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Between the Ears at 20 #3

Thursday 10 October 2013, 13:08

Matthew Dodd Matthew Dodd Head of Speech Programming, Radio 3

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For the next in our series of producer reminiscences, here are some reflections by Alan Dein, award winning broadcaster and oral historian, and a veteran of five episodes of Between the Ears ... 

Alan Dein Alan Dein recording on location 'Way back in 1930, Walter Ruttmann, the creator of what surely must be the very first abstract feature designed especially for the radio, announced that for "Weekend", his 11 minute and 10 second acoustic interpretation of an ordinary weekend in Berlin, “everything audible in the whole world becomes material”.

'Well, as I contemplate a remarkable 20 years' worth of episodes of Radio 3’s Between the Ears - a series that I’ve had the pleasure to present five programmes for - I’d argue that Ruttmann’s radio-vision has been well and truly fulfilled in this innovative series crammed with so many wonderful and memorable pieces.

'For me, as an oral historian, with a deep passion for observational documentaries, making a Between the Ears has give me very special opportunities to make the kind of wild experiments and playful forays into stories that most probably I couldn’t realise anywhere else.

For my very first piece for the slot, back in 2002, I made The Singing Postcard with Matthew Dodd producing. It proved to be an unexpected adventure, which opened my ears to the heady possibilities of how we could mould an idea in unexpectedly creative ways. It all began with my mother musing on a 1950s postcard sent home from Rome on her honeymoon as I was intending to explore the heyday of singing picture postcards (which actually incorporated the playable grooves of a gramophone record). Taking on board the Between the Ears ethos, I accompanied our research into the origins of these wonderful old objects, with a slightly unconventional and contemporary twist.  We actually designed and constructed a one-off "Between the Ears" stall on Lyme Regis seafront in Dorset! From our makeshift studio, we prompted holidaymakers to reveal choice words and music to create their own individual audio postcards (then put together as a rather poetic finale to the piece).

I laugh out loud as I reminisce about that particular programme, but it’s the adventurous spirit of the series that has enabled me (and I’m certain everyone else who has contributed to a Between the Ears over the past two decades) to do something a bit different, and unexpected, with an idea. I followed up the theme we’d visited in The Singing Postcard a few years later with the experimental Sound Relations. Again, we began with a personal story which were old recordings of my own family, and we then pondered the concept of an "audio family tree" (the sound equivalent on the family photo album) - and the possibilities of how we may inherit our ancestors' voices. For that show we even managed to track down the great-great-grandson of the inventor Thomas Edison, and edited a remarkable sonic line from a 19th-century recording of Edison himself, all the way to his youngest descendant celebrating his 5th birthday party, captured on a camcorder.

'It’s been a delight for me to work on Between the Ears with wonderful radio producers and it was a real privilege to receive a Gold Award at the Sony’s in 2009 for Sara-Jane Hall’s Staring at the Wall. I feel that our study of the immediate periphery of HMP Pentonville certainly ended up the way it did due to Sara-Jane’s beautiful production – and this very unique format we’d been given to work with. Happy 20th to Between the Ears'

Alan Dein presented ‘Between the Ears: The Singing Postcard’. To listen, follow this link.

And the Sony Gold winning ‘Between the Ears: Staring at the Wall’. To listen, follow this link.

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