Tag Archives: Radio

Contains Strong Language: Some Highlights

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On the 8th of October the BBC marked National Poetry Day by launching a week long season of programmes celebrating both professional and amateur poets.

As the Director of Arts stated on the BBC’s Media Centre homepage:

From BBC One to Radio 3, the BBC is devoted to celebrating and showcasing the extraordinary arts and culture of the UK, bringing it to the largest possible audience wherever and whoever you are. To mark National Poetry Day, Contains Strong Language will celebrate the urgent and disruptive power of poetry, putting it at the heart of schedules, across the BBC’s channels, stations and online.

On World Poetry Day itself, the BBC Radio 4 schedules were taken over by We British: An Epic in Poetry, a series of programmes presented by Andrew Marr exploring ‘British history and identity through poems’. Arranged in a chronological fashion, the programmes featured readings, archive material, and interviews with a number of actors, media personalities and poets including Ian McKellen, Graham Norton and Carol Ann Duffy.

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I must admit, a particular highlight was Marr accidentally calling the poet Liz Berry “Mary Berry”, which I’m sure he’d put down to the final of The Great British Bake Off airing the previous evening.

Listeners were also asked to join the discussion through Twitter with the hashtag #WeBritish. Alongside this there was a special edition of the Shipping Forecast which invited people to ‘sum up their mood or activities in 10 words or less, using the style of the Shipping Forecast’ and submit their poems to Radio 4 via email, Facebook or Twitter. A number of these were then featured on a later edition of the programme.

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However, it seemed that the centrepiece of the season came a couple of days later with BBC Two’s 90-minute feature length documentary, Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death.

Broadcast at 9pm on a Saturday night, the scale of the documentary presented itself through cinematic aerial shots of sweeping green landscapes and rustic towns. This was then juxtaposed by stark black and white footage of countryside scenes permeated by flocks of birds and lone foxes, mirroring the imagery of nature that dominates much of Hughes’ work.

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Speaking for the first time on television Frieda Hughes, daughter of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, discusses her father’s work, life and relationship with her mother. Her accounts, alongside those of others who knew Hughes well form something of a narrative thread throughout the programme, taking the viewer behind the poems to understand the circumstances in which they were conceived.

In lieu of a single narrator or presenter, the use of interviews to weave this narrative thread throughout the film also creates a sense of authenticity. By hearing the accounts of those closest to him, alongside a few more recognisable faces such as the poet Simon Armitage and arts broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, it becomes a far more human story beyond the black and white indifference of newspaper headlines and English Literature anthologies.

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For me, another particular highlight of this poetry season was BBC Radio 3’s special episode of ‘Between the Ears’ entitled ‘We are Writing a Poem About Home’. In this programme, the writer Kate Clanchy takes us into her poetry workshop to meet some amazingly talented award-winning young poets. Speaking 54 languages between them, the students of the former grammar school recite poems around ‘home’ that takes us beyond mere bricks and mortar to touch upon themes of heritage, belonging and acceptance.

BBC Four also broadcast a repeat of Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster, an elegy to the young woman who was brutally attacked and murdered because of her appearance. The screen adaptation of Simon Armitage’s poignant poems about the tragedy is both beautifully rendered and deeply harrowing.

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This isn’t easy viewing and nor should it be. If one of the functions of art is to provoke empathy within the observer, then it should not be overlooked that art can also give a voice to the silenced.

In a media landscape in which tragic news stories saturate our television screens and Facebook feeds, it is sometimes only in the steady rhythm of poetry that we can stop to think.

Decoding in the Dark: Radio and the Visual Arts

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“It’s late on a Parisian evening in 1882. The newly opened Folies-Bergère is busy. Here up on the first floor gallery, the mirrored bars are dazzling with lights for the trapeze performers flying about the main auditorium. Make your way through the jostling crowd, some watching the show, many others chatting, drinking and being seen, and you find one of the newly permitted female bartenders is free. You think you’ve caught her eye amidst the frivolity going on around her. Or have you? She’s certainly caught your attention even though she’s not really looking at you. It’s those eyes. And those eyes belong to the girl at the bar of the Folies-Bergère here on one of the walls of the Courtauld gallery in the heart of London. And you can find it by typing the title of the painting into your internet search engine. Type in Bar at the Folies-Bergère”

And so begins the first in BBC Radio Four’s new series Decoding the Masterworks, which yesterday featured an in-depth examination of Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bèrgere’.

Presented by art historian Dr Janina Ramirez, along with various other experts, the three-part series ‘examines famous and familiar works of art in minute detail’ to ‘provide context, biographical background and artistic insight’ and ‘decode these masterworks for today’s audience’.

Recorded on location and complete with the sound of reverberating footsteps and voices echoing across the open space, on closing your eyes it isn’t too hard to imagine yourself right there at the Courtauld gallery.

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Indeed, the commentary the programme provides might put you in mind of those audio guides that are often given out at tourist traps around the country, and no doubt leave a number of disgruntled human tour guides out of work.

But of course, just like walking around a gallery with your eyes closed, you cannot see a painting through radio anymore than you can listen to an opera through a newspaper.

It would seem inherently obvious that the visual arts are a particularly tricky subject to present through the medium of sound. Often when the visual arts are featured on radio it is in the form of interviews with the artists themselves or the human-interest stories that surround the work and its creation. Rarely is the aesthetic analysis of a piece the primary focus.

But could the Internet be changing this?

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As I stated in a previous post that also briefly touched on this subject:

It seems that the Internet is the new Radio Times in terms of providing material to accompany radio broadcasts. Where once the listener would sit at home listening to football commentary while referring to their numbered pitch diagram to follow the action, we are now directed online for supplementary visual content to accompany broadcasts.

For those listening to Decoding the Masterworks online, in the text description box below the programme iPlayer radio helpfully informs you that:

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The use of the Internet as a platform for visual content in radio broadcasting may indeed be expanding radio’s coverage of the visual arts in a variety of different ways. But at what point does such additional content become necessary rather than just supplementary?

There seems to be an assumption that most listeners tuning in to Decoding the Masterworks are already quite familiar with the pieces being discussed. As Ramirez states towards the beginning of the programme:

“Even if you can’t get to your computer or tablet at the moment, you probably know this image. It’s ubiquitous; you find it on biscuit tins, t-shirts, posters…”

However, the ‘minute details’ of the paintings being examined are surely far beyond the capability of even the most photographic of memories. So is the Manet aficionado who is listening while driving to work still being left in the dark?

Indeed, when it comes to aesthetic analysis in the visual arts, it could perhaps be argued that in many ways it is not the image that supplements the radio broadcast, but in fact the radio broadcast that supplements the image.

BBC ARTS is Getting Creative

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Last Thursday the BBC launched its new year-long campaign ‘Get Creative’, which Director-General Tony Hall hopes will serve to “inspire everyone to make art or do something creative.”

Speaking on the BBC Radio 2 Arts Show, Director of BBC Arts Jonty Claypole explained that a fundamental part of the scheme is ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to get involved with the arts, regardless of their social background or education. In regard to the BBC’s unique role as a broadcaster in this, he stated: “Through our services we reach 96% of the population a week, so we’re really well placed to get more people than ever before practising art and doing creative things”.

The nationwide campaign launched last week with a series of events across the country arranged by the organisation Voluntary Arts and shared on social media using the hashtag #bbcgetcreative.

Over 100 organisations have signed up to take part in the campaign, including prominent cultural institutions such as Arts Council England, The Royal Shakespeare Company and the BFI, among others. The BBC has also released a promotional video for the scheme featuring celebrities and public figures such as Johnny Vegas, Kate Moss, Frank Skinner and Andrew Marr.

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BBC Radio 1’s Nick Grimshaw’s ‘Cultural Selfie’

Not only is this new initiative significant in terms of scale, but also in the way that engagement with the arts is being promoted across a range of platforms, pulled together by the BBC’s Get Creative website.

The ‘Get Creative’ campaign, in line with Tony Hall’s vision of the arts and the launch of the BBC ARTS strand seems rather strategically placed as we come up to the charter review in 2016. In a multiplatform digital age, the BBC as a public service broadcaster seem keen to assert their value as a cultural institution beyond just television and radio. This emphasis on engaging audiences with the arts through interactive online and offline events draws attention to how broadcasters have adapted to technological and social change in ways that prompt us to reconsider traditional notions of public service.

Alongside this, the upcoming general election seems to be creating a climate in which we’re beginning to see a lot of discussion and debate around the value of arts and culture within society. Increasingly, it seems the arts are being used to talk about everything from education to the economy in terms of cultural policy.

Broadcasting serves a significant role in giving a voice to these debates. Most recently, The Front Row Debate on BBC Radio 4 and Free Thinking on BBC Radio 3 have discussed topics such as whether the state owes artists a living and hosted on-going discussions around the value of art, respectively. Along with its significance in regard to contributing to a wider discussion around the value of arts and culture in society, this coverage of the arts also sends out an important message about what is worth talking about and what debates are worth having.

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Countryfile and One Show presenter Matt Baker

If you would like to take part in a Get Creative event without even leaving the comfort of your living room, on 27th February at 1pm the Welsh National Opera will be leading a Twitter debate around the question ‘will austerity kill culture?’ using the hashtag #killculture. For more details please go to: http://www.wno.org.uk/news/will-austerity-kill-culture

The Art of the Nation: From Private Collections to Public Opinion

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In this new three-part series on BBC Radio 4, BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz travels the country to meet various art collectors and uncover the stories behind how they came to own various significant pieces within their collections.

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The series is based around the concept of removing art from the traditional context of galleries and museums and exploring it within domestic settings. This idea of giving the listener access to paintings that until now were confined to the private sphere of the home seems a rather paradoxical subject for radio. How do we represent the visual arts through the medium of sound alone? Gompertz addresses this issue right at the start of the programme where he encourages the listener to visit the online gallery on the BBC website to view images of the pieces being discussed.

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It seems that the Internet is the new Radio Times in terms of providing material to accompany radio broadcasts. Where once the listener would sit at home listening to football commentary while referring to their numbered pitch diagram to follow the action, we are now directed online for supplementary visual content to accompany broadcasts.

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National Identity

As the title suggests, the series is heavily branded as focusing on national identity and piecing together an “unofficial autobiography of Britain” through exploring how “ordinary” people have obtained artworks of cultural significance. At first this seems to suggest the idea of a shared cultural narrative that hangs on the walls of galleries and museums that is incomplete due to these private collections hidden away from the public eye. But what emerges throughout the programme is a stronger narrative that centres on the diverse attitudes towards art within society represented by the individual collectors and the motivations behind their collections.

The first couple we meet addresses themes around the commodity of art. They note that they have had to borrow money to fund the purchase of many of their paintings and they are primarily focused on verifying the authenticity of pieces in order to sell them at auction.

The next collector draws our attention to the aesthetic value of art. Jonathan, a “well-dressed businessman”, owns a ceramic plate by Picasso. The plate was passed down to him from his father who had met Picasso while on holiday and the artist was apparently drawn to his dismissive attitude towards his work, which was of the view that “any five year old could do it”. Jonathan also recounts that while he was growing up his father kept the plate in a drawer rather than on display because “he thought it was hideous”.

In contrast to the previous two collectors, we are then introduced to a performance artist who seems to take on a far more anthropological approach to her art collection. In between a performance of one of her poems, we hear sound bites of her pointing out various objects that she has obtained while travelling, including maps from Sri Lanka and African drums. She goes on to discuss two paintings hanging on the wall that she was inspired to purchase after being informed of the struggles of women in Ghanaian society.

These somewhat contrasting attitudes towards the visual arts represent a microcosm from which to consider wider societal attitudes towards arts and culture in Britain. By removing the context of institutions such as museums and galleries and situating discussions around art within the domestic setting of the home, there is a far more personal approach to the interpretation and narrative history of art that captures the diverse and dynamic nature of how the arts and culture are constituted within society.