Having just finished episode 25 of the cinematologists, the podcast I produce and present with my colleague Neil Fox, it is becoming increasingly apparent that recording, editing and disseminating the show is influencing my perceptions of how meaning is produced through mediated communication. The very materiality of having audio patterns laid out in linear structure, allied to the range of possibilities for rearrangement and refinement, not to mention the immersion into a concentrated listening process, imbues an appreciation of the multiple layers of aural architecture through which a mediated process builds meaning. Viewing these structural foundations has raised a host of thoughts around how my engagement with processes of creative/technical practice is provoking new insights into the relationship between mediation and critical thought.
Hearing one’s own recorded speech about a subject, one that you like to think you know something about, it becomes painfully obvious that the speech-act has an incredibly precarious relationship to intended meaning. The conversations that underpin the Cinematologists podcast are largely unscripted and the editing process, involving close and repeated listening to the immediate construction of sentences, there is a traumatic realisation that verbal expression is neither a clear, clean nor fluid transposition of thought. In critically assessing recorded conversation one comes to recognise a constant battle between departments of the mind that deal with primary thoughts and verbal expressions. The coherence with which these elements sync up are fundamentally contingent on the infinite vagaries of the mind. Thoughts, memories, occurrences, projections seem to swirl within a nexus of conscious and subconscious echoes which we manage to align instantaneously into a systematic, linguistic order. This ability to articulate cognition is both unfathomably ingenuous and highly imprecise.
Listening to the recorded evidence of the inadequacies of the linguistic/meaning relationship in my own speech one realises just how much editing provides a meaning making or meaning shaping possibility which, in the main looks to assuage the uncertainties of the speech-act. Cutting, trimming, rearranging and omitting is, on a basic level, a process of clarifying an intention of meaning. This might seem obvious to anyone who edits any representative medium. But it raises the question do we ever fully articulate what we mean at time of saying it? Are our instantaneous thoughts a fractured and coincidental melange of the semi-intended, stream of consciousness Freudian slippage? Talking with my co-host, along with other contributors to the podcast, it has often been said that listening back to one’s own speech triggers a visceral anxiety. Comments of “I didn’t mean to say that” or “that’s not quite what I meant” are common (as is “what on earth am I talking about”). Perhaps this is more acute among academics whose control of thought and meaning is fundamental to their sense of self. Indeed, this might be the main reason why writing has gaining logocentric primacy: it offers a differal of meaning until after editing has taken place?
Listening to the podcast in the edit has also necessitated and acknowledgment and a (grudging) acceptance of the sound of my own voice. This is not to say I don’t enjoy talking, particularly about film (reticence isn’t the issue). It’s the bitter tone and timbre fused with a grody Yorkshire drawl, the causticness of which seems to be amplified through recording. The flat Es and Urrrs instead of Os are particularly egregious. My hatred of this sound is made more acute when I listen the dulcet podcasting tones of Ira Glass and his many imitators. However, in the hours spent producing the cinematologists, I seem to have now achieved an alienation from my aural self: I know it’s me but it’s some weird other me, and this 'othering' has blunted the sonic nails-screeching-down-the-chalkboard effect. Of course there is also the inordinate number of repetitions of words and phrases, mispronunciations, affectations and micro hesitations that are ingrained into all of our speech patterns. These are, of course, vital in providing space for our thoughts to form the appropriate linguistic structure but, once again, they reveal an ambiguity where the external mediation of the podcast seems to demand clarity.
Learning to edit has undoubtedly affected me as a listener i.e. I listen more and I interrupt much less (voice overlap is highly irritating). Furthermore, when recording conversations there is now a parallel process of mental editing that is going on in my head. I am already thinking about how to ‘improve’ the structure of the information and the clarity of the speech before I get to the physical process of editing. I also have the sense that I am more sharply attuned to the sound-design aspects when ‘reading’ audio visual texts. But there is a fundamental question that comes into my mind as to what my intention should be as an editor? Am I attempting to iron out the perceived inconsistencies in the speech-act so as to reach, as far as possible, a ‘pure’ intention of meaning? This is surely a contradictory notion. If anything editing has further asserted my belief in the messiness of how thought is revealed through language, its inherent contradictory exigencies and, in turn, the notion that truth lies in the messiness rather than the perspicuity. Why should mediation seek to impose a clarity and order which are, in many ways, just an arbitrary set of conformities deemed appropriate in a given context? Of course understanding is fundamentally built on the shared comprehension of a system but there is an essential malleability within such systems. Acknowledging these issues has been an initial step in trying to understand what my aim is as an editor and, in turn, the form by which the podcast should search for and produce meaning. My feeling is that experimentations and evolutions in form is the way to implicitly challenge assumptions around the neutrality and primacy of content. But if this rather rambling dispatch reveals anything it is that producing definitiveness of thought through mediation is an aspiration rather than a goal.
Listen to the Cinematologists podcast by visiting www.cinematologists.com
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