Aspiring audio engineers, sound designers and musicians today have more access to technology and the creative tools needed for realising their ideas than ever before. However, the difficulty remains in getting their finished work heard. Kevin Hilton reports on a new collaborative initiative between the BBC and the Arts Council that aims to provide a showcase for young talent...
The BBC and the Arts Council have launched an initiative to develop young, emerging talent, with a specific focus on audio, in addition to filmmaking and interactive projects. The ambition behind New Creatives is to commission 500 artists across the three disciplines over two years, with the resulting works to be available on BBC outlets and other platforms.
The New Creatives scheme was announced at the beginning of February, with an application deadline set for March 10 2019. Targeting creatives between the ages of 16 and 30, the project brief is to produce creative pieces that are relevant to the artists themselves and their community, and which could spark interesting debate and discussion.
Not only a stand alone section, audio is a key component in all three of the categories. The film commissions section is looking for short films of up to three minutes duration that display an experimental approach to sound as well as image, structure and storytelling. Immersive technologies such as binaural audio and 360 video, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are encouraged for interactive commissions.
The audio commission category itself encompasses works from micro-stories of one minute or under to longer form pieces of no longer than 15 minutes. As with the other two groups, the brief is for applicants to be as inventive as possible, both stylistically and technologically. Among the forms that can be used are episodic stories, soundscapes and audio storytelling, interpreted as spoken word, performance, drama, music or sound design.
The BBC and the Arts Council have collaborated on previous occasions, notably in forming the digital creative portal, The Space. Commenting on the new venture, Jonty Claypole, director of arts at the BBC, says: "The scheme will off er fantastic opportunities, not only for the artists themselves but also for our audiences, who will be able to enjoy ground-breaking cultural content from an exciting array of the best emerging artistic talent today."
Owen Hopkin, director of audience insight and innovation, explains that the scheme was conceived to "explore and encourage audience development", while at the same time developing digital skills amongst the next generation of artists. Audio is a major component of the enterprise, Hopkin says, as it is a foundational element of creative work, especially with all of the innovations in audio we have today: "We need to concentrate on it because there are lots of opportunities to produce different content for different platforms."
Hopkin observes that many young people are now listening to a variety of content on streaming platforms, which have proliferated over the last 10 years with the appearance of such streaming services like SoundCloud and with "the explosion of the podcast". He adds that the decreasing cost of equipment and technology in the same period has provided the necessary tools, not just for sound-only works, but for visuals as well: "There's also the interactive and VR aspects, where immersive and binaural come in, and, of course, audio is an extremely important part of video production."
A New Creatives network has been set up to run the project, with dedicated "media production organisations" overseeing the commissioning process in five regions of England. The organisations are Tyneside Cinema for the North, Rural Media (Midlands), the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London), Screen South (South East) and Calling the Shots (South West). While some of these bodies have in-house sound expertise, others do not. Tyneside Cinema is working with sound designer Eloise Whitmore and audio technologist Tony Churnside of Naked Productions in Manchester, who will support the sound artists of the northern region.
"The aim is to encourage young people to produce P47 MARCH 2019 something that appeals to them, not content that is like something already on services such as Radio 4," comments Whitmore. "We want people to really think about audio as a medium, not just the pictures and the words."
Churnside adds that he and Whitmore will be working with the young artists to give "all the support and expertise they can to help deliver something of professional broadcast quality." This will involve providing and advising on different technologies, both new and older techniques, such as dummy heads for binaural recording. "I think there will be a mixture of people and abilities involved,” Churnside says. "Some may need a lot of support and there will be others who are happy to go off on their own. We wouldn't restrict what equipment anyone wants to use but we would like to encourage people to get outside of their comfort zone and not just rely on Pro Tools and plugins."
Owen Hopkin at the Arts Council concludes on this technological note: "It's about using technology that gets the stories across, rather than the technology driving the story or coming as the first priority. We're hoping that the expertise exists to realise the artistic visions, and I would be surprised if that didn't involve using all of the diverse options available in audio."