Lars Eidinger, playing Richard III, huskily whispers some German lines of Shakespeare into an amplifier, furtively glances up to the English surtitles, and spins round to berate a coughing audience member in French. This is theatre in a truly globalised arts scene. But the multilingual nature of many recent productions not only reflects the realities of our contemporary social conditions. It raises fundamental questions about the nature and role of the linguistic mediation of culture today.
No longer before, behind, or above the original, with surtitles, the translation is now parallel or simultaneous to it.
Finding a way to understand the language without destroying the poetry of its delivery seems key to me.
Radio Atlas is an exciting new project gathering together subtitled audio from around the world – introducing listeners to a whole slew of inventive, genre-bending documentaries, drama and sound art made in languages that they may not necessarily speak.
Eleanor McDowall is an established radio documentary maker and producer with Falling Tree Productions, an independent production company based in London. She has helped to pioneer “animated radio” productions at home in the United Kingdom, and produces BBC Radio 4’s much-lauded series,‘Short Cuts’, with the British comedian, Josie Long.
David Maclean: Can you give me a brief history of Radio Atlas, i.e. how it came together and its origins?
Eleanor McDowall: Radio Atlas emerged out of a desire I had for a platform that didn’t exist—an easy, accessible way of engaging with interesting audio in languages I didn’t speak. I’d had a lot of experience listening to documentaries with big wads of paper on my knee, flicking through a translation as the audio played out, and desperately hoping that I hadn’t lost my place. A few years ago I saw an early event by the wonderful In The Dark where they played a Norwegian audio documentary in a cinema with subtitles and I was struck by how natural the experience was. This was the first time that I got away from feeling I was ‘reading’ a documentary and felt like I was really ‘hearing’ it. Radio Atlas is an attempt to make the most sympathetic subtitling experience I can for the audio—so hopefully you stop thinking about the text and start listening.