In my classes at Transom, I talk about the fact that many disciplines inform radio stories.
Picture, if you will, a sphere with many axes running through it. An axis for journalism and storytelling. Another for sociology and anthropology. Another for history. One for literature. And yet another representing sound art, and so on.
A story that is strictly acts and tracks and straight-ahead reporting might be located in the portion of the sphere closer to journalism and far from sound art and storytelling. A story on Love + Radio, by contrast, may be located closer to the storytelling and sound art corner. And, by sound art, I’m thinking about sound design and creative ways of cutting and mixing stories.
But, to be honest, when I’ve mentioned a student’s piece might be “sound arty,” I’ll be darned if I really know what I mean by that. Describing it as creative cutting and mixing hardly does the field justice. And, believe me, I’ve tried to comprehend sound art. I’ve read several books — or tried to read several books. Frequently they’re dense, indecipherable. Here are a few:
Noise, Water, Meat by Douglas Kahn
Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio, and the Avant Garde edited by Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead
Radio Rethink – Art, Sound, and Transmission Edited by Diana Augaitis and Dan Lander
Our Sonic Environment and the Soundscape: The Tuning of the World by R. Murray Schafer
Radiotext(e) edited by Neil Strauss
One theme I noticed popping up from time to time in these books and elsewhere is the connection between sound and the body, sound and meat as Douglas Kahn puts it. I’ve never fully understood the point. You’ve got your ears. Sound goes in. How do you get meat out of that?
That concept finally made sense to me while listening to a recent documentary from BBC Radio 3 called Right Between the Ears. In the doc, the narrator of the story, Ken Hollings, relates the curious story of the “music” he heard in his skull while his eye was operated on. He also talks about the experience John Cage had in the extreme silence of an anechoic chamber where he could hear his blood and his nervous system. And, Hollings tells the fantastical story of a fellow musician who, while deaf because of a rare syndrome effecting his ears, heard incredibly loud sounds rattling in his skull. Through these anecdotes and stellar sound design, I came away with an understanding of the connection between sound and the body, sound and meat, as it were – an understanding I don’t think I would have gleaned from reading another dozen sound and radio art books.
But, heck, maybe I’ve been reading the wrong books. I’d happily take your suggestions. Listen to this episode and post your reading list below.