Revisiting The Cellar, the Hinges and the Copper Samovar.

Reading Robyn Ravlich’s Skywriting – making radio waves in preparation for our conversation at her Melbourne launch soon, how taken back I was to see a mention of a program I made with her help in the late 1990s. The Cellar, the Hinges and the Copper Samovar was my venture into the kind of complex radiophonic style of program of which Robyn Ravlich is a master. I had been making very different kinds of programs for over fifteen years, and Robyn taught me basic stereophonic recording in the field and helped me shape and record my script and taught me how to paint with the sound I had brought back.

This is what she writes:

“The radio that stays in the mind is something else and takes time – and different thinking – to arrive at.

A wonderful example was a radio feature made by Ramona Koval for our show The Listening Room, exploring her Jewish family’s history in Poland, broken in wartime. Ramona wanted her father to accompany her, but he wouldn’t return. She recorded that vehemence in their discussions, providing a dramatic start to her program. she struck out alone, in possession of a few flimsy details, pursuing them forensically, sometimes comically, sometimes impeded by those who wish to veil the facts of their collusion in dispossession and worse. This was dramatic enough, particularly as we could hear her in locations where her relatives had lived and disappeared. ‘Record everything’, I said in advance.

From time to time she would phone her father in Melbourne, reporting on her frustrations and delights, seeking further clues or clarifications of what he knew. We take it for granted that in a radio interview we’ll hear questions and answers, two people speaking to each other. In this case, there was only Ramona’s voice. There was no way to record her father’s end of the conversation. What a gripping piece of radio it became, a poignant highlight as we hear her voice and her breathing starting out calm and rising in intensity as her father became more and more agitated by what she conveyed. best still was her account of her father later listening to the broadcast of the program and declaiming at the radio,’Yes, that’s right! That’s right! in furious agreement with what he heard himself saying om the radio. That’s radio feature magic!”

I am honoured and touched that this moment, recorded in a humble hotel in Eastern Poland in 1995, has a new life in Robyn’s memoir, long after many of the voices in that program have ceased to speak forever.

Here’s an audio link to the program, if you’d like to listen to it yourself:


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