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Looking with our ears...

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Abigail Appleton Abigail Appleton | 04:30 UK Time, Saturday, 20 June 2009

b00l9r89_314_176.jpgWhether it's filming concerts for the Radio 3 website, as Graeme Kay described in his post,  live video streaming from studios or the offer of other images, the visualisation of radio is now being trialed in many different ways.  It's early days for many of these experiments, and there's much to be learnt about the ways in which they may be used and valued by listeners, but radio and visual culture have long been surprising comfortable bedfellows. 

This week I've been listening to some programmes that  highlight for me the way radio can illuminate the visual world in an extraordinary way.  If you're remotely interested in sculpture and aren't already following Antony Gormley's series in The Essay -  please - stop reading the blog - go now and catch them while you can.  Each night he's been talking about a seminal work.   Monday it was Rock Drill by Jacob Epstein, in Gormley's view, the most radical sculptor working at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.  The talk is full of detailed insight into the ambiguity of the work and admiration for the ambition of Epstein's engagement with history at a time of transition.   Gormley's tone is reflective but the essay is full of passion and incredulity at the general lack of recognition of Epstein's radicalism.   Alongside Epstein, Gormley argues, Duchamp is an 'effete intellectual dilettante' (will someone stand up for Duchamp?)  Thursday night,  he turned to the German artist Joseph Beuys and an installation called Plight.   An artist himself, Gormley is intensely sensitive to the physicality of the pieces he's describing, the way the formless texture of the felt that lines the walls and makes the installation so silent, is in itself disturbing.  As I listen I find myself becoming more aware of my own body and the space I'm sitting in,  stooping in imagination to get into the second room of the installation.  

The quiet spaces of Beuys's Plight and Gormley's own reflections are a long way from Sunday's Drama on 3,  Darger and the Detective.  This new play by Mike Walker is inspired by the life and work of the reclusive self-taught artist Henry Darger.  He worked as a hospital porter coming home at night to create a disturbing fantasy world  'The Realms of the Unreal' which was unknown until his death in Chicago in 1973.  Drawing on some of Darger's own words and images Mike Walker's vivid dramatisation takes us into this strange inner life of innocence and atrocity.   It doesn't analyse the artist or his art but it does helps us feel I think something of the intensity of his unique vision. 

After listening to the Essays and to Darger and The Detective, I searched for the artists' images online (there's one of Darger's paintings on the Radio 3 website).   I wonder how different the experience would have been if I'd looked up the images beforehand or during the programmes instead of afterwards.   In the future I imagine many of us will listen for much of the time on devices with screens which might show us pictures as we listen.  I can think of many occasions when I'd value that but I'm sure we'll sometimes want to look just with our ears first.


  • Comment number 1.

    "visualisation of radio" isn't that TV?

    More dumbing-down on the way. :-(

  • Comment number 2.

    Hello Tom Adustus, I wouldn't agree that it is dumbing-down. Visualisation, or filming of radio, can be presented in many ways. This is an area, as Graeme Kay stated in his blog entry, that we are experimenting in. It's not the intention to ever replace the superb audio offering that we present, but to enhance and create different contexts for our content, creating multiple ways to consume the same content.

    Audiences expect us to try new things. Over the last year we have visualised a lot of musical performances and events in different ways. Some of these worked and some didn't. We don't know until we try.

    One main area of focus in the next 12 months will be Radio 3's 'Discovering Music' programme. Our aim isn't to turn it into a televisual offering but, by filming and using the material on the website, to aid musical discovery and reach new audiences. By creating a compelling, focused offering, we can serve students, teachers and lovers of music, adding value to our current portfolio and making it more accessible.

    Best wishes

    Roland Taylor, Interactive Editor BBC Radio 3

  • Comment number 3.

    No one could be more suspicious than me of the BBC's enthusiasm to 'reach new audiences' (heh, heh! :o) ) - but I do think that the Discovering Music programmes are a very promising area. I'm not quite sure how the 'Dido and Aeneas' programme was filmed. Was it done in long shoots? You get a 'liveness' to the performances when there's continuity but I thought that there were some small slips that could/should have been edited. They weren't hugely important in this particular case but it brings up the question of how much opportunity there will be in the system to edit/correct. This is particularly important with any educational material where sloppiness can be teaching people to get things wrong.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hello again,

    You are correct. Context and presentation are crucial. The intention with Discovering Music will be to film the full exploration of the music in the programme and then dismantle the performances to create a rich glossary of music devices and terms that can be used by students and teachers. It's a very exciting prospect. Last year we started thinking about this process by creating and commissioning enhanced listening notes which you can find here: (you may have seen them already)


    And here's a great example of how that's relevant to the A'Level student in this case:


    The original brief was to create notes that would be relevant to both our current listeners and GCSE/A'Level students and their teachers. Quite a task, but well executed I think.

    It's definitely a work in progress. Over the next 12 months we'll be collating the archive, adding new navigation paths to content that is currently hidden and generating new visual content on an on-going basis.

    The 'Dido and Aeneas' was an experiment to see if we could film this kind of activity and create content which achieves good value for money. The other reason we chose this work is because it often pops up in the curriculum.

    Discovering Music is, as you say, a promising area. We're hoping to take it to new audiences that can use the content to enhance their learning. It's a great way of introducing students and younger people who may not have experienced Radio 3's output to a compelling offering that will be of great use to them.

    Best wishes

    Roland (Taylor) Interactive Editor, BBC Radio 3

  • Comment number 5.

    The first time I saw many BBC Radio 3 presenters, producers and 'suits' was on the BBC Radio 3 website, and it came as something of a surprise to attach 'a visual image' to what I had always known as a 'voice', Roland.

    Nevertheless, Abigail, I reckon that the option of 'checking out' visual images adds to the potential enjoyment of Radio 3 programmes, just as visiting the legendary Nag's Head is infinitely more preferable to reading about it online.

    Cheers (Broadside)!



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