This article considers two very personal audio documentaries that reflect on love and identity via the liminal space between life and death. Swansong, by award-winning UK radio producer Hana Walker-Brown, is set in a hospital, as Hana and her father bear witness to her grandmother’s dying and celebrate her joyful life. Losing Yourself, by US producer Ibby Caputo, is a revelatory account of dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
Swansong is a picture of a person fondly remembered but Hana elevates it beyond eulogy into a multi-layered meditation. Her grandmother Joan’s voice flutters in and out of ethereal recreations of the jazz hall parties of her youth. Waves of drone and sparkle transition us from one spirit world to the next. Rhythms are made of Joan’s breath, bringing us back to the body; to earth.
In Losing Yourself, Ibby Caputo interweaves audio diaries and retrospective narration to create a vivid picture of a young person coping with the unexpected threat of imminent death. An audio diary objectively documents and leaves ample subjective space for the listener. And for that authenticity it remains one of the more powerful forms in radio.
Whereas Swansong builds its experience through layers, the emotional intensity of Losing Yourself comes from its bareness. We are invited into an eavesdropping experience made all the more uncomfortable because of the stripped-down production of the piece: there are no music swells to escape into, no montages to distract. When all is stripped to the bone and made bare, we might indeed see/hear ourselves for who we actually are.