If you get it right radio is the ultimate medium. It’s a simple platform but the power it has to immerse and influence the audience is greater than any of its media counterparts, and even rivals gaming.
‘The Berlin Wall of Sound’ is a great example of this transformative power that still inspires me to look differently at sound and how we can use it to great effect.
It doesn’t fit any of the time lengths you’d be used to writing to, and you’re not going to hear it in the car whilst stuck in the Hanger Lane gyratory.
This piece was created in 2014 to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall for, and by, SoundCloud. For the brand the story is personal, its building sits near the ‘Death Zone’ in Berlin. And the ad makes things deeply personal for the listener.
It’s something more than a traditional radio ad. Because it was created at a time when the medium was pushing the boundaries and exploring digital platforms such as Spotify. If anything, I’d call it an audio monument to a brutal time in modern history when Germany’s capital was slashed in half. The piece is a literal wall of sound that illustrates life on both sides of the concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided the city.
Sound has the power to transport you, and here it takes you straight in to the lives of the men, women and children trapped behind the wall. You are submerged in to their suffocating and desperate existence, as they’re restricted in movement and separated from their loved ones.
The crafting is clever. Every second is jarring and uncomfortable, there is no sonic harmony. A deep base tone holds the whole piece together. I say hold, it’s never a stable sound, it never lets you get a solid footing and leaves you on edge the whole way through.
Layered onto this unsettling foundation are official recordings from the time played through distorted speakers, creating a nightmarish feeling. Those who don’t respect the border, we are told, “will feel the bullet”.
The atmosphere is heavy and somehow damp, dogs bark and bullets rip through the space between your ears. German tanks rumble and squeak in the soundscape, coming towards you, making you want to hide.
The details are profound and sad. In the middle of the marching troops and rumbling war machines you hear what sounds like small feet running across wet gravel, making a dash for freedom, until a shot rings out.
This precise level of detail is continued with elements such as the sound wave forming the shape of the concrete wall, punctuated with guards towers created by the sound of sporadic machine gunfire. It’s 7 minutes and 32 seconds long, the time it would take sound to travel the full length of the wall. And the whole piece is underlined with the tragic stories of those who lost their lives.
But what most impresses me is the visceral power of what I hear. It is discordant and uncomfortable, you feel like you are being observed and listened upon, the Stasi scratching away in the cavity in the wall next to you. For a moment I sat half expecting them to burst through the door.
To celebrate the most creative audio ads we've launched our new audio collection on Creative Works in partnership with Spotify. The user submitted work will be judged weekly by Spotify and the winner will be featured in our Creative Works newsletter. If you would like your work to be considered, submit it here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you're new to Creative Works.