Tape Head: Miyuki Jokiranta on Refugee Voices and Hearing the Northern Lights
What inspired the best creators in the podcasting world to be the best? In the third instalment of Novel’s global interview series, Tape Head, Miyuki Jokiranta picks out the pieces of audio that made her who she is.
Miyuki is an Australian audio documentarian who presents and produces ABC Radio National’s documentary show Earshot. Trained in the US, she’s also produced pieces for the BBC, Radiolab, Radio Rookies and Radio Diaries, and has reported on topics including seed banks, the cryosphere and the meandering migrations made by eels in southwest Victoria.
I went to journalism school in New York, and had a radio show on WNYU – the 3.00–6.00 am slot on a Monday morning. It meant that no one was listening and no one cared, so I could do all kinds of wild things. And I met a whole bunch of amazing people in the New York city audio scene. When I returned to Australia, I started working for the ABC, and have been making my own work as well since then.
The way I think about sound now is that it exists without hierarchy – there's music that fits into radio, and radio that fits into podcasting, and podcasting that fits into deep voice work. I don't see them as discernibly different things. I also like wallpaper radio, radio that you can just sit with, which becomes part of the aural environment.
ABC, What's Rangoon to You is Grafton To Me (1978)
In the late 70s, the rule-breaking Australian DJ Russell Guy – known for his crazed, improvised breakfast shows – decided to write an experimental radio play based on a summer's hitchhiking from Brisbane to Sydney. The surreal, psychedelic radio piece that resulted, produced by Graham Wyatt, became a cult classic and has been rebroadcast often since.
This piece speaks to the 1970s. It speaks to that freewheeling nature, the looseness of an associative collage piece. You can pick it up at any moment and drop it at any moment. It doesn’t really matter, because the whole point is that it’s a state of mind.
Even though it’s super high-energy, there’s still a gentle pace to it. You don’t feel like you’re being sped along in a way that is uncontrolled.
Then there’s the way it builds a world in sound. Imagine getting into that subconscious stuff and being able to learn to communicate that sort of dream state in audio. I’ve never been able to work out how they’ve done it.
ABC RN, Last Day at Turkey Creek (2014)
Assembled from many hours of field recordings, this documentary chronicles a period the Sydney-based musician, improviser and producer Jim Denley spent living in the small community of Warmun (Turkey Creek) in remote Western Australia in 2012. Denley ran music workshops for local kids, vamped on his sax and explored the wild country. Here, he asks how powerful recorded sound really is: can it bring on a storm?
What I love about this piece is that it doesn’t mess around much. It's very clear that it’s a recorded object, a construction in time and space. The maker, Jim Denley, plays with that. He says, “You’re listening to me six weeks later. All right, we’re stopping this now. We're going over here.” It comes from a place of genuine curiosity. He actually does want to communicate some of the concerns he has about these audio objects and how much power they have in his life.
It raises another point, which is that there is no field recording that doesn’t have a human element. You've chosen that moment; you’ve chosen the time to start and stop the recording. The fact that the recording exists at all is down to human intervention. This piece is really explicit about that.
Jason Cady, Chorus of Refuge (2008)
A sound installation for six radios created by composer Jason Caddy in collaboration with radio producers Ann Heppermann and Kara Oehler. It brought together stories from six refugee populations (Somali Bantu, Afghani, Burundian, Iraqi, Sudanese, and Burmese) from six cities across the US. Their voices were manipulated, pitch-corrected and mixed together, and move in and out of harmony and disharmony. As well as being installed in galleries, the piece is also available to stream.
This was an art work made of a bunch of recordings. It was six radios on six plinths, and you could choose your own adventure through the room. As you moved, you were listening to different voices, so you decided whose story you listened to.
There are moments where it was just this cacophony of voices, and then there were moments where that dropped away and you just got one word or one little scene. You realised that they’re all talking about heinous, horrendous experiences, and then occasionally they’re talking about something beautiful. You had to really listen to these voices to parse what they were saying, and that’s why I like this piece so much: we have to elevate the voices that are harder to listen to.
ABC RN, All Depends on the Sun (2015)
Does the aurora borealis – the Northern or Southern Lights, depending on which hemisphere you see them in – actually produce sound, or is it only in the collective imaginings of those who hear it? In this 30-minute show, producers Nicolas Perret and Silvia Ploner travel to Finland to conduct a sonic investigation.
This is a beautiful example of how science reporting can be much more than just science reporting, and how science and language are two sides of the same coin. I think that poetry comes out in science if you just let it sit for a while, and let people speak in their own way, their own cadence and their own speech.
The documentary is filled with examples of people who claim to hear the sound of the aurora borealis, and there’s no definitive version of what’s true. But once you hear all their accounts, you get a sense of the power that that sound has on people. Even if they’re talking about something that doesn’t really exist, you get a sense of the community that exists around this powerful, mysterious thing.
Erell Latimier, L’impatience directe des corps (2019)
The French sound artist Erell Latimier works with voice, text – her background is as a writer – and field recordings. This is a collection of three pieces of musique concrète, composed and assembled from various sources (“brut” or raw sounds, saturated melodies, drones, voices), which are blended with ghostlike fragments of a text composed by Latimier in 2018. It’s available to stream or download.
It’s great to hear a woman being completely experimental with the way that the voice can be used. Erell is a writer, and she’s translated fiction works into these short three tracks. Her voice slips between French, English and German, and between forthright statements, whispers, a diminutive female voice and vocal effects that are more rushed. She collapses them into beautiful field recordings. The way that she presents sound is very filmic, and the flow is so beautiful.
I played this relentlessly in lockdown. It became a comfort to me hearing this person still being able to make this amazing stuff under conditions that were inconceivable to most of us just a few years before.
- As told to Galen Beebe