GRAFFITI ON THE MOON

♪ Now, ds106 did you hear about this one?
Tell me, are you locked in the punch?
Hey ds106, are you goofing on Elvis?
Hey class, are we losing touch? ♪

R.E.M Melody

Audio Storytelling

Ds106 is kicking off week 5 with some good old fashion radio storytelling. I’ll admit that audio is probably my weakest link out of all the artistic modes of expression. I’m naturally a visual person, and my brain has a hard time keeping up with audio. If a professor speed talks through a lecture, I most likely did not process anything that was said (cough Data101 cough, excuse me). It’s kind of like how if a person asks you what time it is, you might respond with ‘what?’ But then, just as the person starts to repeat the question, you answer with ‘it’s 3:15 pm.’ This phenomenon is actually a natural occurrence due to the fact that brains process sound slower than visuals (fun fact). For me though, it’s especially evident, but I’ll try my best this week.

After listening to “Moon Graffiti” (and re-listening to it), I noticed how the use of sound effects are there to keep the listener grounded to the story (The radio hosts wouldn’t want their listeners to float off into space). Without the sound effects to help guide the listener, the dialogue would fall flat. Without those sound effects, the listener would have a hard time imagining the story, not to mention keeping up with it. But the myriad of sounds thread the listener through. Even as the story begins with, “The truth. . . July 20th, 1969,” we can hear static, beeps, and sounds from mission control, cluing us in to the setting. Hearing commands to/from Houston control lets us know that this story is about the moon landing in a more visual way than just saying, ‘this story is about the moon landing.’

It’s looking pretty rocky down there, switch to manual.‘ As the story progresses, we pick up on more clues. Alarm sounds, panicked dialogue- “I can’t see the ground,” a bang. Crash sounds and cut-off shouts followed by an echoing boom and then radio silence. After the brief pause in sound, the listener can hear a speech being spoken to the American people about the tragic events of the moon landing. It sounds like in this re-telling of the actual moon landing event, things didn’t go as smoothly.

If this story had been told visually, we would have seen all of this unfolding on the screen, but as a story based purely on sound, we must visualize what is happening. (And that isn’t too difficult to do with the aid of various sounds and descriptions to help drive our imagination). Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad likens this act of describing visuals as being similar to painting in his talk, ‘How Radio Creates Empathy.’ Only, the person talking isn’t the one holding the paintbrush, the listener is. The speaker is merely the one giving suggestions on roughly what the scene looks like.

This painting-through-dialogue creates mood and atmosphere in a way that is amplified in the minds of the listeners tuning in. Hearing a crash landing and then silence creates an eerie, tense vibe. It reminds me of those old radio programs that used sound and dialogue to create a dramatic listening atmosphere, such as the 70’s-80’s program, CBS Radio Mystery Theater. Listeners would tune in each day to hear a new episode, or to hear the rest of a story previously started. Radio programs were a collective, shared experience.

In his other talk, ‘Digital Shamanism and Old-Fashioned, Newfangled Storytelling Magic,’ Abumrad’s notion of this ‘shared auditory experience’ is to that of a dreamscape, where it’s up to the speaker to use sound in a way that connects the audience to the story. Oral storytelling is by no means a modern art form, but it is re-imagined via modern technology. What might we be able to say with the aid of sound-editing software and google search? The possibilities seem endless, for man’s google search will not be denied. And if you believed they put a man on the moon (man on the moon), then nothing is unimaginable through the art of storytelling.

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