Like ’50s sci-fi, The Beatles, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Quatermass, John Wyndham and Doctor Who, it’s something I got into because of my dad. As a kid he would regale me with his reenactments of Journey into Space, as well as some other scary drama about skiers trapped in a cabin by an avalanche while an octopus-like space monster tried to eat them. With these tales in mind, I used to await the Radio Times at Christmas (the only time of year when we felt sufficiently frivolous) to find out what dramas were going to be on Radio 4. I remember one year taping the Radio 4 adaptation of The Maltese Falcon and listening to it on my own at the far side of the room with headphones on while the rest of the family watched Christmassy stuff on telly.
Still as an adult, I love listening to radio drama. I have a good collection of BBC adaptations of stuff like Solaris and The Midwich Cuckoos, as well as original dramas such as Aliens in the Mind and The Slide, and I’m a big fan of Big Finish’s original Doctor Who series, particularly Doctor Who Unbound. I’ve spent ages trawling the net to find old American radio show such as Quiet Please, which yielded such classics as The Thing on the Fourble Board (more info here). With this background, it’s not surprising that working in radio drama was always a big ambition of mine.
If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I got the opportunity to fulfill this ambition this year composing the music for a Radio 4 Woman’s Hour drama, entitled Amazing Grace, written by Michelle Lipton and produced and directed by Justine Potter. I’ve written about that already here, so I won’t go over it again, except to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Hopefully, I didn’t upset the team too much and they get me back to compose for Cottonopolis at the end of the year.
Although I love radio drama as it is, I’ve often thought it a little strange, considering it being an exclusively aural medium, that music, and to some degree sound design, really only have a supporting role to the dialogue and only appear in the process at a very late stage. I would guess that this is largely due to the fact that in the early days these dramas were direct adaptation of plays that could have easily worked as stage dramas and that producers and directors are often from stage backgrounds. Of course, this makes perfect sense because it is radio drama and not music. However, I’ve felt for a long time that there is also room for radio dramas that do something different, something that can only be realised on radio, or at least is in its optimum form on the radio. There have of course been some dramas that fall into this category, such as Andrew Sachs’ near legendary binaural radio play The Revenge, but they are few in number.
In a brave/foolhardy move to remedy this, I am currently working with Mike Sizemore, a writer friend of mine (check out the sizzle for his show Slingers), on a new drama series. Mike is long-lost old friend of mine, as well as a great writer, so it’s a real pleasure to get the opportunity to collaborate with him on this project. Oddly enough, we did once collaborate on a story without even realising it during the “long-lost” period and you can read all about that here.
The fundamental principles we are working on is that the writing, music and sound design will be a collaborative process from the get go and sound and music will be central to the themes of the drama and the development of the narrative. There are a couple of other fun things in there – thanks to Sizemore’s media savvy – that we are planning to do , but I’m not going to talk about them just yet. So far, we’ve outlined the stories (oh yes, stories, we’re aiming for a series here) and we’re currently working on getting the pitch right. So far, the whole process is a lot of fun and if this gets picked up, we’re going to be able to do some pretty far out stuff to clog up the airways.
This may well be aural terrorism beyond even that of our teenage rendition of Metallica’s Motorbreath!