Monday, March 12, 2012

Goodbye Phillip Madoc, hello William Boyd

Catching up on emails I finally opened the Radio 4 Extra newsletter. My intial joy at reading that they were broadcasting again the Bert Coules adapted Cadfael stories of Ellis Peters was tempered by the news that this was to honour Phillip Madoc, the voice of Cadfael in this series, who had died.

If you haven’t heard these then you really should listen here. Philip Madoc is sensational his rich, deep tones adding immensely to the wonderful Coules script. I often wondered why they had not used this team to greater effect by simply making more productions. Sadly of course it cant be now but we do at least have these examples to remind us of just how good radio drama can be.

Voice is so important and it was fascinating to listen to William Boyd at the Aye Write festival in Glasgow speaking about the choice of narrators for his works when rendered in to audiobooks, praising Rosamund Pike and Timothy West in particular. He made a a telling and accurate observation, a good actor is not necessarily a good reader, and that reading for audiobooks is a very particular skill. How true.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

In praise of RTE, Marian Finucane and the art of conversation

Okay I am the most inconsistent blogger - I know. Almost a year since the last post. But TESCAPE has been rather dormant for that period. That said things are about to change so watch this space. So in the spirit of publishing more regularly I offer this.

Spokenword is something we love and whilst listening to a single voice can be wonderful soothing, informative and entertaining so too can conversation. If we come across sources of good spoken word then we like to share it an this is no exception.

A few years ago I spent time with one of TESCAPE authors riding across Ireland. Well he was riding his bike I was driving the support car and as I spent a jolly weekend surveying the glorious Irish countryside from Dublin to Galway, mending the odd puncture, filling water bottles and that kind of thing I also was introduced to RTE Radio 1 and some of the magnificent spokenword they produce. In particular I became aware of a star of Irish broadcasting the very fabulous Marian Finucane. Like many broadcasters RTE produces podcasts of their shows and Marian’s shows are no exception. On the weekend she does an interview show on the Saturday and a review magazine type show on the Sunday. The interviews are always interesting and Marian has that rare ability to be disarmingly polite but still skewer evasive interviewees. The Sunday review is a joy to listen to as current affairs and life are discussed with an eclectic and articulate group who both sound fabulous whilst managing to take contrary positions without having to shout or argue. They discuss. I just love feeling like I am part of the round table chat. Wonderful - listen to it.

I have just re engaged with it as I stocked a new MP3 player - a ZEN by the way - and thought I should share it with you.

For all my praise though I will say this - RTE you are hopeless at tagging your MP3’s really, really, really bad! Please add the necessary detail - show, artist etc etc etc. It really isn't that hard.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Goodbye 7, hello Extra

At the end of this week BBC 7 will cease to exist as BBC 7 and BBC Radio 4 Extra will be born. I for one am a fan of 7 – it has been a wonderful source of archive material and a few new pieces. Its challenge has always been that its catalogue is limited and over the years there has been a good deal of repetition so I hope that the new incarnation will give it a further injection of material. However I have to confess to a tinge of sadness that somehow the quiet and unsung quality of 7 will now get shared more widely. Terrible possessiveness I know – and stupid as 7 already gets a million listeners.

On the schedule this week they have the concluding part of a Professor Challenger series. Always been a fan of Conan Doyles work, and of that eras writers particularly.
A Challenger series – the Lost World has just aired on Radio 4 as well. I have to say I find the rather predictable gender changing that goes on when dramatising these things is really rather nonsensical. It changes the dynamics in the story, it introduces themes that weren’t there in the original, it misrepresents the circumstances of when the story is set and is just another metropolitan affectation so beloved by the Beeb. Oh dear another whinge.

Otherwise not a bad piece – but Bert Coules would have done it better :o)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Incidentally - Music is a pain!

Lots of debate today about the rather vexed subject of incidental music in programming. A good deal has been prompted by a comment by Professor Brian Cox who lamented the fact that the backing music on his programme the Wonders of the Universe is being reduced in volume as a result of complaints that it is too loud and intrusive. In his words he wants the experience to be cinematic. Perhaps Professor Cox wants to be a film star rather than an educator – who knows.

I haven't watched the programme at length so I cant really comment on the specific case beyond saying that I was under the impression that it is a factual programme and as such I would say some of the best factual cinema has very little incidental music and is all the better for it.

I am all for the use of incidental music when it can significantly enhanced the emotion of a fictional piece. The late John Barry was rightly praised for his ability to write music that aurally endorsed and embraced what was being shown on screen or the theme of a piece and so enhance the immersive experience.

Where I struggle with (no I actually object to) it is where it is used in factual or informative and educational pieces. Firstly it indicates an agenda or perspective on the part of the maker where we are being told how to interpret things. This is either coercive or patronising or both and for me is not acceptable. I am sure I am not alone on finding, for example, supposedly news or documentary pieces laden with incidental music that are full of martial music when showing militarism or fey tinkling piano pieces when dealing with “tragedy”. Sadly this is very much part of a mainstream United States sensibility of programming and so has a tendency to spread into a great deal of mainstream TV and film elsewhere.

The other issue for me is that it can simply make it hard to hear what is being said. Perhaps this is a function of my declining hearing, or maybe a general decline in the public desire to use precise language these days.

At the risk of being accused of being a curmudgeon I have a feeling that the use of incidental music in Professor Cox work is for another reason – he isn't actually a very good narrator. I haven't watched all the programmes but the pieces I have, and having heard him speak elsewhere, his delivery and tone leave a great deal to be desired – IMHO.

Now David Attenborough on the other hand..........

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Herzog, Margins and the Makar - a typical Friday in Glasgow!

What great Friday night in Glasgow. Started off going to see The Cave of Forgotten Dreams as part of the the rather fabulous Glasgow Film Festival. I am a big fan of Werner Herzog and for fans of his work you will not be disappointed. Beautifully shot, beautifully lit and, as usual, he manages to track down some extra ordinarily quirky interviewees. I think his skill is that he likes to operate in areas that are unique or on the edge ( or should I say Margins!) and these tend to attract people with true passion, some might say obsession, and as a result their enthusiasm comes across as engagingly quirky in an increasingly bland and homogenized world. Herzog's commentary is oddly riveting and delivered in his trademark monotone that always promises more. The music was rather dronaly fabulous even without the contribution of the late Florian Fricke, so all in all a joy to watch in a very full cinema.

But – and it is a very big but, the film is 3D and so I was double glazed with a pair of Buddy Holly specs on top of my own bins in anticipation of my first filmick experience of 3D. I can only describe it as dreadful. Its not my first experience of 3D having watched a rugby match on the TV rendered though an interface that frankly reminds me of the give away 3D pictures that would occasionally be given away in breakfast cereal packets as a kid.

Blurred at the extremity, unsettling as prominent features go out of shot but, more than anything else, really headache inducing. Now, being a glasses wearer I am familiar with the experience of collecting a new pair of glasses with a changed prescription and the somewhat unsettling drunkenness that occurs as your eyes become accustomed to the new lenses. Your eye balls ache as they strain to settle and frankly it is not an experience I like. Well watching 3D was much the same. Ultimately it was so distracting and uncomfortable I simply took them off and watched it without the 3D and you know what – it was better.

As a glasses wearer I am very comfortable with a bit of blur so the film frankly seemed entirely acceptable to me. I have actually seem 2D films badly projected look a lot worse. The maximum blurring comes on the exterior long shots and, as these were not the main revelation of the film, it really lost nothing. The cave paintings themselves looked no different, or if any change was perceptible the lighting was better without glasses.

Great film but Werner, hear me, 3D sucks - big time.

So onward and upward and after a bag of chips from the legendary Blue Lagoon on the way to my next appointment Margins festival at Stereo in Renfield Lane. Fantastic venue and great event. Margins – for those that don't know - is the brainchild of the founder of Gargo publishing Mark Buckland and he deserves a great deal of praise for his vision and persistence in making it happen.

Now we at TESCAPE can only be excited about a spoken word event and this did not disappoint. Coming in the run up to Aye Write I think of this more as a Wee Speak. I was late, well crowded and hectic schedule, and arrived too late to hear Annelliese Mackintosh but if the rest of the show was anything to go by she would have been great. I caught Alan Bissett – fantastic and finely observed reading very well received by the audience. Top of the bill the wonderful Liz Lochhead – Scotland's very own Makar. She was sensational, with the Newly Married miner being my particular favourite.

Margins is still running till Sunday and for a £1 entry its not to be missed. To really top it the bar man looked strikingly like Rufus Sewell – maybe he is resting at present – and I swear he was replaced at some point in the eventing by Juliette Binnoche. Maybe my eyes deceived me, maybe it was the effect of those darned 3D glasses, maybe I was just having too much fun.

Ans so on to a late supper with a few friends – you know with Fridays like this living in the city of Scotland with Style is pretty damned good.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

British Broadcasting Calamity

I am a big fan of the Commonwealth Games. Known as the friendly games of course it feels to me like the Olympics used to be and are all the better for that. There are still amateurs competing, the chance of the postman to represent his or her country with pride. Real people doing remarkable things. A chance for the small nations to shine, a chance for the minor less glamorous sports to raise their profile and demonstrate the skills and dedication they also require. For me the Olympics has become a rather ghastly vehicle for commercialism, cynical professionalism, and the power of money to dominate.

But....the Beeb seem to have lost faith in the Commonwealth Games, or to be more to the point lost the art and point of sports broadcasting. Not only is the coverage very poor generally, there is far too much emphasis on the professional “glamorous” sports and they spend more time doing fancy inserts than showing us the action. Maybe they need to justify having that mumbling American Michael Johnson as a a host – a man so good he cant get a job in his own country. Lets take last nights highlights programme as an example. One hour long to cover a busy day at the games. You would expect lots of variety covered, lots of time trying to cover the remarkable achievements of the ordinary men and women who represent the home nations and pay that licence fee.

What do the Beeb do – well they spend 15 minutes – so a quarter of the time talking about an Australian sprinter who won an event that lasted less than 15 seconds. They even showed the Australian TV trailer for the event! So on it went on more athletics for half an hour. Now had none of the home nations done much that day then okay fill the time, but to be honest there was plenty going on. Lets not forget for example two golds – one for England one for Scotland. Oh but I forgot, they were amateurs, probably taking unpaid leave from their jobs to compete in sports that they really do have to sacrifice things for – not the “sacrifice” the lottery funded professional speak so glibly of. So did these champions get mentioned – oh maybe one minutes coverage between them. And for why – well they were in Bowls and shooting – clealry not sexy enough for the shallow Beeb. Shame on the beeb, and shame on us for not melting their phone lines in complaint.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Does Today have a Tomorrow?

The Today Programme has really hit a new low - today! It has been noticeable that the quality of news reporting on radio has declined in recent years. The World Service is a poor refection of its former self, but the Today programme, that supposed flagship of Radio 4, has really gone downhill. Some of the decline is down to decisions made at a corporation level - notably the production of news items for consumption on both TV and Radio. The result being the appearance of news items on Radio that are actually produced primarily for TV and so we are subjected to stories where sections are filled with disembodied and disjointed sounds that, when seen with the accompanying pictures on TV, make some sense, but when played without commentary on Radio are just, well junk. But the editorial decision of the Today editors are as much to blame. On a regular basis we have to listen to extended advertorial for other BBC programmes masquerading as news. So, this morning we have, as usual on a Monday, to listen to an extended piece about tonight's Panorama. Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the Panorama programme per se (although it has to be said that Panorama has been systematically dumbed down over the past 10 years) but the fact is that its content is not news, it is self declared news. To compound this in a prime slot post 8am we have to suffer a piece about the rise of Stand Up Comedy. Once again lets be clear I have nothing against Stand Up comedy - I am a big fan - but it is hardly news! And to add insult to injury we are told this is the first of a three part series on Comedy. Three parts!!!!

This concerns me for lots of reasons, not least that it seems to indicate that Radio 4 believe our appetite for news - and I mean real news - and analysis - and I mean proper analysis - is in decline. "The audience cant take it" seems to be their view because, trust me there is plenty of news and analysis out there to be covered if they chose to do it. Instead they seem to believe that we want some parochial magazine show. So Today is declining into a flabby self satisfied and safe magazine programme - no doubt with sofa type sound effects soon.

What is particularity worrying for me is that it seems more and more like the USA where the absence of good news programming amongst a plethora of channels is staggering. One of the consequences of this is a population very poorly in formed about what is happening outside of the borders of their own country. But perhaps that is it. Radio 4 has become obsessed with the USA - we even had to sacrifice Go4it to the truly risible Americana. So maybe that is the plan – BBC may turn into FOX News – oh heaven help us!
I will go back to Tunbridge Wells now.