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Covering G20 -- one medium at a time

There's nothing like a good excuse. 

Despite the threats and the bullying, the heightened temperatures and the challenge of negotiating travel through a locked down city, I took my audio recording rig to the G20 Peoples March.

My plan was to record enough POV and soundscape audio at the event to fill up 15 minutes of on air --'play'-- time.

It turned out that once I got to editing -- with a strict preference for  density in mind -- I produced an audio recording of 8 minutes and 18 seconds duration. 

The Blather goes to the G20
[8:18   8.0MB]

Listen now to other episodes of The Blather 
To state the obvious, I recorded a lot more than 8 minutes at the event.

I  'interviewed' participants. I recorded some of the speeches and I accompanied the chanting crowds as they marched across the town with my microphone switched to 'on'. Later, it took me 3 hours  to edit the material down...but then I'm rusty. I came home with 32 separate audio files I had to review and edit from.

Of course an event like this is a media circus. Aside from all the mainstream prattle, online there are video and text perspectives  as well as some stunning photographs -- especially when Zebedee Parks is behind the camera -- from a left and participant's POV.

What I want to draw your attention to is that by utilising montage layering of sound and voices, I was able to capture a range of opinions and deliver them online in a very short (just over 8 minutes) and very small (8MB) package.
TECH NOTE:Indeed I could have swapped some quality easily for a much smaller sized file (delivered at 128 kbps but I could have shaved that to 64 kbps). But at 8 minutes in length, why bother? The recording was captured in .WAV format and exported and published as .mp3.
Given that I'm walking among a couple of thousand people with a small recording contraption in my hand, the sound quality is very good.I'm no audio-engineer but  for an initial day-out-with-rig, I thought my gear performed extremely well.

I've done this sort of thing before... for example:
The Blather goes to an antiwar rally on March 18th, 2006, and talks with participants who are protesting against the continuing occupation of Iraq. 
15 min 22 secs / 7.04 MB / Mono / 64 kbps / 44 kHz
Listen: Mp3 download  (TECH NOTE: twice the length but offered at 64 kbps)
...but it seems to me that very few other folk are doing it. Despite the rich traditions of community radio and Indymedia based audio activism, it's a rare occasion today that you'll see a roving microphone at a protest rally. In part this is due to what was a hardware problem  with many mobile rigs in the past costing a lot of money or the limitations of the radio preferred MiniDisc recorder. Nowadays that's all changed with these new digital devices being readily available.

Unfortunately, radio activism so often tends to be studio based and until recently, analog contained rather than digitalised.Given that you have a 'home' to withdraw to, full of lots of electronic gear and 7 days of programming to deliver, this makes sense.  But with single program online distribution your options can be freer and much lower tech.

"But so what," you ask ,"Isn't the online world's news frontier ruled by YouTube?"

Of course it is, but you could just as easily be disparaging of text as a news medium...but of course text survives very nicely...and why it survives may tell us a little about the ongoing relevance of all  media. 

I'll leave that for homework...but what I wanted to explore here in this post was how audio can be a uniquely useful form of reportage. Sure you can employ voice-over journalism and read out 'the news' as a third person/spoken about  happening -- but nothing quotes like audio because it's so first person -- the person speaking -- in its delivery. 

Indeed to generate x number of opinions (as I've done with this protest audio) by using video instead, would have  been  cumbersome . Furthermore the context of the exchange -- the interview -- would have been contained by a certain artificial formality because you are challenged by a camera in-your-face while you speak.
In the audio, compare speakers' platform speak with the interviews.
Some of the grabs I've included in the audio mix are walk-and-talk. There's no focus issues. No in-shot problems. Just a small microphone held up toward the  head of the person while eye contact is maintained between interviewer and interviewee. 

Much more 'intimate'.

This has been explored before seriously and academically through the milieu of oral history taking.Indeed, collecting points of view rather than focusing  on the third person narrative can often  be a richer  --and more real --take on an event. Any interviewer working from that perspective -- and Studs Terkl is a great example of such a skilled practitioner -- is not trying to engineer a sound grab...or a headline. What I like about it is that like Howard Zinn or E.P.Thompson this approach puts people in charge of their own history telling, their own narrative.

Much as I appreciate  'the media' per se -- its newsiness -- and what supposedly are the rigours of contemporary journalism -- just because the mainstream does it one way, doesn't mean that we should fall completely in step behind.

I've written journalese (in my day) about many  political events but ultimately, with its formulaic take the  standard journalism template can miss so much. By making it a routine news item, depth can be lost, primarily because only so few voices are heard.

Anyone who is media savvy -- and justifiably cynical -- knows how manipulated the bourgeois media can be despite  its proclaimed even handedness. But our everyday existence is formatted by conversation and dialogue. On the left, political  culture is ruled by discourse (and debate) -- despite hard copy and online publications, our medium is  primarily oral.Being left is about really working hard at generating a logical  opinion...articulating and sharing it.

Opinions rule because every lefty has one.

I think  a lot of left journalism cheapens that.  I am not trying to undermine the platform  -- I'm just trying to channel, what I think is, the reality.

That 2000 people gathered in Brisbane and marched against the G20  after being addressed by A , B and C  is 'journalism'. Facts. All necessary.

That the protest was militant and enthusiastic can be captured in video and still image. More fact.

That the experience of the event was layered by a range of interpretations and analyses among participants as shared via   the spoken word can enrich that mix so much more. It gives it greater traction. More relevance. A richer didacticism. More depth. Very person-in-the street: vox populi.

I'm not saying that audio is standalone stuff. I may consider it the truest medium, the one less open to spin. But that's my opinion. While I think it is the most neglected  I also  like looking at pictures,  as well as moving ones, and I love how succinct text can be.

I'm not talking about either/or so much as also..


It helps  a lot if you get into a media comfort zone you inahabit with some philosophy in mind. My 'special place' is ruled by montage  especially Soviet Montage experiments -- notably  Dzig Vertov. Indeed much of my outlook is ruled by montage this or that -- such as various takes on photomontage and that old warhorse, collage.
I won't take off here I promise. I'll try to restrain  my  ardour when I embrace this topic.
While the norm is to treat montage as a visual medium -- sound collaging is more than music. For my ear I've always been much taken with the audio mixes created by the Canadian film maker, Athur Lipsett.

Of course this may seem terribly 'arty', but mixes like this are standard 'collages' in Hip Hop, for instance, through the easy DIY of digital sampling.

I'm not arguing for  avant garde 'news' making, so much as  trying to suggest that audio lends itself to 'sampling' while still maintaining a logical and comprehensible progression. Indeed a conversation is a mix of voices...and an interview is a conversation with a purpose. 

'Samples' all. Dialogue to and fro.Point vs counterpoint.

And that's the irony (assuming you can follow me). While I can pull 'samples' of talk out of a collection of recordings generated at the one event and 'mix' them it is more reflective of  our everyday existence than we  recognise.

Indeed, with the digital tools currently available I can telephone almost anyone and interview them as I record the exchange.  The ABC's  radio news programs,  AM and PM, often rely on phone interviews to generate content.
My view is that precisely because the news is collected (recorded and presented) this way, it is less prone to 'spin' or manipulation.
What are these interviews  if not a montage of voices in a succession of 'news item' packages.  

Enter podcasting...and Skypecasting

When podcasting took off -- through the work of Adam Curry in collaboration with Dave Winer, a developer of RSS feed -- portable audio  could move away from  the restraints of radio. This is a very recent history.
Podcasting, first known as "audioblogging" has its roots dating back to the 1980s. With the advent of broadband internet and portable digital audio playback devices such as the iPod, began to catch hold in late 2004. Today there are more than 115,000 English-language podcasts available on the internet,and dozens of websites available for distribution at little or no cost to the producer or listener.
Much of the phenomenon has been driven by person to person interviews as copyright law precluded online sharing of music. Many of these interviews have employed, what's called , Skypecasting to generate the recorded audio.In effect one person 'phones' another via internet VOIP while the two way conversation is recorded for later sharing online. Because podcasting wallows in low tech, low cost, and low capitalisation,  the process was rougher than radio phone in connections, sometimes more cumbersome but then, a lot cheaper and much more accessible without the restraining  regulations that rule over radio production.

What Skyecasting did was enable interviews to be conducted and recorded with anyone you could ring via a Skype account. Of course the quality is not like in-studio chat.It's a phone conversation afterall. But hypothetically you could sit at a desktop and ring around a succession of contacts to generate  POV interviews so long as you kept within the law.[See  6 Essentials for recording phone interviews.] 

Nowadays there are more ways to record phone interviews than relying on Skype. You can, for instance, capture good audio quality off land lines and mobile phone connections with some of the (often inexpensive) devices currently available.
It was my preferred approach  to record off land lines and previously when I was podcasting I rigged a build to do this. The recording devices, and the sound quality,  are so much better today and a lot easier to use.

An attempt at a summary.

I apologise for being so discursive but,in effect, I'm sharing a series of notes:
In the next, and probably final, instalment, I'll look at some contemporary podcast examples and consider their relevance as working models we could learn much from. 

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