Category: radio drama

“The Midnight Detective” (Spoken Word)

Couldn’t get into serious writing yesterday–still catching up on research on my western novel, The Last Hunt, and I’m not yet at the point where I can begin to tackle necessary revisions.

My science fiction story needs one final polish/run through before I send it off.  I’ll likely get that done today.

And so…yesterday.

Decided to create a little something with Garageband.  The first effort wasn’t very good but the second tune had promise (as soundtrack music for the creepiest film ever made maybe) and then came the third number…

Well.  I didn’t really set out to create a spoken word bit, but that’s how it came out.  I was poking around my notebook and came across a series of phrases that, if you put them together, would almost make a kind of narrative…

I plugged in the microphone and gave it a shot.  The very first vocal track was perfect and then I started building and shaping music around it.

The end result is “The Midnight Detective”, a 2 1/2 minute effort that plays around with noirish conceits and comes together for a rather tasty finale.

This piece should work on whatever audio player your computer employs (if it’s fairly new) and, of course, you’re free to download it and share it with pals and like-minded folks who might get a charge out of my whacked out, postmodern detective.

You’ll find more of my musical noodling and spoken word efforts on my Audio page.

Click here to listen to Midnight Detective

* This post is dedicated to Caroline Ames–Happy Birthday, kid.

“Atmospheres and Interludes”

imagesThat’s how I refer to them.

My tunes have no shape, they flow and twist enigmatically, illogically.  Mood music for troubled minds.  Score for a science fiction film never made.   Shimmering in the air around you, disappearing without leaving behind so much as a sprinkle of fairy dust.

There’s a strange dichotomy at work here:  I’m using this advanced, amazing computer to simulate and record almost any instrument known to humankind…and flubbing and screwing up and patching and improvising…and ending up with some in-teresting stuff.

I’ve got over an hour of music stored in an iTunes folder.  Every note of it selected, struck, plucked, bowed, strummed or sampled by yours truly.  Using virtual instruments, of course, since I’d be virtually useless if you gave me a real one.  Sue me, I’m an eejit savant.

So far this one is our favorite.  Hand’s down.  A bit of spoken word but just about all instrumental.

I call it “The Departed” and dedicate it to absent friends.

And awayyyyy we go…

The Departed_ XIII (V.2)

For your listening pleasure… (Blog Post #100)

imagesWell, this is cause to celebrate.

This happens to be blog post #100 and, if that isn’t enough, later on this week this site will receive its 50,000th visit.

Wow.  That’s an overwhelming number of people coming to a blog devoted to a Canuck writer who has eschewed the big time, stubbornly maintained his singular vision with an orneriness not often seen in writing circles.

God bless you, folks.  You’re all the proof that I need to reassure myself that the indie path is the one for me and I shall continue to produce work that fits no niches or stereotypes or genres, confident that smart, discerning readers will find me…and help spread the word.

To mark this auspicious occasion I’ve recorded three of my favorite short-short stories, adding music and sound effects to enhance the experience.  Once again, Sherron lent a helping hand, pulling the whole mess together.  The final result surprised and delighted me to the extent that I think it’s safe to say there will be more such efforts in the near future.

Ah, heck, enough of my jabbering.  Have a listen to these pieces and, as always, I encourage you to leave a comment, letting me know what you think…

Cliff Burns Reading Short Stories (V.2)

A quick note re: new addition to “Rarities” page

The other day I received an inquiry from a chap in Jamaica (gotta love that world wide ‘net) regarding my play “The Break:  Ten the Hard Way”.

It’s a a drama composed of ten monologues, employing a wide range of perspectives, radically different characters reacting to the impending end of a relationship.

“The Break”, like so many of my projects, started out as a writing exercise.  I wrote one monologue and another character, another scenario, immediately presented itself.  I didn’t know what to do with “The Break” once I’d finished it…and then, by chance, I caught an interview with two young Saskatoon actors, recent graduates of the University of Saskatchewan drama program.  I noted their names and contacted them.  Sent them the script and some time later “The Break” made its debut at the Refinery Theatre in Saskatoon, Josh Beaudry handling a very grueling acting assignment brilliantly.

I always thought this one would make the perfect “Fringe” show so, Josh, if you’re ever interested, lemme know.

CBC Radio producer Kelley Jo Burke also excerpted some of the monologues on her “Sound XChange” program.

I was delighted by the reactions this piece elicited and I’m pleased to be able to present it to you, for free reading and downloading.

I’m certain some of these voices, at least, will sound very, very familiar to you…

Go to the “Rarities” page (above) for your free copy

or click here for the free PDF of  The Break

“Innocent Moon” (radio play)–ready for free downloading and reading

Finally, I have some new work to share with you.  Recently I’ve been moaning about this being a blog that’s supposed to prominently feature my fiction, drama and poetry and, meanwhile, I’ve been debuting very little new material on this site for some time.

But that’s about to change.

Expect a flurry of stuff in the coming days and weeks, the product of many months of labour and struggle on my part.  Oh, I could be one of those hapless dolts who loads every snippet of juvenilia, first draft and/or literary belch & fart on their site, seeking as much scant praise they can garner from sympathetic fellow wannabes.  But I’m afraid I veer in the opposite direction, sweating out short stories over weeks, months, revising and polishing until the very thought of the tale in question makes me want to upchuck.   Which, as you can guess, is an approach to writing that tends to play hell with productivity.

But when I do release something, it’s ready.  It’s been through the meat grinder, Sherron has signed off on it, the end result microscopically examined and painstakingly dissected; I know that story or poem or novel like I know the inside of my own skin.

And that’s what you’re getting whenever I offer new work.

“The Innocent Moon” is my best radio play.  Bar none.  I put all I learned about radio drama into this little beauty.  It’s the one I submitted to the BBC competition.  Kind of hurt my professional pride when I didn’t make the shortlist but c’est la guerre.  It would have been difficult to produce; very complex in terms of mixing as it involves “samples” from dozens of movies and newsclips and songs.  You’ll see what I mean.

This sonofabitch took forever to research and pull together (as documented in previous blog entries).   The final result pleased me beyond measure.  I love the the flow and ebb of voices, the way it fuses together and perfectly illustrates my fascination (obsession?) with all things relating to space.

Click here to download free PDF of  “InnocentMoon

“The Innocent Moon” is dedicated to my chum and fellow writer and moon nut, Ian Sales.

…and to all of us grown up children of the space age.

When the future seemed so bright.

images

“The First Room” (Extended Version)

As promised, I’m posting the longer version on my radio play “The First Room”.   The version that aired nationally on CBC Radio’s OutFront program was drastically reduced and while it still packed a wallop (largely thanks to Kelley Jo Burke’s peerless production), the piece was originally intended to be thirty minutes long.

Here it is, The First Room, full-length and in all its glory.  I’ll leave it up to you, dear Readers, to decide which of the two (long or short) you prefer.

Enjoy…

When the Gruel Becomes Too Thin

nailRecently, a collective cringe went through the Canadian arts community when the braintrust at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) announced a major shortfall in their budget.

Now, we can debate how a publicly financed, (supposedly) world class organization can end up $171 million lighter in the pocket than expected another day…what I want to talk about this time around is the importance of the CBC to individual artists in this country.

I have my complaints with the Mother Corp. and I often take exception to their namby-panby, politically correct stance, their absolute abhorrence of the notion of offering offense to the smallest segment of the general public (and slanting their supposedly objective point of view accordingly).  But for many of us working in the performing and literary arts  in Canada, the CBC is, quite honestly, the only game in town.

My very first sale was to CBC Radio here in Saskatchewan.  This was back in 1985, youngsters, when Wayne Schmalz was the arts and culture czar down in Regina.  I’m teasing:  Wayne is actually one of the nicest and most unassuming guys you’ll ever meet.  He was also a superb producer with eclectic tastes and an infallible ear.  He aired selected  material on “Gallery”, which, at the time, was a literary arts program, and took a number of my early stories, raising my profile and putting some much needed cash into the pocket of a young scribbler.

After Wayne left, Dave Redel took over the big chair and did well enough to earn himself a promotion to the regional office in Edmonton.

kj2And then along came Kelley Jo Burke.  Kelley Jo loves the arts and is a huge booster of the cultural scene here in Saskatchewan.  She knows everybody and is respected throughout the province, not just for producing fine radio shows, but also for her own highly accomplished literary and dramatic efforts.   Along with her colleagues Shauna Powers and Bonnie Austring-Winter, Kelley Jo helped transform the weekly CBC Saskatchewan arts spot into SoundXChange, a celebration of all aspects of the performing arts here in “living sky country”.

But the looming cuts do not bode well for local shows like “SoundXChange”.  Despite its much-touted mandate to represent all regions of Canada, CBC will be closing bureaus and cutting staff in some of the far-flung places that help provide Canada with its true, diverse identity.  This will mean that more programming will originate in “central Canada” (God, I hate that term) and the perspective at the Ceeb will be come even more Toronto-centric than it already is.

rumourOver the past week, I’ve heard rumbles within the tightknit arts community here in Saskatchewan, whispers that  “SoundXChange” will be drastically scaled back, if not scrapped completely.  What does that mean for folks like Kelley Jo and others down there in Regina, who have worked so hard to give new and established artists a valuable venue for their work, one that won’t ever be replaced?  Shows like “SoundXChange” and “OutFront” (another favorite that was dropped) give voice to people in remote places (geographically, politically, emotionally), living in unique and fascinating circumstances.  Without those voices being heard, we become a poorer, less representative society; homogenous and one-dimensional.

During tough economic times, there is a temptation to view the arts as “fat” and trim, shave, hack it away.  Never mind all the studies that reveal what an economic stimulus a healthy arts industry represents and the amount of spin-off dollars it creates.  Nah, just cut the arts and be content with the thin, tepid gruel that’s left over:  talk radio, commercial jingles and vacuous pop.

protestIt is my hope,  my expectation, that organizations, guilds and entities that support the arts and artists in this country will speak out collectively and demand that public broadcasting in this country be funded at least at a level that’s comparable to similar counterparts around the developed world.

An enhanced, secure source of funding would ensure the continuing existence of programming that shows the true face(s) of Canada; we are a complex, multi-faceted society, well-schooled and highly literate.

Why in God’s name should we settle for anything less?

canada

Postscript: My colleague Dale Estey contacted me through my Redroom page and sent along this link to a petition protesting the cutbacks at CBC.

Drop by and add your name to the honour roll.  Let’s see if we can turn the tide.  And while you’re at it, check out the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting site.  They’ve been advocating and lobbying on behalf of homegrown, made-in-Canada programming for many a moon…

Re-Imagining “The Innocent Moon”

peabodyLet’s set the Wayback Machine to last Friday, Sherman–the 13th, appropriately enough.

Seven or eight people were gathered in my living room, preparing for a readthrough of my radio play The Innocent Moon.

I think you could describe The Innocent Moon as a very personal homage to the Space Age–a a celebration of what was, an  elegy for what might have been.  There are six voices, each vying with the others to make their viewpoint known.  Beyond that, I’ll say little.  No spoilers or cryptic hints. Not my style.  Although I do make reference to Werner Von Braun and “Rocketship X-M”–

Shhhhhh!

spaceSince around mid-January I’ve been doing a ridiculous amount of research.  Most of it was purely background, boning up on my history, trying to stir up some strong visual images…and maybe there was a touch of nostalgia involved as well.  I’ve been a space nut for forty years and looking through books like National Geographic’s Encyclopedia of Space gave me goosebumps.  I made copious notes and then commenced arranging what I had into a coherent narrative.

Editing is a nerve-wracking process for me; the level of sustained focus that’s required, pure concentration.  It’s very draining and at that point I am totally immersed in the world of the piece I’m working on.  I lose track of the hours and days flit past.

For more than six weeks I bent to the task of making something worthwhile out of a hodgepodge of prose bits, poems, quotes, factoids and ephemera.  Most of the time the work felt inspired and I liked how everything seemed to come together so seamlessly…

I felt quite confident and more than a touch self-satisfied as I watched people arranging themselves on the sofa and the chairs we’d provided.  They quickly flipped through their scripts and then Sherron and I made some preliminary remarks, introducing the play, providing some information on the characters and framework.

watchI checked my watch and took note of the time as the reading commenced.

Sherron and I had agreed beforehand that neither of us would read.  She would handle the direction:  cue the actors, read the linking passages and indicate the sound effects.  My role was to sit back and listen, stay alert for any minor glitches, a troublesome spot or two besmirching an otherwise masterful literary offering.

Oh, brother.

As the reading progressed I sank farther and farther back in my chair.  Ours was an amateur cast, even my two sons assigned roles (we needed all the male voices we could get) but they acquitted themselves well.

No, the problem wasn’t with the acting.

For one thing The Innocent Moon was long.  Wayyy overlong.  As in close to twenty minutes past its due date.  The BBC competition has a strict 60-minute time limit and I had blown that all to hell.

rotting

Okay, the length was one thing but the play was also listless, ponderous, meandering.  Maybe even (choked sob) pompous?

I tried to hide my dismay from the readers, most of whom found the run through quite enjoyable and were happy to share their thoughts.  It might have been all the wine we provided and Sherron’s tasty snacks.  The atmosphere was downright festive.

And meanwhile I was thinking holy shit, I have got a massive amount of cutting to do and that fucking radio play has to be away by Wednesday at the latest.  Whenever I could, I’d sneak away from the gathering, run up to my office and make notes about revisions.

The following morning, Saturday, I got to work.

I was fucking ruthless.

In the original draft, I used a lot of quotes and excerpts from various literary works.  There was one big snag when it came to that:  copyright.  From early February I revised the script repeatedly and it wasn’t until around March 10th that I had a workable draft.  The contest closed March 31st.  Which didn’t give me a lot of time to secure necessary permissions.

But I did my best.

baudelaireIt’s a pain in the ass trying to find out who own the rights to poems fifty or sixty years old, the authors no longer among the living.  I contacted publishers and sometimes I got replies and sometimes I didn’t.  Ditto with agents.

But after enduring the readthrough redux, I decided to cut all but a few of the quotes, simplifying matters nicely.  I was still going to have trouble explaining all the moon-related movie and music sound bites included in the text but I’d deal with that when the time came.

For five days, I went at the script with barely controlled ferocity.  Anything that wasn’t fucking nailed down, was out.  The script was pared, carved and whittled to the bone…and then the most beautiful thing happened.  Without all the surrounding clutter, the characters’ voices emerged and for the first time I really heard them and developed a better understanding of what differentiated them, as well as their relationships to each other.  As always, Sherron’s love of good, strong, distinctive characters came in handy and her advice really helped as I worked on the final draft.

Yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon, Sam and I walked downtown and mailed The Innocent Moon to the BBC Playwriting Competition.

Done.

blackboardIt was an extraordinary process, yet another valuable learning experience.  I debated whether or not I wanted to submit The Innocent Moon to a staged reading but, in the final analysis, it was the wisest possible choice.  Without hearing it read out loud I would never have recognized the piece’s many flaws and shortcomings.  I would have gone on believing it was the masterpiece it wasn’t.  An important object lesson.

I’m sure there will be many fine entries to the Beeb’s contest and the chances of my even making the shortlist are mighty slim.  But win, place or show, The Innocent Moon is a worthy contribution to the field of radio drama.  And while it would be challenging to produce, my play has all the merits of a work that would appeal to those who are fans of  “theatre of the mind”.

I hope you’ll get a chance to hear The Innocent Moon some day.

What started out as a lark, a chance to write something on the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, ended up an hour long radio drama.

And now you know a little about how that came to be…

“The First Room” on SoundXChange

images2Yes, this just in:

Kelley-Jo Burke, uber-producer at CBC Radio Regina zapped a note to yers truly, letting me know that my radio drama “The First Room” will lead off the next installment of SoundXChange (Saturday, 5:05 p.m.; CBC Radio 540 Saskatchewan).

For those of you who might have missed it the first time around or desire to hear it again.

God bless ya, Kay Jay.  If there’s a bigger backer of my odd body of work in this neck of the woods than Ms. Burke, I dunno who it would be.

Be sure to check out SoundXChange every weekend.  There’s always something for anyone with a good ear and an open mind.

Apologies…and a brief explanation

images1Yes, I know, I have been less than diligent with my posts over the past while.  Always a sign that I’ve got my nose to ye grindstone and am plugging away on a project.

Lately, it’s been a lengthy radio play that has been stealing my days and nights.  Something I’m hoping to enter in the BBC Radio contest (deadline is the end of March).  As regular readers of this blog know, I never, never, never submit my work elsewhere any more, this site is the sole venue where you’ll find new writing by yers truly.  But, hell, this is the BBC we’re talking about and the Beeb is like Mecca for radio drama fans.

After the success of my last radio play, “The First Room”, I felt I wanted to stick with that format for the time being.  I’m also aware that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing…so why not combine the two and–

Okay, no spoilers but I have written a very personal voice piece on the effect the lunar landing had on an impressionable kid and how that event influenced the rest of my life.

Later this week we’re going to have a live reading here at our home, so I can hear the play out loud.  This will provide invaluable help as I approach the final round of edits (have to have it off to England by the beginning of next week in order to make that deadline).

After the radio play is done, no rest for the wicked.  I want to do another quick revision of the long version of ‘The First Room” and post the text of that one here on Beautiful Desolation.  The version that aired on CBC Radio’s “Out Front” program was greatly condensed from the original and while producer Kelley Jo Burke did a lovely job, I wanted to present you with an opportunity to read the play the way it was conceived.

After that revision, probably diving into another big project–but I’ll post about that at a later date.

Hope you’ll continue to pop in for the occasional update–there are some great things coming up for this blog in 2009.  We’re now getting close to the second anniversary of Beautiful Desolation and I continue to be amazed and gratified by the number of folks who visit this site, read and download reams of stories, my two novels, my verse…and then take the time to drop a line to me here or via e-mail, telling me how much they’re enjoying what they’re seeing.

Bless you, folks, and as long as you keep coming, seeking out good writing, a point of view that veers from the herd mentality, I’ll be here.

Thanks, one and all…