joan schuman - walking in bad circles

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Walking in Bad Circles was written and produced by Joan Schuman. It is part of Travels in Stasis, a radio-art series created by Joan Schuman when she lived in the U.S. Southwest in the early 2000s. It’s a multiple trek that follows the nomad’s movements around walled cities and deserts reaching the sea, through the uprooted mind. Presented individually or as a whole, this themed project has been heard across radio installations in museum exhibits in Los Angeles; in media arts festivals in Australia and Canada, France and Spain; on the air on NPR, ResonanceFM and FBi Radio in Sydney; and more recently, on podcasts featuring adventuresome sound and stories.


Joan says: 

When I read a story in the back of the newspaper about a young man who had wandered across the U.S./Mexico border, I became curious about what his experience must have been like. I imagined how he might wander through his mind, talking to no one in particular, remembering his town, his mother, and the things he heard and saw along the way—how he kept repeating that he was ‘walking in bad circles,’ as if any of us walk a linear, knowable journey.

As often happens, I might have had the sounds long before mixing them with story layers. I’m not sure how long I had field recordings of freight trains rumbling through the urban desert where I was living at the time, and a surreptitious recording of my neighbours blasting ranchero music while playing an afternoon game of horseshoes. Did I read about the young man found wandering in the desert metropolis, tossing rocks at a police car, before I had these recordings?

I think it was all of one period where I was collecting the audible traces of the desert, paying attention to experiences along this border that is so keenly present and easily ignored. What struck me was a single line from that news item, the allusion to the wanderer’s shaky mental state: “I’ve been walking in bad circles.” What are ‘good’ circles? A straight and linear walking?

It seemed to reflect more broadly, whether staying put in the geography we’re meant to be in or just traveling through briefly. We might, at some point, be journeying in round-about ways that aren’t always meaningfully evident.

By weaving what I could imagine this young man speaking—in both English and Spanish—to his mother, to the stars and the moon, and without overt translation, was a way to give a sense of movement across all kinds of borders: geographic and cultural, physical and emotional.


Inspirations from inside the world of radio and sound:


And outside of it:

Everything translated into English by the German fiction writer, Jenny Erpenbeck: she creates sound pieces in her novels—sounds and voices and stories are gorgeously, profoundly woven.


Constellations says:

This piece has a maze-like quality both sonically and structurally. We follow the narrator as he drifts past a dreamy landscape of trains and chatter, with the distinct sense that he isn't headed anywhere in particular.

We love in this piece the richness with which Joan has rendered the idea of aimlessness, as well as her pacing between English and Spanish, which helps listeners practice taking in narrative audio without an assumed destination of clarity or comprehension in mind.


Joan Schuman has been making sound works for radio since the late 1980s, including presenting other sound artists on the air and in art galleries, beginning in the late 1990s.

Her engagement with practitioners naturally continued online as guest curator/producer on Trickhouse in 2013 and again in 2014, and eventually, in her founding Earlid in early 2015. She conceives and creates quarterly exhibits of adventuresome listening, offering contextualized essays, sonic portraits and dialogues with practitioners, and open submissions once annually.

In 2017, Joan co-moderated a 10-person online forum with radio artist Gregory Whitehead, hosted at Earlid, exploring the legacies and contemporary stance of radio artistry, along with engaged comments from 20 participants. During the Winter of 2018, Earlid is exploring two artists working in sonic transmission technologies as they consider environmental ruin — as activist witness and intruder. She produced another series of audio remix/portraits of one of the artists, Anna Friz, with sounds Friz collected around the Chilean desert’s extractive industries.

Since 2004, Joan has been teaching online courses in the art of radio experiments and theories and history of sonic culture via The New School for Public Engagement. She lives along the coast in California.

aleksandra bragoszewska - coarse & janky

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Coarse & Janky was recorded & produced by Aleksandra Bragoszewska and is part of radio project that has been collecting dust for some years now. The extract featured here is pulled from one of four radio ballads to the Bread and Puppet Theatre; Coarse & Janky, Working the Clay, Monsters & Men in Suits, and Possibilitarian Meaning Making, the latter three which have yet to be made.

It features excerpts of the "Why Cheap Art Manifesto" by Peter Schumann (1984) as well as interviews and sounds from: Peter Hamburger, Massimo Schuster, Maryann Incoronata, Peter Schumann, Gregory Corbino, Tuesday night Shape Note Singers, Genevieve the Apprentice, Trudy Cohen, thrushes singing at dusk in the pine forest, Daniel MacNamara, Maura Gahn, the Bread and Puppet Band, Pepe Hilfrau on lip-whistle, Jason Hicks on porch-side banjo, and Highway 122 in Glover Vermont. It was recorded at Bread and Puppet Theatre in Glover, Vermont 2010-2016.


Aleks says: 

Bread and Puppet Theatre is a 50-year-old self-sustaining radical political puppetry theatre under the artistic direction of Peter Schumann. It has a long history of making street theatre, radical puppet shows, and working with newcomers from far and wide to create shows. This is one of my radio ballads to the theatre, concerning the ramshackle esthetic characteristic of the theatre and its philosophical implications for show making. Presenting the audio in this way is my attempt to collect the vibrant sing- song chaos of the place and pleat it into a radio piece that would sound true to the Beast that is Bread and Puppet.

What's inspiring her these days:

The harmonics of old city apartments as heard underwater in the bathtub.


Constellations says:

As this roller coaster of a year comes to a close, we thought this sonic manifesto and portrait was the perfect toast for ushering in the new year: To taking artistic risks! To having the courage to struggle on stage!  This piece, and the collaborative, political and tactile world of Bread and Puppet that it conjures, embody the ethos of experimentalism, interdisciplinarity, and community that Constellations aspires to. And we can't think of a voice more suited to sewing this cardboard cacophony together than Aleks'. 


Aleksandra Bragoszewska is a puppeteer and an apprentice of storytelling. She sharpened her radio teeth with sound and storytelling experiments at CFRC 101.9fm Queens Radio in Kingston, Ontario, but they have grown dull since she apprenticed puppetry under the Bread and Puppet theatre in Glover, Vermont. She makes puppet shows with her independent company, Birdbone Theatre, and studies storytelling under Stephen Jenkinson, in Deacon, Ontario. 


craig desson - 06-30-24

06-30-24 was written and produced by Craig Desson. 


Craig says: 

First of all, don't worry, this 'experimental audio' piece is short.  It won't take more than four minutes of your time.  I promise you won't be bored. Second, picture what your hearing looks like.  Then this piece will be like watching a movie of somebody else's dream; which is fun! 

I love the work of the 60s era NFB experimental filmmaker Arthur Lipsett and so I wanted to try and do what he does. The piece is also an exploration of the digital subconscious that exists on my MacBook.  It's made up of sounds on my hard drive that I recorded over the last year that just felt right together. 

I tried to never work tired.  The moment my creative juices started to ebb, I put this away.  So it was always fun.   It was an experiment to put this quote from Ernest Hemingway into practice: The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.

What's inspiring Craig the worlds of audio and beyond:

My hero is Adam Curtis. He's a filmmaker at the BBC who makes brilliant political documentary series using their archives. His films are the most epic stories one can imagine. One film tracks Freud's idea of psychoanalysis through the history of public relations over a century. Another film, (three hours long!) follows the history of Islamic extremism and neo-conservatism from the end of the cold war to September 11. Curtis's most recent series is called Hyper-Normalization and it's about how politics has become a surreal/bizarre theater to keep people confused.  Sound like anything you know?    

The other great thing about his films are 90 percent of them are just him talking over archival clips.  But, the writing is crystal clear and the narrative arch's so lean that it unrolls brilliantly. Also, he finds all these strange serendipitous moments in the archives you never see on TV.  So, it doesn't look anything like a regular news documentary. 

And finally! The opening montage to the Power of Nightmares is just amazing editing/storytelling.


Constellations says:

"Every monastery should have a room like this." What a perfect snip of tape.

We love this piece for its intimate, collected quality - sparkling snapshots, bits and pieces pulled from recordings, archives, in-between moments. Each clip is like a little secret that the producer lets us wonder about (and with its spacious pacing, wander about, too). Maybe this also has something to do with the title of the piece, which was Craig's high school locker combination. Through the frame of meditation, Craig's 06-30-24 embodies the tension of a mind attempting calm in a loud world.


Craig Desson creates audio and video, along with written things in the journalism genre and mostly for the internet.  Follow him on Twitter @craigdesson.