Tag Archives: experimental radio documentary

Bewitched, Bothered, Bewildered

Bewitched, Bothered, Bewildered is a freely associative “gothic documentary” essay produced during 1997, and first broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s excellent Listening Room program in 1998, and since broadcast numerous times elsewhere, with themes that remain stubbornly contemporary.

Four very different conversations arranged into rotating quatrains, offering floating buoys for the listeners, who are invited to voyage down a foggy coastline by dead reckoning; the essay also became, inevitably, a meditation on the nature of making radio, for radio journeys often end in shipwreck, airwaves offering an electronic mirror for the submerged graveyard of the Atlantic. How do we navigate through such dark and beautiful vibrations?

Inspiration for the structure came from walks on the labyrinth of paths and tracks that wind through the Nantucket moors, in the company of Nat Philbrick who was working on his masterful In the Heart of the Sea at that time. The old Nantucket phrase for such a walk: rantum scoot, an open and intuitive venturing that seems to resonate very well with the nature of radio space.

Radio, like a human body floating in a vat, is nebulous, which is the very opposite of opaque, for the longer you look at a nebula, the more you see; it is simply a matter of allowing scant light to work on cognition, a process that cannot happen over the duration of a single sound bite. In deep fog, when you shine a bright light, you may actually see less – better to listen for the  buoys, the lap of the waves, and keep a mind open to every possibility.

The radio listener, in all her protean moods, is as slippery, unstable, ghosted as la radia herself: in the bath, or in a doctor’s waiting room, in the car, on the move, somewhere else, probably thinking about something — else — some other place, some other voice. Not us. So on both sides of the call and response, then, the listening situation is viscous, fluid, indefinite, only the potential for a crossing— no promises.

The key to making engaging radiocasts resides in understanding the creative possibilities of this fundamental communicative uncertainty, not in trying to erase it, or pretend that all is perpetually in order, whether through compulsive handholding or the urge to spoon feed and infantilize. Too much of that, and the relationship dries out, withers and dies.  It’s easy, but it won’t last; mediocrity only feels “cozy” for so long.  Far better to jump headlong into the sublime carnival of the limbo zone, and permit ourselves to become bewitched, bothered and bewildered by a shipwreck off the coast of Nantucket, or by the body of Ophelia floating in a vat, or by Che Guevara on the autopsy table and by Giacomo Casanova in his carnival mask.

Finally: radio remains a medium where I believe the possibilities of one individual (a key theme within the important film by Leandro Katz, El Dia Que Me Quieras) can still make a difference, against the crushing tidal wave of the mainstream media.  As with the figure of Casanova, so vividly conjured by the enchanting voice of Chantal Thomas, mother radio seduces in a way that entangles the erotic with the dangerous, like a jump into the chaos of carnival.

WHO’S THERE?


Dead Letters

In 1983, Susan Stone and I received funding from the NPR satellite program development fund for the production of two radio features within a genre we called “cinema in the head”. In my case, this meant an investigation into an assembly of voices, ideas, themes and associations that seemed to belong in the same space, yet had never been properly introduced.

During those years, I was influenced by essayistic films such as Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (which I still watch once a year or so) and the filmic philosophy of Alexander Kluge. I had also recently finished a master’s thesis about the subjective experience of aurality and literacy, and in particular the work of Walter Ong, whose subtle and deep investigations into the history of the word (and The Word) remains a source of stimulation to this day.

In terms of the production process, I was particularly fascinated by the phenomenology of the analog razor cut as a sort of acoustic emblem for a wounded text; an acoustic text stitched together, where the wounds were active as “mouths” – vulnerable openings among the various floating subjects. Such a text seemed to resonate with the qualities of radiophonic space that have always intrigued me, above all the tense interplay between Eros and Thanatos.

All this led me to visit the New York City Dead Letter Office over the course of several days, watching the small group of skilled decipherers make one last attempt at fulfilling a desired yet possibly doomed epistolary communication. From there, I simply followed whatever associative path was suggested within the language and performance of the interviews themselves.

The editing process was obsessive, as I shaved slivers from slivers to get the rhythm exactly right. Inspired by the dance and music of the Tarantella, the structure circles and spins, offering multiple beginnings and ends; entrances and exits into the warehouse of undelivered feeling.

DEAD LETTERS EXCERPT: first 12:38

Later (ten years later) released on CD by the legendary Staalplaat, which includes a booklet of the entire transcript.