I just listened to the latest episode of The Quietus Hour featuring an interview with Matt Johnson, the principal behind the English post-punk band The The. Although Johnson largely put the band on hiatus—save some film soundtrack work—since its last formal release in 2000, I learned from the interview that on UK election day in 2015 he organized a 12-hour online radio broadcast called Radio Cineola.
Roughly modeled after a shortwave station, the broadcast included discussions about politics, music and poetry with a wide variety of guests. A week later Johnson hosted a second broadcast focused on music and, “discussing procrastination, apathy, inertia and the creative process.”
I really wish I’d known about these programs when they happened. Unfortunately, there are no archives available. However, selections have been integrated into a new 3-CD or 3-LP box set called the “Radio Cinéola Trilogy,” which can be pre-ordered now.
The frustration of the creative process, tackled in the second Radio Cinéola broadcast, is central to a new documentary about Johnson and The The. Titled “The Inertia Variations,” after a poetic cycle by John Tottenham, the film examines Johnson’s own creative inertia, along with his radio broadcasts and dive back into songwriting.
Johnson also reads a condensed version of “The Inertia Variations,” set to a soundscape, on disc two of the “Radio Cinéola Trilogy.” Several tracks are played in the Quietus Hour interview, and you can hear bits in this video trailer:
As a writer and broadcaster, the few excerpts of “The Inertia Variations” I’ve now heard hit a little too close to home:
There was a time when I thought
I might have done something by now;
But that was long ago, and over the intervening
Decades I have shifted from prodigy to late-bloomer
To non-bloomer; I have passed my peak without having peaked
Or even begun the ascent, and unless there is something inherently
Salutary to the energy I expend in frustrating myself then
My sacrifices have all been in vain.
Ouch. And, for me, the words have more impact when read aloud by Johnson than when read on the page (or screen).
Though I missed the original broadcasts, I’m fascinated by the tactic of using a radio broadcast as a way out of this creative inertia and blockage. Putting one on requires forcing yourself into a tight schedule, with segments and guests to be arranged, and then ready and waiting to go one air at the precisely correct moment. There’s no time for procrastination, lest the whole affair fall apart.
On the one hand, live broadcasting is a grind. On the other, it’s a discipline that can help loosen rusty hinges on the doors locking up latent creativity. The combination of adrenaline and no do-overs combine to tinder a spark.
It’s something that Eric and I attempt to simulate in producing the Radio Survivor show and podcast. Though we’re not actually live, and do employ post-production editing, we watch the clock and do our best to get most of it done in one take. This approach evolved over the last two-and-a-half years of producing the show.
At the beginning we tended to do more takes and included several segments an episode. Now we typically have just one feature interview or discussion, and record the wrap-arounds in sequence as much as possible. This shift happened as Eric and I got better at working together, but also because the podcast became a true broadcast radio show this year. It turns out it’s much easier to keep a consistent clock if you just do your best to record to the correct length, live. Plus, we think it keeps things snappier.
Now I’m really anxious to hear the entire “Radio Cinéola Trilogy” and see the documentary. Until they’re available in the U.S. I’ll tide myself over with some free downloads on the The The website that are part of a series also titled “Radio Cinéola,” but not necessarily from the broadcasts.
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