After finishing my undergraduate degree and leaving my nascent comedy career behind, I worked for a number of years in theatre and watched other people tell stories. People tell stories with song, scripts, chicken wire and fabric, as well as pie charts, branded pens and lies. I sometimes wondered what stories you could tell without lies. When I returned to university to do a Master's degree in musicology at the University of Edinburgh, it felt like a good idea in large part because of how well I thought it would slot into my own personal story. Academic achievements come with a compelling order of progression that commend them to parents and those uncertain of what they should do next. I am now nearly at the end of my first year of research as a PhD candidate; and it still feels like a good idea. I feel more comfortable with the academic pursuit than I thought I might because, whatever theoretical frameworks and conflicting methodologies I may come to grapple with, at root I feel like I am telling a story. That still interests me more than anything.
The story I am researching focuses on broadcast and recording studio practices in a Germany divided for forty years by barbed wire, concrete and antagonistic world views. Sometimes I think the division of Germany, Berlin and its people by an impregnable wall sounds like the set-up for one of the more budget-conscious episodes of Star Trek. One of those ones where seemingly insurmountable prejudices towards odd prosthetics are solved through humanistic principles against a backdrop of badly curated “alien music”. But as contrived a plot device as the Wall may seem its effects were concrete and pervasive and even now have not been fully understood. Despite the eventual fall of the Wall, I know that any story I tell will not have the neat ending that a unified Germany might suggest or that a story or tall tale might demand. If my desire to tell a story is the motivation for my work, I guess that academic practice is what I rely on to keep it honest. I’m hopeful the successes of my thesis won’t rely too heavily on swear words.
Cormac Ó Callanáin