Last month I was lucky enough to give a presentation at the fantabulous Third Coast International Audio Festival. I called it AuRa: The Chemistry of Sound.

You can listen to my presentation by going here.

In this post, I’ve embedded links to the complete programs from which I drew the examples I gave in my talk. But first, a few words about the idea behind AuRa:

Audio is like gold (Au): it can easily be shaped, molded, crafted; it is sometimes raw, but we most often encounter it shiny, burnished to perfection. You can turn it over and over again to admire it from many different angles.

Radio is like radium (Ra): active, ephemeral; frequently unpredictable, it comes and it’s gone. You can only experience it in the moment – thence its vital energy.

Each is a part of the other, and by careful application of sound principles, the sound chemist can harness the power of both.

Below you can further explore some of the programs I talked about in my presentation. I’ve posted these in the order in which they appeared in the talk.

A word to the wise: I can’t figure out how to prevent the CBC player from automatically launching, and there are two of them, so you’ll have to pause them to listen to the other pieces in the “gallery”. Apologies for this. (Suggestions welcome!)

1. Life Lessons

I love the juggling episode in this WireTap episode from a few years ago. Was it recorded live? Or was it painstakingly produced? This segment perfectly expresses how artifice is important to both radio and audio.

2. The Wire, Episode 2: The Change of the Sound

We played a lot with how sound is created and perceived, and how that’s been changed by the tools that are used to play with it, in this Prix Italia-winning episode of our Peabody-winning series, The Wire: the Impact of Electricity on Music.

3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Radio drama: the true precursor to 21st-century audio production. Here’s a short segment from one of the all-time classic radio dramas.

4. A Map of the Sea

This contains my favourite sequence in radio/audio history. Chris Brookes is a genius. This is pure poetry. Pay attention especially to the pacing of the storytelling. He doesn’t tell you what it’s about – he attracts you – the opposite of a traditional radio opening.

5. RadioLab’s Finding Emilie

Jad Abumrad calls it the “little shit” – those little asides or hesitations that reveal a lot about the person being interviewed, or the circumstances of the interview itself, and that might normally be cut in a conventional radio story. This RadioLab story is full of little jewels that draw you right in and immediately give you a stronger connection to the people in the story.

6. The Wire, Episode 5: The Sound Around

Near the beginning of this episode of The Wire is another classic Chris Brookes moment, in which he takes what we normally might have cut – the ums and ahs – and makes a kind of music out of them which elegantly underscores the point we were hoping to make: that sometimes, music is noise, and vice versa. This episode of The Wire won the Directors’ Choice Award at Third Coast.

7. The Nerve, Episode 2: In the Key of DNA

I am fascinated by the work of ethologist and independent scholar Ellen Dissanayake. She outlines her work around the origins of music about two-thirds of the way through this hour of The Nerve, The Wire’s sister series.

8. The Idea of North, by Glenn Gould

I still haven’t been able to get through it all. This was never meant for the age of audio (ie, now). This was made at a time when we listened very differently than we do now – even if it was only half a century ago.

9. Hark! The Acoustic World of Elizabethan England

The pigs. That is all. They appear around the 18-minute mark, I think.

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