Emotional History: Sam England

Audio Piece

Link to Soundcloud file here

Sam England is a 20 year old musician from the UK who has been interested in music for as long as he can remember. Having spent years penning songs and pouring hours into sound recording and production, Sam recalls the first time he heard his song played on the radio.

IN: *music*…’Music is what I want to do…’

OUT: ‘all of those really difficult times’…*music*



The ‘Emotional History’ task proved to be both challenging and rewarding and enabled me to explore new facets of storytelling that I had not yet had the opport12143275_1103891736302565_8281596975008509961_n (1)unity to explore. I used my friend Sam, a British exchange student, as my subject after hearing him talk so passionately about his music. While I encountered several difficulties throughout the recording and editing process, the experience enabled me to find greater value in the power of audio as a journalistic medium.

The primary barrier I was confronted with in producing my emotional history piece was finding a story that was both well spoken and interesting, and that had some element of emotional connection with the speaker. I recorded 2 interviews prior to the piece I submitted, and while both of these stories were relevant to the speaker, neither had a definite narrative structure or a moment of reflection where a connection could be established and thus emotion explicitly expressed. Ira Glass recognises the importance of recording a ‘moment of reflection’ as it forms the basis of your story’s purpose. The effective narrative structure where each event is effortlessly linked enables the audience to be held in suspense and thus remain engaged throughout, while the moment of reflection allows for the significance of the story to be conveyed. As Glass recognises, ‘A story with purpose will reveal something honest and true to both the audience and the storyteller’ and this was the motivation behind conducting various interviews as I understood that an effective story is not necessarily a well told story, but one that is impactful and purposeful. While this process was strenuous, it was important in order to establish a connection between the audience and the speaker and to effectively create impactful audio.

In my emotional history piece, it was vital that I found a balance between the music and the vocal narrative. Because my piece centred around the notions of music and its importance in the life of my subject, it was imperative that the musical elements complemented rather than dictated the story. Originally I found this difficult as I wanted to emphasise the significance of the music and as a result created an audio-story where the music saturated the piece and was repetitive and boring rather than impactful. The composer Edgard Varese referred to music as ‘organised sound’, and this notion of the well thought out yet seemingly effortless incorporation of music formed the basis for its final inclusion in my emotional history piece. Johnathan Mitchell, creator of The Truth podcasts further consolidated this idea, emphasising that music in an audio piece needs to be purposeful: the notion of adding music for the sake of it is often attributed to poor quality of recording, poor narration or a lack of understanding of the purpose of music altogether.  Music should only be used to add ‘deeper meaning, resonance and clarity’ (Mitchell). After experimenting with several pieces of music, as well as several points of positioning, I became more aware of how it can act as a complimentary tool and provoke paralleled emotion to the spoken word. Inspired by John Biewen’s podcast ‘My Dad and Me, in Three Songs’, I strived to use snippets of the original musical pieces to portray emotion and add impact rather than fill silence. Research thus allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the power of music as a storytelling tool rather than just a background noise, with emphasis placed on the careful consideration of its addition into any audio piece.

In choosing ambience for my emotional history piece I was initially unaware of the power it has to considerably alter the tone and meaning of the audio. Not only does ambience set tone, mood and setting, but it’s use can create an established connection between the speaker and listener. In the book ‘Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound’, Alan Hall recounts an interview with an ex soldier who every time he was interviewed had a cigarette in his mouth. After experimentation with sound effects of gunfire and the soundscape of dusk in Baghdad, Hall recognised that the mundane sounds, in the case the sound of a struck match or lighter, became a key indicator of character and conveyed as much significance as the sounds of war themselves. It is through this recognition of the power of these deceivingly mundane sounds that I was able to emphasise the strong connection between music and my interviewee. While I used his produced and published music, it was also important for me to gain some raw audio of him tuning his guitar and strumming chords to add character and depth. This emphasised the human element of the recording, creating a connection between the speaker and listener. This consolidates Hall’s idea that ‘no sound is innocent’ where instead ‘pure sound is as potent a substance as any carefully weighed word or well chosen music figuration’.


Biewen, J. March 2010, Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound, University of North Carolina Press, Duke University

Guidi, R 2016, My Dad and Me, in Three Songs podcast, May 18th, Scene on Radio, viewed 23rd August 2016, < http://podcast.cdsporch.org/episode-19-my-dad-and-me-in-three-songs/ >

Mitchell, J. 2014, Using Music: Johnathan Mitchell, Transom, viewed 25th August 2016, < http://transom.org/2014/using-music-jonathan-mitchell/ >

AUTHOR UNKNOWN, 2014, ‘4 Lessons from Ira Glass in telling stories they way they’re meant to be told’, Story and Heart, February 3rd, viewed 25th August 2015, < http://blog.storyandheart.com/blog/2014/2/2/4-lessons-from-ira-glass-in-telling-stories-the-way-theyre-meant-to-be-told#.V7_UQpN95R0 >





Audio Log 

0:16-0:21 It was always something that I felt I had the need to do.. ** lots of pauses, needs heavy editing
0:35-1:00 Talent shows at school, writing songs with friends, we had a ukulele that wasn’t in tune and bongo drums, it was about pudding **
1:22-1:27 It was quite a good way of getting girls to talk to me to be honest *** laughter
2:27-2:37 It’s something that I think about all the time really, it’s kind of hard to pinpoint where that started, it’s part of my life **
2:53-2:55 It’s a lot more work than people think it is ***
3:01-3:15 It can take me up to a year to write a song **
4:10-4:44 We’ll do 3 or 4 days of recording a week, and it’s so emotionally draining because you can absolutely love a song that you’ve written when you’re playing in your bedroom… * very scattered here, not entirely coherent
4:48-5:13 If you are going to write songs about your own life it can be emotionally draining…because you want to do those moments in your life justice, you don’t want this document of your life to be sub par **
5:15-5:40 Singing these verses over and over again and you have to put your heart into it otherwise when it comes back it will sound stale and dead and people have to feel the emotion *
5:43-6:00 I’m very tempted to give up a lot of the time but I don’t think I ever will *** emotional here
7:13-7:34 The first time I remember trying to write proper songs was for whoever my 2 week girlfriend was at the time * Laughing too loud
7:24-8:30 When I had a long term girlfriend it turned it to me trying to prove a point…but it’s evolved much past that *
8:41-9:12 It’s now more of a form of therapy…I address more different subject matters so it’s not really about impressing them anymore ** may sound disjointed without context
9:14-9:55 Music is what I want to do for a living and it has been forever, and progressing to the point when my music is public has expressed naturally ***
10:54-11:00 The first time it was quite funny because they sent me an e-mail… * Rambling here
11:00-11:32 Given a slot, so two hours, It was so unexpected and I didn’t know if it was spam or not **
12:11-12:45 It was in my first year on uni and I lived in a house with 12 people, we didn’t have a radio so I had to stream it for my laptop, we had to wait for this 2 hour show and I ended up being the last song ***
12:42-13:05 I didn’t actually listen to myself on the radio, I had to leave the room…I could still hear it I just didn’t want to be around the other people ***
13:07-13:17 They’re about quite personal things and if someone knows you they could figure out what it’s about from all the lyrics * laughing here
13:17-13:22 I just couldn’t be around anyone because I felt so awkward * bad recording, door slamming in background
13:51-14:00 It was very validating, because when you make more acoustic based music there’s so many people doing it ***
14:55-15:23 It was very validating to have my music played by the BBC because it’s like oh there’s people other than my friends and family who are always going to be polite…to have people who know a lot about my music makes me feel like I must at least be okay ***
19:34-19:41 The BBC, they’re the big dogs really, in England at least anyway, and it was so good because they can provide so many opportunities ***
19:53-20:17 It was really good to finally be noticed because I’ve been doing this for bloody ages without anyone caring, and so for people who are complete strangers to say you’re good is definitely worth it ***


All of the audio used in this piece, excluding that referenced above, was recorded, edited and produced by Laura Thomas. 


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