The Music Documentary: Acid Rock to Electropop
“The Music Documentary offers a wide-range of approaches, across key in the history of popular music, in order to define and interrogate this prominent genre of film-making.”
This new book has just been published by Routledge as part of their “Music and Screen Media” series. Although it’s mainly focused on music documentary relating to film – my esteemed (long-suffering) colleague Oliver Carter and I have contributed a chapter which looks at music radio and online fan engagement with documentaries. It also touches on the similarities and differences between music documentary production techniques for film and radio.
More info about the book, edited by Benjamin Halligan, Robert Edgar, and Kirsty Fairclough-Isaacs, can be found on the Routledge website.
“The writers in this volume argue persuasively that the music documentary must be considered as an essential cultural artefact in documenting stars and icons, and musicians and their times – particularly for those figures whose fame was achieved posthumously.”
“The reader will find comprehensive discussions of the history of music documentaries, insights in their production and promotion, close studies of documentaries relating to favourite bands or performers, and approaches to questions of music documentary and form, from the celluloid to the digital age.”
Joe Strummer (21 Aug 1952 – 22 Dec 2002)
This weekend was the tenth anniversary of the death of Clash lead singer;
I made this documentary for Radio Hauraki to mark the first year of his passing – and it features NZ broadcasting legend Barry Jenkin as presenter. In retrospect, it’s a bit rough around the edges – but any excuse to hear the Clash is worth it.
Actually, I’ve just been looking back over the past year of blogs – and it’s sad to see so many memorials and tributes over the past 12 months.
The Real Middle Earth
I can remember the excitement back in 2001 for the release of the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy – “The Fellowship of the Ring”. All of New Zealand was buzzing in anticipation.Together with the following two films – it went on to become the highest grossing motion picture trilogy of all time, with the final film, The Return of the King, receiving eleven Oscar awards. And now… the world returns to Middle Earth with the first of a new series of films from director Peter Jackson… “The Hobbit; An Unexpected Journey”.
As a fan of the films, I was delighted to get to work on a series of Tolkien videos for The Library of Birmingham – which can be found on their website.
These 2 clips look at Tolkien’s early years in Birmingham and the influence Brum had on his writings.
To mark the day of the film’s UK release I put together this doc for a community station “Switch” here in Birmingham. It looks at the origins of Tolkien’s fantasy creations in Sth. Birmingham – and challenges Wellington’s NZ’s claim to the title of Middle Earth. The doc features the excellent Larry Rew as presenter (who endured hypothermia standing around in car parks to record his links – sorry). Dan Collins managed to get a rare and insightful interview with Tolkien’s great-nephew Tim Tolkien, which was also included.
Sir Patrick Moore Remembered
I was saddened to hear about the death earlier today of legendary astronomer Sir Patrick Moore…
He lived an incredible life – meeting Orville Wright, Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong. That’s an impressive trifecta.
I was lucky enough to have had the chance to interview him in Easter 2010, at his home by the coast in Selsey UK, as part of a project about his lifelong friend Sir Arthur C Clarke.
Moore was incredibly nice. When I arrived he was wearing some sort of vividly coloured muumuu – but changed into more formal attire for the interview. His trademark monocle kept popping out – especially when he’d get passionate about a particular topic.
Pretty much nothing was off limits – and he allowed me to record around his house and film his collection of telescopes in his backyard, with Trevor his friend and assistant providing the commentary.
Moore kindly signed a poster of “The Face of the Moon” by John Russell that I’d brought along – and gave me some copies of his book “On the Moon” along with the collection of his Mothers drawings that he had published. We also talked about his love of cricket (he played into his seventies) and although arthritis was slowing him down, he dug out his old cricket bat to show me his batting stance.
Before leaving he insisted I join him for generous glass of gin and tonic. Although I was about to drive home – it would have been rude to say no.
The clip below features my interview with Sir Patrick – in which he discusses the Apollo Missions along with his thoughts on conspiracy theorists, the existence of God, and his long career with the BBC.
David Bowie Symposium, Limerick, Ireland
Last week I travelled to Ireland to deliver a paper at “Strange Fascination?”
A Symposium on David Bowie held in Limerick, Oct. 2012.
In this “audio diary”, Ian talks with keynote speakers and fans – and visits Dolans Warehouse to hear Bowie Tribute Act “Rebel Rebel”.
Billy Bragg Tours NZ
Bragg toured the South Island of NZ this week – with a Christchurch show to assist the BEATBOX organisation, which runs a Musicians Rehearsal Studio. What a great gesture. Wish I could have seen the show.
On the day of his ChCh. show, local radio station Plains FM broadcast a re-made version of my documentary about “Talking with the Taxman” which included some comments about his time in NZ (short clip below). It was great to get back in touch with Plains FM, as it was the first station I ever broadcast on.
Ian Chapman, a lecturer in Contemporary Music at The University of Otago, wrote this review of Bragg’s Dunedin show on Oct. the 14th.
Sneak peak at the new Birmingham Library
Earlier this year I had the chance to tour the building site for the new Library of Birmingham. Having seen the 3D flyby – it was great to finally get a sense of the space inside. It’s going to be spectacular when it opens in Sept. 2013 (at a cost of £189 million). I’ve been recording audio associated with the mammoth task of moving from the old building – which is probably going to be demolished (quickly – before someone slaps a protection order on it). Shame really – as I’ve always quite liked it. But it does strangle the pedestrian flow of the city… so it’s got to go. The pic on the lower righthand side shows the view of the old building (designed by John Madin who died in Jan 2012) from the new.
New York Radio Festival
It was an unexpected pleasure to find myself in New York last week – collecting an award at the 2012 New York Radio Festival. The “25″ series won gold in the “best music special” entertainment category. The ceremony was held at the Manhattan Penthouse (18th floor) and entries were received from radio stations, networks and independent producers from twenty-seven countries.
Those lovely folks at BCU agreed to pay for the trip to collect it. I stayed at the Washington Square Hotel on the west side of Lower Manhattan, where Bob Dylan and Hemmingway amongst others stayed. Just down the road from Cafe Wha?
Saw my first Musical while I was there – at the Foxwoods Theatre. “Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark” ” on Broadway, by Bono / Edge. (It’ll probably be my last muscial as well – one or two good songs I suppose).
Managed to get a few audio recordings while I was out and about in NY – and had a great time catching up with “Lets Dance” backing singer Frank Simms who’d helped with the “Bowies Waiata” / “Down Under the Moonlight” documentaries I made in early 2008.
Frank showed me around, we had a burger – then visited the original Power Station recording studio (now Avatar) where Bowie, Springsteen, Madonna, Lennon, Clash, Blondie etc made hits and history.
Xfm 25, Gold in “Best Music Special”, Entertainment
The “25″ project was a twelve part documentary series produced by Birmingham School of Media and Xfm London – and profiled an important eighties record followed by the entire album played in full. Contributors included musicians and producers alongside leading UK broadcasters, music journalists, authors, cover artists and fans. Staff from the Birmingham School of Media and the University of Limerick, Ireland also featured throughout the series.
Andy Ashton, Xfm Network Programme Director and executive producer for the series, kindly commented;
“XFM is proud to have worked so closely with Birmingham School of Media on the 25 documentary project. The partnership delivered a unique and award winning listener experience that had the extra benefit of having students performing a hands on role within live radio environment – delivering real programming and results.”
Many thanks to presenter Ian Camfield, assistant producer (and guy who shares my office) Oliver Carter, Andy and Mike at Xfm – along with all the other producers and contributors who helped out.
Also thanks to Nikhil Shah and the guys at at Mixcloud, who were a great help by hosting and promoting the series. Their slogan; “Don’t hate the radio. Be the radio”
For a full list of this year’s New York Radio Festival award winners go to:
Legendary radio writer Neil Jenkins times out
Sadly, NZ commercial production maestro Neil Jenkins passed away last week. Neil worked for TRN and Stooges Production in Wellington – and was master of the medium. As a creative writer / commercial producer, voice-over and trainer of young radio talent – will be hugely missed on New Zealand’s airwaves.
He was such a funny guy and such a big inspiration to me. I first met him at the New Zealand Broadcasting School back in 1988, where his enthusiasm and talent for crafting memorable, effective radio advertising started me on a 20-odd year career in Comm Prod.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Neil in December 2007 (I think) and recorded his thoughts on commercial production.
Xfm Rebroadcast Beasties “25″ Doc
As a tribute to the Beasties founder Adam Yauch aka MCA (August 5, 1964 – May 4, 2012) Xfm replayed an expanded version of my “Licensed to Ill” Doc (below), which celebrated it’s 25th anniversary, on Monday the 7th of May 2012 at 10pm. It featured additional info re. his illness and subsequent death – and ends with Coldplay’s (mildly controversial) tribute version of “Fight For Your Right to Party”.
I quickly put together the above slideshow on hearing the news. It features a few short sections of the original doc along with fan tributes and the breaking world news of MCA’s sad passing.
Never got to seem them live – which is a crying shame in itself – but always loved their inventive brand of hip hop
(Paul’s Boutique being a personal fav).
It was totally brilliant…
In later years Adam was a man not afraid to say sorry for the way in which he felt some of the band’s early work and attitudes to women had been misunderstood.. I have so much respect for a man who can say sorry.
“Sonic Persuasion” Book Review
My review of “Sonic Persuasion – Reading Sound in the Recorded Age” by Greg Goodale, University of Illinois Press, 2011, has been published in the March edition (No. 86) of “Viewfinder”, the journal of the British Universities Film and Video Council.
Greg Goodale is assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University and his excellent book is a welcome addition to the emerging field of sound culture studies.
He addresses the lack of sonic scholarship with a thorough investigation of audio tropes, sonic manipulation and shifting oratory styles that draw from recorded examples dating as far back as the marketing of Edison’s automatic phonograph in 1888.
Goodale’s analysis draws attention to the rich meaning laden within the accents, articulation and phraseology of the language and music we hear – along with the background noise that often accompanies them.
Goodale points out that our ears can perceive events the eye cannot, thanks to their ability to hear simultaneous sounds from all directions.
Conveying the subtle nuances of sound with printed words is clearly problematic. It’s a situation much like the overused comparison of writing about music being akin to “dancing about architecture”.
However, it’s this conundrum which forms one of the central tenets of the book; sound carries far more meaning than the written text can ever hope to convey.
To his credit, Goodale draws from examples that can be found without too much searching online – giving readers the opportunity to hear the audio being assessed for themselves.
Sonic Persuasion is the first in the University of Illinois Press series: Studies in Sensory History.
The project aims to publish and promote “work on the history of the senses from ancient times to the twenty-first century”.
It seems fitting that a publication focusing on sound should mark the beginning of this ambitious series, since hearing is the first of our senses to develop in the embryo. Goodale’s exploration of sound and its ability to be “read” is certainly a very good place to start.
As he points out in the book: “one can never close ones ears”.
Book Chapter; “Radio and Society: New Thinking for an Old Medium”
“Radio and Society: New Thinking for an Old Medium”
The book was edited by Matt Mollgaard from AUT in Auckland, NZ, and is described as;
“…a collection of contemporary research by radio scholars from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It explores different aspects of this both simple and complex medium, from early radio histories to the contemporary developments of radio on the Internet. Chapters engage with critical debates about the role of government, business and communities in how radio is used in our societies. Some chapters provide important new insights into making radio, and radio as a cultural force. Other chapters explore developments in research methodologies that enable deeper insights into contemporary radio and its audiences. This book provides a range of platforms for engaging with radio and radio research as a rich, vibrant and fruitful way to further our understandings of the media and ultimately, ourselves.”
The introduction to my contribution reads…
“Sam Coley discusses music and radio documentary too, while also exploring ideas of fandom and how fans use the Internet to repurpose collectable material and to display their devotion. By taking us from the height of David Bowie’s musical career, to discovering a previously unheard Bowie song and then to documentaries made 25 years later and remixed by Bowie fans, Coley interrogates notions of fandom and also radio content on the Internet, providing us with insights into how the Internet can expand radio’s potential, but also how audiences can re- imagine radio content, given the right tools and motivations.”
Chapter Six / Page 83 “Bowie’s Waiata”: Radio Documentary and Fandom
Radio and Society: New Thinking for an Old Medium
Editor: Matt Mollgaard / Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Date Of Publication: Mar 2012
More details available here.
Much thanks to Matt Mollgaard and Oliver Carter
for all their help with the chapter