Radio as Music
Radio as Music
Glenn Gould’s Contrapuntal Sound
This chapter argues that Glenn Gould redefined the experience of the radio listener by subverting the conventional aesthetics of documentary radio. Using modernist collage-like techniques, Gould interferes with the verbal prerogatives of talk-based radio, moving a speech-centered genre in the direction of pure musicality. In the precarious balance between sound and sense that was increasingly typical of avant-garde radio, Gould’s Solitude Trilogy went out of its way to sabotage the latter, all the better to liberate the acoustic side of radio from what Gould viewed as the tyranny of language. Gould saw in radio an opportunity to use the human voice as a kind of musical instrument, but this could only be achieved by complex editing in which documentary subjects are recast, thanks to an ambitious course of tape-splicing, as sonic types and tonalities rather than as linguistically individuated subjects. The result of Gould’s “contrapuntal” approach to radio was a new mode of tuning in, in which semantic listening gave way to tonal listening.
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