What’s the Frequency?

If weird psychedelic noir is your thing, or you haven’t experienced it before, then put down the bug powder, shoot your wife in the head, and take a hit of the motherload!

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What’s The Frequency? is like yeast extract, you’ll either love it or hate it. It is dark, it is frightening, and it makes you feel very uncomfortable… very often! It prods a boney finger in your chest asking over and over again, ‘What’s The Frequency?’ What IS the Frequency? WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY?

As I say, you’ll either love it or hate it. For a point of reference, let’s compare it to Twin Peaks. If you are one of the latter then this show is most probably not for you. In fact I would just forget what you’ve seen here and be on your merry way. For those of you that conform to the ‘like’ category, I would ask “how much do you like it?” because to be fair the analogy I’m using here is a little off, because What’s The Frequency? is more akin to Lynch’s first work, ‘Eraserhead’. Twin Peaks was a jolly jaunt through a strange town whilst high on marijuana, where ‘Eraserhead’ is more akin to being trapped in the infinite loop of a nightmarish heroin overdose.

From the start, this show goes straight for the jugular. No setting up of pretense here.

What starts as a struggle between the mob, the police, and a private investigator over a ledger providing proof of police bribery, soon escalates into something darker, more esoteric. A struggle for a power that doesn’t belong in the hands of mere mortals, yet here they are, fighting over said power. As far as the plot goes, that’s all you’re going to get from me. I wouldn’t want to spoil your tumble down this kaleidoscopic rabbit hole, so let’s move on to the style.

Imagine listening to a 1940’s private eye radio drama complete with commercials, as it was back in the day. If you’ve explored these ancient recordings to any degree then you will instantly recognise the format, although the adverts here are wonderfully sarcastic. Now imagine a reel-to-reel recording sent, accidentally of course, to the home of William S. Burroughs, who took a machete to it, mailed it to his future ghost-self, who then reassembled it with a nail gun, and attempted to play it on an mp3 player. The result, a terrifying version of words that pays homage to the radio shows of the era, and the Beat Generation. With a tongue pushed firmly into its cheek, and syringes still dangling from it’s pockmarked arms, it not only serves as a reflection of the era, but gives it a 21st century kick in the…

Most of the time it’s a perfect balance between the delivery of the story and the craziness that punctuates it, but there are a few occasions when the train just can’t seem to get back on the rails to conclude an episode, leaving me to drift off into disappointment. It’s like the darkness has taken over. The handy jolt that brings you back out of the hole to reveal the conclusion in the stalled plot has been forever lost, and you’re left spiraling the plughole until the end of the episode. I must say I’m glad that I waited until the first season was released before listening, because with a month between episodes, I feel I would have given up on it, and to give up on this story would be unforgivable.

WTF? has picked up a slew of awards from the audio drama community, and rightly so. I have been waiting for someone to push the boundaries beyond the expected norms for a while now. Not to necessarily slap the listeners in the face as it were, (although they do), but rather to question the humdrum horror/ sci-fi/ comedy/ sitcom carousel of the indie drama world. I’m not saying the indie drama scene is lacking excitement, there are plenty of amazing shows to be found in these genres, but it feels to me that rather than creating something new and exciting, many new artists out there are just using the tried and tested templates and riding the coattails, rather than striding out on their own path; and if you want to get noticed in this fast growing medium, this is something you are going to need to do.

The acting here is great on all sides, although the casting of Karim Kronfli as Walter Mix seems a little odd to me. A 1940’s PI in LA this voice is not, I would say he’s more suited to a Sherlock Holmes or a Dick Barton than a Sam Spade or Philip Marlow. It’s not enough to take me out of the story, and the dynamic between Troubles and Whit is brilliant as you would expect from these veterans, but it’s just a little niggle, a little itch behind the ear that gets the occasional subconscious scratch.

Kudos to Oliva, Danner, and the rest of the team for this refreshing piece of art. I’m looking forward to more.

If weird psychedelic noir is your thing, or you haven’t experienced it before, then put down the bug powder, shoot your wife in the head, and take a hit of the motherload!

New Scripted Podcast “Blackout” coming soon from Rami Malek

Audio drama is definitely becoming more and more mainstream (“I hear radio as entertainment is making a comeback” as a certain fictional Eiffel once put it), and proof of that can most easily be seen in the steady increase in professional mainstream actors appearing in or producing their own shows.

By Lex Scott

Audio drama is definitely becoming more and more mainstream (“I hear radio as entertainment is making a comeback” as a certain fictional Eiffel once put it), and proof of that can most easily be seen in the steady increase in professional mainstream actors appearing in or producing their own shows.

Now, I’m new to the scene as many of you will know, so the first major one I was aware of was Richard Armitage’s wolverine in The Long Night. More recently there was The Angel of Vine and it’s ludicrously stacked cast. Both of these were originally released on stitcher premium, and then released episodically to general audiences, so that may be related.

Rami Malek – IMDb

The next we will apparently have is called “Blackout”, and is produced by Rami Malek, Endeavor Audio, and QCODE, and starring Malek himself. “Blackout” is created by Scott Conroy, and is a suspense story about a small town radio DJ who must fight to protect his family and community from a coordinated attack that destroys the power grid and upends modern civilization. It is set to be an eight episode show.

Scott Conroy, creator and producer, is a writer whose feature script Analytica was named to the 2018 Blacklist (a yearly list of the “best” as yet unproduced screenplays) so there is reason to be excited about a new project from him.

Endeavor Audio launched in September of last year to work with partners like Dick Wolf and Mass Appeal to finance, develop, produce, and distribute podcasts, and recently released the second season of Limetown. QCODE is a new podcast banner of Fred Berger, David Henning, Rob Herting, and Brian Kavanaugh Jones.

I’m always on board for some professional grade acting. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of charm in the more raw performances of less experienced performers, but professional acting often means professional directing, which usually translates to a more engaging performance (depending on the content and style of course, always). But this premise is not doing a great job of selling me on the show.

Will we have another amazing Angel of Vine on our hands, or another pretty good but ultimately lacking Wolverine The Long Night? We’ll have to wait and see, as it won’t be coming out for quite a while.

Girl in Space

The last man on earth concept is a popular one in science fiction. I am Legend, The Omega Man, and Oblivion all spring immediately to mind, but my personal favorite is a relatively new addition to the subgenre: Girl in Space.

By Lex Scott

The last man on earth concept is a popular one in science fiction. I am Legend, The Omega Man, and Oblivion all spring immediately to mind, but my personal favorite is a relatively new addition to the subgenre: Girl in Space.

This radio play is frankly an astounding achievement, and a testament to a medium many would dismiss off-hand as dead or irrelevant. At times heartwarming, tense, and funny, this show is everything you could want shoved directly into your earballs.

“Abandoned on a dying ship in the farthest reaches of known space, a young scientist fights for survival (and patience with the on-board A.I.). Who is she? No one knows. But a lot of dangerous entities really want to find out…”

This is how we are introduced to the girl we’ll come to call X, and it is so wonderfully compelling you wouldn’t believe. It sucks you in with concept, and hooks you with it’s superb acting and excellent execution.

Let’s talk about that execution.

Girl in Space is written, produced by, and stars Sarah Rhea Werner, a professional writer, speaker, and podcaster She left a decades long marketing career, (why are all us writers former/current marketing professionals? I mean, there’s some crossover skill-wise but still…) to pursue her creative passions. I personally believe that move has paid off tremendously. Sarah’s performance is so rich in emotion and honesty that it alone is enough to pull you in. Acting is hard, and voice acting is even harder. I seriously cannot heap enough praise on this performance. It is nothing short of mind blowing.

The writing itself is fantastic. Polished and tight without any real wasted time, while simultaneously feeling very raw and off the cuff. The character of X is one with no filter: on a space station alone, and encouraged from an early age to vent her free-flowing thoughts into a portable recorder will do that to a person. So her character needs to do a lot of free association and be allowed to let her mind wander, (even in life or death situations; let’s just say that her mouth gets her in trouble a few times). This gives X a very charming, naive quality that’s never boring or off-putting. I’m not usually a fan of “naturalistic” dialogue; I always say if I wanted to hear natural dialogue I’d just go outside. I always want tight, focused speech from characters, a heightened reality. But coming from X and Sarah’s performance it is such a perfect character choice. Like having a friend who talks all the time, but in such a pleasant way you can’t help but be charmed.

The sound design is a triumph. Filled with subtle ambient ticks to truly sell the out of this world atmosphere. We hear the whir of Charlotte’s (the ships irascible A.I) hydraulic arm as she moves in and out of the story, subtle music cues filling in emotional beats and pauses in the narration masterfully used to convey the almost wistful stream of consciousness present throughout the entire show.

The overall production quality is excellent. The actual voice recording is professionally crisp and clean, no pops or odd spikes in volume. Each sound, from speech to music to effects, are entirely clear; in many podcasts I find myself manually tweaking the volume as I go to adjust for someone suddenly becoming inaudible (through moving to far from the mic or to account for extra noises going on in the show) but I never found myself doing this with Girl in Space. Even at its most busy (and that’s never much, it is a very laid back show) I never found myself struggling to make out words over effects or musical cues.

The writing itself is amazing in its simplicity. In essence it is a stream of consciousness narrative: X, the eponymous girl in space, is alone on a space station. We know this, and we can infer from certain clues that she was there with her parents until one day they weren’t. From a young age she was given a recorder and encouraged to share her thoughts with it, both as a useful log of events (and a helpful training tool for scientific recording) and as a diary to stave off loneliness and provide a creative outlet. This leads to a character essentially with no filter, who’s spent her entire life (approximately 24 years by my count?) venting a stream of unfiltered thoughts into her diary.

You might think this would make for a boring character but surprisingly it doesn’t. The stream of consciousness is endearing and well presented, and helped along by being thoughtful and emotionally honest. It provides a genuine and narratively consistent window for us to experience her life as an audience.

Girl in Space is the only piece of literature I can think of that is absolutely perfectly suited to the medium it inhabits. Pretty much everything we consume, movies books television, can be (and often is) presented in any kind of medium. Any movie could be presented just as well as a book and you wouldn’t lose anything of the core content in the translation. Sure many movies or books do take advantage of their respective mediums, and any adaptation will by its very nature focus on different things, Harry Potter the book is not fundamentally different when experienced as Harry Potter the movie.

Not so with Girl in Space. It could not exist in any other form without being fundamentally, unrecognisably, different. Not just that it would lose something in the translation, but that it would not be Girl in Space anymore.

At every turn Sarah takes full advantage of the fact that her audience can only hear what’s going on, that she’s not limited by words on a page or the budget required for visual effects. She paints a rich landscape of emotion, futuristic setting, and engaging characters, all while only engaging a single one of our primary senses. This alone is enough for me to recommend this show to everyone I meet.

Girl in Space makes great and successful efforts to maintain a clean rating, and was intentionally created for all ages to enjoy. I never have any qualms about recommending it to any even remotely mature acquaintance. However if you are squeamish about slightly disturbing imagery such as descriptions of wounds and blood, and sci fi gun violence it might give you pause. Also it is very um, let’s say science friendly, and you should definitely be prepared for such graphic words as coagulation, narcissism, and epigenetics.

I might already have mentioned I’ve actively recommended Girl in Space to every thinking, breathing person I have even a brief interaction with. Quite frankly I think this show is a marvel and a tremendous achievement on every level. It succeeds technically, from sound effects and recording, to presentation and performance, and of course is narratively gripping and compelling in a way you just can’t believe until you listen for yourself. Do yourself a favour and check it out, I promise you won’t regret it.

Horror Countdown: Mabel

If like us, you’re hungry for all things Halloween, the check out our spooktacular countdown and the wonderful Mabel.

Halloween Countdown: Mabel

By Chad Ellis

Sure gore filled, jump scare driven haunted mazes are fun, but when I think of Halloween I think of tradition, rituals. Societies meeting in the woods. Friends and strangers telling stories by firelight. The subtle things that resonate with all humans who have spent a night outdoors.

If you prefer bargains to dismemberment, poetry to screams of agony, and a love that hurts so deeply it shakes the bones of the earth, Mabel is your show this Halloween Season.

Not to say that Mabel lacks dismemberment or blood curdling screams, but their presence is there to add beauty, not shock value.

Mabel opens with a fairly simple premise: a caretaker of a dying woman in Ireland is attempting to reach that woman’s Granddaughter, Mabel, by phone. This elegant format carries us through the first Season of this predominantly single narrator show.

But what happens when you add an old, strange house that doesn’t behave quite the way we expect houses to behave? Or a mushroom ring in the garden? Or a spell initially misunderstood?

Every episode weaves new threads into this tapestry. Like a frog in slowly boiling water, we are steadily taken, from the grounded world of a house in a storm, to the ephemeral world of nightmares and missing dates, and kings under hills.

The moment you hit play you will be met with a stormy night, a ringing phone to a beating heart, an ominous drone, an answering machine. This audio anointment sets you on a path to minimalist sound design, inspired background music and a bond with the narrators both deep and strange.

The first batch of episodes brings you through all of the familiar feelings of haunted houses and dreams. The next batch takes you beyond our familiar veil, to a place of questions and trust. And once you make it to Episode 15: Killing the Moon? Raw, primal poetry in action and a love story unlike any you’ve heard in the past.

I love this show and it is my top recommendation for Halloween. Check out the series right here, and subscribe to stay up to date.

And if you’ve missed the previous entries in our Halloween Countdown, they start right here.


Chad Ellis is a Los Angeles based writer responsible for the Isolation Horror, Station Blue.

 

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