The clock ticks; the moon waxes; the autumn leaves turn crimson.
Time is as ubiquitous as it is elusive. Guided by science and science fiction, All In Time traverses the timeless mystery of time itself.
This 25-minute work was commissioned by La Muse En Circuit (Centre National de Création Musicale), with the support of Radio Suisse Romande, Deutschlandradio Kultur, RTBF Musiq 3, Groupe de Recherches Musicales, and Radio-France.
Sarah Boothroyd's audio work has been featured by broadcasters, festivals and galleries in over a dozen countries. Her work has won awards from the Third Coast International Audio Festival, New York Festivals, La Muse En Circuit, and the European Broadcasting Union. Her website is www.sarahboothroyd.com.
Hear more audio from Sarah Boothroyd here and here.
All in Time won the 2011 Luc Ferrari International Broadcast Arts Competition and was commissioned by La Muse En Circuit - Centre National de Création Musicale, with the support of Radio Suisse Romande - Espace 2, Deutschlandradio Kultur, RTBF Musiq 3, Groupe de Recherches Musicales, and Radio-France - France Culture.
Special thanks (from SB) to physics maven Peter Watson; to antique clock collector Georges Royer; to Morgantj and Dokashiteru for providing Creative Commons samples; and to Himan and Melina Brown for permitting the use of CBS Radio Mystery Theatre clips.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Sarah Boothroyd
How would you describe All in Time to someone sitting next to you on a plane? Extended docu-re-mix? Collage-umentary? Meta-Radio Essay? All/none of the above?
While we're brainstorming hyphenated categories, how's about this: “All In Time is a docu-pastiche-feature-remix-collage-horspiel-Rorschack-audio-blot-montage-audio-artwork-electroacoustic-composition-bricolage-umentary.”
[ed. note: We quite like that, actually!]
But I wouldn't say that mouthful to a stranger on a plane.
Rather, at the risk of sounding pretentious and losing my chat-partner for the flight, I'd probably tell my hypothetical seatmate that All In Time is a portrait of time, painted with sound.
If my seatmate didn't give me a befuddled look, then bury his/her nose in a book at that point, I'd continue by saying that this 25-minute audio piece is an assemblage of interviews, CBS Radio Mystery Theatre clips, field recordings, and various musical elements.
I'd describe it as a mash-up of cinematic sound design and musique-concrète, a cross between science fiction and science fact, a blending together of material created centuries ago (namely, the classical music excerpts), material created decades ago (namely, the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre clips), and material created very recently (namely, the field recordings and most of the voices).
If my plane pal was still awake and moderately intrigued, I'd top it all of by saying that All In Time is an audio work that strives to be as kaleidoscopic (in structure and content) as time itself.
Where did the idea for All in Time originate?
Calls for submissions on a particular theme are one of my favorite treasure troves for ideas for audio projects. That's why I'm a frequent flyer at the annual Third Coast Short Docs competition, as well as at the annual New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) CD competition. Both invite submissions that must adhere to specific guidelines, and I love the creativity that these limitations inspire.
So I owe the original spark for All In Time to the July 2010 NAISA call for CD submissions on the theme “About Time.” Also in the summer of that year, I also came across a tantalizing call for proposals from La Muse En Circuit in Paris. They were commissioning 15 - 25 minute audio works that would incorporate field recordings, narration, abstraction, and other sonic ingredients. Three composers would enjoy a free trip to Europe, a residency fee, inclusion on a CD, and presentation at a contemporary music festival in Geneva, as well as at a festival in Paris. The audio works would also be broadcast on national public radio in Switzerland and Germany.
Because I'm an efficiency-nerd, I decided to use “About Time” as the basis for a composition concept that would do double-duty for both projects – an audio work I would submit to the NAISA CD and a proposal I'd fire off to La Muse En Circuit. (In the end, I landed both a spot on the CD and the commission from La Muse... jackpot!)
Where did you look for the various components, and how did the structure come together? That's you singing at one point, right?
During the hunting and gathering phase for a piece of this duration, I pull together every snippet of available material that seems to relate to the project. I pluck bright shiny bits of this and that from here and there, and I throw it all into a big, messy nest. Once I've perched on this heap of ideas long enough to suss out what the through-line/'structural glue' will be for the project, I then put my brain to work organizing this colorful array of sounds and ideas into a (usually lengthy) paper script that is logical and has some sort of narrative arc, however impressionistic that arc may be. I use this script as a blueprint for assembling a very rough audio draft in one (usually humongous) multi-track editing session.
Next, I bury the script and turn off my brain. At this point I immerse myself in the sounds and I edit, edit, edit – experimenting, exploring, adding, subtracting, and so on. For me, most of the joy is in the editing, when I let my ears do the work and give my mind a rest. I like to move from working with paper to working with sound as quickly as possible because my scripts are just a set of training wheels / a means to an end / a theoretical sketch of the project in a medium (text) that's completely different from the final medium (sound).
With All In Time in particular, the structure for the piece emerged once I had interviewed Peter Watson, the physics professor you hear throughout the piece. As he spoke during our first meeting, I realized that I'd found the backbone of the work, the through-line/structural glue that would tie all of the scenes, ideas, and sounds together. His interview clips ground the piece with a logical narrative, and provide hooks on which to hang all of the mini audio adventures that pop up throughout the work.
(And yes, that's me singing [*cringe*] at several points throughout the work. Singing in my work is new and a little embarrassing, but I have to pat myself on the back for experimenting with something that makes me uncomfortable; more importantly, I found that using my voice in a musical capacity offered interesting options for telling this particular story. I didn't have to rely on what the physics professor happened to say, or on the creative commons voice clips I could find. I had access to someone who would tirelessly read – or sing or whisper – a script a dozen different ways, over and over again.)
Please talk about the difficulties (and rewards) of making a very tangible work of art about a somewhat abstract idea.
I'd be hard pressed to think up many difficulties because I love making the abstract tangible. I think this is the very definition of creativity: simply put, art is the process of turning concepts into stuff (whether that stuff is text, sound, images, or something else).
It's very satisfying for me to mull over philosophical ideas, identify what I consider to be the salient elements, then present a few of these bullet points about existence in an aesthetically pleasing way. Working with abstract ideas allows me to learn plenty about my chosen subject matter during this process: it deepens my understanding of ideas that matter to me.
In addition, abstract ideas leave so much room for interpretation – both for the producer as s/he chooses and arranges sounds, and also for the listener. The listener isn't spoonfed the story, so s/he must interpret the composition according to his/her own aesthetic sensibility and psychological make-up. I strive to make work that demands this sort of participation and collaboration on the part of the listener – work that leaves space for the audience's imagination, work that perhaps acts a bit like a Rorschach audio blot.
As lively and playful as All in Time sounds, it's also reflective and even tense at points. Did you feel this tug-o-mood while working on it?
Twenty-five minutes is a long time to listen – especially for those who hear this work in octophonic (eight-speaker) format in a concert setting, stuck in their seats in a dark room with no distractions. As a listener, I need a variety of mood, tone, pace, and texture to sustain my attention for a half-hour program. As with any good story, there must be ups and downs, twists and turns, refrains and reveals. The challenge, I find, is balancing this variety with the right amount of repetition so that the work feels like a cohesive entity from start to finish. (Too much variety can leave the work feeling like a jumble of disparate elements.)
Another big challenge is building in this variety of moods and 'scenes' when there is no actual 'story' per se; All In Time offers very little in the way of character, plot, or setting. In fact, much of my recent work goes against the golden rule I was taught at journalism school – that every story must revolve around an intriguing individual who is striving to attain a goal – a goal with high stakes, and a goal that's obscured by obstacles.
Truth is, I hear buckets of these types of stories on-air these days – truckloads of tales about people, their personal struggles, and their emotional tribulations. These stories not only abound, but frankly, other producers tell this type of story far better than I do. I'm more interested in stories about the search for truth where it's very unlikely that an answer will ever be found. All In Time is one such story; it traverses the mystery of time, offering a number of possibilities along the way, but no answers.
What, ultimately, do you hope listeners feel by the end of the piece?
I hope All In Time transports listeners out of the often mundane doldrums of daily life; that it reminds them of the ever-expanding universe beyond our little rat-race world; that it illustrates how little we actually know about time – and about our world in general. Most of all, I hope the piece encourages listeners to realize that some of the elements of our everyday existence – simple things like the watch on your wrist – are in fact fascinating, inspiring, mysterious, and perhaps even magical.
As Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.”
Your donation to the Third Coast International Audio Festival makes it possible for us to share creative and compelling radio stories with listeners across the globe, and to champion the ever-growing community of producers who bring this incredible work our way.