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Culture

UK-based radio project brings back the art of listening

No one bats an eye these days when it comes to hearing about a new film screening - but a listening? A project started in the UK hopes to draw the public to spoken-word radio, and not just during the morning commute.

A pair of headphones

Radio doesn't have to be reserved for long car rides

A UK-based project called In The Dark organizes "listenings" - similar to film screening, just without the screen - that give radio enthusiasts the chance to take in audio features that often lie somewhere between art and news.

"We celebrate programs that are crafted radio features, where the starting point is not necessarily information in the hard factual sense," said In The Dark's founder Nina Garthwaite, a former television producer in her late 20's. "I'm not saying the features aren't factual, but they are more about ideas, feelings, characters and telling stories through sound."

One program featured by In The Dark, "Melting Point" by Nina Perry, was first aired by the BBC. It explores the environmental, cultural and musical significance of the icy landscapes of Greenland, Iceland and the Highlands of Scotland and features the words of an Icelandic writer, a Greenlandic fisherman and an ice-climbing, fiddle-playing mountain rescuer interwoven with a specially composed musical soundscape.

An audience sits in a movie theater

In The Dark hopes radio can become a group activity, like going to the movies

Listening in the dark

"For me, there is something really romantic about people going around and collecting sounds, people's voices, environments and even music and then taking it all back and weaving it into a story," said Garthwaite.

While cinema has made appreciating films and documentaries very much a communal activity, radio remains a more solitary experience. People are more inclined to associate radio features with being at work or on a long car journey.

By hosting communal listening events, In The Dark hopes to slowly socialize the medium. The group has organized listenings in theaters, bars and private homes, where the pieces are played for an audience sitting - as one might guess - in the dark.

A recent event held at a home in London attracted 30 radio lovers and featured a moving and distressing glimpse into the world of ambulance call centers by Australian producer Kyla Brettle.

"Radio can be less compelling than something that is constantly bombarding you with imagery," said one listener at the event. "But I was totally captivated and, at times, quite emotional during some of the ambulance stories in particular. Radio actually works perfectly for that story, because the ambulance worker is also only hearing."

An ambulance

A piece on ambulance call centers at a recent event stirred listeners

Radio for all the senses

But heading to a listening can also be somewhat awkward for first-timers who aren't sure how to respond to the experience.

“It's funny that something we've all grown up with is so unfamiliar in a way," said Garthwaite. "People don't know where to sit or what to do with their eyes at listenings. That's funny because it is something that has existed longer than film, but I think we'll figure it out.”

In The Dark's founder hopes the Internet will lead to radio features being better preserved and more accessible - a bit like a library for radio. Rather than being broadcast once or twice, some carefully crafted works can be heard again and again.

That's good news for those who attend the listenings and now can't get enough of radio storytelling.

As one listener said, "The medium really stimulates all of your senses, not just your ear. At first, you have to make an effort to visualize and smell and feel the pain or whatever, but then it just flows. By the end, radio becomes a very rewarding experience for you, because it stimulates everything automatically."

Turn off the lights, close your eyes, and listen to the radio features attached below, which have been specially selected by DW editors.

Author: Sarah Stolarz (gsw)
Editor: Kate Bowen

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