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.