New media for transmitting Pacific stories: podcasting and audio recording

Post written by Dr Anja Kanngieser

On the 5th and 6th of January, Climates of Listening held a podcasting workshop in collaboration with the Poetry Shop Fiji and the Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies. The two-day workshop saw the production of four initial podcasts, which were met with enthusiastic response from around Oceania.

The use of media, particularly radio, casts a long, popular and expansive legacy across the Pacific; as a means for news reporting, in warning systems, for low fi communication and as a fixture in arts and culture. More recently, attention has been on the possibilities of social media for transmitting stories about climate change, community organizing and resistance. Given this history and connection to broadcasting, and the strong role of storytelling and narrative in Fijian and wider Pasifika cultures, podcasting and audio recording follows a substantial lineage of practices. Podcasting, quite simply, a digital audio recorded file that is placed online, most often made into a series which people can subscribe to, is commonly linked to the move from analogue to digital radio. It is also a cheap and relatively easy means to record and transmit audio even with intermittent or slow Internet, an issue faced across the region.

On my arrival in Suva I met with the Poetry Shop Fiji co-founder, Peter Sipeli, a ‘Pacific poet, gay rights activist and arts organizer’. Given my background in community and DIY (do-it-yourself) radio and sound art, and the aim of Climates of Listening to amplify Pasifika voices, we discussed the possibilities of producing podcasts and audio recordings featuring the work of the Poetry Shop participants. We felt this was useful both to document and archive the work being written and performed by spoken word artists and SLAM poets (a highly ephemeral medium) and to put the work online in order to connect with writers, poets and artists outside of Fiji. The merging of spoken word and audio made sense to us, given the nuanced attention paid to vocal qualities of presentation – tone, silence, rhythm, breath – in poetry performance; rather than having words on a page the work comes alive through its articulation and expression through the voice.

An initial collaboration between Climates of Listening, the Poetry Shop and the Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies was forged; the first workshop was a closed event specifically directed towards Poetry Shop poets, I brought along audio recorders and the Oceania Centre hosted and supported us with space and food, as well as providing additional expertise in the form of sound technicians and musicians, Junior and Calvin, and their friend Hosea. The workshop intended to pair poets and writers with sound technicians, making sure that each poet would be equipped with basic sound editing skills by the end of the two days. The goal for the workshop was, rather ambitiously, to produce four introductory podcasts with a plan to continue each as a series. It took place over a typically sweltering few days, with 10 people invited to attend. The group was divided into pairs, although as it turned out almost everyone attending had some skills in audio production and software.

Image credit: Peter Sipeli

The workshop began with an introduction to podcasting, and why it could be a useful communications tool for poets and writers, specifically in Fiji. The attractions of podcasts lay in offering a platform for communicating ongoing narratives, information or stories, with consistent hosts; as a low cost, do-it-yourself way to access media making; and its basic Internet requirements made it accessible to areas with low Internet service. One of the main concerns however, was how to move beyond the highly produced, inherently Anglo-American style of podcasting that had come to typify the form. More specifically the question was asked, how to make Pacific podcasts for people in the Pacific, that represent Pacific styles, sounds and signposts, and use narrative and interview formats that are not defined in relation to European and American styles; how not to emulate or reiterate neocolonial aesthetics, languages and forms. This orientation, deeply considerate of who is producing the works, how and for whom, was crucial to mapping out the ways the podcasts would be made, what sort of content was desirable, and what kind of sound and voices would be heard. Coincidental to this were people’s intentions for their first podcast as one within a series, to reflect on how each episode might unfold around linked themes or interests.

The four groups had for the most part already sketched out some ideas of what they were hoping to create. One series, planned by marine conservationist and poet Krystelle Lavaki will converge around Indigenous science and environmental issues, to highlight the research being done by Pasifika scientists through interviews and conversations in plain language. A second, led by Peter Sipeli will act as an audio accompaniment to his Fijian arts publication Arttalk, featuring the voices of regional artists. Mere Nailatikau is working on a series around everyday encounters in the city, with the first episode featuring conversations around travel to and from work on minibuses and public transport. And Amelia Rigsby’s first episode traced out the history of spoken work poetry in Fiji through interviews and reflections on her own literary practices. Alongside these podcasts will be a series of recordings produced by the Oceania Centre to showcase events, talks and news that can connect the Centre’s activities to students, scholars and communities across Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia.

After the planning of the content, we turned to learning basic audio editing, using the free open source software Audacity. Because each group had at least one person familiar with sound design and editing, it was a straightforward process and participants began to record their material soon after. The day was hot and humid, and after talking about recording techniques and considerations to achieve good recordings and sound effects, time was spent searching out areas that were quiet with little external noise from fans, wind or air conditioners. These sounds became assimilated into the soundscapes of each of the first pieces, creating a sonic geographical link between them, and to their sites of production.

The afternoon of the first day rapidly saw early drafts of each piece, with shared listening sessions taking place the next afternoon. The final works ranged between 8 minutes to 25 minutes and covered a spectrum of themes, sounds and stories. An ongoing discussion was begun on how to consolidate the different series into a collective platform and to provide space for more podcasts to emerge and take part, with commitments to further podcasting workshops being made. Questions were also raised about how to sustain the longer-term project, with a clear intention to keep the podcasts directed towards Pacific voices speaking to Pacific interests, ideas and audiences, and not being constrained by directives from development or government or media agendas. Additionally we decided that it would be useful to prepare an easy to understand “how to” workshop plan, as part of the Climates of Listening project that could be circulated following workshops to continue to pass on knowledge and enable participants to themselves teach others.

This document, which I am currently preparing in collaboration with the Poetry Shop, will be taken to forthcoming workshops not only in Fiji but also in Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, where invitations to teach podcast making, specifically with climate justice activists, LGBTQIA people and artists have already been extended to Climates of Listening. Following the enthusiasm and success of the first workshop it is not difficult to see where the potential for using audio to record and distribute stories around the region lies. Perhaps more than any other medium at the moment it promises a unique combination of self-representation, accessibility, low cost and do-it-yourself production and aesthetics that offers people a way to transmit their stories and testimonies, in their own words and most critically, in their own voices and with their own sounds.

To listen to the first podcast go here:






Dr Anja Kanngieser is a Vice Chancellors Fellow with
Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) and The School of Geography and Sustainable Communities. Anja’s last blog can be found here: Introducing Climates of Listening

You can follow Anja on Twitter here @geotransversals

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