New possibilities of Practice-led research through podcasting

Dario Llinares (co-founder and co-host of The Cinematologists podcast) in conversation with Jean Martin (14 Mar 2018)

Key points

  • podcasting as discursive platform to explore ideas in a sensuous way through speaking and listening
  • audible voices give podcasts authenticity compared to the anonymity of the internet spheres of twitter and Facebook,
  • podcasting highlights the importance of conversation for developing one’s thinking
  • the medium of expression influences the type of knowledge that is produced or is emerging
  • podcasting is a medium to disseminate knowledge and insights with a sense of immediacy
  • podcasting itself has become an object of research, which again can be the subject of podcasts
  • podcasting has crossed over into the mainstream with big hits like Serial and WTF
  • podcasting is different from radio broadcasts

Dario responds to the question how the practice of podcasting can lead to research in the following way:

Quotation:

First of all, it was the direction of podcasting as simply a media platform for the dissemination of research …  instead of writing an article or how would you translate let’s say an academic article into a podcast. And what possibilities does that offer you in terms of moving it outside of the academy and reaching new audiences.

And then there is the other wing which is researching podcasting as a form and what that does; thinking about areas like the use of the voice but also distribution and the interrelationships between different kinds of media, and also the crossover to areas like sound design. So how would the very form, almost the audio aesthetic form of podcasting, how could you compare that say with just live radio? I think there is a big difference and some of the writers that we’ve got in the forthcoming book are commenting on that difference.

 

The long read

This is an edited transcription of our 20 min conversation.

JM: What does podcasting mean to you and how might it lead to further research?

DL: It is three years this week since I started the cinematologist blog with my colleague Neil Fox,

from Falmouth. … I think within higher education in universities we were finding it more and more difficult to carve out spaces for research discussion. Our time is taken up with teaching preparation and with admin It seems that research is often booted to the end of the day. Podcasting initially was a way to transfer conversations we were having organically about film into a more formal, public setting but without many of the constraints that you are under in academic seminars, lectures and conferences. It was a chance to have a kind of free form exploration. And when we integrated with the live post-screening Q&As we held it began to take on new dimensions, in terms of a form not just disseminating knowledge  but producing it.

JM: Do you find podcasting as opposed to writing traditional articles – having a dialogue and conversations with interested people a quicker and more productive way to explore ideas?

DL: I think it almost begs the question about how the form of communication ties into the knowledge that is produced. So, one of the things that’s come out of doing the cinematologist podcast is a questioning of what traditional research does and how it does it. We have this structure of producing journal articles and books with which we anchor the knowledge in a certain way. But what we increasingly found is that there are opportunities in the conversation and within the space of the podcast in which you can set up the context which then can go beyond those anchoring points of what the journal article or the written text might give you. So, you can expand on points, you can elaborate, you can actually contest your own on points within the moment and what’s really interesting then is that the actual form of knowledge takes on much more of a dialectic in the classical sense of that word. … What has happened particularly in the era of the market and university in the relationship to publishing in higher education is that writing for research for specific publishing reasons has become a lot more instrumentalised than perhaps its original intention was. I think another thing about podcasting as well is that it combines those traditional elements with the more positive aspects of the Open Source era that the Internet allows. There has been a lot of talk in the last few years about the ways in which the Internet offers us these spaces. And really does it help or is it more negative than it is positive in terms of problems like anonymity and the way in which social media is used. Is there any sort of critical or academic or intellectual value in those forms or does it just become this sort of anonymous space for spouting fake news for want of a better word? I think the podcast really takes some of the more positive aspects of the Internet in terms of a space for public discourse in a certain mode that we don’t see in the Internet more broadly.

JM: Because the speaker has a presence in the podcasts which is unique. Every human being has a unique voice as it has unique fingerprints, unique eyes. The voice brings you back to the senses, to listening. In the digital world we mustn’t forget the senses and the body.

DL: Yes, absolutely I think that’s one of the avenues of research that I’ve been just starting to venture into: the ways in which the phenomenology of communication itself feeds into the knowledge.

So, one of the things that you’ll find within podcasting is there’s quite a difference between say a lecture that is audio recorded and just put online, to a conversation that set up a prompted like this one from an interlocutor who is trying to get certain parts of information or expand in certain elements of the knowledge.  Trying to articulate thoughts, analysis, even quite technical or complex arguments , and make that conceivable to an audience in audio form, is very different to a straight recorded reading of a written text. I do agree what you tend to get then is a sense of emotionality that’s in the words. I mean if you think about the ways in which stories have been told,  you know oral histories throughout millennia, that idea of placing the self within the information is seen as absolutely fundamental to storytelling and fiction and like I say oral histories but I think when it comes to academia, communication is often quite dry or informational. But the same content can be brought a sense of life through discussion or elements of sound design. The question then becomes more fundamental as how knowledge is predicated on the form in which it delivered.

JM: So, can you maybe reflect about your struggle – I sense when you talk about your podcasting, there’s a lack of academic acknowledgement. There is serious thinking going into this form. What kind of arguments would you bring forward that this practice has many implications that can lead to much more research.

DL: I think one of the problems is simply that it is such a new idea. Still, it’s only just over 10 years old and I think that it’s relationship to things like radio and other media more broadly means that it’s still difficult to define it in its own sense.

I mean we’ve got a book coming out which does have a podcast attached to it but it’s kind of an attempt to define what podcasting is in relationship to radio and to other media which it draws upon. I think one of the things that’s really interesting to me is the way that it calls on the idea of what has been named particularly by writer Malcolm Gladwell – who has moved from being a nonfiction writer into podcasting – this idea of the conditionality of meaning. So, I think that in podcasting there’s that sense of two people having a conversation and somebody is listening to them. They have got a kind of conceptual leeway because it’s their voice in terms of how the knowledge is being produced, shaped and transformed in the immediate sense, isn’t anchored in referencing or factuality like a text so there is an implication that what is being discussed is not definitive. It’s a working through of ideas in real time.

DL: If you look at a lot of studies in the way that the difference between men and women when they’re talking how much they are listened to. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that there is a gender issue and even a race or racial issue when people are understanding that they are connecting voices to certain identities and I think that’s a really interesting problem. The articles that I reference in my last piece of work did highlight this bias against women in terms of the notion of vocal fry… I don’t know if you’ve heard about that term. So, there’s a very pronounced kind of accent or texture of voice that is attributed to millennial women in America that when they are heard online they are kind of not taken seriously because of this particular tone which is called vocal fry. So, in a sense the idea of the actual texture, the phenomenology of the voice has an impact on the knowledge that is being produced. That’s one of the things I find really interesting.

JM: Coming back to what concerns us here, how practice can define research or at least feed into research. Podcasts have been around for 10 years or so, you said. We are in a media department. So obviously we have to think how that medium influences how we think and how we can use these media in new ways.

DL: In the first sort of wave of podcasting in the late 2000s, I think the way the podcasting was used in terms of the classroom was to try to get students to engage more subject areas using this practical method of recording what they were doing rather than writing about it. So, most of the research was about that and that sense of the voice of the student and much more in primary education rather than in higher education.

There is a second wave that I think is coming to fruition now. I mean we have got one coming out (co-edited with Neil Fox and Richard Berry). Lance Dann our colleague has got a book coming out and there are more and more articles about different aspects of podcasting. Some people are calling it the golden age right now. Podcasting suddenly seems to have crossed over into the mainstream with big hits like Serial and WTF: for example Marc Maron having the interview with President Obama was a big deal. So, podcasting is having a moment in the last two or three years.

In terms of research I see this going in two directions. First of all the notion that podcasting as simply a media platform for the dissemination of research. So it links back to what I was saying that perhaps instead of writing an article an academic may record a podcast or look to translate an already written academic article into a podcast. This opens up possibilities in terms of moving it outside of the academy and reaching new audiences. And then there is the other wing which is researching podcasting as a form and what that does; thinking about areas like the use of the voice but also distribution and the interrelationships between different kinds of media, and also the crossover to areas like sound design. So how would the very form, almost the audio aesthetic form of podcasting, how could you compare that say with just live radio? I think there is a difference and some of the writers that we’ve got in the forthcoming book are commenting on that difference.

JM: One thing I find very powerful what you mentioned in Anxiety of the Speech Act (on your blog), the fact, that you can edit recorded material. I don’t see any difference to for example editing your own text. You write, you do some free writing and then you let it settle and after a day you come back and look at it as a strange object and edited it and adapt it.

DL: I think that’s absolutely true. However, I think that there are implications when you are editing somebody else. There are similar implications I think when you are doing this when it is a written text because obviously there are academic editors, there are copy editors in journalism which is seen as a kind of a relationship. But I think there’s an added dimension of tone and intention that can be very subtle in playing around with the edited voice on audio and I just think it’s an interesting facet of controlling or manipulating or shaping information and what is intended and I don’t think it’s necessarily negative in that sense where you’re controlling it as you say. I just find it fascinating that you have that ability now to do that so easily and it is very unusual for somebody to say for example somebody that I’m interviewing to ask: oh can I hear it afterward?. Can I hear it before it goes out? But some people have. So there’s a sort of censorial question here. I haven’t really thought through that to the degree that it needs to be thought through because I think there are certainly correlations with writing but I think that there is something different about it but I haven’t quite figured out what that is.

JM: Before I joined University I earned part of my income making radio programmes about contemporary composers. I had a conversation with them and recorded them and then I did some research and I wrote a script and integrated the original voice of these composers and framed it, commented on it and expanded on it and so on. And then that was broadcast. Then the text was slightly modified and published in a journal about contemporary music in Germany which then was acknowledged as research. So, in a sense I can see a link on that level between broadcasting practice and research.

DL: I think that’s definitely true. One of the things that really caught my attention was the way that I streamlined somebodies dialogue.

JM: Why would that be a problem?

DL: I’m not saying it’s about good or bad at this point but I think, say for example when you’re editing for text you know there’s a sense in which what you’re handing to whoever, the editor, is or even yourself as the second draft editor, that you’re trying to find a ‘perfection’ where the thinking time and the draft changes, the drafting of it disappears. So, you don’t actually show your first second third fourth draft to the final reader. You are hiding what you worked through to get to the point where it’s ‘finished’. But when you’re recording a conversation like we’re having right now I will have gone uhm, errrr, ‘what’, ‘you know’ ‘kind of’ – in a sense then there are those thinking patterns that manifest themselves in our idiosyncrasies of speech. And I think that’s an interesting question whether you take those out or not.

JM: I totally agree. Sometimes pauses are extremely important. Yes. Just one example today at lunchtime they interviewed Hawking’s first wife. When she was asked: if you had known that he would get so confined in this wheelchair, would you have married him? There was a pause. I think the longest I’ve ever heard – five to six seconds. And then she spoke very carefully. That was very interesting.

DL: Absolutely. I mean again it’s a question as an editor that I have in my mind all the time. How long should a pregnant pause be kept in. In our podcast we have different segments where myself and the co-host are just introducing sections and then they’re edited into the interview parts. I tend to leave the interview, the line of conversation pass unedited as much as possible. Unless the speaker says ‘can I do that again’ which is an interesting thing in itself: Can I start that whole sentence again. But when it comes to the segments I really am ruthless in cutting out all of our little mistakes because I want to get to those parts as efficiently as possible.

 

About Dario Llinares

www.dariollinares.com

www.cinematologists.com

http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/staff/dario-llinares

Dario is in the process of publishing a book on podcasting (Llinares, D., Fox, N. & Berry, R. (Eds) (Forthcoming 2018) ‘New Aural Cultures: Interdisciplinary Analyses of Podcasts and Podcasting’. New York: Palgrave: Macmillan).

In these blog posts Dario addresses questions of practice as research.

http://www.dariollinares.com/blog/2016/12/2/maron-and-the-radiopodcast-antagonism

http://www.dariollinares.com/blog/2016/5/11/the-anxiety-of-the-speech-act-podcast-editing-and-the-shaping-of-meaning

I have used this tool for the automatic audio transciption. It was good but still needed editing: https://trint.com/

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