Radio / body draws from the philosophical discipline of phenomenology to question a number of prevalent ideas in radio theory and practice. The intention is to shift the basis for comprehending the experience of radio drama from theoretical systems such as semiotics, and abstract metaphors such as ‘visual imagination’ and ‘theatre of the mind’, towards a model that understands it in terms of perceptual, bodily experience of a holistic, graspable world. It posits that radio drama works because the sonic structure created through its dramaturgy expresses the perceptual experience of encountering the auditory world – a ‘listening to a listening’ – and radio dramaturgy can be understood as a process of structuring sounds that listen to the dramatic world. Using this insight, it is posited that conventional radio dramaturgy generates a mode of listening focused on the referential meaning of the sounds, rather than their affective qualities – this is labelled the semantic paradigm of British radio. The history of this paradigm is explored in depth, revealing its emergence to be the product of contingent cultural and technological factors. Now that these factors have changed radically due to the rise of digital technologies, it is argued that a paradigm shift is taking place, with a move towards a more bodily, more resonant dramaturgy.
This groundbreaking book is the first full-length study of British horror radio from the pioneering days of recording and broadcasting right through to the digital audio cultures of our own time. The book offers an historical, critical and theoretical exploration of horror radio and audio performance examining key areas such as writing, narrative, adaptation, performance practice and reception throughout the history of that most unjustly neglected of popular art forms: radio drama and “spoken word” auditory cultures. The volume draws on extensive archival research as well as insightful interviews with significant writers and actors. The book offers detailed analysis of major radio series such as Appointment with Fear, The Man in Black, The Price of Fear and Fear on Four as well as one-off horror plays, comedy-horror and experimental uses of binaural and digital technology in producing uncanny audio.
In this chapter, I want to examine the most common theoretical solutions to the problem of radiodrama, both to critique them and to build on them to lay the foundation of a phenomenological solution. It is divided into two parts; first, I examine the more representational theories of radiodrama – characterised by the description the theatre of the mind – and critique them, before moving on to accounts that are more open to a phenomenological reading, which I then use to build and refine a phenomenology of listening to radiodrama
In the previous chapter, I posited that a phenomenological model of the listener's bodily experience of radiodrama as a world can provide a critical tool with which to approach radiodrama, and modes of radio dramaturgy. In this chapter, I continue this line of argument by providing a phenomenological account of the experience of radiodrama; by suspending theorisation and instead describing the phenomenon of radiodrama, I develop an analytical model in which the structure of radio dramaturgy can be understood as that of an act of listening
A genealogy of the semantic paradigm of radio dramaturgy
In the previous chapter, I posited that British radio dramaturgy follows a semantic paradigm. I then argued that this paradigm could be critiqued for its disregard for resonance, and instead envisaged a hypothetical resonant mode of dramaturgy, through which the radio-body listens to itself. I then highlighted a significant critique of this hypothesis: the historical dominance of the semantic paradigm can imply that it is the ‘final’ form of radiodrama.
Andrew Crisell follows such an argument in ‘Better than Magritte’ – an
What is radiodrama?
I have been an avid consumer of radiodrama for fifteen years. Radiodrama has accompanied me on long journeys and during irregular trips to the gym, familiarised me with great works of literature that I do not have sufficient patience to read, provided me with entertainment and escapism when needed and improved my language skills at least enough to write these sentences in my second language. Imagine my dismay, then, when I told one of my students that I was working on a monograph about radiodrama
Throughout this study we have seen
that the adaptation of fiction has been a central process in radiodrama
since the very beginning of the form. Adaptation has been at the heart
of the most popular broadcasts on British radio: for example, the radio
‘institution’ BBC’s Woman’s Hour (1946
onwards) has, for many years, featured a fifteen-minute dose of drama in
the strands of my arguments meet: the crisis of the semantic paradigm can be resolved with a shift towards a resonant mode of dramaturgy.
The advantage of a resonant dramaturgy is its utilisation of the embodied nature of radiodrama. A resonant radio-body engages the listener's body in a much more extensive manner when compared to the semantic radio-body, because the former allows her to resonate with the shifts in the structure of the dramatic world, and be constituted by it. The contemporary listener's culturally and technologically mediated
Recorded sound and the state of audio play on post-‘golden age’ US network radio
‘Sounds of a Nation’ (18 November 1956). Conceived in the spirit of Thanksgiving, with which holiday its broadcast roughly coincided, and billed as a ‘re-evocation through sound of some of the significant themes’ in the development of the United States, it featured the sound effects of conventional radiodrama, indices of ‘building and creating’ – the audible reminders of progress – that were used to underscore the spoken narrative and dramatised vignettes.
Somewhat less impressionistic were the Workshop ’s sound portraits of individuals, among them ‘A Living
there was an unusual prestige film adaptation. It was a
radio version of Sergei Eisenstein’s 1938 film Alexander Nevsky
produced as a tribute to ‘our gallant Soviet allies’. The film which
dramatically depicted the victory of the Russians over the cruel Teutonic Knights
was turned into a poetic radiodrama by Louis MacNeice. It was produced by Dallas
Bower and done live at Bedford Corn Exchange with a cast headed by Robert Donat
and Peggy Ashcroft. It was