Blog: entries tagged with "radio"
Sunday 5 June 2011
It’s been about 12 years since I was last on the radio, but I still have dreams about it from time to time.
I learned a lot in my five years at CKMS-FM, the campus radio station at the University of Waterloo: how to salvage old, disintegrating reel-to-reel tapes; how to make musical sounds by feeding back the output of DAT machines; and how not to conduct an interview. I hosted a regular music show, assembled audio art pieces for Frequent Mutilations, and co-produced Philler (an “experiment in audio landfill”) with Adam Thornton.
I miss it sometimes. I discovered a lot of music browsing through the dusty vinyl in the library and puttering around in the back studio. And assembling each show, whether it was a late night music program or a weird mishmash of sketch comedy and sound collage, was a new puzzle to solve.
It’s been nice, then, to get into podcasting at last. Since late February I’ve been producing Attention Surplus, a half-hour chat about purpose, passion and action hosted by my partner, Sean Howard, and his colleague Eric Portelance. And of course, I’ve been writing radio plays.
I’ve posted here previously about Niagara, the science-fiction comedy I’ve been working on. A few months ago I realized it might be a bit of an ambitious project to start out on, and accordingly I came up with what I thought would be a much simpler series to produce – shorter episodes, smaller cast, episodic rather than a serial format. Of course, it’s turning out to be very nearly as complicated, but it’s been great fun to write all the same.
In April, I heard about Script Frenzy, a sister event to National Novel Writing Month, and gave it a go. By month’s end, I’d written 119 pages, comfortably exceeding the 100-pages required to “win”. Having a purely numeric goal turned out to be quite freeing – a great exercise in letting first drafts suck as much as they need to. The episodic format has been a great help too, freeing me of the need to maintain a carefully plotted arc through the whole thing, but also allowing me to compare the dramatic structure of several self-contained stories.
The series will be called Alba Salix, Royal Physician – kind of Scrubs meets Shrek, if you will. Or Gregory House as a witch. So far, three of the half-hour episodes are at the second draft stage, and several more exist as outlines and partial scripts. Our first reading a couple of weeks ago went splendidly, and I’m hoping to cast and record a “season” of roughly 6 episodes over the summer. Stay tuned!
Sunday 16 January 2011
Still working at those scripts. Episodes 1–3 are in their second drafts, and I’m at work outlining the next few.
Just as a very oblique teaser, here are a few topics I’ve been looking up online as research, either for fact checking or inspiration:
- Plumbing how-to videos
- Niagara Falls daredevils
- List of nearest stars
- The House of Commons schedule
- Michael Cowpland (founder of Corel)
- The ROM galleries
- Niagara Parks Police Service
- Dramatic Arts at Brock University
- The Canadian Top 40 from 1982
Some will make it in as background details, some were dead ends.
And below are some of the notes I’ve made for the series. I like to have some rules to go by, so I’ve chosen a fairly strict structure, and jotted down a bunch of parameters and reminders to myself, based on all the things I’ve found enjoyable or frustrating in other audios over the years.
Tuesday 13 November 2007
From the What I Been Listening To department:
For unfathomable reasons, I’ve been hooked on a show called Blue Jam. Aired in the late ‘90s, it was the brainchild of Radio 1 enfant terrible Chris Morris, whose earlier pranks had included a discussion of ludicrous methods to obtain a legal high, and most famously, the “non-announcement” of the death of a still-living cabinet minister. After the latter incident, BBC censors clamped down hard; why they ever let him back through their doors is a mystery.
Blue Jam is a deeply disturbing show, but utterly hilarious. Sketches and monologues drift in and out amid music of all sorts, starting with an always-different introduction delivered by Morris in a sinister monotone (“When thrapping door-knock brings not chums with cakes, but friends of Sweaty Fred, full madding because you failed to sell… welcome in Blue Jam…”) and quickly descending into a nightmarish world of misfits and psychopaths.
Almost every character we meet is unhinged: the doctor who amuses himself by humiliating his patients and prescribing useless treatments; the parents who belong to a baby-fighting ring; the avant-garde artists who disembowel a man and put him in a display case (much in the fashion of the art-murders on David Bowie’s album Outside). Some favorites: Maria, the four-year-old hardened criminal, Rothko the doberman, and the inexplicable club-scene and style roundups from Michael Alexander St John.
Some of the best sketches were spun into a six-episode series on Channel 4 called simply Jam, and lots - probably most - are up on YouTube. I’m almost afraid to link to any, but here’s a typical opening, and a sketch about a television repairman. Browse the Related Videos at your own peril. Expect mayhem, blasphemy, dead babies, dead dogs, sexual deviance and bad language.
Thursday 22 March 2007
I realized the other day why I don’t listen to web-radio, at least for music. I miss the personalities.
Wall-to-wall music with no interruptions is all very good if you want texture, some colour for your mental environment, but if I want texture I usually resort to music that’s already familiar to me. If I’m listening to something new, I want to be able to give it the attention it’s due. I want to know about the music and who created it. (Now, some channels do give you ways of checking what it is you’re listening to, but they involve flipping between listening and reading.) As well, most specialty stations stick to a particular genre or era, and I like to be surprised.
You know who I miss? John Peel. And David Wisdom’s Nightlines. Both of them played a crazy range of music - in an hour of Peel’s show you might hear punk, happy hardcore, indie rock, grime, ‘60s psychedelia… all intermingled with tracks from his trademark Peel Sessions, recorded by some up-and-coming (or established) band. Nightlines had a gentler flow to it: Canadian indie early on, ranging into electronica, jazz, comedy, and more far-out stuff after midnight. In either case, you never knew quite what you were in for.
But what held it all together was the personalities of the hosts. Peel, who usually hosted the broadcasts from his home, was hilariously witty, self-deprecating, often slightly befuddled by technology - especially when he had to work out of the BBC studios. He was legendary for accidentally playing vinyl at the wrong speed and correcting the matter a minute or two into a song. Bemused by a record label’s championing of “intelligent drum and bass”, he remarked, “Personally I think I should prefer stupid drum and bass.”
David Wisdom was warm, knowledgeable, a keen supporter of Canadian music, prone to giving out CBC Vancouver’s mailing address using a different spelling alphabet every time (“V as in vehement - six - B as in barnacle…”) Over the course of Nightlines’ run he worked his way through his collection of 45s playing one single by each artist, ten per weekend, in alphabetical order (it took nearly a decade).
And he involved the audience: he regularly played theme tunes for the show recorded and sent in by fans. He took requests via an answering machine, but always asked an offbeat “skill-testing question”. Over time, he built up a contingent of regular listeners, until it felt like you were part of a community just by listening. Some even made the leap to programming an “Hour of Power”, an hour of music and words selected by a listener - and sometimes co-hosted by that listener, if they were in the area. “Co-creation”? “User-generated content”? David was there twenty years ago.
Interesting to compare Brave New Waves, the other late-night Radio 2 music show - which has now been cancelled as well, sadly. Patti Schmidt, and Brent Bambury before her, were cool… maybe a little too cool. They wouldn’t go two songs without coming on and telling you all about the band and the label - which I loved, especially in the pre-Internet era. But BNW always felt like such a serious show, a newsmagazine more than a comfy night in someone’s living room listening to tunes.
Peel died in 2004, leaving behind a great musical legacy. David Wisdom is very much alive and currently hosts something called Pearls of Wisdom, which is fun but far too short, with much more of a light Radio Two format…
Every once in a while I stumble across a radio show with a DJ who shows the same sort of love for the music, who gets into it and tells you all about this artist or that album… but usually they’re genre shows: the best blues, the best jazz, world music, classic rock. I want something that will expose me to crazy new music, unclassifiable music, music that time has forgotten. And I want the warmth of real human voices, connecting me to a community of listeners, reminding me that I’m not just listening to a playlist cooked up by a machine… that these songs matter.
In this crazy cross-connected Internet age, I’m sure there’s something out there. Know any good ones?
Friday 24 March 2006
Wow, has it really been 25 years? The previously unreleased tracks sound pretty cool. Apparently they’re going to put up a remix site soon, too. And dig the studio photos and the ‘video’ for “Mea Culpa” full of snippets from chem/physics films.
At the dawn of my university radio days (yeowch, even that was 12 years ago now), “Help Me Somebody” was the first piece of music I ever played on the air.
Bush Of Ghosts just grooves in such peculiar ways… hardly any drum kit, but tons of other percussion put through all sorts of electronic wringers, and none of it quantized. Y’know, I love drum kit, but this has me interested again in doing something different. I always loved that Wall Of Voodoo had Joe Nanini and his pots and pans rather than a “drummer”. And one of the greatest things about Nortec Collective (especially Bostich) is the fabulous percussion…
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