Sunday, 5 October 2008

‘Welcome to Mars’ Series Recast

A recent Boing Boing post from the wonderful David Pescowitz, with whom I spent an all too brief evening in San Francisco last month, has reminded me that the ‘Welcome to Mars’ podcasts are still available online. At the same time I have just been informed by Resonance FM that the original twelve-part series of weekly broadcasts is about to be repeated at 7.00 pm on Thursday evenings from October 9 onwards. Please check either their website or the Google Calendar opposite for details on each episode as it comes up.

Before it became a book, soon to be available from Strange Attractor Press, ‘Welcome to Mars’ started out as a twelve-part series of live shows I created with sound designer Simon James for Resonance. Simon and I had collaborated on a number of performances with the working title ‘Welcome to Mars’ at the Brighton Cinemateque and Bristol’s Cube Cinema, plus one-off presentations for the Gage Festival in Hull, totallyradio and Brighton’s Radio Reverb. In each case I’d provide spoken-word content in the form of either a reading or a series of unscripted comments, while Simon produced an electronic soundtrack to accompany my words. I had by then already started researching the weird connections between people, technology and events that seemed to inform the very deep strangeness of the 1950s and for some time had wanted to work through the period, year by year, bringing some narrative order to it all. Simon had an uncanny ability to pick up on what I was saying and create the perfect sounds to go with it: a haunting blend of analogue reverberations and digitally precise interventions.

Many people remarked on the intensity of our live work together, so when Richard Thomas at Resonance invited me to create a series of broadcasts on the subject of weird science and popular culture in the 1950s, I already had a title for the project and the perfect producer to hand. It was Simon who first suggested that I present the show live and unscripted, working from notes prepared in advance so he would have some idea of what themes I’d be tackling each week. We were also both adamant that the show would have a definite sound, from the title theme and opening credits through to the trailer for next week and the ‘Project Thrust’ logo at the end. The three-part structure for each programme remained fairly constant as well with Simon counting me in and out of each sequence.

From March through to May in 2006, Simon and I would meet every Wednesday afternoon at Resonance FM’s old studio in Denmark Street and perform the show live between 3.30 and 4.00pm. Simon would punch up the ‘Welcome to Mars’ theme, I’d take a sip of water, look one last time at my notes, and then we’d start. Afterwards Simon would post each episode as a podcast on his simonsound website. The response to the podcasts was extremely encouraging:

‘Highly informed…will be fascinating to anyone with even a passing interest in popular culture, politics and science’ – English Assassin

‘A powerful portrait of confusion, alienation, and suspicion’ – Againstwot

‘An excellent synthesis of modern history, Forteana and SF. Mr Hollings speaks with ease and authority about a fascinating period of the twentieth century, and I only wish there were more than twelve episodes’ – Five-Star review, iTunes

‘Six hours of wonder for your iPod’ – Music Thing

‘Wow. Fascinating. Go get it’ – Self Storage

It was a fabulous series to do and wonderful to work so closely with Simon over such a protracted period. You can listen to the original radio series by following this link.

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