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Future and possible innovations of Audio Drama

As I go back in to university and find myself thinking once more in an artistic fashion and with a eye on the future as well as the present it's got me thinking about what the next steps for audio drama are? In looking at the history for sound for film it feels like some of the major technological advances were an increase in the number of speakers, and how that allows for more movement and immersion in the sound (mono to stereo to surround sound). But podcasting (and more specifically audio drama) never had the communal listening kind of experience like cinema, it has always been an isolated experience, listened to on headphones on commutes or while doing another activity. The most communal experiences you will find are happening in fandom spaces online or, indeed, in live shows. In that way I suppose it feels similar to music, there is very little control over the method of listening outside of a live context, and yet it also requires the attention that one gives film.

So without being able to reliably and evenly progress the technology of listening I'm not really sure what the community of creators do next? How do we keep audio drama from stagnating? How do we innovate the medium without just trying to copy film? I feel like audio drama needs something to make it stand out, it needs to become more than just "tv without visuals". I would be interested to try and deconstruct what audio drama actually is and to see how these elements could be used differently, or not at all. With this, one could also go further in the direction of trying to figure out what Avant-garde audio drama would sound like.

I asked some of these questions on twitter and what I took from some of them was that, in the more standard way of doing things, immersion feels like a direction that many expect things to go in. Creating grand and immersive soundscapes, using binaural technology and ASMR to fully plunge the listener into a world in a way that film perhaps could not. All of this works around the elements that audio drama works with, utilising the medium and leaning in to its strengths. One way I have seen this done before is with an episode of the popular audio drama podcast "Welcome to Night Vale" in the episode "All Right" in which the listener is the protagonist and the narration utilises the left and right of a pair of headphones, immersing the listener in a very unique way, in the episode you are being hunted by a creature and so you are encouraged to listen to the episode with one ear whilst still listening to the world around you.

Please, throughout today’s broadcast, keep one ear open to what is around you. Listen for what could well be stalking you. This creature is an expert at stealth, a brutal, perfect killer. Any noise you hear, no matter how slight, no matter how seemingly normal, could be the clawstep, the tip of the tentacle, the opening of the jaws of this monster. Keep one ear open, and keep one ear on my voice.

This is the kind of thing that really encapsulates what I would like to explore, what are the elements of audio drama both in terms of content but also in terms of the technology? "All Right" uses what is already there in an interesting and unique way.

The elements of audio drama production (in my experience in making Chain of Being which is in no way the standard) are three categories. I tend to split an episode into 'Voice', 'Action sound effects' and 'ambience'. 'Voice' is the dialogue, the narration, the words that the listener needs to focus on in order to follow the story. 'Action sound effects' are the sounds of a characters movements and actions that have an effect on the world, they emphasise the words and help to generate a sense of realism and immersion, in CoB I want to have the sound effects give the sense that the events are actually happening, that at some point this could be happening long into the future (of course with certain ambiences and non-diegetic soundscapes to emphasise emotion and tone). Lastly I see the 'ambience' as any background sounds that help fill the world that the characters inhabit with life, they tell the story of a place. It is the set dressing, it allows the listener to imagine the place that a scene takes place in, both working in tandem with the words but also suggesting things that the words do not. In one of the earlier episodes of CoB I placed faint sounds of gunshots in the ambience under everything else. Already the words suggested the planet the characters found themselves on was in great turmoil but having that quiet gunfire emphasised this but also made it more real and suggested another story happening elsewhere, someone else is living their life outside of what the listener is presented and I feel like that allows for a greater sense of immersion. I suppose there is the fourth element of music which I do use at times, coming from not a particularly musical background I often treat it like another form of ambience, it tells the story more by emphasising emotions and in that way could be lumped in with 'ambience'. Something I'm sure my more musical peers would pale at.

So what then can we do with each of these elements? The short answer is I'm not sure yet, experimentation is the way to go: removing or emphasising elements, looking at my writing now I see that everything seems to form itself around the words, the sounds aren't fully treated equally, there is certainly a hierarchy, what happens when you level the playing field or invert it entirely? When talking about this with my tutor he suggested that this may become something I will be exploring for this year, and the next and possibly beyond, and I can't describe how excited that makes me. I will be thinking about this for a while and I cannot wait.

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