Neil Verma – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Serial Goes Missing Fri, 08 Jan 2016 16:07:21 +0000 serial-season2

You could cite the sponsorship of Audible, the rise of Midroll Media, Gimlet and PRX’s Radiotopia, galvanizing events like Podcast Movement and the Third Coast International Audio Festival, but ask anyone and they will say that it was Serial and its 100 million downloads that elevated narrative-driven podcasting from dorky obscurity back in 2014. Serial was mainstream. Serial intensified and also transcended the This American Life aesthetic. Serial was serious.

It also clarified the affect surrounding its own mode of consumption. One did not merely follow Serial or like Serial in 2014; one was “obsessed” with Serial. It’s the word that came up most often in the coverage, and served as grist for ridicule and derivative works, of which there are now many – Breakdown, Another Dead Man Walking, Limetown. If TV has taken on the metaphor of substance abuse these days (we are “addicted” to Making a Murderer, we “binge” on Scandal), narrative-driven podcasting has taken on the argot of infatuation, of compulsion, of love.

That response was prompted by the podcast itself. Early in the first episode, there is a bit of theater when Sarah Koenig reflects on how a meeting with lawyer Rabia Chaudry prompted her investigation of the murder of Baltimore teenager Hae Min Lee and the issue of whether or not Lee’s former boyfriend Adnan Syed had really committed it. In an aside, Koenig uses the technique of false improvisation, seeming to rethink a word in mid-sentence, although the line strikes the ear as scripted:

This conversation with Rabia […] this is what launched me on this year long – obsession is maybe too strong a word – let’s say fascination, with this case.

Let’s not. When this first aired, here on Antenna Jason Mittell made the argument that the main character of Serial wasn’t Syed at all, but Koenig herself. In retrospect I’d go further. Because the show dramatizes how engrossed its host became with the investigation she was performing, her obsession was the “protagonist” of the show. After all, that which drives Serial’s seriality is neither the chronology of the story nor that of its reconstruction, but Koenig’s internal thought process, her uncertainty when faced with multiple avenues of interpretation afforded by the same datum. Remember the Nisha Call, the pay phone at Best Buy, Syed stealing from the donations at his mosque? We listened to Koenig organize and reorganize each of these, value and devalue them, recursively, incredulously, passionately. We listened to Koenig struggling with the stubborn ambiguity of an ever-growing wall of details. That is why (as critics are starting to realize) imitating Serial’s narrative is impossible to do without recreating its narration.


So Serial’s thorniest philosophical problem was never with ethics, but instead with something closer to hermeneutics. The last lines of the twelfth episode speak to this theme:

When Rabia first told me about Adnan’s case, certainty, one way or the other seemed so attainable. We just needed to get the right documents, spend enough time, talk to the right people, find his alibi. Then I did find Asia, and she was real and she remembered and we all thought “how hard could this possibly be? We just have to keep going.” Now, more than a year later, I feel like shaking everyone by the shoulders like an aggravated cop. Don’t tell me Adnan’s a nice guy, don’t tell me Jay was scared, don’t tell me who might have made some five second phone call. Just tell me the facts ma’am, because we didn’t have them fifteen years ago and we still don’t have them now.

In an ironic touch, Koenig cites detective Joe “Just the Facts” Friday of Dragnet, radio’s paragon of positivist “keeping going,” as she expresses skepticism about the certainty that such a method provides. What was at stake in Koenig’s obsession, ultimately, wasn’t her feelings towards Adnan (the allegation of romantic attachment strikes me as both unsupported and misogynistic) but her worry that certainty about him is unavailable. What if the truth isn’t out there? That is the fear to which Koenig was professionally and emotionally vulnerable, and by foregrounding that exposure rather than subordinating it, she gave the show dimension, made it special and weird.


Last month Serial returned, now with seven new staff members and a host of collaborators, including Mark Boal’s Page One film company, tackling an elusive subject: the disappearance and search for Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who left his post in Afghanistan one night in June 2009 and was returned after a prisoner swap five years later.

The topic is complex, but in adopting it Koenig also marginalizes her own voice. We hear little about her own thinking, opinions, epistemological struggles. The first episode ends dramatically, with a phone ringing and Koenig explaining “That’s me, calling the Taliban.” But this is almost the only moment of personal ownership in the episode. By contrast, the first installment of Season 1 was full of that:

… This search sometimes feels undignified on my part …
… I have to know if Adnan really was in the library at 2:36 PM …
… If you’re wondering why I went so nuts on this story versus some other murder case, the best I can explain is this is the one that came to me …

koenigIn the Season 1 launch she uses the object pronoun form “me” 14 times to refer to herself. In the launch of Season 2 she only uses it four times.

She’s an outsider, learning terminology as we do and drawing on others. A recent article in Vulture characterizes Koenig as a novice in national security, describing Boal as the “embed” with contacts in government and a background as a screenwriter for films like Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker. In its very structure, then, Season 2 turns away from the model of the heroic individual quest, of “dramatic nonfiction narrative in the form of a personal journey” as Eugenia Williamson characterizes the This American Life aesthetic, and toward a model of collaboration. No doubt many journalists will cheer this change.

The team is making use of all of its resources. “The Golden Chicken,” the second episode, draws on 12 interviewees from Bergdahl’s battalion, 25 hours of taped conversations between Boal and Bergdahl, an interview with Taliban leader Mujahid Rehman, reporting by Afghan Sami Yousafzai who made contact with a fighter named Hilal, as well as documents from Wikileaks, all to reconstruct what happened to Bowe in the first weeks of captivity. If Serial’s new season is “about the knotted relationship between systems and people,” as Slate’s Katy Waldman puts it, then it also requires a number of systems and people to explore it.

Like the first season, this one dwells on discrepancies. The Taliban say that they did a traditional attan dance to cheer up Bergdahl in an orchard during his transportation, but he remembers nothing like that. Like last time, the heart of the show lies in interview tapes peppered with humdrum audio, like the sounds of Boal microwaving his lunch, which contrast the network news snippets at the top of the program – what Koenig calls the “antiseptic upstairs realm” of the mass media narrative. Like the first season, this one often focuses on vivid details. In the third episode, we learn that Taliban fighters drink Mountain Dew, think sunglasses look cool, and say “What’s up, bro.” The first episode explains what life was like in Bergdahl’s station in Paktika province by focusing on the burn pit, where pitiable soldiers took turns stirring their own burning refuse. It’s a shit-stirring scene at a post made famous by a soldier trying to stir up shit.

In theory, there is no reason why the new season, with its dark humor, with its war and torture, with its humanized subject and investigators, should differ tonally from the previous one. Koenig clearly has sympathy for her subject in the fourth episode, listen to her describe how a captor cuts Bergdahl’s chest slowly with a razor blade 600 times. With multiple accounts of these and other events, the same awe and uncertainty we experienced the first time should plague us. “Any one piece of this story can keep a person’s mind churning,” Koenig promises in an early passage.

And yet it doesn’t. Why? Because Koenig is not vulnerable to her story this time out; she tells the story without becoming a character in it. She has yet to speak to Bergdahl directly, and her retreat to the role of anchor bears the same antiseptic whiff as the TV media reports that the program borrows for its opening. We aren’t even following Koenig’s “mental churning” closely enough to know how fraught it might be. Without the pathos of a narrator’s affective relation to her narrative, the season comes across as superior journalism but inferior meta journalism. We’ve lost the innervating anxiety that made it special.

Just think of it at the level of sonic texture. Gone are the calls to Adnan, car rides with co-producers, footsteps into fields, knocks on doors, auditory situations in which we felt physically proximal to our host moving through space over a duration of time. Instead, Koenig speaks to us from nowhere in particular, pointing our ears at places rather than taking us along with her to visit them. Her intense intimacy with the audience is not mirrored by a similar sonic proximity to the people and places that the story is about, leaving the experience oddly hollow, even lonely.

zoomPerhaps Season 2 is too far away from its focus. Obsession always implies a collapse of critical distance, but Serial’s own metaphors go the other way. Early on in the first episode, Koenig likens the Bergdahl story to a children’s book called Zoom.

It starts with these pointy red shapes. And then, next page, you realize those shapes are a rooster’s comb. Next page, you zoom out, you see the rooster is standing on a fence with two little kids watching him. Next page, zoom out again, they’re in a farmhouse. And then, zoom further, you realize that all of it — the rooster, the kids, the farmhouse — are toys being played with by another child […] Out and out it zooms, the aperture of the thing getting wider and wider until the original image is so far away it’s unseeable. That’s what the story of Bowe Bergdahl is like.

It’s what the podcast is like, too. Even as we get closer to the story, we seem further away.

This is not the only time that Koenig refers to children’s media. Earlier on in the episode, she contrasts Boal’s salty language with Bowe’s schoolboy politeness, noting that the latter’s go-to expletive is Charlie Brown’s “good grief.” During the second episode, Koenig describes the Army’s thinking once it knew Bergdahl was captured this way:

They also knew that the Taliban’s goal would be to get Bowe to a hideout in the tribal region of Western Pakistan, because Pakistan is like home base. Or, to put it in Tom and Jerry terms, Pakistan is the hole in the baseboard where Tom cannot go.

Finally, in the third episode, as Koenig narrates the nightmarish tale of one of Bergdahl’s escape attempts. As Bergdahl falls off a cliff, the scene takes on the language of the comic strip:

Bowe lands on a dry riverbed on his left side. He said the word “oof” actually came out of his mouth, just like in a cartoon, loud enough so that some dogs started barking their heads off.

Small wonder that Serial feels just as bracing this time around, but flatter. Adnan Syed was a cipher; Bowe Bergdahl is a sketch.

And so, a year later, Serial remains the best game in town, an ambitious program, dense and with the best narrative rhythm in American narrative audio. It still boldly leads the field when it comes to signaling what podcasts can do. But it has lost its touch when it comes to refashioning how podcasts can feel. Is it fascinating? Sure. But so far obsession remains too strong a word.


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Podagogy, a Word I Didn’t Make Up Thu, 25 Jun 2015 13:00:06 +0000 Microphones

Post by Neil Verma, Northwestern University

In her 2013 book Listening Publics, Kate Lacey points out a contradiction in listening habits arising out of the proliferation of podcasts and other programs born in the digital space. On the one hand, listeners experience radio in perhaps more personalized ways than they did in the past, listening to what they want and when they want, often in the micro-airspace of a personal device. On the other hand, these same listeners represent their acts of listening to others through social media much more readily and broadly than did listeners in the past (p. 154).

Our listening acts are thus simultaneously both less “in public” and more so, while becoming far more available to monitoring by a variety of entities clamoring for every crumb of data on audience preferences and behaviors.

The good news is that this contradiction suggests that despite the insularity of their sonic lives, there remains a persistent desire within many people to listen together, if only virtually. Lacey points to the rise of curated listening events, which have expanded quite a bit in the years since her book was published. Note the upcoming Cast Party bringing podcast shows to film theaters, recent RadioLoveFest at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and the ongoing events of the Third Coast International Audio Festival. Although it’s not really new, listening together without visual stimulus still feels unusual, like an experiment in experience. By liberating publics and concentrating them, providing a paradoxical collectivity and anti-sociality at once, group podcast listening is full of possibilities, although it is unclear what they are and how to harness them.

Poster for the RadioLoveFest at BAM.

Poster for the RadioLoveFest live radio series at Brooklyn Academy of Music.

In this post, I’d like to think about the classroom as a space in which to find out more about that. While we have opportunities to use public and virtual spaces to promote collective listening (this was the premise of my #WOTW75 project in 2013), and some of the most experimental thinking about podcasting is taking place online (see Sounding Out!’s Everything Sounds piece, Cynthia Meyers’s study of podcast business, and Jason Mittell’s coverage of Serial), it’s in classrooms where we can really “do” collective listening in a unique way. Unlike listeners in online groups, movie theaters, museums, and festivals, those in classrooms host critique without seeming to undermine community. Moreover, they benefit from a tremendous power that even educators themselves often undervalue: by meeting again and again, classroom listening enables conversations to grow, as the listening we do alone becomes the listening we do together.

According to this reasoning, teaching classes on podcasting isn’t just a new idea to attract students – although it does – but also a way of knowing the form of the podcast anew. In other words, podagogy (a word I didn’t make up, swear) is just as necessary to the current task of inventing podcast studies as it is to the task of applying it.

I recently had a chance to experiment with this in a course I taught on “Podcasting and New Audio,” which focused on narrative-driven podcasts in historical context. Broken into three sections – “What is a Podcast?,” “Possible Histories the Podcast,” and “Formal Problems / Critical Strategies” – the course gave opportunities for complicating student understanding of shows that many already knew well. By teaching Radiolab’s “Space” alongside a week on the history of sound art, for instance, we could rethink this show on discovery along lines suggested by conceptual art. Combining Serial with Carlo Ginzburg’s essay on the history of conjecture, we dug into the show’s hermeneutics, considering the way the narration approaches “evidence” with boundless suspicion while also providing listeners with sonic details that work as “clues,” offering seemingly privileged windows into meaning, like tracks in the snow.

I found the historical classes – highlighting the hidden legacy of radio drama, documentary, and the radio “feature” on podcast formulas – especially gratifying. Even the most ardent podcast fans know few masterpieces of the past. Want to blow the mind of a lifelong devotee of This American Life? Assign The Ballad of John Axon. Trust me.

Cover for a 1965 LP edition of The Ballad of John Axon by Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, and Charles Parker.

Cover for a 1965 LP edition of The Ballad of John Axon by Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, and Charles Parker.

I added two podagogical (there it is again) features to the architecture of the class, both of which involved listening to our materials as a collective, in the room.

In the first, I asked students to work in groups to produce recordings as responses to the reading, creating a quasi-podcast of their own. Prompts included: after reading Nancy Updike’s manifesto for radio, create a 1 minute “manifesto” using only sound (I got a great one based on Russolo); provide the shortest possible piece of audio that tells a “story” whose structure responds to how podcasters like Alex Blumberg and Ira Glass understand that term (the snap of a mousetrap, two seconds flat). Listening to these in class gave each group a chance to talk about their thinking, emphasizing sound as not just a vehicle of response but also as a way of knowing. Indeed, the very anticipation of being asked to create audio made them listen differently, tuning their receptors and making them as detail-oriented in the study of podcasts as many already are when it comes to TV and film.

That’s the same idea behind the second experiment in the course. In each meeting, one group would take the task of devising and leading a “Guided Exercise in Collective Listening.” To explain, I gave an example. On the first day, I broke the group into thirds and assigned them each one of Michel Chion’s “Three Listening Modes” (semantic listening for language, causal listening for sources of emanation, “pure listening” for sound objects) to shape how they listen to The Truth’s “The Extractor.” Then we listened to the whole piece and had a discussion about how it was different depending on our mode, and what points in the piece cued us to shift from one mode to another. In another case, I instructed them to make a four frame “storyboard” for Sean Borodale’s A Mighty Beast while we listened to it together, later asking what choices we have to make in “translating” from sound to a constrained number of visuals, as a way of troubling our lazy notions of the relationship between sounds and mental images.

Soon the students took over directing our listening activities. That became the richest part of the course, particularly for difficult episodes. Listening to Love + Radio’s brilliant but disturbing story “Jack and Ellen” encouraged us to look at how editing constructed the complex reliability – and the complex gender identity – of a blackmailer. A group that undertook Radiolab’s controversial “Yellow Rain” segment instructed us to listen for moments of shifting allegiance, an idea that sharpened our appreciation of the rhetorical use of silence in that piece, along with its bearing on questions of race and power.

Art from the “Jack and Ellen” episode of Love + Radio.

Art from the “Jack and Ellen” episode of Love + Radio. Image: Cal Tabuena-Frolli.

Another value of listening together in class was more ineffable. Getting podagogy out of the pod, it became clear that these pieces simply hang in the air differently among other people than they do in the ear and alone, carrying discomfort, mortification and identity more heavily when they fill a room. By having both experiences, class listening introduces sequence to Lacey’s contradiction. Students begin with private listening on their own, have a second experience informed by peers as a group, and then explain their experiences and their discrepancies to one another. The rhythm moved from the public to the private and back again, something that a one-time collective listening event alone does not accomplish.

Curated listening in public is a laudable and exciting development, I hope we see more of it. I hope it gets even weirder. But in the classroom, collective listening can be a way of teaching the ear to be more critical, more aware of its own comportment and aesthetic responses, as well as of the habits of attention and social dynamics that underlie those responses, the very matters that podcast scholarship ought to be after.


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From Mercury to Mars: Introducing Antenna’s New Radio Studies Series Fri, 09 Aug 2013 13:57:16 +0000 WelleswTower_squareV2And now, we interrupt this broadcast for a message from our contributor Neil VermaAt 9:00 pm on July 11, 1938, the Columbia Broadcasting System unfurled a plush Tchaikovsky concerto to welcome 23 year-old wunderkind Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater troupe to national airwaves for a show destined to become the most famous dramatic radio anthology ever aired.

The Mercury Theater on the Air came with hype. Welles was fresh off a streak of innovative stage adaptations of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” Shaw’s “Heartbreak House,” and Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus,” pledging in a New York Times article to “treat radio with the intelligence and respect such a beautiful and powerful medium deserves.” A jab at his rivals? Maybe. Legends tell of 17-hour writing sessions, of rows minutes before airtime between Welles, producer John Houseman, and composer Bernard Herrmann, of sound men abusing baskets, watermelons, toilets, lawnmowers to make audio. Time described Mercury’s ambition as “bounded north and south by hope, east and west by nerve.”

Welles was by then a radio veteran, the hero of The Shadow and impersonator of newsmakers from Sigmund Freud to Fiorello laGuardia on The March of Time. Hundreds of extant recordings link Welles to rousing Norman Corwin pageants,Columbia Workshop experiments, strident war shows like Ceiling Unlimited, buffoon turns on the Jack Benny and Fred Allen Shows, picaresque Harry Limeadventures, dense thrillers on Suspense, romances on Lux Radio Theater, diplomacy on Hello Americans, and on and on. Welles gave radio new forms, as radio informed his filmmaking profoundly – the sound of Citizen Kane (1941) the characters in Mr. Arkadin (1955), the vocals in Touch of Evil (1958), the theme of F is for Fake (1974). Welles invented a cinema that is, among other things, a kind of radio play you can see.

Mercury (and the Campbell Playhouse it became) undertook plays like “Dracula,” “Treasure Island,” “The 39 Steps,” “Rebecca,” “Jane Eyre,” and “The Magnificent Ambersons” and dozens of others. But none would be remembered were it not for the “War of the Worlds,” adapted from H.G. Wells’s novel by Howard Koch. In October of 1938, “WOTW” aired to six million listeners, hundreds of thousands of whom misheard it as news. The “Panic Broadcast” became a series of fables: listeners treated for shock in Newark; families on Boston rooftops watching the fires of New York in the distance; an Indianapolis church service interrupted by a parishioner telling congregants “you might as well go home to die”; bomb threats and a police raid on CBS headquarters. Three quarters of a century later many agree with the New York Tribune’s Dorothy Thompson, who declared the Invasion “one of the most fascinating and important events of all time,” but the meaning of that event also feels unclear, growing more ambiguous with time. Today, the alien invasion is itself increasingly alien.

To confront that issue and to open Mercury to new kinds of critical practices in sound studies, Antenna is partnering with the sound studies blog Sounding Out! over the next six months to bring you a 12-part series entitled From Mercury to Mars: Orson Welles on Radio after 75 Years. I’m honored to serve as Sounding Out!‘s Guest Editor, and Andrew Bottomley will be curating the parallel series here at Antenna. We’ll be bringing you authors who engage aesthetic, historical, and political aspects of Welles’ radio work with a depth and intensity unusual in Welles studies.

The inaugural post in the series, “Hello, Americans: Orson Welles, Latin America, and the Sounds of the ‘Good Neighbor,'” has just been published over at Sounding Out!. Please check it out here. It is written by Cornell Comparative Literature Professor and SO! contributor Tom McEnaney, who has been working on a book project involving radio and the “neighborhood” of the Americas. I’m thrilled to welcome Tom’s nuanced and provocative take on Welles’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and his Hello, Americans program, and I hope it will encourage you to stay with us as the series unfolds.

Antenna‘s first post in the series will appear here next week. And like Welles, we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve. Stay tuned.


On Radio: The Truth, and Other Jeopardies Thu, 07 Feb 2013 14:00:45 +0000 Seventy-five years ago this summer Orson Welles inaugurated his Mercury Theater on the Air on the Columbia network with an adaptation of “Dracula.” Among the mixed reviews, Variety’s opprobrium stands out, calling the broadcast a “confused and confusing jumble of frequently inaudible and unintelligible voices,” and then dismissing it altogether, since “Columbia, being merely a radio network, has no dramatic standing to jeopardize.”

In coming months another idea of “standing” would preoccupy Welles and his fellow radio dramatists, many of whom concentrated on manipulating the standpoint at which listening rests in the world of the play, a property that I’ve called “audioposition.” By cleverly conveying “where listeners listen from” 1930’s dramatists felt they could convince audiences to accept radio drama as a legitimate platform worthy of assessment and appreciation.

Only dramatic “standing,” in other words, could produce “dramatic standing.”

This connection between audioposition and value is being rediscovered today, as podcasters seek recognition as dramatists, and various groups (on air, in cinemas, on stage, online, and elsewhere) rethink drama’s place in the “new golden age” of radio. In this column, I want to consider a few podcasts by The Truth, an American Public Media group responsible for some of the most interesting dramatic audio in recent memory, arguing that a new sense of audioposition – or, more precisely, of its instability – may be emerging today.

The Truth is a project of producer Jonathan Mitchell, who works with a group of actors recruited from The Magnet Theater in New York, as well as several other writers and radio editors. A long-time enthusiast of musique concrète, Mitchell’s plays “Eat Cake” and “Moon Graffiti” had been featured on such programs as Studio 360 for years, but most listeners likely first encountered his material when “Tape Delay” aired on This American Life last April. After that broadcast, The Truth’s downloads went from a few hundred per day up to 20,000. Today, the podcast has more than 35,000 regular subscribers.

Between story workshops, improvisation, recording sessions and editing, production of each podcast can take up to a month. Mitchell balances experiment and control. “The interesting thing to me,” he explains, “is the way the improv gets combined with the editing stage.” Just as there is no script dictating things at the outset of work, there is none at the end. In the latter phase, the most compelling recordings are assembled irrespective of the initial plan, a process that Mitchell likens to film editing.

The result has remarkable variety. In “Mirror Lake,” a young man returns to a scene from his childhood, only to discover that his memories have led him astray. In “The Death of Poe” a night watchman at the home of the great writer relates a a story-within-a-story of Poe’s mysterious death. And The Truth maximizes its settings, large and small. In “Do You Have a Minute for Equality?” the openness of a city street is contrasted with the claustrophobia of the dentist’s chair. In “In Good Hands,” urban explorers stumble into a dystopian society hidden in the bowels of New York, traveling through sound caverns in a story that segues rapidly between dozens of locations, including a subterranean garden and swimming pool.

Some of the best scenes emerge through auditory deceptions and stutters, something thematized in plays like “Interruptible.” At the outset of the recording, we hear an interviewer (Ed Herbstman) chat with the author (Melanie Hoopes) of a recent book entitled I Lived as a Dog for One Year. There is some crackle and a sense of distance, as if our ear is not quite as flush against the conversation as we expect it to be. “There’s a full moon out, does that affect you?” quips the interviewer, before the scene is interrupted by a telephone and the sound of a car’s turn signal, both of which seem clearer and closer to us than the preceding passage. Instantly the volume of the interview drops, as a new character, a taxi driver (Christian Paluck) argues with his wife about taking an extra shift on the day of their wedding anniversary. Mitchell insisted on using a car with a vinyl interior, to provide the right bounce for the sound, and the result is a beautiful sonic illustration of the taxi as a miniature soundscape.

The sudden “appearance” of that soundscape is just the first in a series of interruptions that structure the piece, but the sense of dislocation it provides lingers longer than most. Rather than listening to the interview, we had been listening to someone else listen to it. We haven’t moved audioposition in the space of the fiction at all, but misrecognized our audioposition from the getgo.

That use of slight-of-hand to create positional misconceptions is everywhere in Truth pieces. In “Domestic Violins,” we hear the auditions of violinists both from their own audioposition and also from that of the judges, a separation punctuated by an intercom in which we move from side to side abruptly. In “Tape Delay,” the sound of a conversation as we hear it enter a cell phone sounds quite different from when we are given the phone’s “perspective.” The Truth‘s most recent piece, “False Ending” starts as the lights come up on a college screening room for a post-show discussion after a swell of music that provides a sense of “returning to reality,” until the audio begins subtly changing again and we discover that the post-show discussion was itself a film, and the lights come up in another screening room in another college, where another post-show discussion is about to begin.

It’s significant that many of these inside/outside instabilities and switches of audioposition involve some other medium. The mechanism empowering each game is another device – a car radio, an intercom, a cell phone, a TV broadcast, a screening – that works as a hinge between sound and meta-sound. In an age that understands itself to be one of media convergence, perhaps something speaks to us about the joys, blunders, and terrors of misrecognizing mediation for immediacy, of mistaking one ongoing mediated state for another. Today, the way for a medium to acquire “a dramatic standing to jeopardize” might lie precisely in dramatizing the jeopardy of mediation.


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