My experience at the HearSay Festival and the importance of play

Adonde Media
Apr 26 · 5 min read

By Martina Castro

I’m sitting in a convent, just past an old grey stone church, gazing through the window. The sun is setting over deep green rolling hills on the outskirts of a 500-person village in the middle of Ireland. The sermon is about to start and I’m excited, as is the rest of the congregation. Because those of us gathered here are all devoted disciples of the preacher before us: the one and only Joe Richman of Radio Diaries fame.

I am not dreaming, but this is a dream come true. A dream conjured up and made reality by the HearSay International Audio Arts Festival in the beautiful Irish village of Kilfinane.

We float in and out of other dreamlike audio experiences for the four days of the festival: walks through nature wearing binaural headphones meant to immerse you in experiences that may or may not be happening around you; a library full of pairs of shoes that you wear for a mile as you walk and hear the story of their owners; a tent with a dining table set for one, where you sit to have a solo sonic meal. There were night walks to listen to bats, visits to living rooms where surprise hosts offered you tea and their favorite audio moments, artistic homages to the solar eclipse, and so much more.

“Dinner for one”. Photo: HearSay Festival 2019

This was my first visit to Ireland and my first visit to the HearSay Festival, an event created in 2014 to bring together audio makers of diverse backgrounds and disciplines: artists, documentarians, sound designers, journalists, and more, with the goal of cultivating conversations and sharing work in a unique setting, as is this small village. The locals fully participate in the festival, as volunteers and also opening up their businesses and homes to participants and in some cases to be used as stages for various installations. On the website, festival director Diarmuid McIntyre says the idea behind the festival was to generate opportunities for everyone to experiment with audio in new, creative and inspiring ways.

AIR Panel at HearSay 2019 — Photo: AIR

I mainly went to HearSay for that — to experience the magic of that place and of the audio experiences of the festival. But I also had the honor of speaking on a panel organized by the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR). I joined other recipients of AIR’s New Voices scholarship to talk about how it impacted our careers and how we got to where we are today. It was a little odd to talk about such practical things at a festival of the impractical, but perhaps since it was the only career-oriented discussion, it offered a dose of reality for those participants who wanted to anchor what they were seeing around them in something resembling regular life.

“Sound walks” organized by Espaces Sonores. Photo: Celia Robbins.

What motivated me to be there was the opposite — a chance to remember that feeling I used to get when I would make stuff just for the sake of making it. I think it was a common motivation for other mid-career and advanced career makers who were there.

I know it was certainly the inspiration for Joe Richman’s sermon/confessional/love letter titled: In Praise of Hanging Out. With clips of inspiring audio, he fondly reminded us of those moments when we give into the pure pleasure of a conversation, of simply hanging out, and let the recording take second place. Those moments are what this work is all about, and sadly when we’ve treated what we love like work for long enough, we sacrifice the joy of hanging out for efficiency and productivity.

The festival includes an award ceremony (I was one of the judges) where some of the most creative audio work is honored. Those awarded represented 13 different countries. But none from Latin America. I hope you all will help me change that next year! The international and multilingual aspect of the gathering where producers eagerly sat down to experience work in a variety of foreign languages, really enhanced the fantastical quality of the festival for me. It seems harder to find in similar gatherings in the U.S.

My favorite event at the festival was the final one — the HearSay Audio Wake, curated by In The Dark’s Nina Garthwaite. For the wake, producers volunteer to let go of a piece of audio that they have stubbornly been holding onto, hoping they could make something work out of what they had recorded, often ignoring the sad truth that it will probably never come to anything. The event was hilarious, but also emotional and difficult for some producers; there were tears. But what stayed with me was how totally unifying it felt. We have all had that moment where we think we are onto the most brilliant idea, only to hear the recording months or years later and have no idea what the hell we were thinking.

It felt so good to be there, amongst so many producers from around the world, celebrating the often impractical ambition, the boundless creativity, the humor and play that unites us in this passion for what we do. Of course I left inspired, teeming with brilliant ideas that I may or may not find so brilliant a few months from now. But who cares if they’re any good? The fun is having them at all.

This text was translated and edited from it’s original publication in Spanish in the Podcaster@s bi-weekly newsletter, where we share the top news and diverse perspectives from fans and producers of podcasts in Spanish. Sign up for it here.


Martina Castro is a bilingual radio producer, sound designer and podcast consultant. She is CEO & Founder of Adonde Media, a new podcast production company and the Spanish-language podcast community, Podcaster@s. Over her career she has worked at NPR and KALW, including cofounding and producing NPR’s Radio Ambulante. @martinacastro // martinacastro.com

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