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Bahrain Uprising 2011
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I'm Miranda Diboll and I'm an audio producer with a passion for geolocative audio and oral history...
It all started sometime in the mid 1980s. My parents were avid Archers fans. Radio Four was always on in the house; I was woken up by it, it was on in the car, it was on last thing at night. So its no surprise that when I asked for a portable tape recorder for my ninth birthday (one of those flat mono things that cost quite a bit of money in those days) that my intention was to make my own radio programmes with it.
If you want to fast forward past the waffle and cut straight to the chase....go here.
My first effort was a soap opera about the lives of two mums and their unruly children. Myself and a friend called Clare used to improvise this, leaving the tape recorder in the middle of the room while we played with our dolls. We even took the whole thing outside, strapping the tape recorder to a pushchair. Somewhere I have a very manky old cassette that contains these sophomore attempts. I say manky, because it was recorded over time and time again and had about five layers of paper sellotaped onto it. It was red. I think it was a BASF C90. It was my dad's before that and it also came close to death a few times under my ownership. I have memories of it dumping its guts into the recorder a few times, only to be rescued with a pencil and a steady hand.
By the time I was 11, I started listening to local radio. Until then, I thought that radio was Radio Four. One night in 1986 I was tuning around when I came across a rather excitable woman talking to eccentric elderly people on the phone. It was my first experience of a 'Phone In'. The concept of being able to phone up a radio studio and get instant fame intrigued me. I'd never been on the radio before, now was my chance.
I rang up with nothing particular to say. Some man, who later became my dear friend the late Gavin Lawrence offered to phone me back to save the phone bill. The BBC always did that, apparently. Sure enough, he called me back and I was put on hold and told to turn my radio down to avoid feedback. When I was finally put through to Julie First, I clammed up. Not a good debut.
I wasn't put off and later phone calls to the show were more productive. Julie is now a life long friend and inspired me to keep at it when I declared I wanted a career in the radio industry. I will never forget visiting the Radio Kent studios on Sun Pier, Chatham a week after the great storm of 1987. This was the first time I stepped into a radio studio and not my last...
Having left school with a clutch of okayish A Levels, I started a degree in Communication Studies and Women's Studies at University of East London. I somehow thought it was the kind of course that would get me a toe hold into the industry. Instead it opened my mind and made me political.
I graduated in 1996 and did some office temping in the media houses in Soho, realising that I would probably have to go back to school in order to get where I wanted to be. I was delighted to be accepted onto the MA Radio course at Goldsmiths College. It was there that I met Alan Hall and found myself work as a Broadcast Assistant for Radio Three a few weeks later.
A year later I left with my husband and son for a life in the Gulf. The dream was that I could become some kind of international corespondent. The reality was teaching, writing and doing sound for a film. Not bad but I was drifting away from the industry that I loved.
Then in 2011 the 'Arab Spring' came to Bahrain. It was fascinating to watch the story unfold through the different lenses of the media- the international press who reported it like they would report any political uprising- the local press in Bahrain who reported it as if it was some great travesty against the government/royal family (same thing). As the more unbiased perspective of the international press started to upset the Bahraini rulers, they decided to stop journalists from getting into the country. CNN reporter Amber Lyon managed to get in with her crew under the remit of making a piece about how technology facilited the Arab Spring. When they arrived, they found that nobody would talk to them in fear of angering the regime. Amber and her crew were detained at gunpoint having manage to evade their government 'minders', a stipulation that all journalists were faced with if they were allowed into the country. Media in and out was being controlled.
I was already in the country of course and my visa made no mention of journalist because I wasn't one. But there was one sleeping in me that promptly woke up and headed over to Pearl Roundabout, ground zero for the revolution.
I knew that my time was up out there. I was also frustrated about the media control and felt I had to do something. If I could just be citizen journalist, it was the least I could do.
I interviewed protesters on the roundabout. They were desperate for their voices to be heard and I spoke to many while being watched by government 'plants'. I was done for but I didn't care.
Those interviews later became part of my ten minute piece 'Desert Island Risks' which I didn't make until two years later. My subsequent departure from Bahrain and my repatriation to the UK was not comfortable and I had neither the time or was in the right frame of mind to attend to those interviews until then.
I guess Bahrain was my political awakening and I've been involved in politics since then. I make no effort to hide my stripes- these days they are well and truly red. I stood as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Green Party in the 2015 election as at that time, there was no Corbyn led Labour and The Green Party were the closest fit to my political views.
A lot has happened over the years but I am still passionate about audio. In 2014 I discovered Geocaching- a new hobby that got me outside and combined my love of maps and exploring with my love of the natural world. Using the GPS on my iPhone I could see that it would work for audio too and in fact, audio producers were already using it for projects such as Hackney Hear and Soho Stories, both produced by a former colleague of mine at the BBC- Francesca Panetta.
Whilst fascinated with it, I was also a bit intimidated by that technology too. Francesca and her team of audio producers had worked with some great techies to get that up and running and I had neither the budget or the contacts. I put the idea of making something in Brighton to the Sound Women Brighton group- they were interested but we just couldn't get anything off the ground at the time.
Early 2016 and I'm working in a job I don't particularly like, has nothing to do with audio, when I get an e mail from a South African Start-Up called 'VoiceMap'. While scratching my head about how to get a geotagged audio tour out there, somebody thousands of miles away has created an online platform where users can upload audio to a map which is then geotagged and hosted. I'm not doing VoiceMap justice with such as simplistic description, its better to talk about what possibilities that opens up. At the moment they mainly host 'immersive audio tours' which are linear, virtual tour guide led. However, it doesn't take a huge leap of imagination to see how the technology can be used in the most creative ways. Pinning audio to a location opens up a whole new world, an augmented reality where a story can be woven in sound against a real life backdrop of location- maybe one that changes in some aspects but stays the same in others. The world becomes a stage and its up to the producer and/or storyteller to create a story for that space.
My first effort with VoiceMap was 'Britpop Camden'. I wanted to make a piece around an area I love, one that evokes happy memories of youth and (mis)adventure. I also had to consider my audience- where would I find one? Britpop Camden ticked that box too.
I told the Britpop story from my perspective, as a student living in Camden in the mid 1990s when the scene was at its highest point. The walk takes in places such as the former Laurel Tree pub, now BrewDog which used to be home to Blow Up as well as The Good Mixer pub and the former Creation Records office. Some of it is quite confessional and I hope it holds up as well as my first geolocated sound piece.
July 14th 2017 I woke to the news that a tower block in West London was up in flames, I didn't expect to see the horrific inferno that was Grenfell Tower. The news hurt me hard- I lived in a tower block in Rotherhithe in the late 1990s-early 2000s and raised my son for the first five years of his life in that flat. We lived on the ground floor and although the view was terrible (car park and Canada Water bus station) I was grateful that we would be able to get out relatively easily in case of a fire. I never had much faith in the fire doors that were placed on each landing, supposedly able to hold back a fire long enough for people to be rescued.
By morning the media were down there, everyone wanted to know what exactly had happened, why the fire spread so quickly and why so many people were missing, presumed dead. I offered to go there to help with sorting the donations of food and clothing but I wasn't needed, such as the outpouring of love and support from the local community. Five days later I took myself and my microphone and walked from Notting Hill Gate station to Grenfell Tower and made a field recording of the journey. I was blessed, from an audio producer's perspective, with a windless day. The acoustic environment is dead and oppressive. You can hear the heat, you can hear the tension and grief as we come closer to the Tower. More about it including the audio is here.
The future? Well, I hope to work more with geolocated audio and with VoiceMap. Watch this space...