greedy ear logo

On Audio Theatre

Multi-channel audio presentation, without a visual element, is not new in the world of sonic arts and electroacoustic music reproduction. In terms of drama, however this is relatively unbroken ground. The lack of an image frees the audio from the border created by the screen, allowing characters and objects to exist anywhere in the space. This does not mean however that there are no rules. There are new rules to be created, and playwrights for this new medium can be central to their creation. Our aim is to transcend traditional radio drama and set a new bar for un-physical theatre.

Sound has no wish to be shackled to an image.

In cinema, sounds cling to the aura of the visual image like moths to the flame. They have been drawn to the screen and there they remain unable to relinquish their supporting role. They are placed in a location, carefully arranged because their presence is required by the image, the visual element of the action, the collection of items onscreen; things must speak or sound in order for their meaning to be fully felt. Like moths, cinematic sounds lose their significance to human beings the further they drift from the glow of the screen. There are rules which make sound subservient to image and the rules are there because the presence and interaction of things are what create sound in the first place; sound does not create the appearance of things, it merely attracts the attention of hearing beings, encouraging an act of looking.

Audio theatre, in snuffing the candle of the hypnotic screen, releases sound from its inherent, moth-like servitude, freeing it to beat the air like a cloud of bats - firm, mammalian and interdependent - but fluid, subjugating the environment into which it is unleashed. No longer dusty or faint, sounds fly, divide and beam signals into the surroundings, finding new space to explore and inhabit - space which has never before been considered accessible to cinematic sound, as a place from which it might exist or emanate - free of predetermined denotation, free to deploy with astonishing effect.

Audio theatre endows us with the ability to hear everything, from the molecular to the universal. We are eavesdropping on the whole scene and not merely the human beings who are present within it. Like a word, sound is not the thing in itself, it may become associated with an object or an event but these connections are collated from our own individual histories and experience.

Audio Theatre creates a problem for its audience rather than presuming to solve one. There is greater opportunity to include the audience in the situation - rather than simply entertain them with a story - than there is in the visual theatre and cinematic arts. Audio Theatre is not glorified Radio Drama. Audio Theatre presents the opportunity to expand and contract the environment in which the audience experience the play. With numerous loudspeakers, whether apparent or concealed, and with character placement, object interaction and manipulation of space, place and movement within the designed system, the attention of an audience may be stimulated and stretched as opposed to simply indulged.

In the Audio Theatre, existence is revealed by acoustic action; by noise and movement as much as by speech and dialogue. Noise communicates time as well as space. Radio Drama has to project time and space rapidly, for an audience of one person who is probably doing something more than just attending to the radio. Radio Drama therefore uses a simple system of cultural references or signs, and these are different according to the country or culture into which the program is broadcast. On radio the sound of an owl probably means “night-time”. The sound of a distant siren probably means “the city”. Radio transmits an environment to its audience with sound ensuring little thought is wasted on such issues whilst dialogue usually becomes the locus of meaning and exposition. The Audio Theatre is able to elicit a physical response from its audience. Audio Theatre can surprise its audience, make it turn its head or stretch its neck collectively to hear a distant voice. Two characters may shout or call to one another across the heads of the audience with one character located behind, on the right hand side, while the other is positioned diagonally opposite, at the front on the left. Radio cannot achieve this level of spatial interaction without the characters seeming to be either shouting at each other face to face, in anger, or by alternating the vocal priority with the creation of an “out-of-focus” voice, in the distance, like a telephone conversation where one voice is heard with “telephone effect” added.

In the Audio Theatre one loudspeaker can be Africa, one can be Europe and another, Asia, etc; or each loudspeaker can represent one corner of a room. The whole loudspeaker system can be a single room for one scene before transforming into a map of the entire house or a town in which we are able to sonically experience one or two characters transgress from one point to another. The space of the Audio Theatre can softly transmogrify from form to content, from a sound system to a collection of cages or caves, and within each - a creature, a character or segments of a whole created universe. Or all. Or none. The space and the loudspeakers belong to the writer and the designer who may go anywhere and take anyone along with them.

Clay Gold