About listening in the dark: The radio cinema concept

Rasmus Cleve Christiansen, Copenhagen Radio Cinema

In May of 2013 the first so-called radio cinema arranged by Københavns Radiobiograf (~ Copenhagen Radio Cinema) took place, and since we’ve done at least one monthly listening event. The concept is simple: We play radio productions, podcasts and other sound-based products for relatively small crowds in the comfortable and sparsely lit setting of the movie theatre. Sometimes we branch out to other locations, but the dark and acoustically neutral room is key. We select and play things within the genres of the radio documentary, the more artistic feature, radio fiction, and sometimes more abstract pieces that fall closer to the category of sound art. Common to them all is their ability to create internal images in the minds of the listeners through auditory narratives and sound design. You won’t find much host-driven flow or talk radio but lots of stories and lots of sound at the Copenhagen radio cinema events. Typically we will put together a program around a theme, or we will have a guest curator in the form of a radio producer presenting either their own work or the work of others that inspire them.

Behind the radio cinema are ten young radio producers and audio enthusiasts. The idea arose as a reaction to the growing popularity and consumption in Denmark of especially English-language podcasts. In recent years Danish national radio has focused less and less on narrative genres, and people have been looking to independent radio initiatives (i.e. podcasts) for their auditory storytelling needs. There are no official radio schools in Denmark, and you really can’t educate yourself to be a radio producer or documentarist. Many young people interested in sound-based storytelling look to American podcasts for inspiration, and they find it there. But Denmark (and Europe in general) has a rich tradition of radio feature production, which we believe also should be a part of the auditory cultural heritage here. The Copenhagen Radio Cinema is very much a way of helping people navigate in an expanded radio field and to help create a community around new listening cultures.

The idea of community also goes hand in hand with having the radio cinemas as collective listening events. By playing back the audio in the soundproof movie theatre at a louder level than most people are able to on their own, we create a unique listening space where distractions are less and the experience larger than in people’s typical listening space like their kitchen, car, or their headphones on the train etc. Ideally the hearing sense becomes more alert, the attention span becomes longer, and the intimacy helps amplify the aesthetics of the subject matter. When you listen in the dark with circa 100 fellow listeners, we have found, that sad stories become sadder, funny stories become funnier, the whole experience is augmented. The radio cinema setting also brings collectivity back into the radio experience in a time where listening spaces are more and more individualized by portable listening technologies in high contrast to the early years of the medium where families would gather around the living room’s crystal set.

The radio cinema format offers an approach that encourages a deeper listening which might even feed back into the way audio stories are produced in the future where it looks like there will only be more independent and crowdfunded content in the form of podcasts and less narrative-oriented radio “on the air” at national, FM-based radio stations. We could be looking at a new golden era of narrative radio – outside of the institutions.