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cheyenne_h on 01/17/2017 at 02:47PM

FMA Q&A: Australian Radio Producer Michael Schubert, Winner of National Features and Documentary Award

Michael with his National Features & Documentary trophy (+ FMA shirt!)

Every once in a while, we get a message about something special happening to tracks from the Free Music Archive. Recently, we heard from Michael Schubert, a radio producer whose work was nominated for Australia's National Features and Documentary Award. His work featured FMA audio prominently, so he wanted us to know about it. We love and deeply appreciate news of cool stuff happening with audio sourced from our little ol' archive. A few weeks later, we heard from him again - he won!

Michael has had a lifelong interest in audio, and is now Broadcast Manager at his local community radio station BayFM Byron Bay, which is also home to multiple award winning shows and documentaries, including his own, In Search Of Silence. He is also involved with the production of SoundMinds, a 15-minute weekly program that features the work of a university researcher in their own voice, and mindwaves, a program that "explores ideas, drawing from philosophy, psychology, sociology, biology and science in general; providing a point of intersection between these disciplines; creating an opportunity to cross over between different "ways of seeing".

You can listen to "In Search of Silence" below:

 

 

We followed up with Michael to find out more about his creative process and how the Free Music Archive factors into his work.

FMA: Can you give a quick overview of "In Search of Silence"?

MS: In Search of Silence is my personal project and my first venture into a longer form documentary. Being on radio and producing a documentary about silence seemed like the perfect match. In Search of Silence is a 30 minute documentary that does include radio silence (a suspenseful 8 seconds), as well as interviews with a conductor, movie sound producer and cognitive science hearing expert. I also got myself locked in an anechoic chamber and was honoured to be proclaimed winner of the National Features and Documentary Award 2016. The award recognises the value of such work and in a not for profit sector such as community radio, it is not an easy journey. It gives me the confidence to move forward on other projects in the future.

FMA: Why did you want to explore the theme of 'silence' for your audio documentary?

MS: In mindwaves earlier seasons I had taken on the concept of silence several times, each time finding new perspectives and new ideas.  And silence is such a juxtaposition to audio production.  On radio we call it "dead air" and avoid it.  To be honest, the fact that you can't really explain what silence is intrigued me, because it is realistically the absence of sound and does not "exist".  There's absolute zero for temperature, absolute zero for speed, but no absolute quiet. And the more you go down the rabbit hole of silence, the more perspectives there are.  When I started talking about the idea, no matter who I talked with, they got excited.  Not just musicians and sound engineers, but artists and accountants.  Everyone had an idea and everyone wanted to know what I might do with it.

FMA:  Did you learn anything new or interesting about silence while you were making the documentary?

MS: I keep coming back to something I know, but it still is a bit weird and freaky. There is no sound in your head. None.  Just electrical and chemical connections that we interpret as sound. There are sound waves in the world, but not in your head. It's a bit weird to contemplate, particularly when you talk to yourself. Who are you listening to?

FMA: What went into making "In Search of Silence"?

MS: I was used to doing a 15 minute piece, but 30 minutes is long, and if it's not interesting, it's really boring. That was my main challenge: getting the pace right. Silence is not in itself exciting, so the story had to be compelling. 

One day I drove 40 miles, flew 500 miles, caught a train to a university, got locked in the anechoic chamber and completed three interviews, flew back home and picked my own daughter up from university. That was huge, particularly when I realised I had not recorded my first session in the anechoic chamber (lesson: don't take new equipment to important gigs) and had to go back later in the same day. I realised later how lucky I was for and the generousity of essentially 'rock stars' in their own fields of research, conducting and film sound recording.

My main mentor was honest, really honest.  The first draft file was, to say the least, a bit underwhelming.  It was as he said, 'more about your script writing skills than the talent' and it had 'not delivered' on what he thought would be an interesting idea.  Good to hear about the script writing skills, but back to editing. With the help of another couple of mentors (sound and tech guys who listened to the entire piece) and armed with 5 pages of notes, I went to work.  And the deadline was real, the documentaries had a time booked to go to air.  Many hours listening to the same piece of audio, tweaking here and there.  And a very understanding family (including my wife as the 'voice of silence') who looked at my back as I edited for what seemed like  forever to them.  They are used to me getting SoundMinds done within a day. At one level it is all about the workflow and file management, boring I know. But if you just get a system that works for you, so you can find what you need (even if it is all in one huge folder, with backups), you are way ahead.  And don't try new things 'on the fly', just use what you know and ask lots of questions.  People are remarkably helpful.

>>Read more below, including Michael's Top Ten tips for audio documentaries!


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Related Playlist

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Jahzzar - "Fireworks" (03:49)
Jahzzar - "Fireworks" (03:49)
Jahzzar - "Polaroid" (03:47)
Jahzzar - "Polaroid" (03:47)
Jahzzar - "Be nice" (03:56)
Jahzzar - "Be nice" (03:56)
Jahzzar - "Maybe" (03:26)
Jahzzar - "Maybe" (03:26)
Jahzzar - "Echoes" (03:19)
Jahzzar - "Echoes" (03:19)
Jahzzar - "The Crowd" (03:18)
Jahzzar - "The Crowd" (03:18)
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