SPOKEN WORD? IT'S THE NEW ROCK'N'ROLL. 3 A.M. MAGAZINE SPEAKS TO BILLIE PINK, EDITOR OF totallyword.com, THE NEW BRITISH ONLINE SPOKEN WORD RADIO. NO, IT'S NOT JUST THE SAME OLD SHOW ON YOUR RA-DI-O!
Interview by Andrew Gallix
Copyright © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
3AM: Before launching totallyword.com, were you already involved in the literary world?
BP: As a radio production company we have long been involved in adapting and commissioning literature and performance for terrestrial radio. Recently these have included a radical reinterpretation of Racine's Phaedre, working with experimental New York theatre company The Wooster Group, and the first radio biography of Yoko Ono, both for BBC Radio 3. A three-part adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick is due for broadcast on BBC Radio 4 during July.
3AM: What gave you the idea to launch a spoken word radio on the Internet?
BP: Having worked extensively for terrestrial radio we were aware, and increasingly frustrated, that there is an entire generation of (young, technology and media-literate) listeners, writers and performers that is currently neglected by traditional broadcasters both in terms of taste and scheduling. totallyword.com was launched on 6 May 2000 to meet this demand. By providing intelligent, exciting spoken word radio on-demand, totallyword.com offers this audience the books, drama and performance they want - when they want.
3AM: According to you, why is spoken word so popular at the moment? Do you agree with the theory according to which a new generation of writers and spoken-word artists has appeared because rave music includes few lyrics?
BP: The lack of words in dance/trance or the wealth of words in rap/hip hop, may go some way to explaining the explosion of interest in spoken word. But it's also no coincidence that, for all the much-hyped diversification of (digital) media, mainstream music and entertainment have become increasingly stagnant. As a consequence we believe a growing number of (young) people feel dissatisfied by, and excluded from, traditional media. They (we) want to share experiences that reflect our reality/realities. Spoken word is the cheapest and most immediate way do this, requiring, at its simplest, a voice.
3AM: Do you intend to reflect this new literary scene? Is totallyword.com a sort of aural manifesto?
BP: totallyword.com will feature the best contemporary writing and performance, as such it will reflect the current literary scene. But totallyword.com does not profess to be an 'aural manifesto' for any one movement or genre. It is entertainment.
3AM: The writers you feature (Jeff Noon, Stephen Jones or Stuart David) are often linked to the music scene: is this deliberate or simply a coincidence?
BP: In our first edition, entitled 'Karaoke', we wanted to explore the interaction between words and music, either by featuring works about music or those written by musicians. This enabled us to appeal to those people who might not otherwise access a 'spoken word' site or channel. The musical theme also gave us the opportunity to extend the boundaries of spoken word radio by combining words and music in new ways.
3AM: Most authors and their publishers (like IMP Fiction or Serpent's Tail) featured on totallyword.com probably appeal to a young readership/audience: are you targetting this audience?
BP: Yes. We are convinced that there is a small but significant audience for spoken word radio aged between 18 and 35. This audience has, to date, been neglected by traditional radio (with its focus on middle-aged, middle-class, middle-brow literature and performance). We believe we can appeal to this young(er) audience because the totallyword.com team is itself composed of people drawn from this target audience.
3AM: Is it difficult to get writers to read their works?
BP: Invariably the writer is not the best person to read. Writers are not, by definition, performers or actors. And in fact most writers (such as Stuart David) prefer not to read their work. However, in the case of Stephen Jones and Tim Etchells we felt that, as well as being experienced performers (in music and theatre respectively), they were the only people capable of communicating the complexity of their idiosyncratic, lyrical works.
3AM: Are you involved in the organisation of some of the live monthly spoken-word events you broadcast?
BP: At present, no. But (co-)promotion of suitable events is a possibility for the future.
3AM: How often is the site updated?
BP: totallyword.com is produced in two monthly themed editions, however during each edition we update the site roughly every two weeks. The next edition will go live in August and will be on the theme of 'Paradise'.
3AM: How do you envisage the future of totallyword.com? For instance, will you let people send you unpublished texts to be broadcast?
BP: The current incarnation of totallyword.com is just a fraction of what we can, and intend, to offer. We want to explore the creative potential of the Internet, interactivity and mobile technologies. We are interested in commissioning new work (from writers, audio producers and artists),
promoting fresh talent and working with other media partners (promoters, publishers, magazines). To answer your specific point: yes, we are interested in receiving unpublished texts and ideas.
3AM: Finally, could you tell our readers (many of whom are American) about some of the best spoken-word venues in Brighton or London?
BP: Spoken word seems to be moving out of the clubs and (back) into the theatres, bookshops and cafes. This is certainly true of Brighton, where the scene is less about venues and more about promoters. Ones to check out include Do Tongues (with an emphasis on cult literature) and Wanderlust Wonderlust (poetry). These and other promoters use venues including the Komedia, The Lift, Pavilion Theatre and Borders Bookstore. There's a smorgasbord of spoken word during the Brighton Festival (May). This is divided into the mainstream Festival (with book readings from top international writers) and the more experimental Fringe Festival (the good, the bad and the scary). In London the major bookshops, such as Waterstones, Books etc and Borders, organise monthly programmes of free spoken word events. The Voice Box at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank is the only venue dedicated to spoken word. It hosts some of the biggest names and most stimulating readings and discussions in London. For a more 'grassroots' experience there are countless pub-based events. Two of the best are Vox 'n' Roll every Thursday (8.30pm) at Filthy MacNasty's, Amwell Street EC1 and Express Excess every Monday (8.30pm) at The Enterprise, Haverstock Hill NW3. Notable promoters include Apples & Snakes who organise outstanding spoken word events throughout the capital (but most often at the Battersea Arts Club) and Renaissance One whose events include Diaspora at Borders, Oxford Street.
SEND CORRESPONDENCE TO:
PO Box 107
Brighton BN1 1QG
telephone: +44 (0)1273 669595
Indie genius Babybird aka Stephen Jones' first novel, The Bad Book (IMP Fiction, 2000), is available from AMAZON.CO.UK
Stuart David's brilliant first novel, Nalda Said, is also available from AMAZON.CO.UK. Stuart David used to play bass in Belle & Sebastian. He now has his own band called Looper. Check out their website: http://www.geometrid.co.uk.
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