Pilot Episode, Struggle, Suggestion

It is now the 22nd October 2016, 5 days since my first blog post on my Final Project. Now, before I go ahead and write what has happened between now and then, I am just going to recap, so my final project for my BMus degree at Birmingham Conservatoire is going to be a series of podcasts that interview different composers and before Thursday I had to construct a 5 minute pilot episode that I would show to my final project coach Michael Wolters, so that I could receive constructive feedback.

The 5 minute pilot episode focused on the question, ‘What irritates you about other composers?’ the interviewees that I included in the episode were (in order of appearance): Peter Bell, Zach Dawson, Richard Stenton, Kirsty Devany and Andrew Hamilton. For purposes of the learning contract (a short form that I had to fill in about what I was doing for my major project), I had to give a title for my project, so it has temporaily been named, Composers On… this however, this title is likely to be changed as I am not particularly keen on it.

So two days ago I showed Michael the pilot episode, and I received a larged amount of feedback. The first suggestion Michael made was to ensure that each interviewee does not talk for over 30 seconds (if they do, edit it down to the best bits), he aruged that this would ensure each response is straight to the point and ‘not boring’. Whilst, I agree that some long responses can drag on, I currently disagree with this point, surely there should be a variation between the sub-30 second responses and the more in-depth answers? This is what i believe at least, perhaps it’s because I enjoy watching/listening to interviews, where the interviewee sometimes gives a substantial answer to a question. I suppose the disagreement between Michael and I is because of what we are fascinated by and what we have been exposed to. Following on from this, he also suggested that I should reduce the 5 minute pilot episode down to only the essential and core information (I will try this, but admittely I am hesistant).

Michael’s second point(s) was more concerned with technicalities of the audio and the interviewing, he told me to ensure that in future interviews that there should be no popping sounds (looks like I need to invest in a pop shield!) and that each of the audio levels have to mix/balanced consistently. In addition to this, he said that my interview technique should not interrupt the interviewee at all (I did this on several occassions during some of the instances when the interviewees were talking in the pilot episode), so no ‘yes’, ‘yeah’, ‘no’ whilst they are speaking. With regard to the speech, Michael pointed out that if I left my speech in, it gives the impression that the conversation is between myself and the interviewee. Whilst if I edited out my voice, it would make the interviewee sound like they were talking to the audience. Admittedly all of these things that Michael mentioned about my technique were things that I have overlooked whilst working on this project so far.

The third point came as a slight suprise to me, Michael was surprised that the pilot episode only included speech and no forms of sound effects or music (at the time of putting the episode together I wanted to to create something that was speech only). Michael explained that if each episode was just speech, it would be a ‘saturation to the listener if it was just talking?’ and that it ‘would come across as being boring’.

Michael then asked who the audience was for the podcast series, to which I replied, ‘Composers and people who are fascinated by contemporary composition’. However, Michael suggested that ‘there is scope for so much more’, he then went around the room trying to find a recording of Dugal McKinnon’s [0] (which after several attempots he could not find), he also tried to play a 1 minute excerpt of it on soundcloud, but it failed to load.

The reason why he wanted to show me [0] was because it comes from a different angle as it is a piece of art. Now, I mentioned in my previous blog piece that I seriously considered doing a series art piece podcasts, but deicded not to at the time because I thought that it would essentially just become pieces of random audio.

However, Michael said that if kept the audio of the interviews intact, but had a balance between audio and music, then it would create something that is different and more intriguing. Something which [0] (however Michael did argue that McKinnon focuses on the acoustic elements, rather than the interview and the points being made) does.

The reason why Michael made these points, was to suggest that the questions and the sound effects should be linked together — i.e. a scenario that is based around the questions (for example Desert Island Discs, but better). This was something that I had previously not thought, so when I go back a refine/draw up a new set of questions, I would be able to incorporate different sound effects into each video, an example question would be asking what sounds people find irritating, and with whatever they answer follow it up with a sample/effect of that sound.

Michael (and Andy Ingamells, who I spoke to a few minutes prior to my lesson with Michael), suggested that I should check out a set of documentaries made by the director Adam Curtis (particularly his documentaries Paris is Burning and Hypernomalisation), who in his documentaries makes a point and follows it with found material (essentially like an audio essay). Perhaps trying narrating (not necessarily having me narrate, but someone else) and the cuttaway technique (asking them to sing their favoutite tune for example) are things that I should explore.

Michael continued to make more suggestions, such as having a recently acclaimed/prize-winning piece of music being played to the interviewee and then asking what they think about it, or having a whole episode dedicated to interviewing a more established composer (with a lot of interviewee experience), such as Richard Ayres or Martijn Padding.

After these series points, Michael told me that I need to stop interviewing people for a while and have a really good think about: ‘Who the audience is?’, ‘What is this show about?’ and ‘Why am I doing it?’, rather frustratingly these are all questions that I thought I had answers a few weeks/months ago towards the end of the summer break. I suppose in a way, I am back to square on for now…

Between the end of the lesson with Michael and now, I have felt a bit deflated about the whole project, as well as my progress with my compositions (which admittedly I have neglected a little recently, because I have spent the majority of the past week or so being committed to this project). However, Michael simply told me to try things out, and find the thing that really resonates with me (this is something that he has told me several times before, but I seem to not consciously think about all the time).

Before, I finish this post there are a few more things that I have learnt over the course of this week. The first is a technical one, prior to my interview with Andrew Hamilton on Tuesday, 18th October, I would read out the question to the interviewee, give a 2/3 second pause, say their name and then after another 2/3 second pause would either pass the portable recorded to them or move it near to them. I had not realised that saying the name of the interviewee might be a problem, it was when I interviewed Andrew Hamilton, that this became apparent — a lot of time was wasted from the two of us in fits of laughter because I read his name out, so from that point onwards I will only mention the name of the interviewees once at the end of the first question.

Though Michael told me not to interview anymore people after his lesson until I either clearly knew what I was doing, I had two booked two interviews (with Robert Crehan and James Alexandropolous-McEwan) the day before (Wednesday, 19th October). I decided to go ahead and interview them both. I asked Robert to keep all of his responses under 30 seconds long, and I allowed James to have more substantial answers initially, and then later told him to also keep his responses under 30 seconds in length.

In addition to this, I trialed a ‘scenario question’, which was ‘What sound do you find irritating?’ both responded with different answers, so this has given me some hope during this time of feeling deflated about this final project.

When you work on something for an extended period of time, it is inevitable that there moments of difficulty, ‘The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe…’ was what Nietszche once wrote, so with that in mind I am trying to maintain positive, by continuing to work and think about how to I get to the next phase.

Now, I am not sure when the next blog post will be, and I am not exactly sure what state the project will be in or how I will feel, but until then, see you later, see me later.

Patrick Ellis, Saturday 22nd October 2016

Like what you read? Give What is a Composer? Blog a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.