Noisecasting: The Search For Podcasting’s Bleeding Edge

“I don’t know of any truly experimental or avant-­garde podcast — the kind of off-­kilter gem you might have once stumbled upon at 2 a.m. on a local free­form station, or, indeed, on public­-access television — where part of the experience of listening is to be knocked askew, assaulted, and otherwise disturbed, even as you’re enthralled….podcasts, by and large, establish a relationship marked by comfort.”

— Jonah Weiner, “The Voices

I don’t know of any either, Jonah. And it’s not for lack of trying. I’m a dyed-­in-­the-­wool, Bunuel­-loving, John Cage-worshipping avant-­gardist, someone who craves the new and seeks out the assaultive cultural experiences saner folks shy away from, but I’ve never found them in podcast form. Hundreds of thousands of podcasts to choose from, an ever­-expanding glut of content, yet not one has truly shocked me. And that’s a problem.

I thought I might find it in Welcome To Nightvale; instead, I got a droll take on sci­-fi somewhere between H.P. Lovecraft and Prairie Home Companion. I had high hopes for Audio Smut (that name!), but I got Radiolab reads Penthouse Forum. (And then the name changed to the more prosaic “The Heart.”) The Worst Idea Of All Time Podcast has a promisingly bizarre hook, but it feels more like Clerks than anything else: two friends cracking jokes and bitching about their shitty job, that job being watching Grown Ups 2 ad infinitum. All good, even great shows; none the truly experimental work I’m looking for. My biggest “I can’t believe this is happening” moment listening to podcasts in 2014 was Scott Aukerman’s insistence his guests memorize the “Hollywood Facts” theme song on Comedy Bang! Bang!, and even that is just a well­-executed example of the “rake effect.”

For all the vaunted variety of the Golden Age of podcasting, the endless proliferation of options, essentially all shows fall into a few predictable categories. There’s the classic interview show; there’s the straightforward newscast; there’s the terrestrial­-style talk show ported to digital. There’s the ever popular hang­out show, buddies riffing on various topics. There’s the pop­-culture review show, a more focused hang­out. There’s the radio drama, the medium’s oldest form; there’s the game show, nearly as old. And there’s the many children of Ira Glass working in “non­-fiction storytelling.”

Lest you get the wrong idea, just about every podcast I love falls into one of these categories! I get more weekly enjoyment from podcasts than any other media, and it’s thanks to shows like Serial and Culture Gabfest and WTF and How Did This Get Made? and 99% Invisible that fall in these tried and true formats. But all of them, and even the ones that don’t, the oddball formats like Judge John Hodgman or Nerd Poker, or highly niche shows like The Dice Tower… they may inform and amuse and move and challenge me, they may make me cry or laugh out loud with delight. But they’ve never altered my reality. They’ve never made my jaw drop. They’ve never given me something I haven’t heard before.

Perhaps, like Weiner says, it’s because listeners don’t come to podcasts to get knocked out of their comfort zone. They come for the sound of familiar voices, familiar formats, shows that run the classic sitcom playbook of balancing novelty and familiarity week after week. Something to decompress to while driving home from work or doing laundry. Perhaps podcasters, who usually start as podcast fans, are driven to create the same experience. I’m no different, currently hosting a pop­-culture hangout with game show elements and zero dadaist aspirations. (This is as close as I’ve come to creating a truly avant­-garde podcast episode.)

If I’m being totally honest with myself, I’m scared of making a show no one will ever want to listen to. Why listen to something unsettling and ear­-warping when you can enjoy the sturdy genre pleasures of Serial? But I’m tempted to give it a shot. Maybe someone braver than I will beat me to it. Because a medium that always aims squarely for the comfort zone of its audience isn’t a healthy one. Noisy art, transgressive art, is what pushes media forward, and to illustrate how I’m going to dip out of podcasting and into music for a moment.

Back when I was an electronic music student, one of our first lessons was on the meaning of noise. Noise turns out to be tricky to define; there’s a strong social component. In information theory, noise is quantifiable; any unintended or random parts of a signal are categorized as noise. But what distinguishes sound as noise? Is a square wave noisier than a pure sine wave? Are notes off the 12-­part chromatic scale noise? On a continuum from Beethoven to a broken TV, where is the dividing line between noise and music?

Our professor drew just such a continuum on the board. The far left side was labeled “monotone,” the far right was labeled “noise,” and in the middle, “music.” Then he drew an arrow pointing from left to right, and labeled it “complexity.”

He explained that as sound grows in complexity, it gets more and more musical. An endlessly sustained C note is just about the simplest sound you can imagine, but when you add more notes, you get a melody, and when you arrange those notes in a predictable order, you get rhythm. Soon you have chords, then a sonata, then a symphony; the music becomes richer as the structure gets more intricate.

Keep going down this path, though, and you’ll reach a point of diminishing returns. Cram more and more 32nd and 64th notes into a piece of music, and soon it’s unplayable by humans; not long after, we can’t even distinguish between the notes, and it all blurs together. The end point is white noise, an endlessly changing mix of all possible frequencies that sounds to us like nothing at all. The space between total blank and total chaos is what we call music.

There’s a problem with drawing a hard and fast line between noise and music, though; the goalposts are constantly changing. As a young collegiate I loved bands like Korn and Disturbed. (Don’t you judge me! It’s not my fault I was a teenager during the reign of nu­-metal.) This music was the product of an arms race launched at the very beginning of the rock era. As rock progressed, guitars got louder and louder until they were unrecognizably distorted, resulting in music that would be criticized by my parents as unlistenable noise. But the classic rock of my parents’ generation was miles away from the big band music of a generation earlier, so much so that rock n’ roll was classified as “the devil’s music.”

And speaking of, the six­-semitone musical interval, or tritone, was for centuries considered so dissonant it earned the nickname “the Devil’s interval.” Composers of the Middle Ages wouldn’t touch it, thinking it completely unmusical and even unGodly; only in the 18th century would composers start using the interval freely. If I could travel back in time with an iPod and play Korn for an 18th century composer, their heads might literally explode, but three hundred years ago they were musical heretics, freely working with tones that until then were dismissed as noise.

The history of music is also the history of humans as music consumers becoming more and more sophisticated, and able to discern increasingly complex musical structures, structures we once literally could not hear as anything but noise. As a result, the popular musical innovations of the future often find their roots in the most dissonant, transgressive, avant-­garde music of the present.

In the 1950’s, the most far­-out, bleeding-­edge music available was playing with sampling and tape manipulation. Collage artists like Pierre Schaffer created musique concrete from recordings of children laughing and passing trains, smashed together and sped up or slowed way down. By the end of the 60s, the Beatles would slip just such a collage onto the White Album. By the end of the 70s, a new form of music forged from looped and sampled disco breaks was created on the streets of New York City. Another decade later, hip hop was a major musical genre, and a looped Rick James sample could form the backbone of a smash pop hit. By 2015, chopped, screwed and otherwise manipulated vocals are de rigueur in even the most mainstream music.

I think of this as “trickle-­up innovation”; as tastes change, listeners find old sounds boring and simplistic (more “monotone”) and seek out newer, stranger ones. This is facilitated by sounds and styles from the noisy fringes of music slowly inching their way to the center, until they fossilize and are discarded for even newer and stranger sounds. This is the true value of avant­-garde and transgressive music; it’s not just for chin­-stroking musos, it’s a breeding ground for the next big thing.

So where is the John Cage of podcasting? Or the Glenn Branca, or GG Allin, or Einsturzende Neubauten, or Aphex Twin, or Wolf Eyes, or Death Grips? Or expanding to other mediums, what is the Eraserhead of podcasts? Or the Treachery Of Images? Or, hell, the Too Many Cooks?

Do you know what Welcome To Nightvale and The Heart and Worst Idea Of All Time have in common? Three very different shows, but they’re all pleasant, easy listening experiences. Nightvale is a city full of horror, but Cecil Baldwin is an unflappable tour guide, speaking in the soothing, even tones familiar from NPR. The Heart switches between R-­rated monologues, educational tidbits and open eroticism (perhaps the definition of a pleasant listening experience) with sound design that is consistently excellent but never jarring. Worst Idea Of All Time isn’t at the same level in terms of audio fidelity, but hearing Guy and Tim riff is significantly more entertaining than I imagine watching Grown Ups 2 fifty­-two times would be. Maybe that shouldn’t be the case. Can you imagine versions of these shows willing to get truly terrifying or depraved or unfathomable?

A decade in, podcasts are still operating in the shadow of two monolithic progenitors. The first, This American Life, launched a hundred imitators looking to ape its thoughtful tone and slice of life realism. Even nonfiction podcasters coloring outside the lines TAL drew use Ira’s sense of story structure and ever­-pleasant intonation. The second, The Best Show with Tom Scharpling, set a standard for elaborate comic routines and cranky commentary that’s echoed by every comedy podcast in its wake. Both shows were truly groundbreaking when they started, but these days they don’t sound so noisy. They sound normal. And so does everyone else.

I don’t even know what an avant-­garde podcast should sound like. I suspect if I did, it wouldn’t be all that avant­-garde. But I imagine something, to paraphrase Jonah, assaultive. Dynamic, disorienting. LOUD. (How many podcasts feel loud?) Fast, really fast; so many shows take the lack of a time limit as an excuse to move at a snail’s pace. No narrative, or a hugely unorthodox one. No jokes, no bits, or bits that get way too real. A Warhol­esque sustained tone for 12 hours. Screaming, distortion, literal noise. Marc Maron pulling his teeth out. Gilbert Gottfried reading the entire Bible. Sarah Koenig calling Adnan and sobbing without explanation. Doug Benson running a Leonard Maltin game through the left channel while popping bubble wrap in the right.

If you want a good look at a medium that’s failed to change or challenge its listeners for more than twenty years, look no further than the dead zone that is terrestrial radio. From the shouting right-wingers to the morning zoo crews, radio has fossilized. It’s become monotone. If all podcasts are taking their cues from TAL and Best Show in 2025, podcasting awaits the same depressing fate. Despite what the New York Times might opine, podcasts aren’t new. The Golden Age is transitioning into the Silver Age. And if podcasting is going to sustain the tremendous level of creativity its generated so far, it could stand to get a little noisier.

Author Description

Josh Richmond is a radio host and producer known for his work on SIRIUS XM's "The Jason Ellis Show," and currently a producer for the online network AfterBuzz TV. He's also a devoted podcast lover and creator; his current baby, "Accept The Mystery," explores the films of the Coen Brothers alongside co-host Jackie Lechtholz-Zey and can be found at acceptthemystery.net. He probably spends more time with headphones on than off. Tweet him @RadioTFB.

  • robmcmyers

    I love the passion of this post, and that people are discussing podcasting as an art form at all, but I feel Love + Radio is a great example of pushing the envelope, and I was surprised not to see it mentioned.

  • Podcasting is, at the moment, very conservative medium. Radio, particularly in America, operates under a logic descended from classical systems theory – attempting to create the perfect signal:noise ratio in order to achieve perfect clarity and understanding. The idea of radio as a pure communicative medium has its origins in use as a tool for nation-building, a practice by which a populace can be moulded into an enlightenment-era model of a rational citizenry. It is disappointing to see that the annual awards and year-end roundups are consistently shocked and surprised by minor innovations such as the use of metaphor, or cut-up (a technique that has existed for decades).

    But there is no paucity of points of reference for an experimental approach to radio. Geoffrey Whitehead’s archive of work is a good place to start, as well as “Experimental Sound and Radio”, a collection of essays edited by Allan S. Weiss, to which Whitehead was a contributor. He also co-edited the anthology “Wireless Imaginations”. There is a book recently published by Verso, on the pre-WWII radio
    broadcasts of Walter Benjamin. While sound design is not the primary focus, the essays and scripts illustrate the way in which Benjamin’s media philosophy is mobilized in the medium itself. UBUweb (http://www.ubuweb.com/), the perennial archive for all sorts of experimental media, has an extensive archive of sound works,
    including radio broadcasts by Ezra Pound and William Burroughs, as well as the very excellent series “Radio Radio”, which explores precisely the question of the place of experimentation in the radio format (http://www.ubu.com/sound/radio_radio/index.html). They also have a live-streaming radio station, as do Resonance FM (http://resonancefm.com/) and NUMBERS FM (http://numbers.fm/), all of which showcase experimental sound works and radio art.

    The problem appears to be twofold. Firstly and perhaps most simply, there is a lack of knowledge of the history of the medium and its innovators. Without a robust understanding of our predecessors, podcasting has little to look to but the most dominant figures in the contemporary landscape. This leads to the second, definitional problem, in that the formal qualities of the “podcast” becomes
    either the low-fidelity conversational programming that dominates the world of ‘amateur’ podcasting, with the opposite pole being public radio that is detatched from its native infrastructure much in the way that television has migrated from the cable timetable to Netflix. Either way, podcasting, without any sort of alternative point of
    reference by which to orient itself, becomes solely a didactic or journalistic medium. In this environment, it is easy to see why cut-up and the use of metaphor at a structural level are in some ways astounding and revolutionary ideas.

    I think that ultimately it is this definitional problem, however, that presents an obstacle to any form of experimental work in the realm of podcasting, in the same way that sound art struggles for recognition. At what point is it music? At what point is it a documentary? At what point is it audio drama? As much as sound design is important, the rigidity of established formal qualities inform the techniques and sonic palette used. I think that Geoffrey Whitehead in particular provides examples of ways in which structure and narrative can also be fertile sites for experimentation, while shows such as Isotropica (http://www.theculture.net/feed/) display a willingness to push the boundaries of the role of sound design. The history of radio as a didactic and narrative medium provides ample opportunity for play, provided we reach beyond the narrow strictures of the journalistic format and towards other literary forms.

    So while it is clear there is a wealth of resources and scholarship in the area, there are few places where this niche is discussed that are accessible to a broader public. There is a wealth of blogs and websites dedicated to experimental music, but few that I am aware of that do the same for experimental radio.

    • Guest

      There’s a lot of great points here. Radio is certainly a medium with a long, storied history, and the lines between different types of audio content are blurry. But podcasts have to be thought of as a new, distinct artform that’s different from radio in crucial ways; there’s no expectation of a sinultaneous communal audience with podcasts, no way to replicate an Orson Welles “War Of The Worlds” moment. And there’s a low barrier to entry that commercial radio, at least, has never had. (Ham radio is a different story.) This is a gross oversimplification, but radio is made by corporations, for audiences (or populaces, as you mention); podcasts are made by individuals, for individuals. They are personal and intimate in a way that doesn’t come naturally to radio.

      I also think podcasts should be more musical and attuned to dynamics and sound design, but podcasts can’t be music.

      • Certainly! The low barriers to entry and the individualized listening experience are distinct to podcasts as a medium. But I also want to draw attention to the way in which journalistic radio formats have determined the way in which podcasts are able to be perceived. Because of the history of radio broadcasting, firm boundaries have been established between fiction/truth, music/voice, etc. We can probably trace this, in part, back to “War of the Worlds” itself, the panic of which led to American broadcasters convening to agree not to mix its authoritative ‘truth’ modes with those of fiction. So these conceptual barriers ultimately serve to divide all podcast and radio content into either documentary journalism or radio drama – a division which is reflected in the state of podcasting today. Podcasting remains very much in the shadow of radio. So while there is certainly a section of podcasts being made by individuals, for individuals, we only need to look as far as this website to see that the most dominant figures in the field are those directly associated with large distribution networks such as NPR.

        So part of the project, as I see it, is to begin to understand and break down those barriers that historically make radio what it is. The other part is, precisely as you say, to understand podcasting as its own distinct artform. This requires us to explore what exactly are the formal qualities of a podcast. If we are to discount the countless music-based podcasts as being truly “podcasts” in the sense that we are using the term, then we need to identify precisely what it is about podcasts that defines them as distinct from other audio-based forms. It seems that podcasts, with an eye for the broadest possible scope, are the interaction between voice, sound, and music within some sort of organizing structure – be it a narrative, conceptual framework, or whatever – that is primarily intended to be listened to in an individualized setting. By playing with those elements of form, by stretching what voice means within this context for example, or what constitutes the overarching organizing structure of a show, or the ways in which voice and sound interact, we might find new avenues for podcasts to pursue.

        But my point is that there is already a wealth of exploration in these areas, and we’d be remiss to forget such a rich history. We might look to the soundscape work of Canadian sound artists in the 1970s, which approached the idea of music and recording as the composition of an auditory environment to evoke an emotion or a sense of place. We might look to Glenn Gould’s ‘contrapunctal’ editing techniques in documentaries such as “The Idea of North”, where he would layer multiple voices over one another in a wash of information that fades in and out of the listener’s attention. We might look to Florian Hecker’s “Chimerization” sound art installation, where a script composed by philosopher Reza Negarestani is read aloud and distorted through algorithmic processing until it becomes partially noise itself. The idea of podcasting as art form necessarily overlaps with that of sound art and radio art, because they share almost all of the same formal qualities. If the main distinction is that capacity for (but not automatically achieved) intimacy, then we need to think about how that intimacy interfaces with those other formal qualities in order to leverage it or make it express itself in new and interesting ways.

  • There are a few very good and weird ones out there though!

    * LOVE + RADIO, bringing stories of the smelly underbelly of society.
    * Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything, often absurd essayistic rambles about everything from Hitler to clouds, brought in a deadpan monotone voice if there ever was one.
    * Here Be Monsters, a moody, atmospheric dive into the lives of off-beat characters (reminding me a bit of Errol Morris’ movies).
    * The (sadly cancelled) Hearing Voices (I mean, the website alone!)

    • devtimbre

      I was wondering when someone was going to mention HBM. I agree that that show especially pushes boundaries. The comparison to Errol Morris films is interesting.

  • Excellent points here; although I do love and appreciate a lot of the more “conservative” podcasts, there is so, so much more room for experimentation in audio today. Part of the problem, honestly, can be laid on the feet of more experimental makers themselves. Because they’re more interested in sound for it’s own sake, and not building an audience–a sentiment I totally respect–it also makes it frustratingly difficult to find and subscribe to. Gregory Whitehead’s recent work is almost impossible to find online, and Joe Frank puts his stuff behind a paywall (which of course is absolutely his right to do), to name just two examples.

    That said, besides the shows and artists that others have mentioned here, there are a few that I can recommend:

    ABC RN’s Radiotonic
    Basement Tapes of the Mole Cabal
    Resonance FM
    Everything Is Stories
    Zoe Nightingale
    The Dusty Show on WFMU (especially his older stuff–I really love his monologues, but he rarely does them anymore)

    Also, not available on podcasting, I’d recommend the work of Rikke Houd, Laura Vitale, and Francesca Panetta. I’m sure I’m leaving a ton of people out.

    It’s worth mentioning that far and away the number one complaint I get from my listeners is about the “noise,” and I don’t consider my work particularly out there. Listeners can be incredibly hostile to stuff that sounds different from what they’re used it. And, to be fair, an overly aggressive aesthetic can be a distraction from the ideas and stories being expressed. It’s a constant balancing act and I still don’t know where my line is.

    • I’d forgotten about The Dusty Show! Love his stuff. As far as finding Whitehead’s work, yeah, its really hard to find whole pieces. But, as always, UBUweb is your friend: http://www.ubu.com/sound/whitehead.html

      But the point about building an audience is I think particularly salient. One of the benefits of radio as a broadcast medium is that while there are additional barriers to access, you also have a somewhat more captive audience that has already been established by more popular shows. You could sneak less popular work in under the umbrella, so to speak, which has arguably been the function of minor branches of state broadcasting such as BBC Radio 3 and 4. So perhaps thinking about experimental podcasting from the radio-influenced perspective of “building an audience” is less helpful, unless we intend to rely on larger networks such as Radiotopia or Maximum Fun to create experimental sub-sections (paperradio.net seems to have plans to host a series of experimental works, for example, but it isn’t online yet). But then all that does is reinscribe the barriers to entry that existed in radio – not as barriers to creation but barriers to an audience.

      An alternative model might be noise music, where the audience was also the community of creators. Entire international cassette tape exchanges via mail order were sustained by small groups of creators who were intent on sharing their work with each other. You don’t necessarily want to build an audience, but you do want to build a community. Its notable, I think, that a lot of these communities were built on deeply anarchistic principles, so there was an active and ongoing attempt to ensure that there were no gatekeepers.

      One thing about various underground musics is that they are often pushing to find ways in which to incorporate new sounds into an aesthetic framework in which those sounds sound perfectly at home. New genres spring up as ways of accommodating new sounds. They’re not making noise for the sake of noise (though some certainly are, and there’s value in that as well), but they’re making noise for the sake of music, because they think it can be used in a way that is beautiful or pleasing in some sense. If someone were to find a way to use an aggressive aesthetic in a way that complements that aggression and uses it effectively, much like, say, metal or industrial music, it would be seen as an essential part of the ideas or stories being expressed rather than a distraction.

      And sure, there’d still be hostility, much like many people still don’t like metal or industrial music, let alone noise, but if you’ve got a community that values the work, who cares?

      • I think you’re hitting on exactly why podcasts have been somewhat disappointing from an experimental standpoint (although I’d still argue there’s a lot more interesting weird stuff out there than the author suggests). The barrier of entry was pretty low long before podcasts existed, whether through local freeform radio or tape exchanges or whatever. It’s being able to build a substantial audience that’s new–even new within the 10 year history of podcasts. On an emotional and psychological level, I would’ve been content with keeping this work as something I did in my spare time that people in my little community appreciated. But having a bigger audience has allowed me to dedicate more time and resources that work, and that’s something I appreciate immensely.

        I would love to see networks and institutions set aside more sandboxes like what you describe. I can’t speak for all of Radiotopia, but that’s something I’d like to see more of there as well. Whitehead once mentioned that public radio stations should set aside some tiny percentage of their budgets for artists-in-residence (if a large market station set aside just 0.5% of their revenue, they could bring on a couple experimenters who could live comfortably and with a small working budget). But most American public radio stations are so slow to move on anything, I’d be surprised if anything like that ever happened.

        • I think the viability of those sandbox spaces is largely determined by the willingness of the host institution to potentially alienate listeners in allowing the pursuit of an artistic vision. With large-scale broadcasters, particularly in places like Canada and the UK where the government is actually one of the biggest patrons of the arts, there is often a mandate to provide space on public broadcast for more experimental work, for the cultural benefit of the public. On large market stations that sort of ethos of culture being a public good doesn’t exist, though it may crop up incidentally depending on how their brand is configured (HBO might be a good example).

          One of the problems with making space in commercial broadcast media for experimental work is that an alienated audience it effectively represents a wasted time-slot. Online, however, its a different story. There is a broader attention economy at work in terms of pageviews and so forth, but the scarcity of resources isn’t quite the same. Hosting an “experimental” section on a website doesn’t equate to lost space for something that might be potentially more profitable. Nobody has to click through to the experimental section if they don’t want to. So I think networks like Radiotopia are potentially ideally situated to seek out and host some really radical work.

    • Podophonic

      Thanks for the recommendations – Syers (Basement Tapes creator) also wrote an audio drama you can find here http://onsug.com/archives/13606. The Overnighscape Underground includes months of interesting audio – you might find something you like by skipping around at https://archive.org/details/theovernightscapeunderground.

    • Breadisha D’eachwik

      Check out OEBREW experimental comedy. It might be what your looking for.

  • Shani

    Wheres the Ren and Stimpy of radio?

  • Well.

    I think it might be problematic to accept the assumption that podcasts are actually in a golden age at all. There are a lot of very good, very listenable shows but they are, for the most part, Radio DVR. Radio shows that can be consumed on at the listeners leisure, but not really breaking outside the conventions of radio.

    I still don’t think that podcasting as its own medium has really come into own exactly BECAUSE of what you are talking about – but part of that problem is the poorly defined boundaries of what defines a pocast as a podcast and not Radio DVR. We recognize Dadaist art because it utterly breaks down what has come before it. But how do we recognize those same moments in podcasting when there’s barely any discussion or agreement as to where those lines are drawn and what that history looks like?

    That’s partially I started writing reviews. I want to contribute a little bit to filling in the lines of the genres that exist within podcasting so new artists can come along and push back, forward, and down. I appreciate The Timbre for doing the same. I don’t want to overplay the importance of a vibrant critical community, but I think it’s really hard to go forward without a general consensus of what the baseline looks like. I was very, very surprised to learn how few people are doing this. Aside from the AV Club, there’s not really any other publication devoted to reviewing podcasts and talking about them as anything other than novelty.

    I still think podcasting is in its infancy – that gets me excited because there’s still plenty of room to grow.

  • Josh

    See, this was my secret motivation for writing this; now I have all these great podcasts and radio shows to check out. Thank you! I guessed some truly weird shows must be out there, but they’re hard to discover and harder to make them part of the bigger conversation.

    I’m going to get on Here Be Monsters & Resonance FM and Isotropica…I’m listening to Basement Tapes Of The Mole Cabal right now, purely based on the title, and already loving it. I don’t understand it, in the best possible way. And yesterday I finally listened to an episode of Love+Radio (the rebroadcast “Split Brain”), and now I’ve got to plow through the archives. Enveloping sound design and experimental techniques used not to distance, but to cultivate intimacy, to bring the speaker and the listener closer together. I think podcasts, more than any other medium, are really *about* the relationship between creator and audience, and I expect the great untapped vein of experimentation in podcasting will involve both bridging that gap and subverting it.

    Many of these shows will never get a Serial-sized audience, but the seeds are there to grow podcasting out of safety and conservatism and monotone. Let’s water them.

    • Breadisha D’eachwik

      Check out OEBREW experimental comedy. It might be more of what your looking for.

  • Siobhan McHugh

    Great discussion about the good, the bad and the what-is-podcasting anyway –
    enjoyed Josh’s provocations, The Radio Broadcast’s historical perspective, Nick
    VDK aka Love +Radio’s reaching out to other innovative audio makers. But guess
    what – we grapple with these questions in eloquent detail at RadioDoc Review,
    an international forum for the analysis of longform crafted audio. See http://ro.uow.edu.au/rdr/.

    Because culture matters! An Australian approach to audio storytelling is not the same as a Norwegian or a German or an American sensibility – thankfully, we are all different, and while SERIAL will no doubt spawn as many Sarah Koenig wannabees as there are Ira Glass sound-alikes and Radiolab rip-offs, there is also a whole WORLD of amazing
    audio features/documentaries out there, often originating in real time radio
    but born again as podcasts. Thing is, what makes the good ones so good?

    At RDR, we get some of the best radio feature makers and experts from around the
    world to nominate, listen to and then vote for the most intriguing, engaging,
    compelling audio pieces. Then we ask TWO reviewers, from different countries or
    radio backgrounds, to tell us why and how the programs exert such a pull.
    Fascinating, insightful critiques and sometimes polarising perspectives by
    people who know the genre and are game – and equipped – to tackle its hits and
    misses. The reviews may be illustrated with audio clips and there’s a link to the podcast. Among the esteemed radio folk featured in the first two issues: Alan Hall, Laura Starecheski, Sharon Davis, Masako Fukui, Rikke Houd, Pejk Malinovski, Norman Corwin, Russell Finch, Tim Keys, Jens Jarisch (the Wim Wenders of radio). Stories come from Africa, Iran, Norway, US, Germany, Australia, Italy, Russia, UK. Reviewers are similarly varied and next issue’s come from Canada, Denmark, Ireland, UK, US, Germany and Australia. So if you want a lucid guide to the labyrinths
    of international sonic storytelling, read RDR!

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  • disqus_HhCpTT1rwV

    You need to listen to the Geologic Podcast. Especially the early episodes.

  • Love this post. My question is this: How do we know that such podcasts don’t already exist? Maybe they do and no one is listening to them yet? Maybe they’re so inaccessible that the few people who have listened to them have been turned off. It take a long time for underground stuff to catch on because it has to be found by the right people. They say that only a few hundred people heard the Velvet Underground’s first record when it came out…maybe the Velvet Underground of podcasting is right this very instant gathering dust at the bottom of iTunes database, waiting to be discovered by some receptive soul.

  • angus carter

    For all you guys upset that there isn’t any avant garde/experimental podcast out there, I got news for you, I just started one. It’s called the Vault of Sound and just focuses on sound for the sake of sound. It is produced by myself (Angus Carter) and R.K Haney and while we are still working on our RSS feed, we do have episodes up now at…..
    https://soundcloud.com/thevaultofsound
    please check it out as it might help satisfy that experimental need you’ve been searching for in your podcasts!

  • Breadisha D’eachwik

    Great article. I too am disappointed in the way that podcasting has become like cable. Emulating tried and true, more of the same without inovating. I thinks podcasting is just not a medium the majority of people go to to be challenged. I will recommend OEBREW Experimental Comedy though. It may be one of the weirdest and best things out there for what you say you like. Exhibit A, the full name of the podcast is One Easy Bread Recipe Each Week

  • Brennan Mercer

    Beautiful recommendations here, a new podcast that is skirting the line between experimental and polished cinematic audio is “Harmonic Exploits” – stories focusing on outliers who forfeit comfort and stability for trials and tribulations waiting in the unknown. Modern day nomads, hitch hikers with no fixed address and wilderness survivalists.

    https://soundcloud.com/whoknewmusic/harmonic-exploits-001-hitchin-tales-with-nfw-prod-brennan-mercer

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