mad in pursuit journal

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS, AT THE intersection OF alarm & fascination

Radio: Illusion of Place

When I was a kid I watched the televised stage version of "Peter Pan" with Mary Martin. I was captivated by the magic of her flying till someone pointed out that she was hooked to a cable. Then all I could see was the cable. The same thing is happening to me with radio production.

Of course, I've always known that radio drama was illusion. When I visualized the Lone Ranger out on the plains with his horse, I knew there was a man standing at a mic in a studio and a Foley artist (I now know they're called) banging empty coconut shells together to make hoof sounds. I bought it anyway.

But what I didn't realize is how much of today's radio "documentaries" have manufactured backgrounds. I'm both fascinated and alarmed. Well, maybe "alarmed" is too strong — perhaps "manipulated" — but isn't that the darn point? To manipulate the audience into believing what you say? Hmm...

In Toronto I listened to a piece where a guy was reminiscing about a cathedral in Barcelona. I was absolutely there with him in Spain. Then the producer told us he'd interviewed the guy sitting on a couch in his tiny office and added a sound effect labeled "Barcelona street." Oh. Well, I can do that!

So I've been revised a little piece of mine called "Respect." It is made up of children's voices we recorded at a school. But the voices are really clean (no background noise) and I originally put them together with spacey chimes and bongos. This (I've since learned) puts them in an "interior" space, as if they were each thinking these thoughts to themselves.

Now I'm playing with putting them back in real space. I downloaded "classroom sounds" clips and am trying to visualize an actual scene. I want to add a bit of background music to heighten the mood, but I need to decide — is it "soundtrack" music or is it music in the same place as the kids, being piped over the loud speakers at the Institution?. Like everything, there is an art to it. It's easy to drown in competing noises. But when it works, it's magic.


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