Things I've Learned:
Rikke Houd

An occasional series of hard-won-wisdoms from the mischief-making, pixie-dust-sprinkling, original-thinking auteurs of the audio world

Please supply a visual representation of your life in audio 

My youngest son made me this homemade microphone some years ago. Both him and I are sort of convinced that it works… somehow. It inspires me and reminds me of how we humans connect through storytelling and imagination. 

Please supply a short 'official' biography

Independent prizewinning Danish radio maker. Rikke was in her twenties in the 1990's, writing short stories and poetry, when she realized radio documentary making was the thing, that one can write with sound and that reality exceeds fiction. And she still thinks so!

But who are you, really?

I am not a fixed size, I think. I really don't know what to answer. The question reminds me of a thought I had the other day when I was out walking. I live on an island by the sea and there's a path along the rocky coast that I walk when I can. This path has witnessed me in so many different situations - summer, winter, alone or with others, and it has witnessed me in different moods and modes, thinking structured thoughts or just letting my mind fly. I've been told that this path has existed since the stone age. “If this path could talk…”, I thought while walking there the other day. Maybe the path could answer this question?

Who are your influences (in any medium)?

Nature, geology, archeology, cartography. Sciences and anything that maps us humans somehow, as we try to map or invade or just be in the world, and what we leave behind. Manifestations of dreams through time, like crazy inventors and time machines and Vincent Price movies. Elvis. Country music. Poetry and short stories. Obsolete dictionaries and encyclopaedias. Love-letters & old photographs. The spiritual, all that cannot be seen. Folklore, mythology. Tongues, dialects and languages. Food, spices, trees and seeds. People that have specific knowledge about something very particular. Old people and teenagers. People that call out when they see wrong doing and leave their comfort zone to do something about it. The Arctic. Weather reports. Silence. 

What's your favourite of all the things you've made and why? 

That is hard to answer too! Every piece is so different, and every process is too. But I think of two pieces; they are both long and complicated stories/processes that taught me a lot: 


The Woman on the Ice that I produced for Third Ear in 2015 with support from the Danish Art Fund and Leaps and Dunes made for The Danish Montage Group in 2001 with Lisbeth Koerner and Sabine Hviid. These pieces were like stepping stones I suppose - I felt they took me new places. In both cases I had TIME. (Time = money). Time to make good recordings. Time to listen. Time to be in doubt. Time to take a detour. Time to try things out. Time to slowly assemble the puzzle of a complicated story and many recordings. And in each case there was a rewarding editorial process that fine-tuned the piece. Feedback and discussions with good editors. Work-processes like these are precious, but unfortunately rare in the field of audio storytelling, as there are relatively few places with both the editorial resources and budgets to allow for this. 

(I have a dream: like other countries, Denmark has a Film Institute. It operates under the Ministry of Culture and supports different aspects of filmmaking and creates a space to develop the art form. I dream about a similar institute for audio storytelling and in general more ways of supporting audio storytelling as a craft and an art-form.)

What's your (current) favourite piece of audio by someone else?

I listen to much and like different things. But this very moment I think about Summer Rain by Nanna Hauge Kristensen who is quite new in radio. It's a three minute piece. Recordings of her shaving her hair when she was undergoing cancer treatment. This piece trusts the moment and trusts sound and dares to be short. There's a lot of noise and action and words in many radio pieces, it's like they have to perform. This piece just is and I admire that. 

What are your top tips for making audio pieces?

1. Remember that "the radio" is not a building full of people producing radio. The radio is "the technology of using radio waves to carry information, such as sound, by systematically modulating properties of electromagnetic energy waves transmitted through space."(Wikipedia). 

2. ENERGY WAVES TRAVELLING THROUGH A VAST AND ENDLESS SPACE. Broadcaster or podcaster, do not forget this amazing fact.  (And imagine the sound of your little audio piece floating through space! Audio-makers are almost space travellers!) 


3. Audio storytelling is a unique art form - for many reasons. Here are just a few: sound is intuitive and bypasses the brain, it is the first and the last, it can come so close. Sound is spacious, fluid, moving. Sound lets us travel far in our minds, in time and space, between the real and unreal, the seen and the unseen, the waking and the dream, the now and the then - or just down the road. And audio storytelling can borrow from or merge with other art forms. It can be so simple too. 

So tip number three is: get to know the unique-ness of this art form.


4. Obtain dynamic material! One way of doing that is to make conscious choices regarding proximity in every aspect of your storytelling. Creating closeness and distance and different perspectives - through the way you interview, through the way you record, through your microphone technique. This should give you dynamic material to work with on many levels. You can continue working with this attention to proximity while structuring, writing, editing and mixing your piece. Check my Amazing Radio Vertikalisator for inspiration.  


5. Welcome the bumps in the road. Life seldom goes as planned. The same goes for documentaries and stories that are based on reality. Welcome the unexpected, invite it into your story. It may turn out to be where the soul & the magic of the story is hiding.


6. Be as straight as you can with people who share their life and story with you.


7. Study the art of interviewing, recording and editing and mixing, learn from masters, from those long gone and from the very young.


8. Play your unfinished work to someone who respects and understands what you do, but who also knows when it isn't working - and who will tell you.

9. Be playful!

10. Listen!