Following the release of the audio pilot – Loss in Translation – Funerals and death-care during COVID19, I wanted to offer some insight into how audio works like this can be a useful public facing addition to academic research. More specifically, I want to talk about how they can give voice to the communities that have shared their lived experiences throughout the BRIC-19 Project.
I began to describe my radio practice as ‘social broadcasting’ in 2014 as a response to the constraints of both terrestrial and digital community radio and the democratisation of radio/audio making through the tools made available through the popularity of podcasting. Podcasting is now being integrated into academia as medium. However, the forms of audio work most tied to academic research are oral history recording and recording in the field, both of which are useful and valid as tools for researchers to make meaning. Social broadcasting does overlap with oral history recording, but it involves everything normally associated with more conventional radio making: recording, editing and sound design and often an element of active participation more aligned with participative art practice. It was clear that I needed a new definition the work that I was doing.
Even though interviews recorded as oral histories are often based on personal interpretations, they are often used to support factual information rather than as a way to explore themes and topics. There is little space for fluid conversation and no room for more emotional responses. There is something to be gained from not needing to adhere to established conventions for creating historical documents. These kinds of interviews are usually created as closed documents to be archived with minimal editing, but often do not make for an easy listening experience. Social Broadcasting wants to make audio that is compelling and engaging to listen to; we do, however, borrow from this method of direct line of inquiry, leaving interpretation open to create authentic recordings that can then become part of an evolving living archive.
Social Broadcasting, as its name suggests, is an effort to be genuinely social: everyday conversations and narratives can create meaningful insights in hyper-local social contexts, bypassing algorithm-tailored journalism to create something more meaningful through social interactions with audience engagement. Whist traditional radio is generally concerned with listenership and binds the audience through common experiences and values; Social Broadcasting can provide a framework for communication between active participants. In ‘Tools for Conviviality’, Ivan Illich made a plea for the need for people to participate actively in the processes of production that shaped their lives. He wrote. “I consider conviviality to be individual freedom realized in personal interdependence and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value,” It is precisely this sense of being together, as a possible source of more meaningful living, that digital audio tools can contribute to today.
Ironically, the very technologies and changes in society that enable and democratise audio broadcasts also create the need for them as a means of human connectivity, as people are becoming more isolated, searching for human to human ways of communicating. The increasing mobility and universal access provided by online and mobile tools mean that the kind of audio we’re making can no longer be labelled as ‘radio’ or indeed ‘podcasting’ as it stands today, but have become something distinct, with their own rules and set of values. Interestingly the recording of these interviews encountered the same challenges explored by BRIC-19; translating a face-to face experience to a digital one. Much of my practice has been focused on exploring and managing the dynamics and trust-building for face-to-face interviews, where I am in control of the recording equipment and often entering into someone else’s private space. Social distancing restrictions has meant these conversations had to be recorded online, requiring a whole set of innovations to create an equally comfortable experience for the people involved. Similarly, for many of the testimonies recorded for this project, an intimacy and quality of recording was lost from the lack of real-life contact, although the digital translation did mean we could include a wider diversity of voices from across England and Northern Ireland.
The function of Social Broadcasting is to document and present real everyday experiences and conversations in relation to specific spaces, inviting reflection both from participants in real-time and listeners in the future. Rather than recording interviews to tell a story through the traditional broadcast documentary format or radio ‘show’/podcast as art, education or entertainment for a prescribed audience, these conversations are themselves are as much the purpose of the Social Broadcast as the final audio. This moves away from the single narrative that has become the staple of audio storytelling created from traditional interviews, and it facilitates an engagement with multiple voices and perspectives, inspiring a more open interpretation. I believe that we need multiple perspectives and stories to truly understand narratives in the full richness of their context.
Loss in Translation gives multiple perspectives from death care professionals about their experiences during the often confusing and cruel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving some insight into the trauma that can ensue when death care rituals are no longer in place, without being prescriptive. The aim is to invite audiences to listen to the humanity of these voiced testimonies and allow them the chance to become catalysts for conversation and reflection.
You can listen to Loss in Translation here and we do encourage you to fill in our short questionnaire to help us plan more audio work giving voice to more of the communities involved the BRIC-19 research.