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Hello, fellow podcast lovers!

We've finally hit issue number fifty; what a number! For this issue, you'll all be treated to a look inside my brain because I've written, saints preserve us, a think piece.

It's very much a product of my academic upbringing, books I've read, disability, and my personal head-in-the-clouds thought patterns. I spend a lot of time sitting and analyzing things like social media's place in our society, the nature of the senses, and what role memory plays in humanity. Sometimes I'm eating while I do it, or playing a mindless phone game, but often enough I'm literally just laying on the couch, staring at the ceiling while my cat protests that I'm not paying attention to her and she cannot swat the ceiling like she does my phone.

It's pretty obvious by this point, I hope, that I studied philosophy in a private liberal arts college. I was very nearly a philosophy major. Alas, white male philosophy professors at my college made me want to tear my hair out on the quad.

So, uh, bear with me. I hope this essay gets you thinking, or at least gives you a little frisson of hope. We're building digital cultures together here, creating collective memories of stories with our new technologies, and it's worth the effort.

Big, big thank you to Gavin Gaddis for their on the spot, last minute editing without whom this essay would have been an even bigger mess.
A large gong hanging from a ceiling. There's someone standing behind it but all we can see is their shoes.

I suffer from intermittent tinnitus: a sharp, high ringing in one ear that overwhelms all other sound and all my focus. It lasts a widely varying amount of time, depending on how bad my anxiety is that day, but the impact of it lingers. I spend long stretches of time not doing anything, turning off any audio I have playing, and rub the outside of my ear once it fades, as if to be sure the sound has been dispelled like an unwanted ghost. In fact, neuroscientists and audiologists have a particular name for this kind of sound: “phantom auditory phenomena.”

Sound is phantasmic, intangible and uncanny, and all our crafted audio is, in essence, ephemera: it disappears into the air once it is played, retainable only by memory and its fallacies, repeatable only if conserved in such a state as to be replayed. This is the reason why Mnemosyne, Greek mother of the nine Muses and goddess of memory, was categorized as a Titan and revered as a goddess*: memory is titanic to oral cultures, an essential foundation.

In a digital era then, we must look to a digital memory in order to preserve these ghosts; not simply the act and materials of archiving, but the digital building of a communal memory of sound and all its particulars. This is a powerful act, because the results resonate for a long time in our shared and personal spaces, in our minds and hearts, and in the art that follows. It’s why the Greeks revered Mnemosyne, why they made statues to her and depicted her in sanctuaries. We are doing this, creating digital cultures together, and that is worth doing with respect. Consider how the word “intimacy” gets thrown around about podcasting: what does that actually mean? How does intimacy contribute to the longevity of a sound?

Recently, I spoke about podcasting versus radio and the word intimate*. Of course, there’s the physical space involved, of having audio next to your ears and pressing down or inward via headphones. There is little to no distance for this ghostly sound to spread out into; instead, it is a direct line, a straight lighting bolt to the brain. But sometimes, people listen on speakerphone or in cars, much like a radio, where the sound dissipates into the air between speaker and body. Intimacy then is more about the relationship between the body and sound.

Radio drama, and radio listening in general in prior eras of radio, was a communal, family event. Times were blocked off for sitting around the physical aspect of the radio, and the stories that came through it were interpreted and digested as a group. It was a point-to-group transmission, one where the communal building of memory starts immediately and concurrently with a single person’s interpretation.

Character Creation Cast
 is a discussion podcast that examines a new roleplaying game system every month. Hosts Ryan Boelter and Amelia Antrim are joined by guests from the RPG community and industry to learn about a game, create characters, and discuss the process! It's like a relaxed session zero the first three Mondays of every month.

Check out the backlog, and the special Character Evolution Cast: player-centric advice episodes to help everyone tell more fulfilling stories at the table!
If you want to see more reviews, interviews, and other articles from me, you can support me at my Patreon, or at my ko-fi account for a one-time donation! You can also sign-up to talk about advertising in the newsletter.
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Podcasting, on the other hand, in our time of internet communication, must shift through an extra point before reaching communal discourse: that of a single audience member, who will then take their interpretations and ideas formed in relative isolation to the wider group online, and collide with other individuals. This isn’t too different from the way we generally consume movies or television now or how we’ve consumed books or music, but it is a change of pace for the art of sound historically, one that happened relatively quickly over a stretch of just under two decades. Places that have had a long, uninterrupted history of radio in their cultural knowledge, like the United Kingdom, are seeing the difficulty in trying to manage, distribute, and fund podcasts as long as authorities like the BBC continue to try to treat it as the same sound as radio.*

There is power in this intimacy, because we already know the power, both inspiratory and tyrannical, of fandom*. There’s vulnerability here, to step into a space where everyone is sharing and creating, and make the decision to open up about your analysis, your interpretations, and yes, your headcanons. Ones that you made on your own.

But still, I come back to the coming and going of my tinnitus, and the phantasmic nature of sound. “Dwelling in every written text there are voices; within images there is some suggestion of acoustic space,” David Toop describes. Toop, an English musician and professor of audio culture, wrote Sinister Resonance, a book entirely about the history of sound and its haunting, uncertain nature. “Places are saturated with unverifiable atmospheres and memory and these are derived as much from sound as any other sensation.”*

That we have used our technological advancements to continue to build thriving communal memories of something so transitory is nothing short of miraculous.

Mack Hagood is a professor of media studies and disability, in particular digital media and sound technology, does ethnographic research into tinnitus, the people who have it, and what he calls “orphic media”. Derived from Orpheus drowning out the Sirens’ fatal voices with a song of his own to create safe passage, orphic media “promises to help users...remain unaffected in changeable, stressful, and distracting environments, sonically fabricating microspaces of freedom for the pursuit of happiness”.* (Think of noise-cancelling headphones or white-noise machines). It creates a hush in how we engage with the world, he says, and are readily used by tinnitus sufferers who are often denied disability aid by doctors and are left on their own to sort out how to live.

It is both sound and silence, two aspects always working in concert, and a crucial structure of how we approach audio stories and the role of sound in our personal lives. Our relationship with our headphones and speakers, with orphic media, with sound and silence, impacts every part of what we want to put into this communal memory, this record.

In me, tinnitus is probably a symptom of generalized anxiety, but neuroscience has not agreed on much of anything regarding medical treatment for tinnitus. It’s most commonly linked, of course, with hearing loss -- as  the sound of your hair cells in your ear dying and your brain trying to compensate for it by turning up the sensitivity to sound.

The most intimate and personal sound, a part of your body dying and you living with its ghost.

footnotes of a kind because mailchimp won't let me superscript numbers and I'm too tired for full citations, it's time for a nap

*Hesiod, Theogeny
*USC Visions and Voices, The Power and Pleasure of Podcasting: The Historical Roots and Current State of Audio Fiction
*Eshe Nelson, UK Podcast Companies Want What the US Has, Looking Past the BBC
*David Toop, Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener
*Mack Hagood, Hush: Media and Sonic Self-Control


Video: Why is D&D so popular with LGBTQ+ People?, Rowan Ellis

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  • OBSIDIAN: A fantastic speculative fiction anthology podcast based on Afrofuturism, from creators interested in the intersections between creativity and science, between people and technology.

  • Help Fund a Queer Norse Mythology Audio Drama: Come support the first season of Twilight Over Midgarda modern fantasy audio drama about a group of friends who are recruited by two Norse Gods to stop the apocalypse.

  • Podcast Review Day is a monthly reminder to write reviews AND share them on Twitter. On the 8th of every month, ease your podcast review guilt and help others discover new podcasts.

  • Indrisano Audio, LLC: Get help launching or improving your podcast with our consulting, composition, and editing services! You bring the Drama - we've got the Audio. Learn more at our website.

  • The Resistible Rise of J.R. BrinkleyThe true story of a 1920's con man who made a fortune selling his impotence cure: surgically implanted goat testicles. Also: a radio star and politician. Told with country music.
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May your podcasts bring you joy,
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