This post was written by AIR member Tania Ketenjian.
My production partner, Ahri Golden, and I made the finals for AIR’s first MQ2 competition, but were ultimately turned down. It was a humbling moment, for sure, but it was also somewhat relieving. Ahri had just become pregnant with her second child and I was busy with many different projects. The scope of what we had suggested for MQ2 was large and it may have been a bit overwhelming. As the ancient Zen story asks, “Who knows what’s good, who knows what’s bad.” In the end, not getting the MQ2 was a blessing in disguise.
In these dramatically shifting times of media, with the growth of the online presence of sound, MQ2 inspired us to stretch beyond what we had previously thought was possible. Ahri was also stretching in her own way, physically, preparing to give birth to a baby girl, Sofia.
A few months later, I too would birth something of my own, The [Un]Observed: A Radio Magazine, while Ahri would raise her kids and continue on the path we started several years ago through our documentaries Birth and Born, closely looking at parenting in America.
As for The [Un]Observed, this is the way it came about: In December of last year, I was asked to moderate a panel at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Right around that time, I was very much wanting to change my own site: Radio Tania. For several years, Radio Tania had been home to the interviews I had done for my weekly arts radio show, Sight Unseen.
Radio Tania also housed the pieces I had produced for PRI, the BBC, the ABC in Australia and others. I was so tired of the name and the format seemed very 1998. I was speaking with Philip, my husband about this, and he suggested I change the name and invite contributors. Knowing how much I love sound and radio, and realizing its ephemeral quality, Philip and I came up with The [Un]Observed. He designed the site and I started finding contributors.
Inspiration from Down Under
One of the first places I turned was the ABC. When I first started exploring radio, I interned with Jad Abumrad at Radio Lab. Radio Lab was then a meeting place of amazing sound and journalistic works from around the world, all centered around one weekly theme. In the purple walls of his office, amongst the stacks of CDs from so many different programs, I came across The Night Air out of Australia. I was just beginning to understand how radio and sound works could be produced and it opened my eyes, much like the Third Coast Audio Festival does, to the vast creativity that exists out there.
As Jad seemed to be doing in those early days of Radio Lab, The [Un]Observed has led me to become a curator of sorts (although a close friend and artist mentioned how much this word is being overused). The [Un]Observed has also allowed me to re-discover all the brilliant ways stories can be told and how sound can be used to do just that. It has shown me that stories don’t necessarily need words and that words can sometimes just seem like sounds. I have discovered that sometimes the way a word is distorted mirrors the story that is being told.
The first editions of The [Un]Obserbed had a variety of works, from field recordings to installations, sound poems to radio pieces. We had features from people who had been working in radio for years and those just beginning, from journalists to sound artists, living here or abroad, in English and in other languages, each with their own unique voice.
As I began contacting contributors, I discovered just how much they would love to have their work played and how having it on the site for a good long while becomes a real contradiction to how ephemeral radio can be. And I like that. Since this is a Magazine, I have had to gain a better understanding of just what editions are and what it all means when a magazine moves from its expected format of print and into sound.
So far, the decision about what to publish has been driven primarily by what we like. I do a lot of research and one thing leads to another, I harken back to work by producers and artists I have heard and liked. I do my best to keep it international and while currently each Edition doesn’t have a theme, per say, the thing that connects all the pieces is the way in which they have been produced. They are all fairly unusual, all treasures so to speak, moving away from the predictable “acts and tracks” to more unique ways of playing with sound. We are only using already produced work, lessening the load on the producer. There’s more than enough out there to work with. As the Magazine develops, I imagine we will ask for pitches and we will have themes. Currently, however, we’re developing the voice of The [Un]Observed.
A Second Life
With The [Un]Observed, we want to breathe life back into pieces that have aired, resurrect discarded edits on the cutting room floor, offer a playground of sorts for journalists and artists and invite producers to present work alongside others they feel in tune with.
Our audience is everyone and that is the magic of the internet, it can attract people you would never guess would be interested. But the people that are most attracted to The [Un]Observed are artistically minded and interested in audio and sound. We are not targeting a specific audience, in fact we would love people from all different backgrounds and ages to check out The [Un]Observed. Someone called it the pandora of curiosities and, I think that both reflects the content and the audience.
Today, The [Un]Observed is a work in progress — a home for refugees and foundlings from the tectonic shifts in media and journalism, a new platform for sound. Over the next few months it will morph and develop as we explore what is possible when you rustle things up a bit and look at the periphery of an existing medium and do your best to innovate, just like the MQ2 invited us to do.