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  • Nina Perry

Arriving at BBC 100 on a psychogeography with a radio pioneer

Updated: Oct 20, 2022

Finally, after many weeks, months, years in the making, the feature I've been pouring over about the radio pioneer Lance Sieveking will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 23rd October at 18.45 as part of BBC 100. The Sonic Century - A New Art has had quite a journey, in this blog post, I'll describe a little about that journey, and also provide links to further reading.

Dr Kristin Skoog introduced me to Sieveking on a train from London to Bournemouth, at the time I was confused about the direction of my PhD, and the space my practice occupies between art and broadcast media, Kristin helpfully pointed me in the direction of some articles written by Professor David Hendy.

These inspiring articles gave a new focus for my research and began drawing me into the compelling world of Lance Sieveking:

Hendy, David (2013) Representing the fragmented mind: reinterpreting a classic radio feature as 'sonic psychology'.Radio Journal, 11 (1). pp. 29-45. ISSN 1476-4504

Hendy, D J (2013) Painting with sound: the kaleidoscopic world of Lance Sieveking, a British Radio Modernist. Twentieth Century British History, 24 (2). pp. 169-200. ISSN 0955-2359

Reading these articles led to delving further into Sieveking's own writing. I was lucky to get hold of a copy of The Stuff of Radio written in 1934 via an interlibrary loan, and later I would visit the copy found in the British Library. There's something about the way he writes about radio that transcended time, I find it extremely relatable.

At this stage I was researching Sieveking as part of the practice review for my PhD, where I situate my practice within a lineage of work by other practitioners. Looking back I find it extraordinary that I had never heard of Sieveking before that conversation with Kristin. Radio academics and historians know him well, but perhaps he's less well known by the radio/audio practitioners of today. In 2002 when I began creating radio I was composer-in-residence in the same department Sieveking had worked in years before me - the BBC radio drama department. Through doing my PhD I got a better understanding of how practice knowledge is passed down through a community of practitioners, maybe this is why I find The Stuff of Radio so relatable.

I completed my PhD in 2017, and Sieveking only takes up a page of it. I was very fortunate to have David Hendy as one of my examiners. Once the dust has settled, I realised I was still gripped by Sieveking, and spoke with David about the possibility of offering the BBC some kind of pitch. David very kindly offered to share the copy of the script of Kaleidoscope he had discovered in an archive. The idea for a radio programme fell to the wayside for a few years, until I noticed that BBC Radio 3 were looking for ideas on modernism and the BBC. I returned to the Sieveking page in my PhD and reworked it into a pitch, and fortunately the idea was commissioned as a Sunday Feature.

Now I had to bring it to life. When researching for my PhD, I came across Dr Magz Hall's PhD, and found she had written about Sieveking and the dramatic control panel. Alongside David Hendy I felt her perspective as a contemporary radio artist would be very valuable. I also came across a wonderful publication by Lances' son Paul Sieveking; Airborne: Scenes from the life of Lance Sieveking His insight was definitely needed.

Pouring over the script of Kaleidoscope, I noted every piece of music used and ordered recordings as close to the original performances as possible from the BBC music archive - there's around 26 individual pieces of music in the 70 minute broadcast, and what a jewel in the BBC the music archive department is. Having previously worked with London Bubble Young Theatre Makers, and hearing how evocatively they speak about storytelling and theatre, I thought it would be interesting to see what they would make of the script. We arranged a reading in November 2021 at London Bubble HQ recorded by David Thomas. With these readings, music and sound effects - I edited a scratch version of Kaleidoscope, this was extremely time consuming.

In The Stuff of Radio Sieveking writes about the broadcast of Kaleidoscope, I combined this writing with letter and extracts from his archive generously shared by David Hendy and Paul Sieveking. I cast the actor Colin Morgan as Sieveking. I needed an accomplished radio drama actor to play the part, and because of the complexity of Kaleidoscope they needed a voice with real presence to cut through everything going on. I think Colin gave a stunning performance. I was in awe of how he analysed the text and the subtlety of his vocal delivery.

I then set about constructing the feature. This was complicated - and I was far too close to the material to get perspective. My colleague Iain Chambers as executive producer was a great sounding board throughout the project, I also called upon Sara Jane Hall as a locum executive producer while Iain was away. Sara Jane helped me find structure and script my links - which wasn't the original plan, but it became apparent that signposts were needed to navigate through Sieveking's complex sonic world. Finally Peregrine Andrews mixed the feature and made it shine.

When I interviewed Paul Sieveking he told me that he and is father would go on drives, he described them as "a kind of psychogeography of Suffolk". My journey with Sieveking across the valleys and hills of sound and experimental storytelling has been a fortifying adventure, it's felt like a kind of psychogeography of Sieveking's kaleidoscopic world, and this absorbing project has felt like a consoling companion this past year. I have a feeling there's still some journeying to go..

My gratitude to everyone who has been involved in the journey, and my thanks to you for listening..

The Sunday Feature - The Sonic Century: A New Art

A kaleidoscopic montage exploring the life and experimental storytelling of radio pioneer Lance Sieveking

18.45 October 23rd 2022 - and on BBC Sounds after the broadcast.

I would love to hear your thoughts about the production, do get in touch and let me know..

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