A Dramaturgy of Listening, or Audio-Play-Writing "LONG WALK"
If editing consists to more than ninety percent of listening; could a listener, by “just listening” become an editor? How can an edited product, a composition, trigger a change of hearing & a change of perspective? Even if – or perhaps, because of being itself “nothing but” a result of hundreds of minute acts of listening?
“Attention!” In a moment of hearing, of re-cognition, a body gathers momentum to act. A moment of listening can open doors to new spaces. The following text approaches a methodology of listening from its dramatic qualities. It attempts to map a user's manual of listening & of audio-play-writing, minute steps of “active listening” over samples from the LONG WALK radio drama & the story of its making (while "I & Ear" presents a programmatic view on the educational potential of listening).
It is listening itself which is on stage, and staged in LONG WALK, its unsung hero and lead-actor.
LONG WALK is a radio play of/ to stories and histories of the struggle written & told in a sequence of audio pictures made of many consecutive layers of 'playful' listening, its 'natural' performative, ie. communicative qualities:
Its attribute on stage is the microphone, an omni-directional listening-aid.
Its calling line is "making a radio programme".
Its scene is the "interview";
its platform, African storytelling
(hear, listening to the ancestors; Madiba, Lumumba, ...);
its instrument is the 'knife' of editing: cut and rhythm,
both of the speakers and the writer;
its powerful 'probs' are ambient sounds; etc.
Listing is parading on stage in full costume.
The German word for a radio drama, Hörspiel - literally, a listening-play - signifies a theatrical performance to (and of) the imaginative capacities of hearing; the word can also be understood as a playing with hearing. The drama of hearing and the dramaturgical acts & settings of listening; both are invoked in the radio play LONG WALK (a.k.a. Babylon).
Clicking on the images in this article, allows a further look into the stories of making “LONG WALK” & access to parts of its archive.
A Listening Manual
mapped out over samples from the LONG WALK radio drama (2009)
1. the STAGE;
picture 1 “Nights of Departure" (6:27); listen (1:30)
1.1. Listening to the night; zooming-in on distant places through our ears.
1.2. Listening to the pages of a book; names echo; imagination & memory fly.
1.3. Listening to the voices of animals, we hear other worlds speak…
1.4. Listening to the stars, the Elders talk to the counterpoint pulse of history.
1.5. Listening to the sea; cycles of memory & forgetting, erasure, white noise.
1.6. Listening to the pitch of a voice, taking measure in space. Someone has entered; words linger, pause & silence resonate with after-images.
1.7. Listening; and seeing a curtain lift without sound... or, seeing the noise of the ropes & engines lifting it from behind the quiet?
2. the CHARACTERS; the PLAYERS
picture 2 "Terminal History” (4:48); listen (1:22)
2.1. Listening to a story unfolding with conversation as if we were there…
2.2. Listening to someone listening; words change place, back & forth; weaving a story and making its players.
2.3. Listening to cuts, switches, yes, no, under-currents, over-tones, voice-overs; Listen! How many words does it take sculpting a character? One? Two?
2.4. Listening without hearing…? seeing a message, facts, counter-positions.
2.5. Listening permitted, registered, administered & brought before a tribunal.
Gadgets talk… Who’s listening? What did they hear? Who’s over-hearing?
2.6. Listening with raised eyebrows. A door closes; law speaks, history types.
2.7. Listening with the ears of a typesetter, black & white, each letter a hit… - or, with the ears of a painter, a migrant singer, a playwright?
3.1. PROPS; SET; COSTUME
picture 3 "Zooming into Jozi via Alex" (11:26); listen 3a (1:40)
3.1.1. Listening to the street, an onslaught of noise, engines, amplified sounds…?
3.1.2. Listening into rooms, at walls, façades, picturing a set from ambient sounds & resonances.
3.1.3. Listening to voices entre like players: take the stage, make a scene & leave. For your ears, the drama is happening here & now, as you hear it…
3.1.4. Listening to someone across the table or, on the other side of the street or, on the other end of a line? Listening to transmitters, lenses, microphones, loudspeakers speak… Listening to the filters & listening through filters…
3.1.5. Listening in questions and answers, time ticking; or, expanding while a bell rings, once, twice… voice-over of dogs… electric wire…
3.1.6. Listening to the edge of the stage, a frame, a radio interview, recorded voices, archived stories, sampled speech & edited clips arranged over multiple tracks; an imagined stage between two audio channels (left/ right; stereo listening).
3.2. LIGHTING; the SCENES
picture 3 "Zooming into Jozi via Alex" (11:26); listen 3b (1:08)
3.2.1. Listening to a day rise over a city skyline, messages arrive from different directions, sounds & voices from above and below… Listening in the light of prayers and curses… snapshots from a crowded inner city…
3.2.2. Listening to moving pictures, scenes through the grain of voices & their transmissions; spotlight on a park, a fence… one among many…
3.2.3 Listening to the street… a fugue of voices, composed by a moment… and by your hearing…?
3.2.4. How can a fence become loud, and speak…?
3.2.5. Listening to a story arriving, frame by frame; hearing a known beat return under voices & ambience, telling of other stories; lights fade, change of scene…
4. the STORY; the SCRIPT
picture 4 "Here and Overseas" (8:05); listen (1:22)
4.1. Listening to voices in the street as they write their story, translators in transit. Listening to a foreign language, travelling with the music of her history.
4.2. Listening to history as it is lived, told, & told again, translated, re-framed, archived, recorded, broadcast, mixed, remixed & told again...
4.3. Listening to the knife of editing, cuts, beats, fragments return, stringed on one line; a single audio track unfolds a multi-layered story… cut; fade-in to another archive, a second track: ‘historical broadcast’…
4.4. Listening through a story to an editor’s archive speak like the trace of a painter’s brush & palette on a canvas…
4.5. Hear: collections of clips, playlists, themed order.
5. SOUND; MUSIC; EFFECTS
picture 5 "Inside the Belly" (5:07); listen (1:00)
5.1. Listening to music in the street; a city recites its history in rhyme & beat.
5.2. Listening with the feet, the chest, beats resonate & move bodies…
5.3. Listening to the music of a street, with raw nerves… hearing yesterday & tomorrow as generations meet in the song of a poet…
5.4. Listening in the street to a story that only you can hear… ; how can it become load & speak to the people…? Listen! Follow the story & its archives; they’ll tell you the next step as it’s due…
7. TECHNIQUE; TECHNOLOGY
picture 6 "Azania" (9:22); listen (1:44)
7.1. Listening to a storyline unfold from a contest of language & grammar.
7.2. Listening with your third ear… “simulating” conversations from cuts…
7.3. Listening as a knife & as alchemic substance, instrument in transforming sonic matter to a story arranged over one or more audio tracks; one or more channels (mono, stereo, surround); a play for the ear is staged in panning.
7.4. Listening as conversation with the tools of its making around the editing desk. Listening as editing. 90% of a playwright’s work is listening… (no matter whether the “play” is a radio report, a documentary, a public chess tournament, a performance, or a drama written in sounds & voices).
7.5. Listening to back-stage talk; actors & technicians join in fine-tuning a play.
7.6. Listen as a production erases the traces of its making & of its labour.
7. DANCE; CHOREOGRAPHY
picture 7 "Finale a la Parade" (5:31); listen (1:44)
7.1. Listening inside a room, motionless
7.2. Listening while pacing up & down
7.3. Listening while sitting on the edge of a chair, certain precise angles to the speakers…
7.4. Listening while laying down; staring at the ceiling
7.5. Listening with the back turned to the speakers, looking out of the door
7.6. Listening with eyes closed; listening under water…
7.7. Listening while doing something else…
7.8. Listening in transit; listening in a car; listening with headphones on a train…
staring out of the window…
& so forth
7.9. Listening to an echo of what went before; crossing space, dancing in a round. Curtain-call, parade of masques… The playwright has joined the dance of the players.
7.10. Listening to echo what went before. Until you’ll listen, the sounds and voices are trapped in their archives. Listen, you can be their future historian.
7.11. Listening. Here & now. Hearing what is arriving; & still to come….
from a letter by Finnish sound artist Sirpa Jokinen, Oct. 2010
“Listening to your sound pieces makes me think how important the sound of someone’s own voice is to understand what this person is saying and what he is about. There are so many TV documents about the situation in Africa where a reporter explains it all and behind his back you can see some African people. Listening to your sound pieces makes me imagine the scenery and situation, the voices of the people are warm colours, and the rhythms between the talking are the soul of the people. I enjoy listening even if I ‘m not really hearing what they are saying. I’m more picturing the spaces according to the acoustics and what one can hear in the background. Sounds like there is some kind of big white wall and a fence to separate something or to stop some people from going to some place but then, at the same time, there are these groups of people that are shouting together or talking in rhythm with each other, closely united in their message. In Finland it is very rare to hear people shout together like that, or make music, make sounds together in that close unison. Everyone is too concerned about one’s own individuality to want to melt into the crowd. The only time it is done, is when people are drunk, but then it does not sound nice anymore. (…) There is much to hear, I need to listen more…”
from an interview between Angela Grossmann, presenter at the 'Studio Acoustic Arts' WDR 3 Cologne, and Claudia Wegener, radio continental drift; Oct. 2010 (translation from German):
Angela Grossmann (WDR) : in comparison with those of your colleagues who visit far away countries and their exotic sound-scapes with their microphone to create in result something beautifully abstract, not involving themselves any further in a local situation nor with the people, your approach seems rather unusual. how would you describe it? as development-aid? activism? documentation? what brought you to South Africa in the first place? and why do you prefer working with a microphone rather than, say, a camera?
radio continental drift (RCD) : a microphone lends itself to record the entire space between me and you while we are talking. a camera shoots in one direction. the camera man – “the man” behind the lens - can choose to remain in his own place and pull the strings. an open microphone makes space for a two-way challenge - which you and i may accept; or decline. my work is listening and moves with it. and listening is, i think, already a kind of activism.
(WDR) : it seems to me that LONG WALK is not a monolith but a complex (living) organism of audio works; which projects, which themes and methods have come to be part of it?
(RCD) : LONG WALK is a radio drama (''listening play"), which speaks and sings with the people of Africa's liberation struggle. its audio-images are alive because that struggle continues. most of the footage originates from my first stay in Johannesburg in 2005/06. its present frame and form developed here and now, in Durban 2009, alongside the on-going work of the DURBAN SINGS project. in the earlier projects, LONG WALK, LONG WALK (abridged) and Radio Armed Response, the microphone is mostly in my hand. in the future this will no longer be the case.
(WDR) : is LONG WALK for you a final account? or interim statement, or a reflection of your years in South Africa? In the piece, there is apart from your own voice also again and again an isolated German female voice. Is the perspective of this woman like the 'red thread' in the piece, a line joining the dots?
(RCD) : you may call it 'Africa' or 'Radio' what's joining the dots in the LONG WALK. it's one. Africa radiates stories and histories. even though the camera men of 'History' don't want, nor wanted to permit it. in the DURBAN SINGS project, we are developing together with 50 young people how it could be realized that the orators, story-tellers and artists in Africa will take all means of production into their own hands, including recent technology. it already takes place now; and on-line, it's free for anyone who'd like to listen & hear how it sounds when Africa 'writes its own history' - as Lumumba predicted (from Lumumba’s farewell-letter to his wife, quoted in the first picture of LONG WALK).
Thank You for Listening!