Radio Without Boundaries: Tapping into the treasures of fictional ‘truths’

0 Posted by - May 28, 2011 - Conversations, Features, Sound

Sound is such a pervasive part of our cultural experience that we hardly notice it. For instance, who says of the digital revolution that it is a revolution in sound? And yet, that is exactly what is taking place in cultural outposts around the world. Pioneering creators are bringing traditions of experimental discovery, aesthetics and — in the words of Public Radio Remix founder Roman Mars — “joy”, to growing communities of listeners and practitioners who want to experience the genre bending soundscapes, songs, documentaries, essays, riffs and portraits that make up the world of sound art culture. There is a new golden age of radio and it sounds nothing like anything you’ve heard before.

I am in Toronto at the Radio Without Boundaries conference hosted by New Adventures in Sound Art. The three-day conference is a gathering of artists for workshops, artist talks and performances by practitioners from across North America. (For those who want to listen in live check out the NAISA webcast.)

For those who missed today’s proceedings, I am busily digesting the day’s events into (hopefully) pithy summaries and descriptions of the various workshops and presentations. I also I snagged a few short interviews with some of the key presenters including Jonathan Goldstein (from CBC’s Wiretap), Roman Mars (from Public Radio Remix) and Shea Shackelford (from The Big Shed). First up, Jonathan Goldstein….

Jonathan Goldstein’s work on CBC’s Wiretap is something of an under-appreciated gem of Canadian public broadcasting. The show is structured around a series of telephone conversations with friends and family of the host, Jonathan Goldstein. What makes it stand out in the CBC roster is the fluid and rather original handling of the tension between truth and fiction. The conversations come across as surprisingly candid, even embarrassingly so as the host, Goldstein, navigates the quirks and faultlines of his personality through various situations and existential crises. Goldstein’s on-air persona is something of a patsy — a strategy, he explained in his keynote address, of allowing audiences to feel superior to the host. The on-air Goldstein is a likeable sad-sack and straightman for the often caustic and enthusiastically odd personas of his friends and family.

Surprisingly for me, the show is more than dramatic script. Many of the stories and situations emerge out of “actuality” and are then massaged with invention to find the story that suits the material and actors who are, in fact, his family and friends who play themselves in sometimes scripted and sometimes improvised scenes.

Goldstein got cut his teeth as a producer for Ira Glass’ This American Life, working behind the scenes for two years before emerging as a charasmatic storyteller in his own right. He is the author of two novels, Lenny Bruce is Dead and Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bible. He says that he first came to radio as an extension of his writing — as a way to reach wider audiences — and then fell hopelessly in love with the medium.

I caught up with Goldstein after his address at the conference with a few pesky questions about truth, fiction and journalism.

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