Learning and conjuring from the ear

According to Mia Lindgren of Monash University—and many others—the medium of radio is flourishing right now around the world, enjoying a resurgence in audience numbers, and thriving as a focus for creative enterprise and experiment. Lindgren’s research centres on the radio documentary (read here her study of emerging trends, written with Sioban McHugh), yet also names the radio feature as a ‘revived format’ for radio storytelling. In Neil MacGregor’s amiable phrase, both kinds of program clearly foster ‘learning from the ear’. This good news is being conveyed as the story of a ‘renaissance’ in spite of bleak predictions; a tradition of catastrophising views about the future of radio is easily traced back to the early 1960s and the advent of television as the prevailing form of mass communication.

The same theme of a ‘renaissance’, even a nascent Golden Age, attended publicity for the June launch of Radiotonic and Soundproof, two new weekly, national programs, produced by ABC Radio National (RN) under the aegis of the Creative Audio Unit (CAU). Executive Producer Julie Shapiro has described Radiotonic and Soundproof as ‘sister’ shows, and programs that are intended to overlap: ‘we want both to succeed in compelling audiences to take a closer listen to what’s coming out of the radio. … To make time for it. To better understand (or at least ponder) how sound + story + idea can take shape right before your ears’.

Here I disclose an interest in these matters radio-related, in that during July I greatly enjoyed collaborating with producer Miyuki Jokiranta and sound engineer Richard Girvan at the ABC’s Southbank Studios to create the short feature Violin Lessons (including Three Pieces for the Young Violinist). It was commissioned by the CAU for broadcast on Radiotonic. (Download the podcast here; read the short story on which Violin Lessons is based here.) While making the work, I came to appreciate more deeply how the soundscape of RN’s weekend programs remains inseparable from certain childhood memories of family life. From the kitchen or in the car, the radio provided a sometimes clangorous ostinato accompaniment to the restless comings and goings of school-free days.