Soundscapes and Such

The art of the radio story is an all but lost one. While once the dominant medium, it has long since been usurped by television and other audio-visual media. Many people would consider it obsolete, or, to quote Dianne Reeves, “Radio was great, but now it’s out of date.” There are, however, still others who consider it more than just something that would later evolve to be television, but a rich and worthwhile form unto itself.

In film, sound can often be something of an afterthought. In radio, however, sound is everything. You must create the soundscape, certainly, but through this you must also appeal to the other senses – smell, touch, and sight. Since radio does not directly provide any visuals, a mix of description, sound effects, music, and dialogue provide the foundations for the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks for the other senses, which may lead to a more engaging experience for some.

The narratives of “This American Life” often interleave different elements, weaving threads in and out of the foreground and background of the storytelling. Often things begin with narration. Once the telling comes to a certain turn, music may appear in the background, perhaps hinting at a subtext that the audience was previously unconscious of. A character may be described, only to have the voice of that character noticed to be murmuring in the background, as if the narrator is in front of you describing a scene taking place a short distance away. The voice over will be then halt as the character’s voice becomes more audible, eventually taking the fore. Sound effects and music – both diagetic and non-diagetic – are woven in similar fashion.

The effect is something like experiencing two views of the same story – one a view of the story as it unfolded, with all of its sounds, crowds, and characters, and the other of its memory, as told by the narrator, be they an actual witness or a disembodied voice. This results in a telling that is at once denser and more fluid, as the audience is carried seamlessly from one strand to the other.

Dave Turka


~ by kartud on January 30, 2011.

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