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journal contribution
posted on 2024-06-03, 04:02 authored by Travis Holland, Michelle O'Connor, David MarshallDavid Marshall
Like fire, radio waves are a natural, physical phenomenon. Like fire, humans have learned to control radio waves for our own purposes. Human civilisation itself may be predicated on our ability to conceive of and control sound in extraordinarily complex ways within our own bodies – a development that gave rise to rich oral cultures the world over and facilitated our ability to cooperate within and beyond our immediate social groups. In turn, radio waves are a finite natural resource that can be harnessed by various pieces of technology for transmission well beyond the immediate. The etymology of the word audio is of Latin origin, with further links back to Indo-Asian connections. The word “auditorium” is another Latin-originating link to audio: auditorium in its ancient Roman language refers to a lecture room and thereby identifies public presentation of speech for groups that eventually defined institutions such as parliaments, schools, and universities. In the 130 years since Guglielmo Marconi conceived of and then developed wireless telegraphy off the back of theorisation and experiments by James Clerk Maxwell, Heinrich Hertz, and others, we have created a vast global infrastructure specifically to generate and listen for radio waves. This infrastructure includes the obvious and mundane: the transmitters and receivers which have sustained a new media industry since their development. It includes the less obvious: wireless transmission of messages to ships and aircraft around the world. And it includes technologies we now barely think of as radio at all: mobile phone towers and the phones themselves still largely use the radiofrequency portion of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum. Each of these has its place in the pantheon of human audio technologies. Other aspects of audio production and reception are just as important and culturally resonant. Technologies to enable hearing for those without it. Tools that help us translate spoken languages. The creation and sharing of audio and video over the Internet. Each of these also tells a story of the human relationship with sound and audio. Audio and radio content production and distribution have transformed in the face of the cultural, technological, and political development of the Internet. Like other media, broadcast radio has converged and submerged with digital technologies and global high-speed transmissions, now divorced from its physical, terrestrial, and local origins. Sitting at the crossroads of radio and participatory media is podcasting, a medium through which individuals, groups, and organisations can create and distribute audio storytelling on the Internet. Industries, individuals, and communities continue to grapple with these technologies. The foremost podcast platforms seek to own audio distribution channels just as they and others have come to dominate text, video, and visual media online. The National Film and Sound Archives (NFSA) of Australia, as well as the Australian commercial radio sector, this year recognised the centenary of radio on this continent. Of course, cross-continental communication systems were here long before radio. The overland telegraph was opened in 1872, and postal services operated long before that. Moreover, First Nations peoples have built complex long-distance messaging systems since time immemorial. And yet the immediacy of radio does hold a special place in the story of how fledgling towns and cities were connected and held together over the last century. This issue of M/C Journal delves into the cultural function of audio around the world and across time. The articles within demonstrate how audio production is changing alongside technology, how national policies have supported or suppressed the development and transmission of audio content, how corporations have flexed their might to shape culture, and how culture has emerged and responded to the world around it. Exploring the development of the technological component of audio and its effects and permutations on human culture has been the key element seized on by contributors to this issue to advance their intriguing – and distinctively different – directions. On all levels, it is somehow related to hearing, but it is also linked to the dissemination of creative and informational data. Through the articles in this issue, we hope to show the depth and complexity of audio research around the world: specificities of culture and policy in Europe and Asia, community radio in Australia, and the role of music in breakout, critically acclaimed films. As our contributors show, there has never been a more interesting time to re-examine audio cultures. Michael Walsh and Randall Monty each examine different audio media – music streaming and podcasts, respectively – from the perspective of their relationship to other aspects of daily life. Walsh’s interviews demonstrate the role of streaming services in offering “music in the background”, situating this use among similar uses across music history. Monty offers a reflective account of how he uses podcasts in academic research practice through listening while doing other things – chiefly commuting. In both pieces, audio as a feature of the everyday lifeworld is central. We have selected Monty’s piece as the feature article for this edition because it presents an optimistic vision of the possibilities for audio in changing research practices. The approach to audio note-taking, intentional listening, and critically assessing the podcasts accompanying each commute offers something valuable to those scholars, like ourselves, who are of the view that audio should have an increasing role in education and research. While both deal with audio in the everyday, Monty and Walsh each offer a different perspective on the role it can play: through work or leisure, in public or domestic spaces. In Jasmine Chen’s piece, we gain insight into the changing role of audio in China, first with a view of radio as a technology of the state and now of audiobooks with taboo content. Chen shows how Chinese boys’ love audio dramas such as Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation offer a unique listening experience that immerses listeners in intimate, aural fantasies. This article deftly describes how technological advancements have shifted listening experiences from public to intimate settings in an interplay of culture and technology. Elsewhere in Asia, Sian Tomkinson analyses one of Japan’s unique media subcultures: vocaloids. These characters are built on top of audio samples from voice synthesiser software and deployed as ready-made performers by vocaloid producers. Tomkinson’s analysis of an album by vocaloid producer Neru demonstrates the depth and complexity to this unique music production culture, whereas others have overlooked the affective elements of such performances. There is a healthy representation of European media in this edition. Gemma Blackwood’s careful analysis of audio in film through a case study of the acclaimed French film Anatomy of a Fall and its feature piece – a unique cover of 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P. – demonstrates how a song can play a diegetic role in storytelling, drawing the audience’s attention to the strangeness of the situation and adding to the film’s overall sense of mystery. Blackwood also discusses the song’s cultural significance, arguing that its use in the film highlights how music can be appropriated and recontextualised. Sofia Theodosiadou and Maria Ristani likewise offer a close reading of the TRAUMA podcast and its role in articulating the collective trauma in the national identity of modern Greece, arising from a string of disasters in the period 1999-2023. The power of individual voices and testimonies in audio content is evidenced through their analysis. Still in Europe, Till Krause examines the cultural significance and economic impact of storytelling podcasts in Germany, while Johan Malmstedt delves into spectral analysis of Swedish radio to demonstrate how the sound of the ‘format radio’ stations has changed over time. Krause evidences the rising popularity of German serial storytelling podcasts, driven by their ability to offer listeners a compelling narrative experience that is often characterised by suspenseful storytelling and dramatic climaxes, and links this to other changes in the broader mediascape. Malmstedt shows that Sweden’s format radio stations have maintained a consistent musical identity throughout the years while still developing distinctive channel identities. Turning to Australia, Charitha Dissanayake explores the historical significance, current challenges, and potential pathways of ethnic radio broadcasting. Dissanayake makes the case that ethnic broadcasting, and particularly community radio, plays a vital role in fostering inclusivity and cultural preservation in Australia. Through ethnic programming – music, language and information –, migrants connect to their local communities whilst maintaining ties to their countries of origin. While the sector is diverse, Dissanayake argues that challenges persist, including an insufficient understanding of evolving community needs and engaging second-generation migrants.  Kathryn Locke, Katie Ellis, and Katharina Wolf investigate how students and staff utilise audio in an Australian higher education setting, both in everyday and academic uses. This article highlights the value of audio options like podcast lectures, audio feedback, and audio captions for offering personalised learning approaches for students. The findings reveal a general lack of understanding around the possibilities of audio learning materials, and the need for a rethink of audio-supported pedagogy in higher education.  Acknowledgments The editors would like to thank the reviewers for their work on this issue. Thanks also to Kevin Ng from Charles Sturt University for the issue's cover image.



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