EmilyPressing Play May Stop Time

Emily posted on Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 | PRX Remix

Beware: pressing play may stop time.
All In Time by Sarah Boothroyd

The first time I heard Sarah Boothroyd’s All In Time, I was at work updating databases, responding to emails and the like. But within the first minute, that had melted away. This thing needed all of my attention. It asked to be luxuriated in. Experienced fully. I sat back in my chair.

After listening a couple times, I had some questions for Sarah, the producer. She kindly responded, creating the following guest-post. She started with a recipe.

Where are all of these sounds coming from and how did you put them together?

Preparation time: several weeks

This recipe makes 25 minutes

Ingredients:

3 minutes Clips from CBS Radio Mystery Theatre episodes
6 minutes Clips from Physics Maven, Peter Watson
11 minutes Field Recordings (of clocks, newscasts, doors, piano, intergalactic blasts)
5 minutes Clips from Sarah Boothroyd and Family

Instructions:

1.  Sift through online scripts of CBS Radio Mystery Theatre episodes to find programs about time travel.  Contact copyright owner and plead for use of specific clips.  Once permission is obtained, trim downloaded clips.  Thoroughly clean clips, removing hiss and extraneous noise.  Set aside.

2.  Conduct initial interview with articulate professor who teaches courses on time.  Log tape.  Write follow-up questions.  Conduct second interview.  Log tape.  Write follow-up questions.  Conduct third interview.  Log tape.  (Note: these clips form the backbone of the piece, so careful collection is essential.)  Set aside clips.  Arrange and edit logged tape into paper script, along with rough ideas for sound treatment.  Update script as ideas arise.

3.  Visit elderly watch repairman who has over 300 clocks in his home.  Make recordings, edit them, and place in folder.  In a separate folder, place relevant field recordings, sound effects and musical clips.  (Some recordings will be home-made, some will be Creative Commons or Public Domain.)

4.  Import the above ingredients into a large editing session, as laid out in the rough paper script.  (Don’t worry if mix is fairly lumpy at this stage).  Divide this 25-minute master editing session into eight smaller editing sessions.  Work on each of these eight ‘chapters’ individually, in chronological sequence.  (Note: at this point you may choose to add Clips from Sarah Boothroyd and Family to enhance flavor and improve consistency.)  Continue to stir, lightly pound, mash, and blend until desired texture is attained.  Remove nonessential bits.  Adjust seasoning to your taste.

Best served with headphones or via octophonic speaker set-up.

What inspired these 25 minutes?

I’m not sure which of the three light-bulb-flashes-of-inspiration listed below preceded which in The Grand Causal Chain.  Perhaps each of the following transpired simultaneously in three parallel but conjoined universes…

The pragmatic answer:

I was inspired by the chance to win a free trip to Paris!

In July 2010, I came across this tantalizing call for submissions from La Muse En Circuit in Paris.  I sent in a proposal, crossed my fingers, and was notified in September that I had hit the Radio Art Jackpot.  From that moment until my February 2011 deadline I was inspired by (‘driven [very hard] by’ is more accurate) a crushing fear of producing something embarrassingly crappy and/or missing the deadline.  (Thank you, Fear: sometimes you are a marvelous motivator.)

The intellectual answer:

I was strolling around Project Gutenberg, when I was suddenly ensnared in The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Soon after, I found myself building a tower of library books about time travel, parallel universes, black holes, and space-time.  I became increasingly enthusiastic about the overlap between science fact and science fiction.  I started daydreaming about creating a sound artwork that would illustrate this overlap in vivid, fantastical colour – like a children’s picture book where the pictures would be painted with sound.

The personal answer:

My father died in the Spring of 2009 and in the Fall of that year I gave birth to my son.  All In Time is my first substantial audio work since then, so when I was casting a line for ideas, Time just seemed to wind up at the end of every hook: the inevitability of growing up, aging, dying, being born; the ephemeral nature of memory and hope; how our perception of time changes with age; how the world exists long before us and long after us.

For you, how is producing a sound art commission like All In Time different from producing a documentary or news feature?

Greater pressure to create something gutsy / avant-garde / challenging || Less tolerance for work that is derivative / predictable / ‘too accessible.’

More room to express your unique vision. || Less certainty that your vision will make sense to other people.

More independent decision-making. || Less feedback before the final mix is complete.

Greater artistic satisfaction. || No public-service-journalism-satisfaction that you’re covering a crucial issue.

Greater opportunity to work with timeless themes and re-sell the work several times. || Less emphasis on current and local matters, as well as The Almighty News Peg.

The work may wind up in galleries, concert halls, text festivals, poetry magazines, etc. || Fewer radio Big Wigs may identify the work as suitable for broadcast.

Do you wish this genre got more public radio airtime? Why?

YES.*

  • Because experimental radio can inspire radio producers and listeners to be more creative.
  • Because it reminds us that the sound of a radio story should matter: radio is an aural medium after all.
  • Because public radio without a scoop of sound art is like an ice cream parlor offering only chocolate, strawberry and vanilla.
  • Because art – of various genres – deserves a place in public space, including on the airwaves.
  • Because of c) below.

*I’m making a case specifically for sound art that is designed for public broadcast, and is at least somewhat appealing to a general audience.

For most American public radio producers, success is producing stories for All Things Considered or This American Life, working at a daily show, that kind of thing.  What do you think success looks like in the world of sound art?

a)  A successful contemporary sound artist looks like a cross-pollinated-mish-mash-hybrid of John Wynne + Chris Brookes + Alessandro Bosetti
b) Success as a sound artist is producing finished work that (at least remotely) resembles what you originally hoped to create.
c) Success as a sound artist is being able to pay for your kid’s orthodontics with proceeds from your creative work.  (I don’t know if a sound artist has ever reached this pinnacle of achievement.  It might just be an unrealizable ideal worth aiming toward…it’s one I’m aiming toward, anyway.)
d) An artist cannot fail.  It is a success to be one.
e)  All of the above.

2 Comments to Pressing Play May Stop Time

interview transcription
October 12, 2011

A good sound artist plays a very responsible role. Also music is not a easy job like wear a blue+white combination.

René Fabre
October 22, 2011

Sarah Boothroyd’s All in Time is a delightful piece. She makes two great points, Science Fiction and Fact do overlap and our perception of time does change with age (and events). The soundscape is a compelling audio experience that is like a picture book for our ears and mind. So, with that, she did accomplish what she set out to do.

It’s not music concrete nor computer generated blip blop. All in Time resonates authenticity and it’s inclusive. We get a fun journey with shared observation and experience that doesn’t preach. Like a writer who’s a great wordsmith and pulls us into a story, Sarah does the same with sound, which is a great way to tackle a subject like time. And it leaves us with a lot to think about.

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