Radio, Imagination and Art

Bendix radio

Lately I am listening to radio dramas as I work in the studio. I have been a “listener” since I was six years-old, a Bendix radio perched atop my desk. Drawing and listening became a composite whole, the aural environment invited imagination.

 

The space of listening and forming images seems fundamental. My parents read to my brother and me each night. There was a quality of magic (another “image” word) for me in these stories. Much later as an adult I hunted down some of them by fragments of memory: something about a lion and a wardrobe, Scallywagons, a short-wave radio mystery, a voyage to a mushroom planet. Lots of fantasies, mysteries, sci-fi obviously, but then Aristotle’s word “phantasia” is usually translated as “imagination.”

 

Later I listened daily to Bill Cavness “Reading Aloud” on NPR before there were such things as books on tape. I discovered the ZBS audio dramas that were carried on Public Radio. These were fantastic stories of Jack Flanders, richly realized, deeply layered audio environments created by Tom Lopez with elegant original music by Tim Clark. There were also some great productions by the BBC including The Lord of the Rings trilogy and A Canticle for Leibowitz and an NPR Playhouse production of Star Wars. This surge of radio theatre faded gradually after the 80’s. Recently, the availability of high quality affordable digital audio and the possibility of publishing via the Internet has created a resurgence of such work. ZBS is still active and the quality and breadth of their work and their catalog has only increased. Slipgate Nine’s Edict Zero-FIS is a rich new addition. I continue to look for new productions that have the sound depth and imagination that supports my work in the studio.

ZBS Steam Dreamers, ZBS Ruby, Slipgate Nine Edict Zero-FIS

While these sound environments fed my imagination it wasn’t until recently I realized something even deeper was going on. As an artist, the stories like the music I listened to were a kind of background energy but essentially separate from the artwork itself.

 

I met my wife to be when we were members of a panel discussing Creativity and the similarities or differences between Theatre and Visual Art. As a visual artist, the notion of audience was almost foreign to me. Maybe that was stupidity or merely ignorance, but I think it was common in graduate school in visual art to ignore or denigrate audience as a slippery slope to selling out. The world of the visual artist is so much more introverted, cloistered than that of the actor or even playwright. Yet with this on-going discussion in my relationship, with my long influence of story, the experiences of things like Cirque du Soleil performances, the incredibly visual staging of Robert Wilson and Phillip Glass operas like Akhnahten, things began to change. My persistent fascination with radio or audio drama began to have a much greater meaning for me.

 

Phillip Glass Akhnaten in Houston 1984, Robert Wilson Death, Destruction and Detroit II in Berlin 1987

My work this year has been more and more influenced by this persistent argument for audience and the facets of understanding or perhaps provocation that exist between theatre and visual arts. These are issues of the arc of a story, relationship, the objectives of the characters, obstacles to objectives, conflict and tension, transformation. This is obviously a big theme and one that is active, unresolved for me but very productive in this molten state. It is something I will blog about as ideas arise.

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