‘what we give attention to grows.
what we pay attention to grows.’
- adrienne maree brown
‘Please stop listening to the Today programme’
- my friend Sidd [in a text at 8am]
I’m trying not to write about despair.
About the way my attention keeps anxiously flickering in and out of the room I’m in.
I’m trying not to write about how my dreams lately have become porous. How I've found other people’s words slipping between the sheets, intruders in my unconscious.
On a walk, Suzie tells me about an experiment where they play you adverts in your sleep. She says you can find yourself waking up to a world of someone else’s desires, discovering an insatiable hunger that isn’t your own.
Awake, I’m listening to an interview. ’I often feel like I’m trapped inside someone else's imagination...’. The speaker, adrienne maree brown, offers this up to their interviewer like an invitation because - they point out - it means we could just as easily re-imagine it.
I forget, sometimes, that this world has been dreamed into being.
In the world I work in - a medium of endless imaginative and political possibility - I can feel my attention catch on the things that irritate me. The selling of soulless audio ideas divorced from anyone’s desire, actually, to make them; the IP incubators treating documentaries like long form adverts; a public service that's lost inside its own institutional corridors, where political shadows throw vast and intimidating shapes on the walls.
The audio that slips out of these speakers emerges to fill the emptiness. It’s there to make noise. It’s there to make money from my attention.
The light is fading. I’m making a list of the things I want to pay attention to in sound. Noting down silences that hang in the air - four seconds, seven seconds, eleven seconds - the moments of not-knowing just after a question has been asked, where the world is fluid, vast, uncertain. I remember an image in a note from Alan - a radio feature is like a murmuration... A swooping choreography of sound and language, written - fleetingly - in the air - before it disappears into the dusk.
I’m thinking about the fragments of radio which cling to my imagination like half-remembered dreams - a woman letting her wedding ring slip into the darkness of a lake, a thought that starts with the crackle-slow exhalation of a cigarette being lit, the rhythmic rattling of the overnight train to Odesa - years ago - underscoring a carriage's chorus of gentle snoring.
The melody of breath - soft sighs, sharp gasps which speak of wonder, a long-slow-breath which builds a bridge between internal feeling and external world.
Radio that knows the rhythm of my body - that makes my muscles twitch, my heart race, time stop.
Radio that makes me an active - not passive - listener. That leaves space for us to render its imaginative world together.
Radio that embeds itself like a memory, a feeling, a dream just before waking.
This is a book of small acts of attention. A set of incantations for the audio worlds we'd like to live in. Use it as a map, use it as a spell book or take a pen and use these scraps of paper to call your own dreams into being.
— August 2022
The audio world I want to live in
has no words.
It starts with the purrrrrl purrrrrrl
of a paddle ladling its way through a tanniny creek
And then it is just a list of fabulous things that exist in this world,
rendered, of course, through sound.
The rumbling of star earthquakes. Which I guess should be called starquakes.
The gachunk (gachunk gachunk) of animals with three hearts. The steampunk flickering of dragonfly wings in every last everlasting gobstopper color from emerald
to lemon-turquoise swirl.
The drops of rain off a gutter
after the rain has stopped.
The flutter of my wife's eyelashes.
against my collar bone.
The cottony burrowing in of poems about grief.
The grave clarity of a brain
on an airplane.
The silence of the dead goose
we saw the other day.
And the jangling of the German shepherd we marked as the culprit.
The swirling tides of a time when the Earth had three moons,
which was a thing according to some scientists—
at least one scientist—
based on a calculation
I will hold close to my heart till it stills.
The purrrling of the paddle stops abruptly. The paddle is clunked flat against the boat. But it is no use; the glissando of droplets hitting the water alert the creature ahead.
I can’t describe the sound of the six-foot tall nurse rolling her gorgeous eyes
when a geriatric patient tells her he wants to take her home in his pocket.
Or the sound of her reply: “You better have a really big pocket.”
I can’t describe the sound of her scraping her long body against the arched limb of a crabapple tree to make room for me, back when we were uptight kids in uptight spaces trying to climb our way out.
We smoked a little pot and
dreamed of tattoos and men
who did not wear khakis.
I can’t include her on my list because five days ago
a dark SUV didn’t bother screeching just hit her tall body beneath a Waxing Gibbous on a West Hollywood street.
The creature ahead in the creek is a fawn.
It is standing, alone, chest deep in the water.
in front of a small wooden footbridge.
I am trying to put the brakes on the kayak
but can find no way to do that silently.
My son is pressed against my chest.
We are all, all three of us,
Except that my son and I are gliding, rather quickly
toward the fawn.
If ever there’s a moment that won’t last
it’s this one.
I try to drink in every white spot
on its auburn back,
the illuminated pink
of its searching ears.
My brain flicks off a million questions- where is its mother, do deer swim, would it allow us to touch it, is this a miracle.
the most famous one anyway,
says that if you try to reach the other side
by always moving halfway from where you are standing
you will never reach it.
Half and half and half
getting infinitesimally closer
but never there.
is how this odd little thought exercise always struck me.
five days after the tall nurse’s death
as we careen toward the fawn
I wonder if any passenger ever tried applying Zeno’s Paradox
to their journey across the River Styx.
If you were to stare, really stare,
at the far bank:
note where the black ripples slow,
note the sound of the prow parting the grasses—
like a snare drum?
like the brushing of hundreds of metal feathers
along your scalp?
note the salt stains on the reeds as a likely indicator of drought.
If you were to zoom in and in and in
as you got closer and closer and closer—
at the water striders
the kidney beans of moon hopping around in the current—
would you never get to the other side?
At her funeral, two days later, the nurse’s mother will tell me that Bells-Of-Ireland were her favorite flower.
I looked up Bells-of-Ireland tattoos.
I didn’t like them much.
At her burial, a friend standing at a distance saw a green dragonfly
anoint certain shoulders. Her brother, her mother, Roberto.
Then linger near the coffin.
“It was her,” the friend told me.
Another friend saw the same thing. In her telling, it anointed my shoulder too.
A few days later, I read a cartoon about how grief
folds itself into you like butter
in a croissant.
Oppressive and greasy at first
but ultimately forming your succulence.
I’d rather be dry.
In sound-editing software, there is this thing you can do.
You can zoom in and in and in
on a waveform
until it gets flatter and flatter and flatter
and you are, in some real way,
diving into the infinity of that sound,
exploring its every last corner and pluck and fractal melody.
The software I use has a limit,
but sound, itself, the possibility to zoom into it—
if the mathematicians are right—
If I could get the recording of that night,
and zoom in on the moment before the screechless sound,
and sift my way through the chatter and clacks of the draining nightclubs,
using a high pass filter to toss out the basses,
and a low pass filter to exile the whines,
eliminating every last frequency,
the thrum of neon, the pulse of the planet, the screams of faraway stars,
extracting just the sound of her breath,
moving my cursor to the spot
right after her last inhalation,
a tight and round thing,
to the place where the waveform rises up for its swan song,
that long exhalation
like a shaggy pine-tree on its side.
If I started zooming there,
stretching the whisps and secrets into long flat drones,
and curling up in them like the infinite blankets
they supposedly are,
diving deeper still
to explore and notice whatever everything resides there,
extending the waveform
Would the dragonfly be returned to its meaningless state, when it flew free, before it had to bear the pall of her hello.
and her foolishly big hands,
still be here.
The fawn spooks at last.
It finally overrides its impulse to freeze,
and alights onto the grass,
of the other side.
[Sara Brooke Curtis]
Please read this aloud and then think about it or feel about it and tell me about it or make something out of it. Or maybe just feel something because of it and move on. Nothing is meant to last, though these words will be in print, so unless you burn it or lose it.. You can revisit them again. What a treat to be confronted with your reading eyes... but please take care of them, they are portals.
I’m thinking about windows into worlds. Like sometimes how I prefer the idea of peeking into a spotlit apartment window to going into the apartment. I think it’s because the glimpse invites the imagination to play. How plot points are
tendrils towards the knowing mind and the glimpse is an invitation to the curious mind.
How do you create an audible glimpse? How do you angle a microphone towards a moment and make it shimmer with profundity? How do you capture the enoughness of a scrap of time or a gesture of life, and let it reverberate for a listener? The gestures and the scraps are where the cinema is, where the poetry is, and I guess I ultimately want to live there. The holy poetic moment is my heartbeat. Ba-boom. Ba-boom.
What if an audible glimpse is a match made in sound story heaven? What if I’m not talking about beginning, middle, and end stories, and what if that still legitimizes me as a storyteller? What if leaning into being whatever I am and practicing that fully is actually the thing? What if that’s the thing for you too, to unapologetically luxuriate in your thing? What if we didn’t bury the heart of the story and instead let the heart be the whole story! What if we didn’t need to wade through the important stuff to get to the playful stuff? What if play was the important stuff? What if our “killed darlings” came back to life and threw the most magnificent party! What if they played one at a time and showed off their contextless beauty?! What if we didn’t feel the need to legitimize a rich moment in time with a clear intro and outro to justify its place, to signify its worth? What if attending to a moment by documenting it for a listening audience wasn’t just an accessory to a story, a layer to the story, but the marrow of the story?
An audible glimpse demonstrates reverence for the medium just like attending to the mundane demonstrates reverence for life. Do we think enough about the fact that the medium is the message? If we want an audio experience to feel like someone is whispering in our ears, shouldn’t we think about the actual physical experience of sound in an ear? Of a voice traveling through us? If the human voice travels through those sensitive canals, shouldn’t we think about what the voice is carrying and how the ears are receiving? What decibels and metaphors are lodging where? What would please our fleshy, funny, floppy, cartilage laden ears? The middle ear, the outer ear, the inner ear? All those nerves! Such tender portals, such powerful disseminators. The texture of breath, the tone, the pitch, the pacing, the heat? How do we pay attention to all of those sense based things that the medium has to offer, if we’re busy untangling the intellectual noise of a storyline?
Sound is physical and stretchy. When listening to something on my headphones, I picture a pinball machine. Well, I don’t always, but that’s the image now… and it’s right. The sound is the ball pushed into the eardrums with those flippers, then it ricochets around inside the body, ignites sense memories, and does or doesn’t find the heart. Points lost for lack of potency. Points scored for resonance. I also picture a carwash, but that’s more about wanting to be immersed in a world, temporarily smothered in a feeling, before being rinsed of it and moving on. Will someone make an audible version of a carwash? Not an audio tour of a carwash, but something that reliably conjures renewal after total messy swooshy immersion?
That intimacy thing we talk about in audio… What if we indulged in stretching the edges of shared intimacy by placing the mundane on a throne, mic’ing it and marvelling at it? What if glimpsing is all we really ever get to do. Glimpsing of each other and of nature. That could be sad but it could also be perfect. What if trying to impose a structure and linear order onto a story is just a manifestation of an innate fear of being out of control? What if we obsess over plot because it eases the terror over the edgelessness of inevitable chaos? Knowing how to skilfully build plots into stories is a gift, but maybe it’s also a crutch? Maybe producing an audible glimpse for someone’s ears is telling them, it’s okay. The beautiful or weird or hard or confusing moment you are in, is enough. You don’t have to know how the story ends and maybe you don’t even know how the story begins, but that doesn’t take away from where you are. Maybe try to create dynamically around that.
Narrative audio orthodoxy, not to mention the romanticised precision of the editor – snip, snip, kill your darlings! – dictates that sounds and words earn their keep. Every wasted second is multiplied by the number of people who endure it: that’s the calculus.
And sure, of course, you respect your listener! Frrrrr. Nobody wants theirs to be the foot tripping up the endless march of time. So dutifully, you make every moment count, and if you don’t have something useful to say, you simply don’t say anything. Eeaaaaeeeeaaaooooh.
Carefully – soundfully – constructed audio is typically a labour of excess, at least in purely temporal terms. There’s almost always too much raw material. Ha! It demands to be distilled and intensified. Your task is to concentrate, both ways.
But. Hear. Me. Out. HONK. For all that there is to love about what we know, what we do, how we know to do it – we are pining for uselessness. We want to be free, SDLELWFJKLXCVN, of industrial meaning-making – story goes in here, story goes in there (taps brain), minimal friction. We need, crave, ack! that friction. Ack!
Purposeful, discursive, deliberate – yes and also HONK. And vvvvv. The radical potential of sound, if there is one, and I PEKPEQPQ believe there is … its promise, I heavily suspect, is held in the ineffable magic of the unknown, unjustified, uninvited, unexplained, unmetabolised. It’s in a refusal to do and an insistence on being. Gungggggg. It’s infinitude.
Singing, speaking, shouting; humming, howling, hacking – the voice has its degrees and yet there’s barely a more obscene and unsettling mystery than a stubbornly useless sound made by mouth. How can something so important to human living, so thoroughly studied and constructed and deconstructed, be used for precisely nothing? There is little space for the possibility of a voice deployed for no reason at all. Just ask a psychoanalyst! HHhhhh?
Acousmatic sound, on the other hand – who really needs convincing? Atonal, uncertain, erratic, inscrutable. Let it ram a brick between a closing door and its latch.
zxvckljhqrop. Sound holds us for a time in something locative and fleeting. I am for it.
Hueueuieueue: the problem is that all of this has utility, because the feeling of being part of something you can’t understand or express is so common to us. Maybe its meaning emerges later. Maybe it doesn’t. Shouldn’t. Life can be fucking ambiguous! And so it is tempting to argue to incorporate this as technique – as an instructive, illustrative conceit. The point of pointlessness is that pointlessness sometimes has a point, that kind of thing. This emergent purpose we might call utility creep.
Btwttwfwtf. I say: resist it. Or do whatever you want! At least once in a while. Who gives a shit? Azhhhhxxxxx! Confuse people; it’s good for them, even for a second. You won’t hurt anyone and you’re not wasting their precious seconds. There is no egg timer where we’re going. But if somebody unexpectedly feels the wind on their face and the leaves under their feet, that’s how it is to be trusted. Cshcshshcs.
Sound Design Sketches
Sea / Breathing
Queen of Dogs
An Elephant Walk
To do when alone
Walk home late after a party
Listen to the sounds
Parties through open windows
Shreds of conversations
The last tram ringing
When you are ready,
Read out loud over the sounds:
“I was walking home late
Still buzzing after a party
When I ran into you
Listen back to old room sound
you recorded during an interview
One minute or a minute and a half to be sure
Remember the wonderfully awkward moment of meditation you shared
Imagine the perfect podcast host
Be happy it is not you
Lie on a friends couch
Let them ‘Schwartz’ you
Construct a memory
Lie the best you can
I REMEMBER (radio)
I remember turning the dial on my Grandma’s radio round and round, amazed at all the places one little box could take me.
I remember placing my ear inches from the speaker to make my favourite song louder.
I remember wondering why there were never any kid’s shows on the radio, but lots on TV.
I remember tuning in at the same time every evening.
I remember listening while cooking, driving, eating, pissing and lying in the bath. I remember being there and not being there at the same time; living liminally.
I remember finding comfort in inhabiting other people’s worlds.
I remember listening; to sounds, to music, to words, to stories, to real lives and to imagined ones. To nature and to the cosmos. To silence.
I remember being so transfixed by the world in my headphones that I walked straight into a lamp post. Someone laughed at me. I laughed too.
I remember crying and crying and crying. I thought I had processed it all. And then I listened to this.
I remember feeling humbled by a programme that allowed me to step into the shoes of someone I’d struggled to understand before.
I remember sounds that painted pictures just as vividly as screens.
I remember being transported on a sonic journey.
I remember discovering music that I didn’t know had existed before. Life will never be the same again.
I remember the radio becoming a close companion while I lived alone. We would begin and finish each day together. I loved your company.
I remember wondering what the ethics were in telling this person’s story in that way. Yes it was gripping, but did it cause them harm? Are they OK?
I remember feeling enraged at the same old story being told the same old way.
I remember wondering how can you cover a subject matter that is progressive in such an unprogressive way? Jeez.
I remember the exhaustion of hearing yet another old white man explain to me how the world works.
I remember I stopped seeing radios in friends’ homes.
I remember the coincidence of the radio playing that exact piece on that exact subject matter, just as I am going through that exact experience myself. How did you know?
I remember one music presenter feeling like a father figure to me. My Dad wasn’t around to play me new music anymore, but this person was.
I remember my listening chair. I could sit in that chair for hours, staring out the window, absorbing whatever stories the radio decided to send my way.
I remember wanting to make radio stories myself.
I remember not having a clue where to begin.
I remember beginning somewhere.
‘And Finally…’ a mini-manifesto for some Good News
[Rose De Larrabeiti]
I can’t help but feel the Good News Story has been tarnished by the ‘and finally…’ end-of-news-bulletin-position it has historically been confined to. A tokenistic short burst of something strange, cute and heart-warming – usually involving a small child or a domestic pet – ideally both - doing something unfeasibly delightful or unexpected … It’s the sugar with which to swallow the 30+ minutes of gut-grinding misery that came before it. A brief, slightly embarrassed hug and a kiss before we’re sent back into the trenches. Its shortness and glibness a tacit acknowledgment from the purveyors of news that ‘yes – we know… this isn’t really what we’re here for…’ but I’m asking - why the fuck not?
As the accumulative terrible news cycle increasingly feels like the shark that jumped the shark over and over again, to the point where it becomes a nightmarish display worthy of the most evil of SeaWorlds. And as we sit here peeking through fingers held tightly over our eyes - just before one of the sharks eats its dedicated trainer in front of us – I think it’s time to reclaim the good news story, remove the ‘and finally’ and give it the prominence it deserves.
I’m no bad-news denier, I’m not saying the alternative is to put on our thick-framed-rose-tinted sunglasses and stare into the sun as the world burns around us. I work in news and I absolutely believe in speaking truth to power, however uncomfortable, unpleasant and devastating that truth may be – but we have choices to make. Choices in the balance of stories we seek out and amplify, not just the ones that hit good numbers – war sells, and we’re not just talking missiles. But what if, what if, in among the relentless barrage of death, destruction and appallingly/laughingly self-interested politicians… we actively sought out and covered more stories of hope, positive action, change, rebellion, adventure – stories to engage, inspire and mobilise us at a time where that mobilisation has never been more necessary if we’re to secure any future for ourselves… Stories that don’t leave us frozen, powerless and in denial as the shark consumes its wet-suit clad, beloved trainer in front of our eyes. It’s time for some good news, for all our sakes.
I am a radio journalist and I make documentaries. Sorry about that
I can’t quite remember, when I first heard the idea that documentaries produced by journalists or journalistic documentaries are considered inferior to feature documentaries produced by artists.
But I do remember a small roadside restaurant somewhere in Germany, where I was once having dinner with a really fun and smart group of international science journalists, mostly working in print. “Radio journalists can’t write!” – one of them suddenly proclaimed, as I silently sat there, another fellow colleague looked at me awaiting my reaction. “All they do is talk, but they are really bad at putting a decent sentence together.”
In discussions at audio festivals some people declare with confidence “This is more of a journalistic reportage”. Read: “This is not quite a real radio documentary”. Or: “I am not a journalist. I am an author of crafted audio documentaries”. And it makes me wonder, what do non-artists, journalists like me, produce? What is the opposite of crafted? Mass-produced, all-the-same-template audio stories? Is this what my stories sound like? Was this meant to be a joke I didn’t get?
But here I am: a radio journalist, who’s been recording, scripting, editing, mixing and presenting all sorts of audio stories for nearly two decades now. And I really enjoy it. I started off as a newsroom reporter, produced short features on social, economic and foreign affairs, and a weekly science and environment program. I’ve always loved scripting those “newsy” stories in such a way that there would be some sounds, a narrative arc and a small scene (I didn’t know it was called this until I attended my first audio feature conference years later).
As a journalist, I am drawn to complex stories of public interest: such as the climate change-proofing of our cities, struggles of people fleeing war-torn countries, or human-wildlife conflict. I am not afraid of those complexities, I do not mind sifting through public procurement documents or trying to understand national policy of energy security. I check facts, but I care about emotions too. And I get excited when hiking through ancient woods full of mosquitoes with a recorder and a forester who is explaining to me the
effects of climate change on biodiversity. And I love making radio documentaries about that. I know they can sound good.
So I try to find human stories at the centre of all these big and abstract problems. Sometimes I find stories of animals, trees, and fungi instead. And I think of ways to tell them in sound. I enjoy meeting people who care about this planet. I am amazed and truly grateful every time they welcome me and my microphone into their world. I think of scenes and sounds that would do it justice, look for good tape and then put it together in a way that is interesting to listen to, or what would count as dramaturgy. I was never taught how to do it. The internet was not full of amazing storytelling podcasts when I started. I’ve learned sound design and mixing on the job, mostly by myself. It may not have been the easiest way to do it, but I had a lot of fun in the process. Still do.
I do not believe this tension between journalists and artists is necessary. This community is so diverse in backgrounds, skills, languages and privileges. There is so much to learn from each other, so many important, tender, comforting, inspiring stories to tell. And there are so many ways to do it. Some of us might be more confident, others, like me, after years on the job, still struggling with our own little insecurities. But we all love sound and what it can become. A magic place where humanity and empathy find a safe haven, when they have nowhere else to go.
Wide-eyed and cloudy-headed
summertime is ending
with the wind in our sails
in our sleep.
Here today, gone tomorrow,
self-sowing sweet pea pink
and the yarrow, yellow-white,
at our feet.
You know where you are, Ruf?
(looks like you do)
Nothing gets past you, eh, pup?
Nothing gets past you...
Gulls above, a tape delay,
the echoing of all the days
that led us round the corner
up this street
to Sheepcote Valley
growing golden in the leaning of the light
along the meadow
to the sea.
You know where you are, Ruf?
(looks like you do)
Nothing gets past you, eh, pup?
Nothing gets past you…
Transformation Through Repetition.
[As told to JT Green by Jemma Rose Brown]
I just got out of a recording session for one of the podcasts I produce, and uh, the host was talking to a musician who plays a lot with loops.
[lip smack] And, um, they were talking about the power of looping and, she said this phrase in the context, um, of their conversation –– she said, um, you know, I'm captivated by the power of transformation through repetition.
And, it jumped out to me, and I think the thing, a thing,
I love very much about home is, transformation through repetition.
How I change, you change, the house changes, through [lip smack] the micro and macro daily acts of repetition.
Toothbrush goes in holder, milk inside of door;
Grinding the coffee, put it back in the cabinet;
Shoes under the bench, chair pushed under the table;
Opening the curtains in the morning, closing the curtains at night or in the summer;
Closing the curtains during the day and opening them at night.
And how all these little acts, um [lip smack], become, part of us, and part of the map of this house.
I don't have that map yet, I just moved into my home. And so, I'm map making right now, like, I'm inventing in real time, um, in some way I'm projecting uh, what are my transformations going to be through repetition? Um, what acts am I going to repeat?
And I'm making that map by putting certain objects in certain places, um, and I'm probably going to move them a bunch of times, but at a certain point they'll kind of settle into place.
And um… and then I'll really have a map, and it will repeat, and it'll cycle, and it will loop and it will become me, and I'll become the loop inside my home.
Photo credits: Documentation of performance by Jemma Rose Brown, Marcus Brittain Fleming, Sophia Wang Soon, and JT Green.
The Names of the Birds
For one thousand nights and one night Scheherazade told stories. At first she told them to save her life but later she told them because it had become the thing she did, and then because it was the thing she was.
And on the morning of the day before the one thousand and second night Scheherazade wakes up and goes to the window. The sky is blue and wide and in the market below the castle walls the life of the city is beginning. She remembers that it’s over. She looks out of the window and she sees a bird, a Red Kite? A Collared Dove? A Gull? And she begins to list the names of the birds.
Only the names of the birds in her mind and the sounds of their wings and their calls in the air above the castle walls. The blue sky and the woman watching who knows she will live and that she no longer has to tell anyone any stories.
And then I stop telling the story.
Like Scheherazade I want to wake up one morning and not have to tell stories. I want to wake up and look out of the window and think of all the things I could show you instead, all the other ways there are to talk with each other about the world.
I’m editing, I’m listening to the voice of Peter Greenaway speaking in a cinema in Zurich and he’s saying “Stories are really for children, aren’t they? To put them to sleep.” And there’s the nervous laughter of the audience on the recording. I move the playhead backwards through the frozen laughter and I listen again. And again. And again.
And then A, which is for “And then”. A is for abstraction. A is for Alphabet.
B is for the birds, B is for Bricolage
C is for Catalogue
And D is for Directory.
Anne Carson, re-electrifying the shapes of myth.
Ibrahim El-Salahi, painting the spirits he saw in the desert.
Michelangelo Frammartino, filming souls migrating and seasons changing.
Lizzie Goodman, surveying the scene in NYC.
Lucinda Guy, broadcasting Dartmoor to itself.
Mazen Kerbaj, dueting with the bombs that threaten his home.
Walter Marchetti, dropping rocks down a well.
Hugh MacDiarmid, drunkenly considering a thistle.
George Perec, watching the life of the street which he knows to be enchanted.
Christopher Smart, listing the attributes of his cat Geoffrey.
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, following the networks the mushrooms make.
King Tubby, making the familiar deep and strange, haunted and new.
A terrible directory! Arbitrary and improvised! It leaves almost everybody out, excludes through ignorance and forgetfulness. The missing ones crowd around like hungry ghosts around an offering of blood and milk. Feed them. Share their names, seek them out, listen to them and repay the people who labour their whole lives to enliven us, to wake us up, to make our heads swim and our hearts leap in our chests.
Imagine everything that you can do with our medium, with the medium of transmitted sound. Feel that vast possibility start to gather around you. Feel it like the life you feel
surrounding you in a great wood. Listen to it, let a part of its richness catch your attention and then begin to play.
I hope you live to tell one thousand and one stories. I hope they comfort you and earn you a living or save your life. I hope that, when you need them to, they can put you to sleep.
But I also hope that one morning you wake up and smell spring in the blue air and you go to the window and you look out at the town waking up, that you listen to the birds and that you decide that this is a good day to do something different.
A good day to stop telling stories.
Something audio thought
[Suzie McCarthy and Nina Garthwaite]
This poem is a collaborative cut up audio dream for the future of radio. It was generated through stream of consciousness, Dada and the quirks of Google Translate.
come my dream
So the voice is only mine.
I own the voice
From age like other living nonsense.
Remove the flakes
Stop writing in fear
Stop the wavering princesses
So that all those who endure;
Being and art and polarity
Maybe I'm great
My body will do its best.
Something that humans shakily lock onto.
It's disgustingly stupid
Only I carry
Magic pieces of laughter
Oversaturated ground is done touching
So think strongly about two things.
Ahhhh, I'm unconscious
Now I think I feel like a shoe.
I have you covered
(Get cushion moment
[Sami El-Enany and Axel Kacoutié]
-Player One creates a sonic haiku (as if sounds were syllables) and passes it to Player Two.
-Player Two interprets the sonic haiku with a written haiku. What words are appropriate vessels for these sounds?
-Player One and Player Two swap roles and repeat ‘A'
Player One creates a written haiku and passes it to Player Two
Player Two interprets the written haiku with sounds. What sounds are appropriate vessels for these words?
Player One and Two swap roles and repeat ‘C'
Work out what just happened. Have Player One and Player Two just created an eight-stanza sound-word hybrid poem? Should the stanzas be placed in a completely different order, exquisite corpse style?
Solve the Future of Audio!
1) Borders (10)
3) Franklin hit written by Redding (7)
5) Obliterate (3)
6) Beet homophone (4)
7) A form of realism (5)
9) Every ___ you take (6)
10) Possession (9)
11) Close a fly (3)
13) Stammers (8)
15) Cause minor injury to (4)
17) The best policy (7)
18) Interpretation (11)
19) The final frontier (5)
21) A Freudian Principle (8)
22) Guffaws (6)
24) A minute of silence I always forget to record (8)
25) It’s in the eye of the beholder (6)
1) Page (4)
2) ___ of the lambs (7)
3) Molecules that contain at least one unpaired electron (8)
4) A written representation (13)
8) Moral Principles (6)
12) Central Perk sitcom (7)
14) It shall set you free (5)
16) Subtle difference (6)
17) Keyboard combos that speed up editing (7)
20) ___ to the people! (5)
23) Reverance (3)
Four hundred years ago, before I was a radio lady, I made the crossword for my university paper. I think that might have been one of the happiest times in my life. I would take breaks from studying Ancient Greek (which I failed horribly) to noodle around with clue creation. It was 2009, Susan Boyle had just sung “I dreamed a dream” on Britain’s Got Talent and the world felt full of possibility! But in my first (and last) puzzle, I fucked up one of the clues. I had always called the three-flavoured ice cream (vanilla, strawb, choco) Napoleon. So I made a clue that was “Tri-partite ice cream” with the answer being Napoleon (8 letters). Ahh how I’ll never forget the letters to the editor the next week hammering home that this sweet treat is in fact called Neopolitan (10 letters)! The crossword weaving dreams I dreamed were smashed.
So here I am now looking to redeem myself. As capitalism grips its talons into the heart of sound I thought it might be nice to offer you something solvable. I want to try and harness some of that old youthful hope for us haggard audio freaks. I’m thinking that maybe by solving this little puzzle you can collect some incantations that might give you shelter from this extractive industry. Even if you or I fuck up a little bit.
[Agnieszka Czyżewska Jacquemet]
I asked my son to help me clean the flat. He was to dust the furniture. To my surprise, there were no complaints - he grabbed a duster, put his headphones on and went off to work. A few days later as he was having a bath, I heard sounds coming out of the bathroom - not music but someone talking. I was really pleased, that my son had started listening to more than just music. Asked about his interest, he said that pictures didn’t leave room for interpretation, whereas voice and sound are great companions to help you understand things better, not just ‘see’.
I jumped for joy – there is future for audio-documentaries and aspiring audio story-telling! Vitalis (that is my son’s name) said he liked podcasts, as they provided him with information about new and important topics. I started thinking what to recommend to him next and suggested he should listen to some documentaries about Ukrainian refugees… and then the magic was gone… My child pulled the plug on my enthusiasm. He pointed out he hadn’t been listening to audio documentaries as - and here he had difficulty explaining - the reason for not listening was either the duration, or the topic or the wording…
Why is it so difficult catching attention with audio documentaries? Following further discussions with my son, I have a hypothesis. Vitalis and his friends listen to podcasts to get to know something new, not to experience emotion. They are looking for information about a topic of interest - they want to understand a problem or get information on what’s happening. They want to attain as much knowledge as possible in the shortest possible time. They can cope with a very high density of information, but any non-informative touch is a waste of time.
In post-production we pay special attention to sounds: the creaking of a door, foot-steps, a baby crying. We make sure sighs or silence come at the right moment. We choose just the right music to create a true theatre of imagination and sound… all for nothing? Just a waste of time? The soundscapes do not only create the scenery or stage directions, they play a key role in non-verbal communication. They appeal to the emotions of a listener and engage both the listener’s imagination and mind.
That’s the crux of the matter, according to my son and his friends, audio documentaries with emotionally laden soundscapes complicate the flow of information. I would put it in a bit of a different way: news report podcasts are emotionally safe. Through data and analysis, they provide the illusive feeling of understanding the world, but not a fellow human, whereas audio documentaries through their emotional involvement with the protagonist challenge feelings. Strategists discussing exact positioning or movements of the army might be interesting, but we can simply shrug and quickly move on to the next task. An audio documentary about the adverse fate of a refugee of war puts a spell on the listener and forces them to reflect.
Audio documentaries require not only a great amount of intellectual involvement but also propel the listener out of their emotional comfort zone. Sound might be dangerous, because of its emotional content. To understand the deeper sense of audio documentaries one really needs to listen and read between the lines hidden in a soundscape. This cannot be done while dusting the furniture or washing up. It needs time, space and silence to understand the complexity and this was my and Vitalis’s common conclusion.
Maybe it is not absolutely essential, that audio documentaries appeal to everyone. Arts require cognitive competency just like books, some of which you might read on a train and leave behind and some will accompany you throughout your life. Every audio documentary might be a podcast, however not every podcast could be an audio documentary. Each of us might chose whatever fits best in a particular moment. Luckily the world (not only the audio) is complicated enough, so this article cannot ever cover all the possible meaning.
The Amazing Radio Vertikalisator
This series of collages is in dialogue with Bengt Bok's book 'Encounter with the Other’, a book that changed the way I see interviewing, and often - when I manage to be present enough - the way I see people. Also, a book I often lend out to friends, so over the years it earned an inscription on the first page, Marta's most precious book ♡.
All quotes below taken from Encounter with the Other: Some reflections on interviewing by Bengt Bok, translated by Katherine Stuart.
"The notion of confluence is about concentration; about putting yourself into a state of heightened awareness before an interview. About being both physically and mentally prepared. A glass cupola descends over the encounter. At that point in time, there is only us, the two of us. It’s about listening, asking follow-up questions, (gently) leading and waiting for responses or stories.”
"It is curiosity, intuition that leads an interview forward and in order to have the courage to use my curiosity and intuition, I must be present (the glass cupola). One hundred per cent in the here and now, then for a moment step back out of the situation and, with distance, look at where we are heading. Then back in again, one hundred per cent in the here and now.
My thoughts must not be anywhere else, feeling must not be anywhere else. Fear and anxiety before an interview must not block my curiosity and intuition. It is okay to be afraid, but only if I also have the courage to remain present. Then the fear can become a strength. Otherwise, it will be destructive.”
"Often I know what answers I want so that the story will move the audience.
When I’m preparing the interview, I can sit and wish for certain answers. This is bad news, and will end up controlling me during the interview situation. I will end up putting words in the Other’s mouth. Even if I don’t do this literally, I do it indirectly and then end up at some point anyway in the end.
What I think about the Other easily becomes reality.”
"The interviewee must be able to tell their story under conditions in which they feel safe and secure, and to someone who is listening. How the interview then develops has its origins in what comes out of the encounter between me as the interviewer and the interviewee. A relationship where neither of us knows the answers in advance.”
"To give the person I am interviewing the chance to go deeper into their own selves, an opportunity to show more sides of themselves. And thus, the opportunity for the listener and the viewer to measure themselves against the thoughts and feelings of the Other.
An interview can be a journey into the unknown, the obscure, the concealed. My curiosity and empathy, along with my research, are the basis for a good interview. As part of the notion of confluence, I move between empathy and distance, between being fully present in person in the moment, and detached analytical observation.
What’s important is to try to understand the person I am interviewing, not to arrive at some kind of common ground.”
20 Prompts I’ve Considered
I started writing down questions to startle some creativity when I was in a rut. They’ve accrued in journals and on sticky notes, in the Notes app and in voice memos. I’ve excerpted (and lightly curated through ordering) a few here. I love this exercise of imagining the sounds of “soundless” things. Immersing myself in the dream logic is one way of reminding myself of the audio maker I want to be.
20 prompts I’ve considered
What is the sound of waking up to a new day?
What is the sound of the sun rising over a field you’ve seen every summer of your life?
What is the sound of remembering how your grandpa’s smile made you feel warm and safe?
What is the sound of the love of your life winking at you across a crowded room?
What is the sound of the light reflecting off the pitch dark, late night train window?
What is the sound after you eat a perfect sandwich?
What is the sound of feeling like it’s been too long since you’ve reached out?
What is the sound of a bad idea?
What is the sound of restlessness?
What is the sound of realizing a chapter’s over, but it’s okay?
What is the sound of your adolescence? Of your teens? Of your 20s? Your 30s…
What is the sound of your favorite swimming hole when you’re not there to jump in?
What is the sound of actually feeling alive?
What is the sound of all the lovely people you’ve ever met somehow being in one room together?
What is the sound of your dog’s dreams?
What is the sound of feeling like it’s okay at this very moment?
What is the sound of a head peacefully resting on your shoulder?
What is the sound of falling asleep?
What sounds were you dreaming of?
What sounds haven’t you heard yet?
During the pandemic, I got back into jogging. At first, furtively up and down the shared alleyway behind our Toronto house, back when we were supposed to stay inside. Later, I'd run through my neighbourhood streets, weaving into the road to keep myself six feet away from pedestrians on the sidewalk. And mostly, it was a lot of loops around city parks. First in Toronto, then in Brooklyn. I'd put in my headphones to drown out my laboured breathing and try to find something that would distract my mind from the monotony of running and also the constant anxiety of the news cycle. An ideal running podcast is just entertaining enough to give your mind something to settle on at about half-focus. The following audio pieces were horrible, beautiful choices. They all literally stopped me in my tracks. None are at all suited to multi-tasking or distraction or physical exertion. I remember exactly where I was when I heard every one of them. These pieces will always live in those spaces for me. I often think of them when I return.
1. Nina - Tracie Hunte (Radiolab)
A heavy, humid, cloudy early summer day about three months into the pandemic and a couple weeks after George Floyd's murder. Going for my little sweaty jog with a little cloth mask I pull up over my mouth when I pass too close to someone on the sidewalk. Jad Abumrad and Tracie Hunte's voices in my ears, the sounds of protest, the voice of Nina Simone singing, then speaking. I think I made it about seven minutes into it before I stopped running somewhere along the line of trees at the east end of Trinity Bellwoods Park. I remember looking up at the rustling leaves in the trees, seeing the dogs running in the muddy field in the distance. A swell of music. A long pause. Tracie's voice cracks. My eyes fill as my breathing slows down. Sweat and tears.
2. Finn and the Bell - Erica Heilman (Rumble Strip)
Almost a year and a half later and I've moved cities, and countries. I'm in a period of feeling exhausted but hopeful. I've just about made it through my first semester of teaching back in person and my children are finally vaccinated. December in Brooklyn is mercifully mild and I've been jogging through the wooded trails of Prospect Park.
That's where Erica's piece about Finn's death rips me right in half. A mother's voice broken by grief. A teenage boy standing in silence at a secret, sacred fishing spot. An off-key small town marching band and the revving of pickup trucks. I have to sit down on a bumpy little wall made of stones along the edge of one of the bridges in the park. I only barely know where I am, which path to take back down the hill. This isn't my home yet. I press pause and try to catch my breath.
3. I'm Here to Pep You Up - @ 30 mins. Erikk Geannikis and Adam Juskewitch (The 11th, originally featured on The Relentless Picnic)
It's cold but sunny. I stick to the main park road, feeling strong. I choose an episode with the word Pep Talk in it and I make it all the way to the top of the hill at the north end of the park before shit hits the fan. About 30 mins into the episode, it's just a few friends talking. I'm usually pretty good at only half-listening to bros chit-chattng, but this is different. There's care and vulnerability and a refusal to step away from the really hard thing. Bros talking about real feelings. No music. No other sound -- just voices. And then a surprise celebrity author appearance. And this: "Grief is a form of praise. You are praising the wonder of the person you lost. The great pain you are feeling means great love." It's late afternoon and the sun is low, filtered through the bare winter tree branches. I stop to walk and listen. The faces of the other joggers, dog-walkers, women pushing strollers look somehow softened. I want to play the ending of the story on a boombox for them all to hear. When it's over I start jogging again down the hill, straight into the setting sun.
Thank you to all the contributors who generously shared their ideas in the first edition of Weird Noise - Kalli Anderson, Talia Augustidis, Redzi Bernard, Mira Burt-Wintonick, Sara Brooke Curtis, Sami El-Enany, Nina Garthwaite, JT Green, Christina Hardinge, Rikke Houd, Agnieszka Czyżewska Jacquemet, Axel Kacoutié, Mitra Kaboli, Rose de Larrabeiti, Alex Lewis, Michelle Macklem, Ariana Martinez, Suzie McCarthy, Phoebe McIndoe, Marta Medvešek, Lulu Miller, Vaida Pilibaitytė, Phoebe Rex, Veronica Simmonds, Katharina Smets, Phil Smith, Jon Tjhia and Michael Umney.
And thank you to the people who proof-read, shared knowledge and scanners, gave time, money, encouragement and in countless other ways made this not feel like a stupid idea - Jasmin Bauomy, Bengt Bok, Alia Cassam, Sarah Geis, Alan Hall, Shannon Heffernan, Georgia John-Charles, Siddharth Khajuria, Jaye Kranz and Charlie Shackleton.
The Weird Noise logo was created by Ariana Martinez.
If you’d like more Weird Noise I’d love to hear from you! And if not, you know, don’t worry about it.