Audio Dramas

Little while ago I stumbled upon this intriguing recording of an un-produced script of Alien 3 written by William Gibson:

Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I didn’t grow up with the tradition of audio dramas so this format felt new and exciting to me. The idea is weirdly intuitive to me, and I guess I wonder why it hadn’t crossed my radar until more recently. Well that’s not entirely true, upon reflection I remember listening to cassette tape stories like this as I was growing up.

I did a bit of research and found that the director of the Alien 3 audio drama has worked a lot on british radio, and I’m curious if that’s more of a thing in the UK? I guess I’ve heard about fiction productions in podcast medium. Someone recommended to me Limetown and Welcome to Nightvale but I found I didn’t vibe with either.

I went to school for film in my undergrad, and in the 2010s had pretensions of being a film maker. It seemed like the natural route to pursue creating narratives. I quickly found out without any financial support you are sort of twisting at windmills and the dream quickly died. But with the concept of audio drama, I feel like there could be something I could achieve there? I made a couple of recordings that were entirely atmospheric/samples a couple of years ago that I like.

I’m curious if anyone has worked in this medium? Or has any advice/techniques they’d like to share? Or if anyone has any recommendations for interesting narrative audio drama/podcasts??

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There has I think been quite an explosion / revival of the format with the rise of the podcast. I have not really succeeded at making podcasts a part of my media diet but my partner has, and gives a few recommendations, most of which I unfortunately have little to no direct experience of myself:

  • Alice Isn’t Dead: by the same creator as Welcome to Night Vale, but has a different tone and a more traditionally paced narrative. Road-trip mystery spiced with horror. Comes highly recommended.
  • Old Gods of Appalachia: as you would expect, a sort of Lovecraftian Southern Gothic horror thing. I heard a bit of this and was enjoying the eldritch campfire story vibe. It seems like there are maybe a lot of horror ones, “horror podcast” is perhaps a good search term if you’re into that.
  • The Orbiting Human Circus of the Air: like Night Vale this uses ‘being an over-the-air radio show’ as a frame narrative. Here the radio show itself is the fantasy of someone working as a janitor at the Eiffel Tower.

Somewhat unrelated, we were watching InuYasha together and observed that a lot of it would probably work fine as a radio play – all the characters are constantly describing their motivations and what’s happening in the action aloud and recapping relevant plot details.

I do think the format seems very interesting and I’m intrigued by the idea of “soundtrack this scene” as a prompt for electronic music / sound design, the two of us kicked around a few ideas in this vein but have not landed on a project to commit to.

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I appreciate these suggestions!! Old Gods of Appalachia sounds right up my alley in particular.

I listen to a lot of podcasts but they tend to be in the political/true crime spectrum and not very elaborate in their production. That’s why the Dirk Maggs Alien 3 recording was so intriguing for me, I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and listened to a feature length, fully cast/scored audio drama in that format before. For some reason I don’t have the patience for regular audio books.

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There is much more of a tradition of this in the UK, especially with sci-fi, if you enjoyed that production by Dirk Maggs I definitely recommend his work with Douglas Adams for radio, Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gently’s holistic detective agency. The BBC in general have a pretty sturdy radio fiction tradition and did a lot of pioneering Foley work back then with their ‘bbc radiophonics workshop’. If you’re into Foley and sound design it’s worth further inspection :slight_smile:
For podcast recommendations, there is a UK audio drama called ‘the cipher’ that is good.
From the US, Life After and The Message, two really good innovative audio dramas from the same production company, really exploring ways of telling stories though audio beyond the classic ‘radio play’ format.
Motherhacker from Gimlet is also really good.
For a more y/a fantasy story but one that deals with modern intersectional politics, less innovative but sweet, The two princes.
The truth is a podcast from radiotopia that puts out one off or miniseries audio dramas that can often be good and experimental.
Finally, not quite a classic audio drama, but Mission to Zyxx is an improvised space opera with a new guest character every episode wtjat has really incredible sound design and is so well edited and acted that you forget it’s improv comedy.

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Yeah the UK has a long history of radio dramas. To this day BBC4 is dedicated to spoken word, you can probably listen to it with a VPN. Radio comedy is a big thing as well. A lot of TV comedy started as a radio show such as The Mighty Boosh, the precursor to The Day Today etc

This is probably relevant to lines in particular

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Thanks for all the suggestion! I’ll have to do some reading up, but I’m curious about what lead to the popularity of the format in the UK? We have a public radio corporation here but to my knowledge there isn’t the same tradition for narrative radio plays. Curious to know more if there are audio format story telling practices in other cultures

The CBC does have a satirical comedy radio show that I really enjoy for it’s deadpan delivery. It used to come on and confuse the hell out of my parents who took it for a regular CBC show

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Since its german it might not attract the whole lot here but german radio BR did a spot on dramatization of one of the finest science fiction novel ever published, imho. “die abschaffung der arten” by dietmar dath.
mouse on mars put a lot of effort in sound design/editing, in this recording there are the “themes” they composed:

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This is an absolute guess but it MAY have something to do with American affluence post ww2 meaning TVs were much more common in households, combined with Hollywood meaning America transitioned away from radio and towards moving image… Whereas there was huge economic depression after ww2 in the UK so the radio remained the most popular form of entertainment, and we still have a dedicated radio station (bbc4) that plays only spoken word. But that’s just a guess!

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Not just cheaper (though that was definitely an element)… I can’t remember where I heard this but I heard some interviews of folks who worked on the original hitchhikers and a lot of it was focused on how there were whole stories and sci-fi concepts that would have been impossible to present visually but we’re perfect for radio. I think in the same thing they mentioned that Douglas Adams much preferred the freedom of writing audio sci-fi as opposed to the TV show.

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See that is what is so exciting about this medium to me. I mentioned at the top of the thread, that I wanted to direct film but gave up after realizing how expensive the whole process got. I had lots of ideas for stories I could never realize, because my thought process was how would I build this? or shoot that with no money for sets/sfx etc. I did primarily grow up with TV and film so I never considered trying to realize these ideas with just sound. Maybe it’s obvious to others who grew up with radio plays but for me it’s a bit of a revelation.

I think you could achieve a lot with a DAW, modular, even simple recording software like audacity and public domain sfx. It’s really inspiring me right now!

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Thanks for creating this thread, will be very happy to check all the recommendations posted here!
I think Audio Dramas are a fantastic medium for musicians to let their imagination go wild. It allows to combine field recordings with sounds design and more typical composition.

My friends here in Poland have been making for a past few years an “Audio Drama Festival” where each year they asked musicans/screenwriters etc. to create original plays just for festival:

and here is a teaser for one of such Audio Dramas:

I also had a chance to create Audio Drama for the festival once and what I really liked (as a synthesizer person) that I could use any sound imaginable which for “typical” music would probably sound out of place. We composed it very “unprofessionaly” but basically we were reading the script and after that would improvise as long as we got something which we felt enhanced the words. We also tried to play a little with a form of an Audio Drama so the whole Audio Drama was presented in 7 parts which could actually be played in any order by listeners and each part was located in a different part of the building where we did a premiere. I won’t lie I stole this idea from gathering log entries in System Shock 2 but I still feel like it is underutilised :wink:

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To me this is the quintessential audio drama. I grew up with it on cassette as my Dad was a big fan, so we listened to it constantly.

https://www.dimsdale.co.uk/ is a nice source of bbc audio drama/radio show. Alternatively if you search for dimsdale in your podcast app it will turn up a lot.

I have been listening to dramatisations of 1984 and Dune. Also some Judge Dredd (which has some appalling voice acting, but I just love this universe).

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Absolutely. It was a similar situation for me, except I was the one recording it to cassette from repeats after seeing the TV adaptation (quite good, really) and reading the books. The imaginative use of sound FX and music that Paddy Kingsland and the Radiophonic Workshop did on that programme was mindblowing to teenage me, and had a huge influence on how I thought about sound at a time when i was sticking tape over the erase head on my tape recorder and making primitive multitrack recordings.

I grew up in a house without a television until I was about 8, and then it was kept away in a sibling’s room while their partner learned English from the schools programming on the BBC around that time, so we listened to the radio and records constantly, and there were always a lot of radio dramas on Radio 4, and of course the institution that is The Archers. There were some amazing adaptations, not only the Lord of the Rings mentioned above, but things like Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat, which I already loved from the books and was mind-boggled to hear the BBC adapting.

Not a drama, but the daily Shipping Forecast is probably as much an influence in its own way on UK sound art, despite having nothing more than a calm voice reading the weather predictions by coastal sea area for the next few hours…

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There is a great BBC adaptation of Solaris from 2007 well worth a quick google

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Oh my. I will have to search that out - cheers!

Here, right now, is the ‘Drama’ category on the BBC’s audio site.

Grew up on audio drama so hard - there was so much Radio 4 on in my house, the constant voice in the background. There was basically a play every weekday afternoon on Radio 4, 30-45 minutes, and then maybe longer things at the weekend - Saturday and Sunday afternoons. There’s a bit less these days, but we still get: new commissions, classic books adapted, “Book at Bedtime” (15 minutes, daily, usually abridged over two weeks), possibly something later, and a midmorning slot, often for lighter/comic work. (Radio 3 also broadcasts some drama, though less so now - stage adaptations, some edgier things).

There’s also a more dedicated pipeline for this sort of work: the BBC develops talent this way, they still commission new work, and they’ll frequently have a ‘rep’ cast of actors doing six months stints just being the voices / general cast in plays, as well as the ‘main’ actors. It’s also easy to produce regionally, rather than all in-house.

And they’ve been doing this for years; my Dad grew up in the 50s listening to Charles Chilton’s Journey Into Space (“the last UK radio programme to attract a bigger evening audience than television”, says Wikipedia) which we then listened to repeats of when I was a kid - more realistic than something like Dan Dare, but still some exciting alien twists and cracking sound effects. (And yes, I too grew up on HHGTTG, and “Paddy Kingsland and the Radiophonic Workshop”, and was an arsehole about preferring the radio series to the books (which came later)).

Recent favourites include a lot of Julian Simpson’s work - not just his Lovecraft Files, but before that, Mythos, which was wonderful, and other dramas of his - many linked at his site. Timothy Atack has been doing lots of interesting radio/sound/music projects. And Peter Strickland’s re-imagining of Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape was smashing. If that’s ever available anywhere, can thoroughly recommend listening to it in a dark room with headphones.

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I had no idea he had done this until I read this thread today, and it makes me very happy.

And this I think is why the BBC was ever relevant culturally, and still is, despite all of the year and year of grinding Tory pressure that has hollowed out its public service remit to the thinnest shadow of whatever its former self might have actually resembled.

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If you’re interested in older radio dramas, there’s a treasure trove of them in the Old Time Radio collection on archive.org. Most of them are from the 40’s through the late 70’s.

I especially like Dimension X and its reboot X Minus One, and The Weird Circle. Both of them do adaptations of a lot of classic sci-fi and horror short stories, as well as some original productions.

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Thoroughly recommend these too - I was really chuffed to discover this whole section on Archive.org.some year back and it’s (as with many things they hold in store) a real treasure trove of history.

I did the music for a Marvel Wolverine podcast that follows the audio drama tradition. Interestingly, it was acted out on location and recorded in ambisonics.

It was made for Stitcher but it’s on all of the podcast platforms now I believe.

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