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Week 03 bonus episode: your messages and writing/recording tips

Table of contents

  1. Listen
  2. Transcript
    1. Ollie talking
    2. Messages
    3. Back to Ollie Talking
  3. Further reading
  4. Subscribe



Ollie talking

Hi, and welcome to Parallel Worlds. This is a bonus episode – a filler, something to listen to whilst the course is on pause for a week. At the time of broadcast, that is, early April 2020, we’re on a small break from the course at the Master Institute of Visual Cultures because there is a public holiday this Friday.

But fear not! This is one episode of the podcast. Sure, it’s a short one, and there aren’t any exercises, but I thought it might be nice to address a couple of things that people in our class have asked about recently. We’ll also review some of the show’s voicemail.

Let’s start with you! Here are some of the voice messages I’ve received lately about the course – thanks to everyone who’s left a message, it’s so nice to hear your voices and thoughts about the exercises.


answerphone beep

Hi Ollie, I just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying the podcasts. I think thats such a an innovative and clever way to engage with us on a daily basis and also make the course really accessible to all of us, in our respective isolated areas, I am really appreciating being able to listen to them when it suits me. I think all of us have different situations at home and so being able to engage with content and course in the time that suits us space makes a lot easier and takes off some of the pressure. I also think that the daily writing tasks are an awesome way for us to keeps the engagement and momentum of the course going the costs but also just to take five minutes to kind of reflect with what’s going on around us and it’s a nice way just to process some of our thoughts, feelings, and reactions.

answerphone beep

Hey Ollie this is Nick from Parallel Worlds. I just want to say how fun it was to record sounds for half an hour. I thought that i would just be doing one and I ended up doing about ten. That’s what I wanted to say.

Hi Ollie. I did the other episode three exercise, and I noticed that in the last two exercises the first one was like – it was your own situation and the second one but what could have been and the second one is always more positive and made minds like so much clearer and my outlook on the future is so much happier, that I thought to do it differently this time. I can’t really explain in twenty seconds because I still have twenty seconds left but i think the this was like umm you current situation just made a poem out of it and then ‘what could have been’ I… I’ll talk … I’ll talk later. It’s just one minute – it’s just too short, sorry bye bye. […] I will just continue my last voice message now because in one minute I can’t really I can’t seem to get anywhere. It struck me that the first exercise makes me feel uncomfortable like being stuck and on my current situation is and the second one a bit more into your fantasy and you’re, what you wanna be, instead of what you are, and it really strikes me how much more like free, and indeed warm it makes me feel. I hope there’s a way to get there. I am looking forward to the other exercises. Alright, see you!

answering machine beep

I am sitting in front of my laptop and leaving this voice message I am really enjoying the moment that I base on a topic to write something down. Although it was only me in this room complete silence and nobody around. When I’m writing somethign liek ‘what might have been’, it makes me jump across to another place, another timeline comparing with my previous experience now. I need to spend most of my time only by myself, and when I’m writing even though I knew I was following a voice message I could feel the connection between the world and myself.

answering machine beep

I like the idea and the and the concept of counterfactuals. Aomehow it reminds me of the negative and positive space in reality or in a picture or in a visual artwork. But on the other hand when I was listening to the podcast I was thinking: is the function of negative staying invisible, unreadable, and staying active? It’s like we do stimulate our sense, by becoming aware of something we take for granted, we didn’t notice it – but on the other hand we’re decolonising its it function and when you mentioned the daily sounds it reminded me of I almost forget how does it sound like when I am speaking Manadrin, because nobody really nobody really talk to them yeah maybe somebody else but on the other hand most of us don’t really talk to themselves loudly.

I almost forget; I mean my voice in Mandarin is a daily sound. But when I’m in a foreign country me under a certain context it becomes a strange element which should be crucial in my daily life back in China.

answering machine beep

So, I just wanted to point out some of the things i enjoy doing that some of the things I’m having a little bit more of a hard time with. I’m really enjoying the writing exercises. For me writing is a really easy and natural way to kind of process my thoughts and feelings and get my emotions out onto a page and the part I am struggling with a little bit more is a the voice notes and recording. I feel like speaking into my phone and computer is a bit more detached to and a little bit more difficult for me. Some of the ways I’m working on that are to create a little bullet list of things I want to talk about or a very informal script, and the other thing is just to take a walk in nature and become a bit more free. So that’s what I’m working on.

Back to Ollie Talking

Thanks once again to everyone who’s left a message! I really appreciate it – I listen to every one of them, and I really do feel like the podcast is reaching people. If you’d like to drop me a line, there’s a link in the podcast description.

Now, I want to talk about audio notes and writing. Over the past weeks, we’ve shifted from just doing writing exercises to doing writing and recording exercises, capturing your own vocal expression with your smartphone. Some people will have found this shift great – if you’re one of those people, congratulations! – but some might have found it a bit challenging. Hopefully this segment will help make it easier for you to work in this way, recording your own voice, and hearing it back.

Let’s be clear about one thing. Most people hate the sound of their own voice. The voice we hear in our heads doesn’t match the one that other people hear. The voice you’re hearing right now certainly isn’t the one I heard when I wrote this script. It takes time to get used to hearing yourself speak.

When I started recording my own voice years ago, I’d listen back and think: ‘Who is that guy? He sounds stupid? Who in their right mind talks like that? How can anyone take him seriously?’ And actually, hearing it again now, why are you listening to me at all?

But hearing yourself is something you’ll need to get used to, particularly as you become more accomplished in whatever you do. As someone who’s paid to give talks, often about my own work, I’ve had to work through my own voice fears, and obviously, in making this series, I have spent more time than I’m comfortable with listening to my own dulcet tones waffling on about this and that.

So let’s talk about why you’re recording your voice, and how to do it.

Within my own life, I use audio recordings for several purposes. Even though I think visually, I find audio can transport me to places far more effectively than photos or videos can. Perhaps it’s because photos and videos only enable one viewpoint, whereas audio lets you occupy any space; or perhaps it’s because I’m so bombarded with meaningless attention-grabbing visual material that I give myself more permission to pay attention to sound.

But in any case, I like making recordings of places I’m in: ambient sounds, sounds of a journey to some far-flung place, or even just somewhere mundane, the sounds of reading stories with my daughter, the sounds of everyday life. I nearly always have a phone in my pocket, which means I’ve always got a little recorder to hand. Perhaps I’m overly sentimental, but I do get great joy from listening to my old recordings: There’s that time I ended up in a party full of Icelandic farmers, a barn dance in a hall somewhere I could never pronounce. Or this parrot I used to talk to every day at London Zoo when I had an installation there. Or a choir rehearsal I just so happened to pass the first week I moved to Chicago. Of the Shipping Forecast, the radio programme I’d always listen to before bed in the UK.

There’s a way that the audio can capture the atmosphere without subjecting it to the same aesthetic biases I’d be distracted by if I were looking at a photo. Perhaps it’s because I’m primarily a visual person that I find audio elicits such strong responses – or perhaps we’re all wired this way – but sound paints a strong set of images in my mind.

Right now, we’re all spending a lot of time on videoconferencing apps or calls, and I’m sure that hearing the particular way that WhatsApp or Skype or Microsoft Teams or FaceTime or Signal or Zoom or whatever else you use – they each audibly pixellate in a different way – and as you listen back to those sounds in ten years’ time, you’ll be taken back here, and now.

So, record now to take yourself back later.

Another way I use audio recordings is to formulate ideas. I quite often write whilst I’m walking, because I find that it’s a good way to get rid of the distractions that I have at home or in my studio. Sometimes I write on a small piece of paper or in a sketchbook, but often I’ll just record a voice memo to think an idea through. I use my phone, and I find it useful to imagine I’m talking to someone else, trying to explain what I’m thinking. It’s a process where I end up repeating myself a lot, and sometimes I find I don’t need to listen back to the recording at all – but when I’m writing lectures, or a project proposal or episodes of this podcast, or anything that I’ll need to speak out loud at some point, thinking ‘how would I explain this to someone who is intelligent, and interested, but doesn’t know what I’m talking about?’ really helps me to formulate my own thoughts. Sometimes I listen back and find a particular phrasing that I wouldn’t think to write. Sometimes I make mistakes five times in a row, or can’t speak clearly, or find there’s a word or phrase I just can’t pronounce, or pause because someone nearby has noticed I’m talking to myself – but I find recording as a means of thinking is useful.

Just to be clear, nobody ever hears those recordings! I probably sound like a doofus on them, but it’s a bit like sketching in words.

Then of course, it’s also useful to record yourself if you have a presentation to give. I’ve had to give quite a few presentations in my time, and I find it useful to record the audio that I’ll say later. If I am preparing a speech or a class or anything like that, I really vary in my approach. Sometimes I’ll write bullet points or snippets of phrases and try to get them in order first, or sometimes I write whole scripts out to read. When I’m recording this podcast, I write an entire script out for each episode so that I’m 100% confident in what I’m saying before I record it. But when I’m teaching a class that I’ve taught before, or talking about my work, or a subject I know well – the odds are, at some point I’ve written bullet points, and recorded them to myself a few times.

It becomes easier over time. If you’re not comfortable with the recording exercises we are doing right now, or hearing your own voice, that’s fine. It’s natural. Take a bit of time to find whatever works for you. Try making notes, writing everything out in advance. If you can, take a walk, and practice what you want to say. Or talk to a friend. You’ll get better and more comfortable over time, I promise.

Now I want to talk about something else a student asked me last week: microphone technique. This is something that’s quite close to my heart at the moment. Normally I record these episodes in my studio in Rotterdam, which is quite a quiet place. It’s an artistic slash designish studio, not an audio one. For international listeners or those worried about coronavirus spreading, travel to a place of work is still permitted in the Netherlands, and I can actually make the entire journey in, work a whole day, and come home again without coming into contact with anyone else.

But for the next few weeks I’m recording from home, as our household is in self-quarantine. It’s hard to get perfect studio-quality audio without a studio. That’s why audio studios exist! So what I’m talking to you about now is really on my mind as I record this late at night in a makeshift audio booth. Mine is made from three sofa seat-cushions stacked together, so there’s a little V-shaped booth and a ceiling. I put the mic in between the cushions, and the cushions remove lots of the odd noises that you’d normally hear. Right now, I generally wait until night time, when all the usual noises have died down, and I take my sofa cushions out into to the quiet garden, or go down into my tiny basement room, next to my washing machine to record speech.

I know I’m not alone in this. Ross Sutherland, whose award-winning podcast Imaginary Advice I’ve recommended before, frequently talks about recording his voiceovers in his cupboard, where there’s ample sound absorption from all of the clothing.

Here I should mention that I got the idea of using sofa cushions from a great website of audio resources called Transom is the Public Radio Exchange’s programme about making audio programmes, and it’s a great resource. There is a link to Transom, and a load of other resources, on the ‘resources’ page of our course website at – please do spend some time looking around there. You’ll find resources for writing, recording audio, editing, a list of software, a load of great podcasts to listen to if you’re new to podcasts – it has links to all the things you might need to complete this course.

Finally, I heard a British broadcaster called Louis Theroux speaking about microphone technique a while ago. He said that he was once given microphone training for radio. The trainer took him into a room with a microphone, and put little cat ears on the mic. Imagine you’re talking to a little cat, they said. That way, you’re talking gently enough that you have a perceived intimacy with your audience. You’re not too loud, nor too quiet. Now, you’re probably recording your audio on your phone. The same technique works – a quiet room, speaking softly. I’m not saying that you have to dress your phone up to make these recordings, but if it helps, do it! CORRECTION: The interview was with Louis Theroux, Joe Cornish and Adam Buxton – and it was Joe Cornish who described the cat-ears method. Listen here > 28 miuntes in!

Thanks for listening. I will be back soon with a LONG episode about Foley, and Psychological Operations, and more, and in the meantime, please do stay safe and take care of the people you love.

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