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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Vol. 73, Number 1 (Oct. 1971)

Schmitz, Jody
No, you haven't heard everything,   pp. 14-16


Page 15


NO, YOU HAVEN'T HEARD EVERYTHING
   ""Herman" will out-stereo anything developed to date, and
that's only one technical goodie they're
working on at WHA. Artwise, they're developing radio drama. Again.
                                                By Jody Schmitz
There's a new character on campus
these days.. His name is "Herman,"
and he has two microphones for
ears and a piece of foam rubber for
a head.
"Herman" is the nickname of a
piece of equipment used for recording
binaurally by the National Center
for Audio Experimentation at
the University.
Monster that he is, he performs
miracles on tape which put the lis-
tener in the center of the sound as
does no other form of audio repro-
duction. With this ability he is
extending, the reputation of the UW
as a leader in radio and audio
experimentation.
In the two years the NCAE has
been in existence, this unusual re-
cording unit has become famous.
Last spring "Herman" was introduced
by John Macy, president of the
Corporation for Public Broadcast-
ing, as one of the important guests
at the head table of the first public
radio conference in Washington.
In Pago Pago, a Samoan version of
"Herman" called "Ermani" has
been recording native folk music
on battery-operated stereo machines.
In binaural recording the sound
surrounds you-comes at you from
in front, in back, on either side. You
would swear, if your eyes were
closed, that you were indeed in that
concert hall or on that stage.
Your head becomes "Herman's"
head. Your ears hear what enters
the microphones on the recording
unit. The foam rubber between them
isolates the microphones as does the
head between the ears.
NCAE, which just started its third
year on the campus, is the only
  such center in the United States
  studying audio techniques. It is
  funded by the Corporation for Pub-
  lic Broadcasting, which doles out
  dollars from public and private
  sources to improve non-commercial
radio and television.
This year NCAE is directed by Ed
Burrows, who came to Wisconsin
in 1970 from the University of
Michigan to act as associate director
under Karl Schmidt, head of WHA
and the state radio network. Long-
time WHA staffer, Don Voegeli,
teacher-musician-hi fi buff, is
technical director, and there are
three other full-time staff members.
The center experiments with all kinds
of sound, not only binaural. Its
goal is "to come up with guide-
lines for the improvement of sound
in broadcasting," according to Bur-
rows. He points out that it is an
audio project not a radio project
and it is hoped that NCAE's work
will assist TV broadcasting, as well.
"It's not untrue to say that sound
is the new medium," says Schmidt
in the center's newsletter. "Sound
has been re-discovered as the essen-
tial part of many methods of com-
munication. We knew it all along
but tended to forget. There are
examples of film-makers producing
sound tracks first, then finding
images to fit; television receiver
manufacturers, looking toward the
day of 70% color in homes, talk
now of larger speakers and stereo
reception; FM stations, once aban-
doned in the face of TV, now sell for
as much as a million dollars; the
vitality and innovation in what used
to be called 'rock' and 'music' are
too restrictive to be useful descrip-
tions of the sounds produced; and
sound is being used, particularly by
the young, as a kind of liturgical
accompaniment and -reflection on
life."
Research in quadraphonics (4 chan-
nel stereo) has been stimulated
by manufacturers' claims that it is
the sound of the future. Several
public radio stations have engaged in
experimental quadracasts. So NCAE
hopes to answer some of the prob-
lems of production and plans to
  record more than the musical con-
certs that have been done so far.
Then they will compare the outcome
-four-channel stereo on speak-
ers-with binaural sound on phones.
There isn't much left to do to
monaural sound, the sound we hear
on non-stereo radio, TV and records,
so the center is concentrating on
new writing for broadcasting rather
than on technical matters. The staff
feels that radio has unique possi-
bilities as an art form in itself.
"Non-visual theater as it existed
in the Golden Age of radio, in spite
of nostalgia among the middle-aged
and its 'campy' appeal to some
elements of the young, may well
have passed beyond the point of seri-
ous resurrection," Burrows says.
"Radio theater, aural drama, is
hardly dead, however. It exists all
around us: in the brief commercial,
the improvisatory satirical sketch,
the interplay of words and music
employed by rock groups or environ-
mental composers. The 'mini-
drama', whether used to convey
information, or as a technique for
presenting purely artistic materials,
has a role to play in public broad-
casting."
One result of this challenge was a
series of short sketches-three to
seven minutes-on environmental
and ecological problems which have
come to be known as "ecodramas."
The half-dozen fantasy skits range
from the lyrical to the satirical,
and most of them have already been
broadcast over National Public
Radio.
Another new series developing from
the search for new forms is one in
which several young American
poets will present their work in short
programs. Burrows, himself a poet,
is reworking their writings for
presentation in a semi-dramatic way.
Music and sound effects will be
used in addition to the voice read-
ing the poetry (most often that of
the poet himself). The Putney Elec-
15
October, 1971


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