The Radio Drama Handbook is a comprehensive guide which gives a well rounded overview of audio drama. I really like the fact that there is a large focus on the online world of modern audio drama, many radio drama texts are seemingly unable to look at life outside of the BBC. This book gives a great introduction into the history of radio drama, before dealing with the fundamentals of writing, recording, and production in an easy and accessible manner, with loads of quotes and examples.
In terms of my project, the chapter on performance was the most helpful and relevant to me. There were some excellent pieces of input and examples from the likes of Shane Salk and Elisa Elliot of We’re Alive. Dealing with studio and field recording, the question of actors performance is raised a lot. We’re Alive is firmly in the studio camp, yet they get the very best from their actors, this shows you certainly don’t need to be out in the field to get a maximum acting performance.
“The culture of downloads, file sharing and podcasts has created a wealth of access to audio art, whether collections of historical material or all-new works for listeners.
The internet has created a forum for the creation and consumption of audio drama. There are countless small-scale groups and companies that are producing a new generation of radio drama, many of which can be listened to as live streams via their own websites or as freely downloadable podcasts.” (page 74)
The Foley Grail is without a doubt aimed at those creating sound effects for visual mediums such as film, animation and game. However, the creation of good sound effects is a skill that goes a long way in audio drama. The book isn’t just limited to creating them either, but using sound in an effective manner, preaching that often the most effective sound effects are the ones you don’t even notice. Definitely an essential book for the Foley artist, but most of it was pretty irrelevant to this project, unfortunately.
Listen, Don’t Look!
“At one time or another, every Foley artist has had to deal with a figure of authority being on the stage and having an opinion about how to do a prop. One solution that many artists have used is to do the props behind a baffle on the stage so the person cannot see what is being used. The reason for this is simple. Typically, the person thinks that the appearance of the prop has a relationship to the sound. The Foley artist has thought carefully about how to create the sound, and has a plan. So, by occluding the vision of the onlooker, the artist can proceed to perform the prop and ask how it sounded. The problem can then become the onlooker asking, “What did you use?” as though it really matters. Some artists will use the exact same thing that was objected to earlier by pretending to try another idea, but just hiding the prop.” (page 117)
Radio Drama: Theory & Practice is a heavily academic book. A comprehensive text with substantial detail on the history of radio, storytelling and structures, and how people interpret audio fiction (or even just radio broadcasting). Certainly not an easy read as such, and starting to show its age with the speed online modern audio drama is now growing, but nevertheless, an essential work in this medium. Only owning this book in Kindle form was a bit of a nightmare, as the table of contents were listed as “Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3 etc, and gave no hint as to what was contained in that section. (Update, managed to get a physical copy from the library. Made life much easier. I must say though, very little in this book that relates to my own project, that’s not a criticism of the book, just an observation on how it relates to my work at the moment)
Structuring a radio play
“Radio play structuring requires a fine understanding of the principle of building and developing scenes. Every scene has to have an introduction whether by word, sound effect, atmosphere, or music. It sound be underpinned by the conflict of two character forces each with an aim and objective. The aim represents the first character’s aspiration for himself or herself. It may not be fully resolved in the individual scene if it has an arc of progress that reaches the play’s climax.
The objective represents the outcome for the other character intended by the first character. The other character also has an aim and objective which may be diametrically opposed to those of the first character. But the key to maintaining a momentum of story drive in play construction is to ensure that at least one of the character forces achieves an aim or objective. Every scene has a specific purpose to serve the overall direction of the plot. Well-constructed scenes are tagged so that the end or even sometimes during its time span there is a pointer to the next scene or the presence of one of the characters in the next scene. I use the term ‘character force’ because the force of character may not be a human being.
Character can be a metaphysical presence, an anthropomorphic dimension or stream of sound symbolism. Every scene leaves the listener with tantalising and resonating questions that future scenes are expected to answer.” (page 173)
The Art of Voice Acting is a thorough ‘Bible’ for voice actors. Though obviously much of the book wasn’t relevant to this particular project there were still some useful areas dealing with character believability and conversations, as well as body movements when voice acting. This was all helpful content as I’ve been directing actors both in the studio and on location.
“A ‘voice acting’ performance has all of the following characteristics:
The performer creates a believable and real character in conversation with the listener.
The message is primarily emotional, with a clearly defined focus.
The goal of the message is to “tell a story” that the listener can relate to on an emotional level – often coming from a place of helping the listener in some way, rather than “selling.”
The overall effect of the message is one of keeping the listener’s attention and creating a memorable moment.” (page 6)
The Audio Theater Guide was comprehensive in terms of acting, writing, and directing audio drama, though I was hopeful to find some material on field/location recording. This guide is more focused on live theatre and studio performance however, but I still took a lot from sections on acting with scripts, directing for audio (and using hand signals), and sound effects/music (which the author stresses must be used to convey something).
“Although acting with a script has many advantages over memorising your words, a script must be handled carefully for the best results. Remember, your audience is dependent upon hearing your voice clearly and distinctly; whatever character you may be playing. In addition to keeping the pages away from your face, hold your script up to eye level so that your face is always pointed directly at the mike. When you have to turn the pages of your script, be careful to do it quietly.” (page 24)
This is my favourite audio production book. I first read it in 2013 and it taught me more than anything else I’ve read. I knew very little when I first picked it up and it filled in loads of blanks in a very accessible, easy to read manner.
Returning to the book now, with my project in mind, I still find it extremely helpful. Through the book is about recording sound effects, we can apply these principles to recording audio drama on location. Many of the sound effects Viers talks about recording were not, and could not be recorded in studio environments (from cars to fireworks) so he was always going out in the field with a view to recording as clean audio as possible.
“Without question, location recording is the most difficult part of the process of making sound effects. Selecting the right location is just as important as what you are going to record there. Environments shape your sound. Be sure to select a location with your ears and not with your eyes. A great looking location may not be a great sounding location.
Each time of day has its perks and downfalls. Night recordings are usually optimal, but locations that might be willing to let you record may not be willing to join you for all the fun at two in the morning – and they probably won’t give you permission to roam free on their property without supervision. Morning recordings in urban settings are subject to traffic noise; in rural settings, there are insects and birds to worry about. It is best to scout a location during the time of day that you plan to record. This will give you a sense of what you may have to deal with, so you can play accordingly.” (page 106)
“Regardless of what type of production you are shooting… your goal as the sound mixer will remain the same. Capture clean, consistent, and intelligible audio.”
A close second to the Sound Effects Bible, Viers’ second book is ultimately about recording dialogue for film, but again the basic principles are the same. If anything, our job in the audio drama world is easier in a sense because we don’t have to hide the microphones from a camera.
I learned quite a bit of sound theory and science in this book, whilst expanding my knowledge of microphone types and audio equipment in general. It also got me thinking of microphone placement in scenes, and even treating a field recorded audio drama set a bit like a film set.
I like the fact that Viers advocates ‘technique over technology’ – learn to use equipment and maximise its potential, rather than buying better, more expensive gear.
“Gear doesn’t make great sound; the sound mixer makes great sound. Gear can help, but the quality of the sound rests in the hands of the sound mixer. Mediocre gear can be made to sound fantastic and fantastic gear can be made to sound mediocre. To believe otherwise would be to fall into the trap of clever marketing ads.” (page 237)
An excellent and thorough “how to” guide, though I’ve been desperate to find a book that deals more with “why” than “how”. Like the other books this is obviously aimed towards television and film sound recorders. Nevertheless, the book did contain plenty helpful tips and advice, with the principles of recording clean dialogue being completely relevant to audio drama production.
“Ambience is not necessarily a bad thing. It adds energy and life to a location. But knowing whether it’s going to ruin or enhance your recording takes time to learn.
Dialogue should always sit on top or be forward of the background sounds. There should be no competition from the ambience for the viewer’s attention. The saving grace with ambience is it will often take care of itself. In loud locations, people talk louder.” (page 19)
Charles Parker Day, Glasgow
Attended Charles Parker Day in Glasgow on Friday 26th March. I particularly enjoyed the opening session by Sean Street about his book ‘The Memory of Sound’, and the ideas and theories behind it. Though this was nothing to do with radio drama, there was quite a bit of focus on location recording in terms of documentary making, and the way an interviewee will respond when taken to a specific place to talk about events that happened there. A good example used was a man who lived in a village that eventually ended up on a reservoir floor. Though he had been interviewed about what it was like to live there both in the studio and on the banks of the water, a particularly dry summer allowed the crew to take him down and walk amongst the old houses whilst he pointed things out and talked about life in the village. As Street commented, “he was no longer talking to me, but himself” and summed up by saying “try recording that in the studio”.
I was keen to get my hands on a copy of the book after listening to this session, but disappointingly it costs over £70, even for a Kindle edition. It’s a pity as I’m sure this would have helped me immensely when it comes to my write-up.