Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pythagorean podcast

A section of a Pierre Schaeffer article I read recently on acousmatics has inspired me to create a podcast about Pythagoras. That philosopher lectured to his students from behind a curtain, so they would focus only on the words he spoke, not the person making the words.

My effort to retell that anecdote is posted here

In essence, the podcast is about the undervalued strengths of sound as a medium.

I originally intended to do more of a standard lecture about podcasts and their places in the new world media. But I wanted to push my abilities as a podcast creator, and fiction producer, and I wanted to try to create something using sound effects and an original script and something that was written in present tense. This all led to Pythagoras, who just happen to be featured in an article I was reading at the time about this topic. It was a spur of the moment decision, that led me down a lot of interesting paths.

The script is based on history but obviously embellished and in some ways campy yeah, that's intentional, uh-huh ,really).

I created the piece on Audacity
, which only crashed a few times during the process (save often!).

The sound effects primarily are from, my favorite Foley source. But I also took some from Creative Commons and a little snippet of a fanfare from Stefan Hagel's fascinating site on ancient Greek music and instruments.

I read a lot about Pythagoras in preparation for creating this script. Not much was really known about him, though, since he didn't write anything down and made his followers vow to never do that either. Nevertheless, I tried to jam in as many of the quirky historical references as I could (hence the camp), just to give the content some of the texture of the research. Listening to it critically afterward, I hear influences ranging from Donny Osmond in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" to Harold Hill in "The Music Man" to the owl in "Bambi" to the Geoffrey Chaucer character in "The Knights Tale," a modern Hollywood version of ""The Canterbury Tales."

This has been a relatively quick project, so please forgive any historical goofs. And the voice talent, or lack of talent, is all me. So you will really need to be kind about that part of the performance. It's bad enough to listen to yourself on a recording, but imagine trying to generate more than a half dozen distinct characters with an untrained voice. Trust me, as an arts critic for more than a decade, it's more painful for me to listen to this than you.

That said, I'm content with many aspects of the final product. I think much of the sound mixing turned out pretty much how I imagined it. The script has some strong sections (and some weak ones, too). The historical anecdote is abstract enough to be interesting from a lot of different angles. I hope I conveyed that. This is the longest fiction piece I've created to date, and with the most sound layers. So I'm stretching my skills. Fiction is so much more difficult than nonfiction for me, with my training as a journalist. I've learned over many years what to listen for from a source, and to get that into my story. I can detach from the foibles of the speaker, because that is what makes the voice feel authentic.

The freedom of fiction also is a burden in the sense that all flaws lead directly back to me, as the author, and if they aren't intentional ... Oy! Anyway, I hope you find something interesting in this production. It was fun to create, and I'm definitely going to be working on more material like this in the future. Please give me feedback, and I'll try my best to get better and better at it.

- Brett


Chris said...

Gotta love ol' Pythagoras, eh? Sounds cool--looking forward to it (and I know that Rebecca is trying to make a decision on audio-only; I'd bet she'll find this interesting as well...)

Monica said...

I applaud you for taking a chance with the podcast. I kept wondering how many times you cracked yourself up while recording the "many voices inside your head." :-)

The thing that probably distracted me the most was the variable sound levels between the effects (ie. curtains rattling, horn heralding Pythagoras, and the blacksmith harmony) and the voices. Often when there is overlap, the voice is the harder portion to hear.

Very interesting - and I mean that in a good way.