Theatre for the Perplexed > WRGO

If you think your world has gone crackers then listen to WRGO: What’s Really Going On, the first installment of my audio Theatre for the Perplexed.

Before you put on headphones or buds (highly recommended for the 360 sound mix), a few more words about the performance elements and how they fit within the general stream of the 20 minute-and-a-bit track (just ahead).

A long time ago, I was a rock & roll radio deejay. It was a low-power station in a tiny town on the Canadian prairie, but the signal was big and went just about everywhere at night. I got postcards from Finland saying as much — numerous requests too — my on-air persona attracting a community of listeners far and away. It was low rent schtick, but people liked it. They liked the character I made, and the audio image of me presiding over a Maple Leaf Ballroom spinning disco.


My first love.

6 transistor_radio
AM portable radio

AM radio waves skip best at night, and kids like me with transistor radios in the 1960s hunted endlessly for rock & roll from distant stations. There were ‘clear channels’ broadcasting from New York, Salt Lake, Denver, Nashville, San Francisco. But they were kind of boring and slow to play tunes teenagers might like. The best pop stations tended to fade in & out, but sometimes (especially on a cold, cold night in winter), they’d chime in clear as a bell. The magic really happened between the records. I listened for hours hoping to catch an episode of Chicken Man (he’s everywhere! he’s everywhere!) a lampoon of Batman, bundled with commercials for acne blight and things of concern to “teens like you.” 

I also got hooked on the Theatre of the Absurd. If you think the world today is twisted, you’ll appreciate the mindset of the 1960s, a decade juiced by pop and experiments with non-ordinary states of awareness.

Nothing is forbidden,” the writer William S. Burroughs said of the time. His accomplice Brion Gysin, the inventor of The Dream Machine agreed. “Everything is permitted.”

Ahhhh — it didn’t quite work out that way.

img_73-06-24-monitor-runBut there were certainly no limits on this kid’s imagination listening with a sturdy six transistor RCA radio.

By chance I tuned in X-Minus One, a speculative fiction anthology series.

It’s radio drama from the 1950s — extraordinary stories for the ear — stories written by Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Philip K Dick. You get the picture. The potent audio images of a time and space “and a million would be worlds,” described by X-Minus One were superior to anything I had seen on television.

And then there was the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre revival in the 1970s. Killer stuff.

Joe Frank (2010)

And while Blast Theory’s Nick Tandavanitj was listening in the late ’90s to Blue Jam & Chris Morris on BBC Radio One, earlier in the 1980s, there was a similar twisted mindscape conjured by Joe Frank, a brilliant broadcaster in California. With repetitive loops of his own making, and philosophical riffs that drifted into places you’d never thought you might end up in — hypnotic, addictive radio — that’s Joe Frank.

And again from California, I heard another surreal genius who spoofed a radio open line, doubling as the host and most of the callers to the show (all happening ‘live’ in real time). A monster hit in the ’90s, Phil Hendrie’s daily parody of ‘phone in’ radio was a must-tune in Los Angeles.

These imaginative, surreal, brilliant broadcasters, and the bizarre audio theatrics I’ve mentioned are mostly missing from today’s airwaves and from the sound of it, podcast playlists, as well.

And so it is from my recent impressions of Britain on the edge, I bring you prescriptive audio Theatre for the Perplexed >> WRGO: What’s Really Going On << chapter one >> Brexit, Brighton & Me.

Headphones are highly recommended

headphonesWRGO: What’s Really Going On — UK anecdotes & anxiety antidotes — preferred futures made plaintive in twenty minutes.

I started in on creating the bits & audio pieces and how to represent emotional ideas in a 360 audio proscenium, late last spring, 2019. You’ll hear a kind of pattern & patter evolving in the pieces I made and tweaked right up until a few minutes ago (my previous posts document the work-in-progress with links to the audio).

Also for your listening and viewing pleasure, plug into Jack Bride’s vision for a Virtually Virtual Reality 2.0

And once you’re done give Jack’s Ballad of the Bull a twirl — you can hear me interacting with me, but it’s ummm…not me, but Dali, and, of course, a Bull…

I thank Jack Bride for his encouragement and collisions of conversation. The soundscapes are designed to complement his brilliant art and astute framing of the zeitgeist.

I also must thank the Edmonton Heritage Council for its contribution toward my residency with Blast Theory in the UK.

Please stay tuned to this space — share it with ten thousand of your closest, personal friends — yes, share, share, share...

And if there’s anything on your mind — no matter what pops into it — let me be the judge what’s bent out of shape or just circular thinking. Your suggestions and comments are most welcome!

Meantime: thank you for listening, watching, reading & riffing with the Theatre for the Perplexed.


brighton > resident alien

…sounding the absurdist landscape

You hear that guy screaming down the hall?

He just found out what’s really going on.

attributed to William S. Burroughs

NICK TANDAVANITJ  gently pulled off the headphones, looked me straight after listening (to what you’re about to hear), and said quizzically, “it’s a bit ironic” (or at least that’s how I remember the conversation). 

And I think I first met Nick, Matt Adams & Ju Row Farr — principal artists with UK’s Blast Theory — at the Banff New Media Institute (BNMI), in ahhh… 2010. 

“The Banff Centre bar,” I said. Matt agreed it was a probability. Ju not so much “because I wasn’t there,” she said. There meaning Banff.

The BNMI’s thematic at the time was telepresence, which, given Ju’s recollection is somewhat ironic, since there is a matter of digital perception.

Blast Theory caught my ear for their audacity, and I said as much to Angus Leech, a colleague and former director of BNMI . “Yeah, they’re cool,” he recalled when I pinged him about a possible residency with the Brighton-based interdisciplinary collective.

“Go for it,” he advised. 

So I did — the last week of July and much of August 2019 — I was the ‘resident alien’ from Canada.

I tend not to over-prepare or second-guess a residency, so I came under-equipped to test-drive latent ideas, make shite up, simmer half-baked notions, discuss big stuff from the zeitgeist, wander about the residency building, the city, the seashore, the promenade (an amazing lagoon and pebble beach), and let things bubble up. 

During the residency, Brexit was and still is (as of this writing) very much a ‘thing’ in the UK. And I couldn’t help but be affected by the buzz; the nonchalance of British reserve; the wordiness & sting of polite conversation between people; and the tension — creative tension— that makes for lasting impressions.

The immersive audio scenarios — that’s what I put together over the month — are aural snapshots, attentive to the surreal circumstances of Brexit.

I recorded incessantly — binaural microphone audio as much as possible (the only quality piece of gear I brought) — played riffs on a guitar acquired at a pawn, wrote scribble on scraps, snapped pictures, lots and lots of images and sound. All of the moments, surprises, impressions — dreams were a plenty — all of it conspired and did me well. 

And I also did what I proposed in the residency application: the immersive audio mixes I created during the month are shaped with an experimental psychoacoustic pulse (derived from my investigations with Michael Persinger’s Neuroscience Research Group).

This is where you come in. 

The audio presentations are unique. Buried in the ‘mix’ are variations of the audio output of an electroencephlagraph  (EEG) recording of a cluster of neurons firing in a human brain in response to dopamine (a neurotransmitter). 

Example of a simulated pattern & pulse

Please wear headphones or earbuds. And let me know how you feel — listen with your entire perceptual toolkit — note any tingles & shivers, odd tastes, sweet smells, anything out of the ordinary — whatever arises into your awareness.

Thanks, meantime, to the artists of Blast Theory (whose voices you’ll hear), the chorale group rehearsing at the Lincoln Cathedral, Andy Jordan (former BBC Radio drama producer), and a fashionable man looking at shoes…


pulse variations > WRGO

WRGO (what’s really going on) is an audio bricolage of found impressions and recorded conversation.

And, yes, it’s a spin on Brexit.

I asked Blast Theory’s Nick Tandavanitj to record some script (that’s his voice you hear on the phone message). The Speaker of Britain’s House of Commons has been repurposed & remixed. I’m in the swim, as well; my guitar noodling in the background, accompanied by my granddaughter’s perplexed laughter, and a guffaw from a dearly departed colleague.

And that guy you hear screaming down the hall?

He’s for real — a chance encounter captured with my mobile.

Headphones are highly recommended, if only to experience the low-frequency pulses (which are psycho-acoustically affective).While both WRGO recordings may sound identical, the channel swap presents a different horizontal & vertical audio image to your brain and central nervous system (you may notice a distinctive shift of 360 immersive sound coming from behind, below or above, as well as in front).

The low-frequency pulsation also shifts perceptually, and may affect the aesthetics of the presentation (a bit of bafflegab, yes, but you’ll know what I mean once you’re listening intently).

Let me know what side — this or that — is most appealing (please note your handedness preference — left hand or right hand — your audio insights will be appreciated).

And if you’ve parked yourself in front of a desktop computer or laptop with built-in speakers, let me know where — in proximity to the screen — you hear 360 immersive effects (especially if they’re coming from behind you).

Stay tuned to this blog-space  — a final mix is in the works — an immersive audio guide to Theatre for the Perplexed.

theatre(s) of the absurd

I’m back in Canada.

It’s mid-September. And Nick writes:

 …just remembered that I never sent you a link to the radio series I mentioned… I thought it was an interesting reference for your experiments… for its unusual use of sound alongside pastiches of different genres, but in the service of creating a surreal comic sketch show.

This is very strange (how so in a moment).

At around the same time as Chris Morris’ Blue Jam on the BBC (the show Nick refers to above), I hosted an experimental late night radio programme, an off kilter phone-in called The Nightwatch broadcast on CBC Radio One in Canada. And like Blue Jam, my show had a limited run — in three time zones — a memorable summer in 2002.

Years later, I expanded the liminal bandwidth of late night listening and made CAFE ACOUSMATIC  (again, similar but different from Blue Jam). And like Chris Morris, I purposefully made a short series — eight shows in all — syndicated to public radio stations in North America.

Now this is where it gets weird.

Until Nick’s email, I was utterly unaware of Chris Morris & Blue Jam.

It’s as if we inhabited parallel radio universes; both working with major broadcast networks in the late ’90s and early naughts. And to my ear in 2019, twirling the dials of the late night ether — twisted as they can be — we were channelling theatres of the absurd.

Don’t take my word for it.

Give a listen to the links above. And you tell me — am I daft or not — okay?

And if you’ve yet to listen to the immersive audio in the prior post – headphones for best result — please do so now before having a look at this…

…again headphones or buds highly recommended.

Write me about anything that strikes your fancy.


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