there and it wouldn’t feel the same without it.
I have a question for the rest of you: I remain faithful to the Mutt Lange school of experimenting. (What the hell are you on about, Mags?) Mutt produced Def Leppard’s “Hysteria” and Shania Twain’s “Come On Over.” His talent was in taking a beloved artform for a segment of ears (metal and country fans, in these cases) and hammering sound, through meticulous layering and arrangement, in glorious pop perfection.
I want to do this for podcasting. To take an esoteric form of sound design and make it irresistible for everyone. Give the audience what they want wrapped audaciously in what they didn’t know they need. Like “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” the mix shouldn’t work, but it’s so perfect in execution that it makes you crave for more.
Why can’t we allow ourselves to work this way in sound design? Or perhaps the question is: Why shouldn’t we?
Mags, this line of thinking reminds me of things mentioned last year at Earlid’s “Radio’s Art” where quite a few chimed in suggesting that podcasting get weirder, that radio be ‘stranger’ and in doing so, allows listeners to begin to learn how to hear it.
So, if we weren’t saddled with the limited episode, cliff-hanger-ready narrative model where the host reads the ubiquitous ads in each episode (such that if you binge-listen, you are inundated with repeated iterations of ad copy throughout your listening experience), then a new model could sprout.
What both you and Lily have introduced here is the question of just what kind of scaffolding—financial and/or audience support—could engender ‘weird’ or ‘strange’ radio. What won’t disrupt, but what will bolster the art-worker so she can quit her day-job? What do ‘we’ need to hear and how do ‘we’—both maker and listener–shift things towards a viable structure?
Hasn’t art often faced these very questions? Do we better follow art models (bands, as you’re suggesting, Mags) than public radio models? The latter seem to have gotten quite confused—underwriting vs. ads? And compared to other models in countries outside the U.S., what confusion or structures live together in that landscape?
I’m tossing questions aplenty. No doubt others will chime in.
One possible answer may hide in the visual and text components of podcasting.
Why shoehorn ads into the flow of the audio, when you could include sponsor support, imagery and even links in the other elements of the RSS feed? I certainly hope to encourage future sponsors of our podcast to take this route. With one ambient sound blending right into the next on our feed, it would be disingenuous of me to tell a sponsor that it would be to their advantage to interrupt the mood.
Time will tell if this approach sells.
I was on a long road-trip yesterday and found myself double-speeding through the ads on a podcast I was listening to. Ad sponsors must know this is happening just as much as they know the strategies of ‘their’ consumers in other media to skip the ads.
I like your idea of offering other ways to incorporate ads into the RSS feed.
Of course, there is the question throughout this discussion about the commitment by public media to serve its consumers with other commitments further down the continuum of financial support. There shouldn’t just be one model of scaffolding in my mind.
This idea, Lily, about bending our own styles with an audience in mind seems key around these conversations regarding podcasting. And they were there for earlier radio, for public radio programmers still today.
Your podcast, A Therapist Walks into A Bar, featured in the “Transmission” section above, then has a huge task to speak to the masses. Who do you imagine them to be? Do you have ‘smaller’ masses in mind that some of your programming tries to capture?
Not that you can do it all yourself, by any means! It begs more questions about the structures that have been built by certain kinds of podcasting (not necessarily all a ‘corporate’ blame-game) and their expectations of who is listening.
What would you need to be both self-sufficient and risk-taking? I’m curious what that scaffolding might look like and is it ‘worth’ trying to make incremental changes to the structures that you find yourself mired in or attempting to ensconce the podcast within.
Your raising these ideas is at the heart of this forum, I think, so my subsequent questions are bouncing around what many of you, the contributors, have conjured.
In terms of scaffolding, I don’t know. It seems like being “successful” (and by that I mean being able to do this as a job) is a combination of having a great idea that resonates with people, doing good work, and lucking out. I wonder if striking the balance between creating what I want and creating something other people want means really getting to understand who’s listening so I can make informed choices about what I want to do – like, do I focus on how to best get the show to the “right people”, do I make different creative choices so I don’t lose people? Gathering that data is a challenge (I’ve done surveys and they don’t get a lot of responses). I wonder if there are more effective ways.
Lily, do you mean ‘more effective ways’ to gather data or ‘more effective ways’ to discern who is listening?
Like radio, podcasting tumbles down the same steep plunge into the abyss known as ‘who’s out there listening.’ We think we know since this is all happening in the algorithm, data-driven world of the online stream of data. It seems, from what you’re saying, that’s somewhat dissatisfying!
You also broadcast via other platforms than your subscribable podcast, namely an online, streaming radio station. Do you discern more or less knowledge of who is listening there? I’d be really curious–as much as I was to learn that you started your podcast and then you traveled over to BFF—Best Frequencies Forever with your program “Radical Advice.”
Good questions! I guess I’m curious if there are more effective ways to discern who’s listening and if that includes better data gathering, that’s cool too.
It’s definitely so different from performing on stage, in some ways that I find enjoyable – like when I muse on Radical Advice about our listeners ranging from 3 to millions and just let that rest in the unknown (well, it’s definitely at most only in the hundreds) – but in other ways it’s a little unsettling. I think the unknown is just like that in general: unsettling, exciting, curiosity provoking.
The radio show is a way for me to just play and be on stage a little since it’s live and unscripted. It’s not so much a creative endeavor though I guess that depends on how broadly you define creativity. In terms of audience, there’s a little more interaction because I’m inviting people to write in to the show with their life questions. They send them anonymously via a form on the website (radicaladviceshow.com) but I’m getting to learn some things about them. I think the format of the show has invited people in more. I get more messages that are also just comments or feedback than I do for the podcast.
But even so, I’m really not sure listeners are there for the really weird stuff – whether it’s my music choices during song breaks, the irreverent toilet humor tangents, or the sparks of inspiration to bring in some unexpected sounds (like the Captain Planet theme song last week). On the other hand, I’m not as concerned about winning anyone over so it gives me freedom to be as silly as I want to be. I’m not even sure it’s something I would listen to. I just like doing it. And in the end, there are dedicated listeners who let me know the positive impact the show is having in their life. They feel comforted spending time with me, my cohost, and guests.
Lily, your divisions/process among live performance, live radio streaming, and heavily constructed podcast reminds me of a similar divide that’s happening all at once at Long Live the New Sound that Adriene Lilly is speaking about in her written piece for this forum (over in the “Signal” section).
What she’s allowing to happen is a hands-off method of curating, if we can use that descriptor for her ‘anti-podcast’ podcast. I think of it more as a DIY RSS system where artists upload their work and it mysteriously appears on LLtNS.
Adriene, how do you curate for LLtNS? Albeit it’s a new entity, so your process might still be evolving or you’re willing it to continually progress as artists come forth, upload; and audiences flock and listen.
The idea of LLtNS is specifically not to curate. Not to arrange. Not to explain. But to just let this feed emerge organically and let contributors do with it as they like. Something like a collaborative, evolving, never-ending mixtape.
I don’t even touch the audio files when they come through. Anything submitted just goes to a holding page where I can listen then click “approve” or “reject”. I expect that, at some point, something will come in that isn’t in the spirit of ‘experimental’ or ‘curious’ — my very loose terms for what the feed is made for — and I’ll say no. But so far, I haven’t rejected anything.
That said, there is a curation going on in that I directly contact artists and radio producers who’s work I like, and many of them have contributed to the show. That’s definitely made it what it is up to this point.
The lack of explanation is a great draw, Adriene. It’s up to the ‘author/producer’ to portray as much or as little in the way of detail, links, etc. In some ways, your process is reminiscent of Constellations, though that podcast’s hosts (featured here above) offer a bit of context. Mostly again, it’s the producer who prevails.
At first I was thinking LLtNS feels like a radio program, late-night, airing on college or community radio. And you also use the term ‘show,’ where so many insist on using the word we’ve been stuck using since 2004 when ‘show’ or ‘pondercast’ or just ‘cast’ seems more relevant than ‘podcast.’ It’s a subtle moniker shift, but I think, useful.
Great question. Two answers.
First, “The Established.” I think we’ve seen evidence that extremely successful podcasts can branch into new forms without losing their faithful. In the case of Radiolab (More Perfect) and This American Life (Serial, S-Town), it’s only served to diversify their style, audience, content and income. Are they taking risks in their own way? I can’t say they haven’t. Would I like to see them go further? Absolutely.
There’s a famous adage about Ira Glass confronting a listener upset about his constant use of music early in the show’s run. Listener says, “Why must you always do this?” Ira retorts: “Do you like movies?”
That was 23 years ago.
By now, we’ve educated the storytelling audience to accept some music and sound design in the public radio realm, but it’s always bothered me that the same audience who can appreciate opera can not appreciate a full spectrum of sound behind the spoken word. Haven’t these listeners heard “Peter and the Wolf?” That’s the battlefront I’m planting my flag on as a sound designer and creator.
Which brings me to the second version of this answer: My own experience in the trenches with the “Non-Established.”
Where@bouts has been podcasting on and off for four years now. We’re still young and toying with a structure that can make our stream more active and interesting. At the moment, we’re dropping random ambient sounds into the feed, with less and less explanation, allowing our listeners to dream with us. Be fascinated with the noise, as it coalesces into a song that tells the emotional story of a location.
The early feedback suggests this is working. Thousands of audiophiles, our chief listener base, are curious and stealing our noises for their own use. The subscribers tripled in six weeks. That being said, I don’t think we’re quite ready to pitch this to underwriters yet. I think our Mad Genius team can solidify the approach and normalize the release date to give sponsors a better structure to support.
What gives me hope is my background in independent music. Bands were taught to diversify the product while giving your audience multiple avenues to embrace the art. So we’ve done that at Mad Manor, selling Where@bouts as both a podcast and singles series. Superlisteners are following the podcast and paying for the resulting story-songs. They’re streaming them on several platforms during binge-listens.
Our podcast is slowly creating a box set of remixed location songs, a process that hasn’t paid for itself yet, but independent musicians rarely recoup on albums one, two and three. They recoup on a five or six album catalog. We’ll get there, and once we do, the hope is sponsors will share long-term excitement for this body of work. Another income source to support an experimental approach.
I’m curious, if you can get specific, Magnus, what kinds of sponsors you’re going after. Not specific names, but categories or genres of sponsors—like the differences I’d understand if it were a local brewery vs. Mail Chimp or Casper Mattresses?
I consider our market to be the audiophile. People who like collecting, recording and sharing sound. Headphones, recording equipment, vanity products for the home stereo or vinyl enthusiast. Books, magazines and media about musicians and engineers. I’ve even contemplated courting the companies that provided the equipment for our studios.
This would be the first wave of underwriters. The second would be companies that cater to the first: T-shirt printers, mastering studios, on-line book retailers and the like.
I see no need to go local with our advertising support. The market for our listener is likely not the brewery up the street.
Ah, that’s an interesting trajectory, Magnus, for underwriting.
And just by exploring ‘underwriting’ vs. commercial ads (I know the line is a very fine one), it seems you’re taking on the public radio model more than the commercial radio model.
I know Lily Sloane (A Therapist Walks into a Bar), invites donations. And I do not see your comment elsewhere about donations as controversial; rather it is useful to consider those as ‘dessert’ more than a regular scaffolding.
And of course, some of us are inclined to support the art venture with other paid work ourselves. There are numerous models. We each choose the one for the short- and long-term goals.
Well, I think a model like Patreon isn’t seen the same as “donations”. My editor actually works for Patreon and is constantly trying to get me to stop framing it as donations. It’s meant to be something they get value for through the rewards. Some people are able to develop a pretty good income this way. I’m not there at this point. It’s still almost entirely family and friends.
But reading Magnus’ comment below about dessert, I see his point. But it seems like any funding has the potential to disappear at any time, including sponsors.
I’ve got one specific model that has intrigued me of late. Scott Carrier (who launched his career 30 years ago on NPR and a bit later on This American Life), launched his independent podcast, Home of the Brave. At the end of three years, with varying narrative styles (multi-episode series; individual pieces; even archives from his early work), Carrier announced he was at the end of ‘Season 1’. He just called it an end-point because he was done or maybe tired.
He thanked the “… very kind people who are making donations,” (that is his only financial model for the podcast). He suggests, like you do, Mags, that podcasting is like the explosion of rock-bands in the ’60s and ’70s. Back then, he says, we bought records.
And while making a donation isn’t the same, he says (” … you don’t get to read the liner notes, enjoy the album art, drop the needle on the spinning disc …”), he hopes those who donated feel it was worth it.
That’s one model that, I think, stands out as something we might start seeing more of. It seems to come with the territory of the loss of the gatekeeper. Scott Carrier just does what he needs to do. Same with Megan Tan who quit her Millennial series (with a lot more scaffolding via Radiotopia and the built-in network obligations, than Carrier had).
This may be controversial, but I don’t think there’s a long term future in the crowd-sourced funding model. Another reality gained from independent music making is the ebb-and-flow nature of audience support for smaller artists. Sometimes they really have your back, more often they’ve forgotten about you. They have lives, too, and those are the lean years.
Better to court a solid relationship with a sponsor, someone who appreciates your work and market. Someone who understands that building an audience is a gradual process that takes years, some false starts and constant promotion.
Audience donations should be like dessert, much appreciated but never the main course.
Brilliance is “The Voice of God,” or at least, over ‘there’ on the risk-taking spectrum. Despite The Organist‘s scaffolding (maybe because of what KCRW-FM radio tends to host), their first episode of this current season of the podcast launches the aforementioned “iTunes Library of Babel,” linked above in the Earlid intro.
It helps to take a walk and listen as part of it invites you to walk more slowly—and I did.
The preceding half-hour, with three interviews, each focused in entwining ways around how the voice speaks to us and why, as well as a description of a favorite sound, is a good example of what podcasting can do: listen, invite us to do more of that, more closely, and, as one of the interviewees says at the end, to consider why the podcast is weird, with a small following—”It’s not popular because it’s weird,” is the outgoing line.
There’s much transparency between what we’re supposed to hear and what we hear anyway. Maybe we have reality media to blame for that—or to thank. And it’s still what I consider, along with programs here and there that come out of the radio as a podcast (like some of those no longer airing on Australia’s ABC, such as Soundproof), a bit of a treasure.
Since the folks at Constellations talked here at Earlid about veering us away from ‘movies in our head,’ I’d be curious to hear their thoughts on how the launch of this episode opens up that conversation, in odd little ways.
I thought that first episode of The Organist’s new season was brilliant – in part because Andrew brought his presence and reality more into it which allowed the individual pieces to have a cohesion that wasn’t forced and didn’t change what each piece did on its own. It provided a framework to stand on that I thought was really valuable and personal.
This is something more podcasts can learn from – how to provide a framework that brings just enough cohesion without requiring a replication of format and structure that eventually dulls itself.
My overall feeling is we need to stop thinking about podcasting success (whatever success is) like it’s building a chair. There is no equation or set of instructions that if done right means you have succeeded. Some stuff works and some stuff doesn’t.
There are also distinctions of success. So, a successful episode could be in a podcast that as a whole is not that great. Does that mean the episode matters less? How do we bring this into the question of production at large?
By and large I think a show can be flexible to experiment if it establishes that as part of its foundation and framework. Unfortunately most try to dial in to some immediately recognizable, easily reducible specificity for ad buys. Starting with that perspective does not usually lead to an expansive of form, just a drilling into the norm. But, if people take a chance on something more you can then change the playing field slowly, but surely.
KCRW I think has a lot of great examples of how from the beginning you can establish a show built on a flexibility of its structure and sonic output and I am hearing more of this as podcasting is starting to grow a bit of its own wings as a form.
Garrett, lately I find my ‘definition’ of what’s an experiment and what’s conventional to be less boxed in. Something might have the veneer of ‘scaffolding’ and support and yet, you listen and recognize the content is really unconventional.
Is it important to note that the unconventional take-away feeling one gets is as relevant as whether the piece or podcast itself has significant financial support? If the latter is a commitment to something that shares a certain sensibility, I would trust that it’s an ‘experiment’ and not rabidly focused on data, metrics, etc. It’s a commitment to put programming first—seemingly—worrying less (or risking more) when it comes to audience.
An online, nonprofit, international collaboration—Radio Web MACBA—has some interviews uploaded that offer insight into an artist’s process. And there’s nothing too experimental about its stylizing. But where will you hear an artist talking about her toy piano practice, for example, but in their “Probes” series?
Or like you’re saying, about the radio station in the States, KCRW-FM, they consistently partner with ‘weird’ ‘otherly’ podcasts, such as The Organist; also Lost Notes, which you mentioned in our recorded conversation (in the “Transmission” section of this forum’s contributor conversations); certainly Here Be Monsters. And they also make money from podcast classes for the novice wannabe. It feels like these offerings are significantly more rampant than educational resources for indie radio makers.
Nick van der Kolk, of Love + Radio, also mentions that podcasting is sort of venturing further from its ‘Classic Hollywood’ days and that might be a good thing for those butterfly wings you mention.
One of the recent episodes of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything (a podcast that also shares with Love + Radio the bolstering network platform, Radiotopia) brought up the idea of ads on podcasts. It’s in the context of his current series on the ‘fake.’ Certainly he’s making fun (and light) of ads (real or fake) immersed in quirky styles of storytelling. Starlee Kine raises a point: No one, she says, is debating why this was allowed to happen in public-radioesque conventions, nor even in artistic approaches to podcasting. She’s adamant that it should have been questioned all along.
I don’t try distinguish content with false parameters like experimental and conventional as I used to. We as a culture just made them up anyway and it silences too much. Good work is good work no matter where it lies (even if it’s a 2 sec moment in a larger thing). You feel it when it happens (at least in my opinion). More than anything, you just feel when something upsets your balance. For instance, I thought the most recent season of Revisionist History was quite something all the way down to the last few moments of the final episode that was successful at making me feel something I was not prepared to feel. I like the entire season, but what the last episode did gave the whole season a different context.
When we try to separate or belittle something that is good because it has ad dollars or uphold something as bold solely because it is independent I think we lose sight the purpose of this work (in all its shapes and sizes) which is to give something to someone – let them transcend their moment (and the moment of their engagement). I believe that all this at its core is to bring about a new reality – if only for a moment. This could even be in something like a simple interview segment where just something happens and its a revelation. I spent my early years excavating this in film, music, writing, art of different shapes and sizes and now I seem to be spending a whole lot of my days with it in radio and podcasting.
I just want to feel inspired by content like I was as a kid. I want to look at the world with that wonder and want stories to bring that wonder out of the moment. I am always searching for those moments that truly flip my world upside down and give me the energy to go make something. I like things that make me want to go make something. I especially like when something I have made makes me want to go make something else. It’s not work then, even when it is.
I don’t know if this furthers your reflection in any valuable way, but I’m reminded of an idea from Jean Cocteau – and I may honestly be butchering his initial idea, but it’s how I remember it – that as we become more ‘professional’ with something we need to become more childlike, amateurish. We need to work to return to who we were before we ‘knew’ that we ‘knew’ something. Not to dismiss the knowledge we have, but to constantly remember how to not know, hot to make mistakes, how to undue the traditional conceits that separate the good from the bad. We need to remember how to play.
As a separate thing, the question of ads and how we never questioned them being there is an important one. Something to maybe handle in a different post. I tend to feel though that there is always a cost. It’s just a question of what the cost is for a particular thing and how that dictates the future of ideas.
Constellations (the podcast producers’ ideas are featured in the “Circuit” section above) has a growing compendium of resources for listening, both currently ‘live’ and archived when the listening source has gone dark. I like to dip in and revel in this ear-feast frequently.
World Listening Day – today, July 18 (commemorates R. Murray Schafer’s birthday). Happy listening people.
Hi I’m going to post something here that is a little general just to start. I have started to listen to things mentioned and it is so exciting to think that there are such interesting things out there that I haven’t heard yet that I feel if I wait until I read everything and listen to everything I will be silent way too long…so here’s some comment and hopefully I’ll be back…
Being the age I am (b. 1951), and then working in the scaffold for many years (80’s and 90’s), and at that time being very inside all things scaffold, I am at this very minute astounded by the turn that the history of broadcasting has taken. I would say that the loss of gatekeeper is the biggest story going. It is enormous. It’s a nuclear bomb. I was struck by this while listening to a podcast about people on the journalism side starting their businesses in order to fund “real reporting.” The passion, the desperation, the search for funding a lifestyle and sidestepping the “strings attached.” Add to that the “assault on truth,” the unprecedented attack on trusted sources (that I still trust). Citizens are in freefall, adrift without scaffolding. I found it interesting to hear about, I am sympathetic, bless em, and that’s journalism. Set the truth free. Get it out there. All of it. All 7 billion versions of it. You and you and you and you over there. And I am glad I am not a journalist. I know now why I have always said “I am not a journalist.” I don’t even play one on the radio.
However, we’re talking about art. From what I have been able to read and hear so far, the contributors here are on the same page with me. They know that risk is indispensable. They talk about the opportunity to do what they do.
Of course people have to live! people want to be heard as well…have their audience. This is dilemma from time immemorial, from all of my life and generations before. So the art podcaster has this same problem. It’s not new.
If your art IS interacting with people on the other side, if your mission is bringing people together over a communal experience, plus they can support you, you might get something to help you live. That can be art, certainly.
If you make something that people (sponsors, organizations, listeners) want to support and they 100% enjoy whatever you do and stick with you no matter what, you’re in an art situation, at least for a time.
If, however, your “art” starts to shape itself to get more listeners, or sponsors, if you worry about keeping your support, about topping yourself, about delivering your wickets, I’m afraid I don’t really think that’s art. I think it’s creative, artful…etc.
I know, the problem with what I’m writing is that I’m appearing to define art…how jerky and pretentious!!!! So I’ll reassure you that I only have one definition of art, or and one only:
It’s what you can’t stop yourself from doing. You have to. If you don’t do it you won’t feel right.
A lot of people think they want to be artists, but they don’t quite “passer à l’acte,” as we say in French. Artists do it. Whatever it is. And they’ll do it again. Bless ’em.
Scaffold or not – we just need to be able to find them so we can partake.
These are useful distinctions, Marjorie.
I wish I could draw and then I’d point arrows from what public radio used to be (where Joe Frank could reside, and did) and how podcasting is something entirely different. And yet there are echoes of Frank and echoes of New American Radio (1987-98) and echoes of Negativland’s Teletours (late ’80s) and echoes of Max Neuhaus (Radio Net, 1977) and echoes of Gregory Whitehead’s Pressures of the Unspeakable, originally airing on Australian radio in 1992 and revised in the States (Radiolab, 20 years later).
I hear these echoes in many of the projects introduced in this forum. And yet, podcasting (maybe with a capital “P”) sometimes forgets its earlier generations and gets confused around just what it is. I think one can get confused when someone is saying: “Here are some advertising dollars! Make your content exactly as you are, please no changes as we can’t sell ads if your style shifts … even slightly.”
Nick van der Kolk, of Love and Radio, mentions the fall-out of risks—and he’s got a lot of ad dollars being thrown at him, enough for a paid staff. If you start with pretty quirky work and the ad dollars arrive, then your further risks can run along a continuum. But in the end, are we saying that if money drives the medium, then the content will always be dull? I’m not so black-and-white. I see experiments everywhere, even the quirky decisions around content is sometimes all I need (like that toy piano I mention above).
Certainly, use of the radio signal as artistry itself (as Neuhaus and Negativland did) will not disappear. We hear it in transmission artists featured at Earlid (Anna Friz, Victoria Estok); or the use of other media platforms turned upside down—for sonic art purposes (Chris DeLaurenti, Seth Guy, NB Aldrich—across various Earlid exhibits).
Something you’re making a distinction around—public media and art—is useful to keep in mind. I would add another distinction: to expand the RSS randomness of regularity and its very transparency and upend it. Magnus Genioso mentions this in his contribution in “Circuit” above; it’s being mined in The Organist‘s “iTunes Library of Babel” linked above. The first iteration was a direct poke at ad sales and “This podcast is supported by …” mantra.
Miyuki Jokiranta of ABC radio, in last year’s forum, cohered these ideas that I could tack to my wall and read everyday:
I’ve found drawing out difference between forms shuts down the space they share and so have been curious about models of intersectionality. Podcasting is a difficult term that refers to both a technological platform and, increasingly, a specific and all too often normative and neo-liberal culture. Understanding and communicating (upending?) the difference is key to opening the use of these technologies to more creative and inclusive ends.
I’ll borrow from a conversation recently where I’m uncertain of any clarity for an answer as I turn this declarative into more of a question: Is anyone in the podcast community willing to engage with the problems of big data, the attack on public space, hence further marginalization of broadcast radio, as a space for art?
Maybe the only clarity is to define what’s art, as you are doing, Marjorie. This is what I do, too, and then I go to my day job of teaching students to find their voice first before trying to smoosh theirs into a pre-existing structure. It’s hard for those who want to step stridently into all the excitement and energy of this ‘new’ medium to experience doubt about themselves all the time. But does that mean we squander our true artistic selves?
“Make podcasting weirder and listeners will learn to hear it,” many say. (“Yeah, but the ad salesmen won’t,” I hear someone explaining to their landlord asking for the rent that’s due yesterday).
I wanted to add a little thing to your last sentence Joan. I am wondering if rather than just making things weirder – is it also about trying to be someone who can empower others to be who they are rather than transforming to be what they think others want them to be to get a job? In my time teaching and being a boss for different producers I’ve found that the simple act of validation and empowerment of individuality (listening to them and advising not from a stance of right and wrong, but querying if something could be better, which validates their opinion rather than denouncing) can have the possibility of changing things for them. Even if they don’t go further with production beyond me, there is this realization that you don’t have to silence yourself and always reconfigure your identity to get a job are have stability. That in fact your self can be worth fighting for and worth being the conduit for the work you do in this world.
I don’t know. I never like the idea that we just need to make things weirder, but I think empowering people to be themselves can get us to a more diverse and less sterile scenario. What I see a lot of (and I’ve seen this as a filmmaker and musician) is people trying to be what they think is valid – people trying to look, feel, and sound like what has been validated in the past rather than learning from what others have done and filtering that into whatever it is they do. We need more of the empowerment that leads to cracks in the supposed foundation.
This right here. **ding, ding**
To the weird, the weird isn’t weird.
The unusual form is simply an extension of how the creator hears the world, reflects on the issue and forms an idea to give back to the world.
And I refuse to believe the effort to explain one’s communication method is mutually exclusive with the ability to sell said method.
One more assumption I’ve been reading here is that establishing a new structure boxes in the creator. That advertisers, upon hearing an exciting new structure, will encourage the creator to repeat the formula, thus killing creativity. I’m absolutely certain there are clever artists out there who are establishing a long-term modus operandi. The kind of idea that creates a growing sandbox to play in, so advertisers believe they’re getting what they paid for while the creator feels they have miles and miles of road to explore.
In our case, we’re selling a massive concept. Our podcast remixes the world. That’s the pitch we’re giving collaborators. In our studio, the mission is so broad we can go anywhere and land the marketed concept. We’ve created ambient soundscapes, a country road ballad, a b-movie horror theme and a trip hop rhythm about a record shop. All felt true to our creative method, excitedly inspired further work and feels at one with the image of the podcast.
A structure that enables freedom? It is possible.
Re: Weird : One of the main things I hope for — in audio, in music, in television — is to encounter something that was previously unfathomable. For that reason “making things weirder” is absolutely something I’m working for. It’s a juvenile want, maybe, but that goes back to this idea mentioned earlier — about being a child and remembering to “play” with your craft.
I also don’t think there is any great way to talk about all the “etc” radio work that exists out there.
“Experimental” is a vague, dreary and long.
“Weird” isn’t actually all that descriptive.
I’ve also seen “Curious” and “Playful” but that denotes a certain tone (or maybe it doesn’t).
But I think exposure to a variety of form gives would-be makers the permission they need to push their aesthetic, their concepts, their process in ways they may otherwise not. So I do think having spaces where ‘making things weirder’ is an emphasis is important. Doesn’t have to be everything, but it’s helpful to practice and learn through those spaces.
For lack of a better word- we’re building on the weird that was before, whether we know it or not.
Maybe the only way to talk about all the ‘etc.’ radio that exists out there, Adriene, is to simply listen to it all where you can. As someone in an email conversation said to me, you can’t just put “experimental podcasts” into a search engine and expect a wide swathe of links.
Better to visit the Constellations listening page I linked to earlier.
And what you’re inviting with Long Live the New Sound, digs deeply into whoever ‘shows’ up to offer a work that you include. But also, as a listener, these growing lists and streams push us further into the tendrils of work that exists. It’s a form of networking that this medium best engenders, I think.
For example, as a listener, I appreciated hearing Vicki Bennet’s “No One is an Island” piece on LLtNS, where conversations about ‘play’ and ‘craft’ were engaged in—and it was done creatively, so there was a melding of idea and style.
Garrett, as a teacher and mentor, I concur with your thoughts about opening the portals for an individual’s style and encouraging them to ride it through to the end. You mentioned this in our recorded conversation that if a producer is compelled by a story/subject (and I’d add, their own ‘style’), then that will transcend to the audience to be curious as well. It goes back to inviting people to learn new ways of hearing more than just a sense of ‘weird.’
I also like inviting people to understand that just because you’ve done one style for one story, certainly doesn’t mean you repeat that style. That it’s the story itself that drives the styles. And you’ve explored this in your various series—”Yokai Trilogy “and “Lost Thursday” and “Samples from Andodyne” aren’t going to sound anything like one another, despite being produced by the same person.
How do you encourage others to upend their style, story to story? Especially if they’re wanting to seek funding? I’d be curious to learn more.
Short answer is I don’t know. I was taught to be curious and to never settle. I don’t have an idle mind so it just sort of seeps out into everything I do. With students I’ve found the best way to activate their curiosity is by discussing something they are working on through content they recognize. So, for instance, when Frozen first came out I talked a lot about how the choir theme at the beginning only comes back at the end when Elsa accepts herself and is able to melt the snow. It was a way to dial into narrative considerations and how you tell the story subtly so that an audience can feel the ideas rather than hit them over the head. Using something like Frozen was a way in where then they could take that understanding and apply it to their own work. It then has a scaffolding effect where you have given them a new tool, a new consideration, and now when they approach another problem they may be able to think outside the box a little more. And thus, the process just builds on itself.
I don’t know. I’ve only ever been able to play the long game and look at incremental shifts that add up to a whole that is somewhere different then where we are today.
The trick I find in our culture of perpetual now is that you have to learn to play the long game. You have to learn that every endeavor does not need to upend the system or change your life, but can bring about little details. I found this often as a filmmaker making stuff for other people – I wanted at least one thing, one thing that took my breath away in the work. Usually there was more, but that one thing would be inspiring. I have tried to carry that forward into every podcast piece for any outlet – I try to have one thing. One thing that makes me laugh, cry, get excited, whatever. But, it makes a story for someone else still feel like mine too. And then you carry that into the next one.
All the artists I grew up with played this idea that if you just keep making work and just keep being around that eventually people can’t dismiss you. It’s kind of a false idea, but if we start with helping people feel like their valued in the room, that they should be in the room, then it can go further to them defending their ideas and choices rather than always dismissing their judgment for other’s opinions.
The biggest detriment in this field (or really any field) is self-doubt. We all have it and have to deal with it in our own ways. We all have to be taught to see it for what it is and not bury ourselves in it. That of course does not mean you should think you are always right. It just means you don’t assume you are wrong. You open your eyes and ears. Believe the other people in the room are there for a reason same as you. Respect them, but don’t think they are all better than you. If you can learn to do that then you can learn to have valuable, productive, collaborations that let everyone have a voice – let yourself be wrong along with them to get at the right ideas. Of course, this is dependent on everyone else in the room doing the same, but to start with make sure you know how and why you are there and believe you deserve to be there.
There is also just a certain truth in the matter that people hire people they know. So, you do good work and then ask the people you know for more work and it could lead to the work you want to do with the kind of support you need. It’s not fool proof by any means. It’s also not necessarily something that will happen now just because it needs to happen now or you want it to happen now. I still often have to justify my abilities in arenas that are not ones I typically play in, but if you feel like you are supposed to be in the room it can empower you to more effectively engage in what is essentially a defense of your self and your efforts so that you get whatever work you are trying to get.
It is also not lost on me that this is a sort of best case scenario write up that is not often the case. But, what I learned growing up is that you can and should help build others up where you can. That that act alone can change someone’s life without you realizing it. Basics of humanity and respect go a long way. I’ve put in a lot of hard work and have also had a lot of luck. They go hand in hand. I just want to try and help others identify those moments and jump at them.
Does this actually further this conversation or answer your questions?
Yes, Garrett, that’s a beautiful treatise, and you did answer the question about how we can encourage producers/artists to upend their style.
Related to your comment below about doing things for your soul, I’m reminded of an experience which kind of set me on my course—a definitive fork in the road.
Years ago, just a minute before the RSS technology arrived, after rounds of failed public-radio and audio art grant cycles for my own work, the repeated response was that my own style was too arty for radio and too ‘radio’ for the art world. It was frustrating. And illuminating. And though it felt like I simply couldn’t get anywhere without this funding, it shoved me in other directions. For the better, I think, towards teaching, but also towards solidifying my style (both too radio and too arty, thank you). And then Earlid was born. Like you, Garrett, I don’t try to box it in and define it too strongly for when I do, I come up somewhat dissatisfied
Who knows, maybe Earlid will start pushing some of its content towards the RSS and I’ll have further conversations about how this shifts or impacts the experience here.
I agree with you, Garrett. “your self can be worth fighting for and worth being the conduit for the work you do in this world.” Well put. Also, Joan: “are we saying that if money drives the medium, then the content will always be dull? I’m not so black-and-white. I see experiments everywhere, even the quirky decisions around content is sometimes all I need ” Agreed, I am against any suggestion that getting money is wrong! You will never hear me use the phrase “sell out.” It has even been said that people who shout “sell out” are people that are unhappy that no one has offered! People have to live.
So monetary support and other scaffolding sometimes lines up with authenticity and “art” in a lovely way and wonderful things emerge. It is only when the scaffolding starts to dive and dictate the content that one can be in trouble. Examples for me: why the Brits have been known to do one or two seasons of a television projects and the US will take the same thing to the end of the line to promote a cottage industry that is that series. They know (are used to know) when to stop and move on. Another: the fashion photographer Bill Cunningham who delighted NY Times readers with his “On the street” features and was the subject of a documentary about his adventures in fashion was quoted as saying (I think vis a vis what was seen as his curiously spare lifestyle): “The secret, see, is not to take the money. If you take their money, you have to do what they want you to do.” I’m afraid that I feel that Mr. Cunningham profoundly understood how we live now.
So take the money and run with it if the money is given in the spirit of supporting who you are and what you authentically do. And the moment it no longer does, make sure you’re in a position to make “other arrangements.” And oh so hard I know that that is to do.
What you are both saying, Marjorie and Garrett, resonates for me. And I still have challenges answering the above question I made:
Is anyone in the podcast community willing to engage with the problems of big data, the attack on public space, hence further marginalization of broadcast radio, as a space for art? It’s not an original question, but rather one that I engaged with recently via email with a long-time radio artist. I see the grey in some answers. I also see how black-and-white those answers can be.
That steers our conversations towards, I believe, the elephant in the room. We can certainly agree about validation (yes!) and supporting new voices (absolutely!) and stridency about your art (you have to sleep at night!).
What stabs at those lovely sentiments are the myriad articles, lists, data streams, partnerships, that are running so fast with the numbers—because they now can gather all kinds of data on all of us; or seemingly, everyone’s forgotten this little organization called Nielsen and their ratings system, dating back to the 1930s, perhaps, in the pre-internet days, who used to count all of us via a survey while watching TV or listening to the radio?
For example, PRX has just partnered with the William Morris Agency + Endeavor (WME)
“They’ll work to expand our business across all areas, including film, television and books.”
Or the weekly articles in NiemanLab by Nick Quah about all these podcasting numbers and impact on audience or the one next week on revenue.
I suppose it’s that kind of commerce that gets in the way of individual stylizing that I’m questioning. Yet it’s been there for generations. Who’s listening? Always the question. That’s always been the landscape we’re making art within. Somehow it just feels more revved up or inflamed or required alongside these conversations. And yet it’s all happening in a sinister way, both transparently and secretly and in overt and expected ways. Should it? How do we ignore it? Can we?
These questions seemed framed by the idea that only the gatekeepers have access to big data. That this process is somehow “sinister.”
We need to keep our eyes and ears open. There’s a young artist in a dorm room somewhere who has a grasp on audience data that surpasses all known industry measures. They will likely use this data to make some extraordinary creative decisions, capture a massive audience with the most outlandish ideas, and then know exactly how to kill it.
The gatekeepers will cry jealousy, the creators will be empowered and using large collections of data will become an artform in itself.
Well, I feel pretty overwhelmed by the question, personally – and I’m sure I’m not alone.
This point dwarfs my awed reaction to the death of the gatekeeper. This is a scaffold so immense that it may become our very nervous system. Or perhaps it has. Shades of the synchronicity.
Can podcasting help people be better informed? I think there are a lot of people trying their best. The independent storytellers, the warriors of journalism. How independent is independent? Discuss.
In this point in our evolution can artists play a role in keeping the human in human being? Certainly. What does that mean?
I hold what I now realize is an old-fashioned view that broadcasting and art are incompatible. Focusing on numbers, revenue, being “attractive” all the time in some way, letting those things drive decisions, it kills it. Art doesn’t always win a beauty contest. Throughout history it has more often than not been hated in its time. But yet it contributes in the long view. Will it still?
(I watched “Network” again recently. I see it as prescient.)
I am a dinosaur coo coo que choo. Discuss. Or not.
Just trying to show a little life.
You’re not so much a dinosaur, Marjorie, as someone with history. Lately, I parallel my own media options (for presentation of creative work) to, historically, where I, too, began—for me, in the late 1980s. I could walk into a community radio stations then in a big urban city, as well as a decade later, in a smaller Bay Area beach town, and have access to airwaves. Those kinds of outlets still exist (though in my town, the signal died; the pirate station is alive and thriving, going on 22 years; and surely in bigger cities, the margins are ever-pushed out to the edges).
But the fascinating platforms now— the RSS podcasting ‘stage’—have exploded, as we’ve all noted. I put Earlid online, but it comes out of a curating practice that I launched just on the cusp of the internet days, circa late-1990s—on the radio. The impetus to present others’ work continues, no matter the signal. The online platform is just another stage.
I remember sitting on programming committees where people tried to map out a model listener and plan program schedules accordingly at the radio station I was involved with. I found those conversations to be futile when a better approach is just one where you make and present the work so that people learn to hear the ‘experiments,’ the playful, the curious, the weird (thanks for all those adjectives, Adriene!).
I’m just as baffled who is out there now, here online, as I was with the community radio listening audience. Oh, certainly, we got phone calls when they didn’t like something. Now we ‘rely on’ social media’s ‘thumbs up’ and ‘hearts’ to give a sense of what people potentially engage with (more often, they are just a head nod, but that’s OK, too).
The data availability becoming an element in empowering interesting work – yes, that’s an interesting idea, Magnus. I had been thinking that in the pulse of history, whenever there are strong forces rising up, there is always opposition too. Stay tuned!
Weird, Old English—wyrd—connotes destiny: ‘having the power to control destiny,’ and later, in the 19th century, gave rise to the sense ‘unearthly’.
I like the connection to fate.
Has anyone explored Podmap? It’s an intriguing mapping of podcasts, internationally that shows how and where projects are growing. I don’t know anything about it, but wanted to share.
They haven’t found us yet!
Terrific. Not everything needs to be known.
Funny – don’t think I have ever heard of it but I’m on the map and there’s nothing miles around me! Huh?
I don’t know where this will fall in the thread – a few bits of the conversation or leading me here – but in thinking about data and ads and how audience dictates content, I feel like there has to be room (empowerment) for not caring about those things. You can’t dismiss it everywhere – I know this as well as any, especially as I am in process of producing a new show for a major outlet, but in the case of The White Whale, I’ve just made it as I felt was right. Honestly never gave too much mind to who was listening, just kind of assumed no one was, and made the decision that The White Whale was not my income, not my place for health care and salary. It was a place for my soul. A place to try out ideas and engage with people and stories that wouldn’t have been told (at least as I told them) otherwise. There is value in that. If anything, for me. And I use that as I work through my customary roads of production for distribution to try and push the needle. Find the ways that what I am making for a scenario where data, dollars, and listeners matters does not become in service to data, dollars, and listeners, but is empowered to do more with what it has because of the data, dollars, and listeners. It’s entirely possible I am naive, but I always fragmented my efforts and worked to understand what I was getting out of what scenario – understand the cost of each and make the best work possible within the promise of the scenario. And then move on.
I think what you have done, Garrett, i.e. making room for yourself to make something where you thought about the work only and forgot the rest of it, is what people need to do today if they want to truly experiment. Experimentation requires the right to fail – and maybe that’s a right we need to exercise on our own.
Good on you, too, if you can do that AND work professionally, earning your living doing the other thing at the same time. I found I had to give producing professionally for someone else up and make my living doing something unrelated (teaching) so I could save my audio practice for myself.
Also maybe I was just tired.
“It’s entirely possible I am naive, but I always fragmented my efforts and worked to understand what I was getting out of what scenario – understand the cost of each and make the best work possible within the promise of the scenario. And then move on.”
Nothing naive about it.
I’m not a podcaster or radio artist so forgive me if my thoughts here are naive or ill-informed, but this question of radio without scaffold prompts more speculation and questions from me… Apologies in advance! 🙂
I would imagine that radio without scaffolding already exists and in abundance. Whether considering analogue radio broadcasts (now no longer regulated in the UK, are they elsewhere?) awash with pirate stations transmitting religious propaganda, a multitude of dance music genres, and political rhetoric, CB radio, or exploring the wealth of the web’s offerings of self-produced audio, (and I’m sure the so-called Dark Web has it’s podcasters too), message boards, feeds, or even the use of social media and apps like What’s App to ‘broadcast’ I’m prompted to ask why, or what motivates this question NOW?
If I understand it properly, the scaffold here relates to the monetisation of data, the media partners, gatherers of statistics, revenue and ownership of space (and time), but I should be tempted, to be better able to investigate and locate ways of dismantling scaffold, to broaden that purview to include everything that makes broadcasting what it is. Consider the ethics of broadcasting in public, of the technologies employed, of the people that contribute to the very bits and bytes, that are audible, and to those that silently make the cups of tea and coffee, consider all the accepted and established codes of practice, the work methods, consider what’s not there, consider what it MEANS to broadcast… and then re-consider it. Ask the what if’s, and importantly, act on them. What might happen if I did something different? If I omit this or add that, what changes and how might this be explored?
As an artist when I’m working with an idea or a piece of work that’s in progress in the studio, and I’m unhappy with it, I often consider to do exactly that. I ask myself (and often the work too, audibly, as if we are conversing), what more could you be? Sometimes it’s enough to look at other artist’s work, but more often than not I take inspiration from other things, from other interests to guide me. Experimental fiction for example, or an article I read in a newspaper, or a conversation overheard, that has nothing to do with the idea I’m tussling with, but which opens up an alternative way of looking at the world. I would therefore be tempted to also ask other questions which perhaps reinforce Joan’s own line of questioning and much of what’s discussed here: what of the scaffold are we? how might we locate radio without scaffold when we are within and part of it? and to whom or from where else could we look?
And just one final thought. In answer to the simple question originally posed :”How would you listen differently if podcasting had room for being something other than what you hear?”
– It has that, a limitless amount of room it seems to me, so I look forward to discovering Y(our) ideas, your attempts, your failures, and your successes, but I cannot, nor do I wish to be told nor know in advance HOW I will listen. For me, and as a listener, that’s part of the fun and play of curiosity, exploration, and invention. Surprise me. Please.
I agree with this. There is quite a lot of radio without scaffolding out there and I think half the fun is digging around to find it.
Joan could speak to this better than I can, but in responding to the “why now” question, I think it has to do with this particular moment in (capital P) Podcasting where there is a flood of shows (good, great, bad and otherwise) and suddenly, there is also some money in it (or, seems to be, anyway). This changed many of the conversations around podcasts to be about audience building, monetizing, charting on itunes, etc. The “scaffolding” as I’m interpreting it, are how those structures — stations, editors, networks, money, ads — also end up shaping the form.
My experienced has been that the audio community — and by this I mean anyone working in sound — is wide, varied but also somewhat fractured. There are large parts of it calling themselves ‘artists’ others ‘producers’ some ‘journalists’ and some ‘ecologists’ or ‘comedians’ or whatever else. And, for whatever reasons, a ton of podcasts often come from journalism, or comedy, or written drama, etc.. and sometimes the “artist” is lost. The same is true of the commercial realm of anything, the difference is that in something like film or music, the conversation around “art” vs “commercial” or “experimental” has a history and language established for acknowledging and talking about it. This definitely exists within the sound world, but it’s not apparent for beginners — in the way, for example, non-film people are aware of independent, art house cinema. If that makes sense.
Personally, I think it’s important to be continually reminded that the radio, podcasts, etc are and can be art. And producers are and can be artists. This is something that can get lost in the shuffle. I might be overstating it some. And I think experiences for people working in radio are vastly different depending on where they might land, when they entered the field, and all of that.
I’m with you though, 100%: There is a ton of room. And a ton of people making incredible work. And I’m also listening to be surprised.
Seth, hailing from the listening sphere of the UK, what’s your experience of where and how broadcast radio has fared as a space for art? Many here might be familiar with the long-running experiment of a government-funded signal—ResonanceFM—that was only supposed to last a year when it launched back in 2002. And the BBC seems to have ‘opened’ its coffers or signal space for engaged, sonic-centric storytelling, features, drama, writing. All the things many people have been listening to on the broadcast end of the BBC and now, we, outside its signal, can benefit from via podcasting.
We engaged in the idea of public sounds and artistry, commitments to listeners (as an ethical issue) with no sense of definitive in last year’s forum. But it’s a continuing dialogue I don’t see disappearing anytime soon.
I feel like things have gotten further afield since then regarding ‘public’ space and/or commitment to being engaged more broadly for a community of listeners who want a more artistic listening experience, as you’re noting, Adriene. If you listen to enough of a certain kind of podcasting, it all just feels like each individual looks at his/her numbers of downloads and proceeds from there (certainly, there are creative uses of that data as much as there is simply a quantitative use).
But is there a ‘public’ that is to be committed to in the podcasting medium as there has, always been, in the public radio model–here in the States and/or elsewhere? I don’t discount the numerous radio-podcast partnerships (like The Stoop, whose ‘radio home’ is always acknowledged in their credits—KALW-FM in San Francisco—as well as their ties to the NPR Story Lab).
I’m curious about how this unfurls where there’s still more of a commitment to this audience and where those realms are strongest. I do recall a year ago the bemoaning of the loss of scaffolding—at the RTé in Ireland, at the ABC in Australia. And I began to have a real dread that it’ll all just come tumbling down, each somehow following a model (from elsewhere).
Adriene, I think you speak well to this idea of new producers needing more of an understanding of what’s possible–and the best way towards that is listening (and listening some more!).
And also, putting yourself in the way of conversations that seem to be only focused on the drive for success. In 2001, at the inaugural Third Coast, I ran a panel (called “Taking Risks in Radio”) and someone came up to me afterwards and asked, “But how do you fund that?”
I took a deep breath and probably said something like “Have a garage sale,” to which his eyes likely glazed over.
But maybe that’s my model of how to talk about art and artistry since I’m not so hip to getting funding for anything.
I’d also add, to this question of why podcasting, as a distinct medium, is expanding now, is where and how it grew— from other media. And I think it’s twofold.
One is radio, for its sense and use of sound and oral storytelling (and subsequent or divergent tendrils towards art of sound—more so than cinema for the ear, as Jess Shane and Michelle Macklem of Constellations are both noting in their writings in the “Circuit” section above).
The other is the virtual medium. The internet was initially a wide-open space for experimentation. All kinds of strange things were popping up—DIY in particular—in the mid-1990s. Then the RSS technologies were played with to facilitate the launch of podcasting in 2004.
But it’s also true that the consumer of both these media has been lulled into less surprise (the kind where you flip the radio on and get a random signal, aleatory programming, radio art, for example; or stumble upon a web site and a project that has a unique ‘local’ community that is spread out to those with an internet connection). There used to be more community radio stations that a person could walk into and be on the air with a little bit of training. Similarly, if you paid your internet bill (or went to the library), you had access to a vast media platform where you could experiment with content and with technologies. People weren’t staring at their phones so much as they were fiddling at their keyboards and larger screens—to make a bit of code, to make art.
Back to this consumer: what they have been lulled towards more readily now is self-curating— thanks to platforms like Spotify and Pandora; also thanks to the scrambling of public media (radio, in this case) to fall into step with all the other platforms that suggest you have to have a web presence, then an archive availability for on-demand listening, then a podcast. Some of my undergrad students are confused when I tell them This American Life is still a radio program and not ‘just a podcast’ they download.
That’s a legacy that just kind of ‘happened,’ without questioning it, similar to Starlee Kine’s comment on Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything episode I mentioned earlier, who suggests that ads just started happening on podcasts without some sort of inquiry around whether they should. Internet companies just started luring ad money (or maybe it was the other way around—I’m not enough of a scholar of media to discern these trajectories). I am, however, someone who has lived through the last couple of decades observing my media surroundings.
Well, there’s two interesting new people to check out, right there.
I’ve been thinking about Seth’s “I cannot, nor do I wish to be told nor know in advance HOW I will listen.” Whatever it is, I think many of us think it has to be wrapped up like the radio we know. it doesn’t!
I then fantasized about starting my next podcast episode with: “This.”
And yes, want to get surprised, too. And not totally understand every little nuance and corner literally.
Marjorie, can you share a bit of your process for your podcast, “That Tuesday”?
You’re working in two languages and then all the ‘languages’ of sound as it happens when artists get together and talk about their work. But you take it one more step and begin improvising with them yourself.
The later episodes have a more fluid feel, like you just stumbled upon this person and then begin composing with them. What did it take to get to that point?
And I’d love to hear another series, starting with “This!”
Coincidentally I worked on behalf of the Sonic Arts Network (back when the LMC still were a part of them) at Resonance FM in the first 6 months of it’s inception in 2002. At that time I found the work they did very exciting but since then I guess due more to my own concerns with making than anything else I probably only really tune in to Resonance every once in a while. What they do do and have consistently done is support projects which have a concurrent broadcast and an off-site event, or series of events that the visiting public can get involved with. Just recently a curator friend of mine at the Royal College did a project supported by Resonance where they transmitted from a gallery in South London. (https://www.gasworks.org.uk/participation/rca-curating-contemporary-art-ma-partnership-2018-2018-05-10/). They often do similar things at other venues too and for the most part it’s these that I attend rather than tune in, and I suspect that a great many other people perhaps do the same as me. Every year or so Resonance do a funding drive to pay their fees, but for the most part they’re run by volunteers, and the shows they do are funded either by the Arts Council or other sponsors who invariably must have a say in what is and what isn’t broadcast. The Arts Council for example have really (re)strict(ive?) guidelines about what they will and won’t fund, so I would think this is part of the scaffold too. So there is a space for art but it is inevitably constrained.
Elsewhere, my knowledge and experience is limited. A few years ago I took part in a workshop called Dial Stories with sound artist Chris Wood at X Marks The Bokship at Matt’s Gallery in London (http://bokship.org/comingup/castofthecrystalset/dialstories.html). What we did here was compose written contributions to be spoken and recorded and then transmitted on SW from these little Rasberry Pi’s which could be placed around a local park or carried with us for a live collaborative performance. This seems to me to be one such way that art might circumvent the scaffold by putting the technologies and space in the hands of the makers and listeners alone. In September I’ve been invited to present recent collaborative and participatory performance work for a radio show. I know little or nothing about the station called Noods which transmits to Bristol and online, save that it appears to be a blend of what Resonance do and what an underground music station like Rinse cater for. The show I’ll be performing on is apparently a sort of clear spot, which has been allocated purely to allow the host total artistic freedom to present whatever he likes. When I asked him what he was looking for in terms of content, he essentially said he wanted to be surprised. He likes my work and that’s enough for him apparently, so I’m happy with that freedom bestowed on me and will do my best to surprise him! 🙂 What this means to our conversation here though is that even within the realm of public broadcasting like the BBC or a little radio station such as I’ve mentioned here, there are those that would and do give space to experiment, which is a positive thing.
All of this aside, however, I would add that in my experience audiences, the public, (us), are a fickle bunch, and will listen to what they feel like. I think what’s important is offering choice, and fortunately the internet does offer that, more so than a commercially or even public-funded institution which has to a degree consider revenue. Another fleeting thought that occurred to me yesterday while working in a public art gallery (another sphere of institutions which artists should critically engage, I think) is that a scaffold is also that where the condemned are executed publicly! Your thoughts please! 😉 Just as the mob would turn out to see such a spectacle so too with what is broadcast? What if the scaffold alone is displayed? The scaffold the spectacle? The condemned to die?….
I agree with much of the previous comments about expanding upon and encouraging others to listen more and get more involved in the arts/broadcasting but I also feel, or rather know instinctively, that there will always be those that will find things out, that will be curious, and if what they seek isn’t there, then they’ll make it themselves.
Seth, hearing about your individual projects/experiences (both as maker and listener-consumer) and the broader scope of your geography, is quite interesting.
Yes, the scaffold is indeed where the condemned are executed publicly. The word also shares the same root with catafalque, which apparently was the decorated wooden framework supporting a coffin of a distinguished person during a funeral. I enjoy these metaphors of the scaffold and chose them for their malleability and resonance as you’re exploring. I love the idea of just the scaffold being displayed.
Well, first of all, it’s my personal laboratory – a scaffold I set up in my backyard. It takes me forever to get them made…I have two (or three) in different stages right now and who knows.
Secondly, I got involved with improvisation when I fell out out of “arts plastiques” (this is what we call visual arts but of course it isn’t always visual) here in France for linguistic reasons – into where the musicians were hanging out. I became more interested in composition than in continuing the kind of documentary work I had done in the 80’s and 90’s (along with my quixotic urge to “revive” radio drama which makes me tired just thinking about) – I couldn’t bear to do all that again. I found that I was capable of improvising. I just had to get on the bus to ride in the moment.
So I choose to feature another person who wants to work the way I do. I try not to mix and edit the hell out of it but of course I do. (And I don’t always do the kind of mix job that the many brilliant engineers I’ve worked with would do – but this makes it a kind of sketch sonicially I guess. And my style of improv or composition involves a kind of painstaking preparation of elements so there is no time saved – a “preparation and building of the instrument”). But I free myself from any constraints of the constraints that I felt were there when I made “radio” – like the underlying linear explaining.
I’m rarely satisfied with it – but the idea of “This” propels me.
Thanks for asking.
Most of my listeners are in Northern California. No kidding. The bottle seems to be rattling around between Oregon and LA. So be it.
I’ve got a visual, now, Marjorie (or the equivalent of a ‘sound’) for how you ‘compose.’
I must be one of those fans in Northern California.
I left out a sentence – “for linguistic reasons” – I said that I wanted to do theatre but that didn’t suit me in the foreign country where I ended up – but now I am working in performance as I always wanted.
Lucky me 🙂
Well, this has been a splendid conversation. The inevitable question arises: where do we hear podcasting and radio artistry evolving from here? where are the intersections of the two, the legacies and innovations?
Keep listening. I think that might be even more important than ‘Stay tuned.’ Though the latter implies ‘a’ signal, the former invites an ear-opening to the world of sound.