As The Buggles have taught us, video killed the radio star. But with the new media available through the internet, radio dramas are proving that they are still very much alive. Now such dramas are rarely played on the radio, so they are more accurately called “audio dramas,” “stories for the ear,” or as some people apparently call them, “mind movies.” (I did not make that up.)
Sue Zizza, a sound effects artist who teaches at NYU, was recently interviewed by Barry Newman of the Wall Street Journal. Zizza discusses the persistent form: “What amazes me is that audio drama just won’t go away. It’s so primal in us. No matter how much we ignore it, there are still people out there like Fred.”
The Fred she refers to is Fred Greenhalgh, currently directing an audio adaptation of “Open Season” by Archer Mayor. To recreate a scene using only sound, Greenhalgh works in extreme sonic detail – the exact sound quality of an outdoor scene by the sea, the thud of footsteps, the crunch of snow. The production is surprisingly low-tech, shot outside rather than in a glass studio with highly sophisticated equipment. As audio sharing becomes more ubiquitous, it’s now easy to venture online to procure basic sound effects, but Greenhalgh prefers to create his own. When he wants the sounds of a thunderstorm, he heads out into a storm with his recorder.
It’s a little surprising to me that audio dramas aren’t more commonplace. After all, audiobooks are widely popular; Barack Obama has even won two Grammy Awards for the audio versions of his books. Podcasts have a very established niche. Why don’t more people make the leap to audio dramas? Unlike an audiobook, an audio drama requires significantly more artistic skill to create an entire world through sound, rather than just the voice alone. Sound design – either for a live performance, film, or audio recording – requires a delicate balance of technical proficiency and creative design, the functional and the artistic. Yet the art of sound has only recently begun to be appreciated as an art form in itself. After all, the Tony Award for Sound Design was just introduced in 2008. Radio may be dead, but there is still plenty of room for pioneers of the sonic arts to catch our ear. We just have to listen for it.
Check out the Wall Street Journal’s behind-the-scenes look at the creation of audio dramas in this video. Or experience a “mind movie” firsthand: Greenhalgh’s production company FinalRune Productions offers a number of dramas on their website.
Darcy Zacharias, CC ’10