Sound must communicate

Shrin­king audi­en­ces and bud­gets world­wi­de – how to face the cri­sis? / To use all tools of radio pro­duc­tion effec­tively but not for their own sake. / From the draft of a lec­tu­re as coach of the EBU Mas­ter School about “Sound rich Radio”. Date unknown.


It was enter­tai­ning and inst­ruc­ti­ve to deve­lop radio docu­men­ta­ry bey­ond the bor­ders bet­ween jour­na­lism and art (sound art, radio dra­ma) wit­hin the last cen­tu­ries. We all have learnt a lot. Con­si­de­ring the cri­sis of radio as a who­le and par­ti­cu­lar­ly radio docu­men­ta­ry – shrin­king audi­en­ces and bud­gets world­wi­de – we must give clear out­lines / con­tours to our gen­re once more.

I’ve grown up in the pre-TV age. Radio had to crea­te images. The­re was no home cine­ma. So our brain had to be the screen for cine­ma­to­gra­phic
sce­nes and pic­tures. In a way, they were sub­sti­tu­tes. But working on them, we found other qua­li­ties and pos­si­bi­li­ties. And joy.

Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly by the impact and pres­su­re of visu­al media, joy­ful sound in the radio is more or less con­fi­ned to small cir­cles of sound addicts and to pro­gram­me makers them­sel­ves, inclu­ding tech­ni­ci­ans. The inno­cent age of sound rich radio never will come again.

My clue (call it a theo­ry, if you like):

The­re are dif­fe­rent cate­go­ries of sound – all of them have their values,
tasks, effects:

  • words (spo­ken lan­guage of all kinds)
  • ambi­ent sound
  • sound of pro­ces­ses (like cas­ting a bell in Leo Braun’s “Bells in Euro­pe”)
  • meta­pho­ric sound

Today sound must be mea­ning­ful, if we deci­de on using it. The­re is no “must” to use sound apart of spo­ken lan­guage in a radio docu­men­ta­ry.

Sound must com­mu­ni­ca­te, speak by its­elf.

For instance: the sound of wal­king steps through cor­ri­dors or stair­ca­ses
gene­ral­ly does­n’t mean much more than peop­le moving from point A to point B (excep­ti­ons gran­ted).

Sounds – in our days – should be taken much more serious con­cer­ning their mea­ning and impact. Inten­tio­nal !

We are tal­king to lis­teners. We talk with words and sounds. We are no pain­ters, no com­po­sers. Lea­ve art to artists, sound can­vas to sound pain­ters, l’art-pour-l’art to other cate­go­ries bey­ond the bor­der.

Let’s stay DOCUMENTARISTS who reach their audi­ence with all tools of the radio – using them effec­tively and intel­li­gent­ly but not for their own sake.