This project was funded using a grant from the University of Warwick’s Educational Innovation Fund. In addition to exploring ways in which the use of podcasting technology could be applied in a language-learning context, I was particularly keen to explore the contribution it could make to the study of poetry.
Students taking German Studies in their first-year at Warwick can, if they wish, opt to study the early poetry of Goethe as part of a module. Over the years we have found that many students have never studied poetry before – and very few have ever heard poetry performed ‘live’. One of the aims of this project was to offer our students a new experience of poetry and to alert them to the potential of poetry as an oral medium. Discussing the effectiveness of the podcasts with students revealed that listening to the poems enabled them to focus more intensely on individual elements of the poem while at the same time highlighting the different interpretative possibilities of a given work.
Although it is possible to obtain commercial readings of Goethe’s poetry on CD, copyright restrictions meant that it would have been impossible to distribute these recordings over the web. Moreover, in many cases recordings of the poems we wanted either did not exist or were – for a variety of reasons - unusable. The obvious solution was to make our own. Having advertised on a number of websites and listened to the voice samples of more than 130 applicants, I plumped for the Berlin-based actor Christian Wewerka – an actor with considerable experience of playing classical roles on the German stage. Over a very intense two-day period, Christian and I set to work recording the poems in the study within the Arts Centre at the University of Warwick. One of the unexpected spin-offs during my work with Christian was the – for me – wholly new experience of ‘directing’ the readings, a process which made me view the poems themselves in an altogether different light.
For those of you with an interest in technical matters, the files were recorded using a Marantz PMD660 recorder and were edited using Garageband on an Apple Macintosh Intel iMac. They were converted into mp3 format using a shareware programme called Switch and uploaded to the web using the university’s own in-house software Sitebuilder. Although the editing of the sound files took a little time (in the case of some of the longer poems we had to knit together several different takes) the process of editing was itself reasonably simple to master.
As with any project of this sort, this was very much a team effort. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the administrators’ of the EIF fund at the University of Warwick for their generous financial support, and Christian Wewerka for his tireless enthusiasm and commitment to the project. But, as in all such projects, many people played vital roles. Accordingly I would like to thank Dr Birgit Röder and Dr James Hodkinson for their input into the recording of the poems and selection of speakers, Rachael Goodwin for researching the texts, Andrew Maddison for his technical expertise during the recording sessions (and all of the team at AudioVisual), Hannah Vickery for her design of the website, Robert O'Toole for his advice on mp3 technology, Karen Mortimer for assistance with Sitebuilder, and last but not least, Emily Harding for her tireless work on assembling the content.
Dr Seán Allan, project leader