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Radar Ghosts

Experimental Electroacoustic Opera

Radar Ghosts is an experimental narrative conceived as a CD and radio broadcast which was begun while I was freelancing on a series of historical documentaries. Not long after I had started the job, I began to feel what I came to call “time anxiety,” which I described as a feeling of the hollowing out of the present, the vertiginous feeling that one’s time has run out, that time was moving faster and was more turbulent than I could handle. Mortality seemed to be ill-designed for time, I thought, as I fell under the spell of hours of archival film footage. It was a ten-part series, one documentary video per decade, and working on it had made me feel like a kind of audio ghost!

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This collapse of time was total — in the course of a show, individuals would be born, do interesting things, and grow old, while nations would succumb to revolution or invasion, die and be reborn. I was surprised by my strong, visceral reactions, my time-allergy. What had started out as ‘video’ and ‘television’ work-for-hire had strangely become a personal philosophical crisis.

I caught myself dreaming with these amazing images, mesmerized by the stark, black and white beauty of the old films. Media theorists have written about the multiplication of “ghosts” due to mechanical reproduction, and perhaps I was becoming haunted by the “ghostly” footage. I felt that a creative response to these feelings was called for — only by engaging with the time anxiety and the mental images which had begun forming independently of the documentary work could I hope to exorcise, or at least subdue, the ghosts stirring in my time-fantasies.

Writing was the first phase of what was to become Radar Ghosts. Three distinct voices emerged, characters whom I came to call Almost A General, A Certain Soldier, and Woman in a Crawlspace. These three characters, as I tried to understand them, had lived through a time of conflict, had seen their respective worlds undergo transformation by the strangeness of war. Furthermore, the war was not any particular war in any defined place, but rather seemed to be occurring across a great span of time, in many locales. The narrative which finally took shape was anachronistic and atopic, though retained vestiges of being basically European and mostly 20th century in tone, as I chose actors with various European accents to read the texts.

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Radar Ghosts consists of eight monologues and eight sound compositions. The monologues themselves are embedded in composed sound worlds. That the text I had written would become a work for sound wasn’t at first inevitable, but was the result of an evolution in my study of these spontaneous images and characters. One aspect of the work I had been hired to do on the documentary series involved creating sound effects for silent archival footage, as most of the films had been shot without sound recordists at hand. Thus I was from the start engaged in an act of aural deception and historical fabrication, which was also, I have to admit, just plain fun.

Sound effects gave the ghosts some depth, heft, and concreteness. But in that sort of work, one is tied to a certain slavishness in representation, as one’s choices are severely limited by the specificity of the image. Radar Ghosts was intended, in part, as a search for an honest response to my strong reactions to the feeling of displacement in time. The electronic soundscapes are integral to the anachronistic effect of the narratives, and perhaps act to displace the past into the future. Which is where it belongs, of course.

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Here’s the YouTube playlist, for non-Spotify people:

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