The Sound of a Story

I went to a play on Saturday night. It was not the usual Broadway show. Even Off-Broadway, ‘The Encounter’ would be considered an unusual approach to theater. It’s all about SOUND!

Based on the novel ‘Amazon Beaming’ by Petru Popescu, which in turn was inspired by the experience of Loren McIntyre, a National Geographic photographer, when he got lost in the remote Javari Valley in Brazil in 1969. Written, co-directed and performed by Simon McBurney (of Complicite) it’s a one-man show and NOT a one-man show, because his co-star is SOUND.

I’ve been to staged readings of old radio plays. Notably, a fun version of ‘Dracula’ created by Orson Welles. Welles used sound a great deal in his films. Think about ‘Citizen Kane’ and you might remember that there’s a big party in Kane’s mansion, but you never see the party, you hear it. ‘The Encounter’ is not a staged reading with sound effects. It’s more!

Everyone in the audience wears headsets and the sound generated from the stage, as well as recordings, is “projected from specific directions.” So sound seems to come from behind you, next to you, above you, below you… you get the picture (or the sound). It’s mysterious, it’s spooky, it’s unnerving, and it gives the audience members the feeling of being surrounded and saturated and enveloped in sound. My brain insisted that the annoying crunching sound was coming from the man next to me and, no doubt, he felt like it was coming from the person to his left.

Even while Simon McBurney ran, danced, stumbled, and acted out the action of the story, sometimes I simply closed my eyes and listened to the ambient sounds of the jungle and Simon McBurney, as Loren McIntyre tell his story AND McBurney, as himself talking about how to tell McIntyre’s story.

This, of course, got me thinking about sound as a powerful story telling mechanism. Um… how will this fit into the next short story or novel?

The Playbill & the script for The Encounter.

The Playbill & the script of The Encounter.



  1. I’ve seen a video of a blind man – certifiably blind, not a hoax – who has developed his hearing almost to the level of a ‘bat’. He makes clicking noises and can navigate streets, rooms etc on the basis of the ‘sound’ that comes back to him – like sonar. Nor is this a fluke. Apparently he’s been teaching the method to other blind people with great success.

    At first I was completely skeptical, but then I realised that the white sticks most blind people use serve a similar purpose. They don’t just collide with obstacles before the blind person reaches them, I believe they actually give clues as to ‘what’ the obstacle is. Normal people don’t need these sharper senses so we ignore them in everyday life.

    Your play tapped into these under utilized senses so well that they actually interfered with the information coming to you from your normal senses.

    What if someone were born as a true ‘batman’, i.e. capable of fully utilizing all their senses, in particular sound. In centuries past, such a person would be branded a witch or a warlock and even today they’d be viewed as a charlatan. Not sure what kind of plot this would lead to but it’s interesting as a thought experiment. 🙂

    • Candy Korman

      An excellent thought experiment. Enhanced hearing is often one of the supernatural qualities associated with vampires & werewolves. Bat-like hearing—plus the vision of a cat—now THAT would be a super, supernatural creature!