I chose to write my audio reflection on Season 10 Episode 9 of RadioLab entitled Ghost Stories.
Overall, how effective do you think audio was for telling the story(ies)? Overall I think audio storytelling can be as powerful or even more powerful than a story with visual aids. In a way, the lack of sight can enhance the suspense in a story. It can add a layer of fear because we cannot see exactly what is happening. It is almost like being dragged blindly through a scary situation. Imagine we were lost in a graveyard with a friend, unnervingly trying to find our way out. This would be plenty scary in and of itself. Now imagine that we are lost in that same graveyard with the same friend but your eyes have been blocked in some way. Now the only way out is to rely on your friend holding your hand and pulling you along with him. In my mind this would be far more scary because our only “sight” into the world would be to hear what our friend was telling us. This is how I see radio vs. film. In radio stories we only have our auditory sense to fill us in on the story, whereas in television we can see for ourselves exactly what is happening. In television nothing is left to the imagination. In contrast, auditory stories allow the listener to add his or her own imagination into the story because every detail is not explained and it is up to each audience member’s imagination to fill in the gaps.
What types of audio techniques did the producers use — sound effects, layering of sounds, music, etc. — to convey their story?
The producers use sound effects when introducing their guest. At the 1:30 mark when introducing their guest Mary Roach they use a ghost sound effect. Another echoing sound effect was applied to the voice of Roach at the 3:10 mark to make her voice sound like that of a ghost. Additionally ambient sound is often added in the background to make the story more appealing to the ears of listeners. After hearing just speech for a few minutes it is somewhat soothing to hear some music even if it is just in the background. I also realized the speed in which the speakers talk actually can convey a different message. Even without changing the words we can insert mood into speech by changing the rate of speech and the pauses. When the rate and pauses in speech arecoupled with spooky background music it sets the mood just as well as having a visual. We sometimes hear the voice of people who do not belong to either of the two people reporting live. The other person is implied to not be physically in the main conversation however their role still contributes to the story.
What choices did they make that impacted your understanding of and feelings about the story?
In many cases the way each line was delivered hugely impacted the way I felt about the story. For example in the anecdote about the man taking his own life at the 3:40 mark the speaker slows down for dramatic effect, she spaces each word out more and more and there is a spooky gas leak sound effect in the background. All of these elements work together to make for a really bone chilling ambiance.
What are the techniques from the references above that you may not have noticed before?
Having never really listened to audio stories before I did not know much about them. I noticed how important the narrator is to the progression of the story. Many audio stories rely on the narrator to carry the theme and plot – a role that is very different than occurs in most movies. The narrator not only recounts past events, but can also add commentary and perspective to the story. I also noticed that the dialogue is much richer in audio stories and is presented with much greater thought. In many movies the dialogue is not at the forefront of the production. In movies, the dialogue may be secondary or even tertiary to the visual effects that truly catch your attention.