There is something very exciting happening in the suburbs of Melbourne. A new kind of radio experience is emerging.
On the 16th of February, around 35 radio enthusiasts huddled in the foyer of the Brunswick Mechanics Institute. They entered a darkened theatre and listened to audio. These events are called In the Dark.
A couple of weeks earlier, a dozen people in a Yarraville converted church attempted to form a Skype link with the German radio feature maker Jens Jarisch. Eventually the vision was forgotten and Jens spoke, audio only, about his radio oeuvre. This group have called themselves ARC (Australian Radio Collective).
Radio documentary and feature makers have started to gather together and their works are becoming intimate dialogical or theatrical events. Listeners are listening together in public or semi-public spaces, listening in a dedicated manner.
The idea is not completely new. Group listening events have been taking place in the US, and Ira Glass recently toured his radio show as a live theatrical experience. But it is all part of a definite change taking place in radio storytelling. Possibly an unexpected effect of the internet and podcasting on the form.
Award winning radio feature maker Colm McNaughton started ARC late last year. It is quickly growing and the members are from, or make works for, ABC, SBS, and community radio. Most are in Melbourne, but the group is growing to include members from Tasmania, Brisbane Sydney and the central desert. They share samples of work for criticism, talk about technical and artistic aspects of the form and listen to guest radio makers from around the world. They even gather together to listen to entire radio works, and are currently forming how this will be done; more like a rowdy poetry reading then a classical music concert.
There was a nerdy excitement in the Yarraville ex-church about the impending skype link with Jens Jarisch.
Jens spoke about his Italia Prize winning work ‘Children of Sodom and Gomorrah’, which is about African children trying to make their way to Europe. Before Jens made radio documentaries, or ‘features’, Jens was a writer, this is evident in his work. Over the top of interviews with African children, and audio soundscapes, Jens inserted a very complex narration. He has experimented with the grammatical use of ‘person’.
In the audio of the children, they use first person to describe themselves, ‘I did this’. When the narrator talks about the children he uses the second person, ‘you did this’. When the narrator talks about himself he uses third person, ‘the reporter did that’. And, when the narrator interacts with the migration officials in Europe he uses no person at all, just disembodied words floating free of syntax. So, the further the listener moves away from the child, the further the listener is syntactically from ‘I’. This device has split audiences, mainly because of the use of the second person, ‘you’, is so confrontational in English. Despite this, the piece won him the prestigious Italia Prize and an English version was created by Sharon Davis.
The In the Dark theatrical listening experience was organised by people associated with Pool, an online group of poets, amateurs, media artists, and soundscapers linked to ABC. The event took place in Sydney and Melbourne, Feature maker and producer, Michael Williams, was instrumental in convincing Pool and In The Dark to combine with The Night Air to create the event.
In a darkened theatre space, the disembodied voice of the night guard at ABC Southbank introduced the evening with great humour. It turns out he was once an engineer and soon to become an ice-cream entrepreneur. A selection of pieces from Pool were played in the first half, all of them were excellent. A highlight was one of the less narrative driven pieces, ‘Drowning for you’ by X-press radio which consisted of the sound of a person falling underwater and then rising gasping for breath, only to fall under again. The sound of the underwater world was evocative, intimate and brilliantly recorded. Robbie McEwan’s exploration of his sexuality and parentage, and ‘Timothy’s’ exploration of place were also outstanding (not all pool members use surnames).
The second half was more of a mixed bag, and shifted focus away from documentary towards recordings of poetic pieces. Highlights included Melody Ayres Griffiths’ field recording of fireworks and a remix of ‘The Raven’ by Hannah Valmadre. The star of this half was the final piece. In a work reminiscent of the style of radio produced by Ira Glass, Jaye Kranz told the story of how her father spent the ages of three to six in a hole in the ground, hiding from the Nazis. She began the piece with an intimate question to him, what is your first memory?
Radio feature makers are starting to gather together to explore how the form can work on and off radio, they are starting to create a language for their form, starting to talk about it, and write about it. Dr Mia Lindgren, an Australian/Swedish radio maker spoke at an ARC meeting about the need to create the language to describe what we do. She’s right, all too often film terms are used to inelegantly describe what is happening in long form radio.
The next ‘In the Dark: A night of audio storytelling’ can be located through their facebook page, and they are currently looking for eager volunteers. Children of Sodom and Gomorrah can be heard by searching for it in 360 documentaries on the Radio National website, or at http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/360/children-of-sodom-and-gomorrah/3617306 . Jaye Kranz’s The Hiding Place can be found at http://pool.abc.net.au/media/hiding-place and the In the Dark compilation was broadcast on The Night Air on March 4 and can be podcast from their Radio National webpage.