Becoming the character you’ve met

One great use of binaural in audio fiction is the type of experience made by the production company run by Michel Lafrance, The Owl Field.

The format is, perhaps, as close to gaming as audio fiction will get, following to an extent those interactive books written in the second person, where the reader chooses where the story goes, or perhaps live action role play games. That said, the aesthetics of their productions are perhaps closer to the cinematic – the scoring, in particular, follows that route, I think. Their recent innovation is an audio escape room, which out of interest I volunteered as a beta tester for – and it was great fun!

This way of using binaural fully utilises the listener-is-in-the-centre mode, and, as proposed by the expert at the Goldsmith’s festival, keeps them there throughout. You are being the camera, the eye, the ears; you, personally, are there.

I am interested in a use that combines this experience of being the one seeing and hearing with more traditional “camera pointed at” storytelling. To me, what is interesting then is that the listener has met and got to know a character and therefore when the hop into their head is made, becomes the character for a while. Or, alternatively, starts off being the character, but then at some point learns things about them that themselves do not know – at which point the recording becomes third-person.

When could this be useful? The first of many thought-experiments about this got me thinking about how cleverly this is done audio-visually in the film A Beautiful Mind. I am afraid about spoiling it, but it’s an oldish and well-known film, so I think I’m mostly safe! Don’t read if you want to avoid the spoiler!

It follows the mathematician John Nash, who devised game theory and who also suffered from schizophrenia. During the first half of the film, we see him recruited by a shady branch of the CIA to use his particular talents for espionage, but he starts to be in danger as a result. It is only when he is eventually sectioned and treated that we, the audience, realise there never were any CIA agents, or baddies, and it was all along the schizophrenia manifesting itself.

Depicting this kind of story – exploring mental health problems, or perhaps neurodiversity (more on that!) – in audio could also be effective, I think. By starting the production in the first person perspective of binaural (I imagine particular use of the sounds coming from behind could be useful for building the portrayal of paranoia) and then as all becomes clear, moving to more traditional production, you could enhance this kind of plot. Having established these two points of view, it would then be shorthand to tell the audience when we are in John’s head, and when the paranoia is returning, by moving to binaural once more.

Later in these musings I’d like to talk about the role of music, and how to compose and mix it, taking into account what kind of perspective we are inhabiting, and how much it mingles with the story. Also very interesting to consider! In this case, I think music could assist and mingle with the production techniques in establishing perspective as well as emotional/philosophical sympathies. This is one instance when being into sound design as well as composition is useful. 

More tomorrow!

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