Composing for Picture: Late night radio

Anastasia Bow-Bertrand 23 January 2014

Johnannes Ruckstuhl, English Literature finalist, theatre lighting magician, and radio presenter of Composing for Picture talks us through the devotion to film music that underlies his show. To hear for yourself, tune in to CamFM at 11pm, Sundays (during termtime).

Tell us about starting out in radio…

One great, and initially scary, aspect of student radio is that for the duration of your show, you’re entirely on your own. It’s the deep end of the pool to be sure, but it also allows you to make initial mistakes and learn and gain experience from them. There was one instance, it must have been only my second or third show, where I did an entire text link blissfully unaware that I’d left the microphone off, resulting in complete silence on air for a good five minutes. All of Cambridge must have stood still in shock… Once you realise that’s not true, it gets remarkably easier.

What inspired your interest in production, and what do you hope people will take from your show?

At the risk of sounding horribly sentimental, I would have to say that listening to and collecting film music is a rather lonesome affair. Radio seemed like an ideal way to try and create a place where the music is front and centre, but where there can also be spirited conversation, no matter how casual or serious people are about it. If anyone discovers film music through the show, or simply has a brighter    hour    because    of    it, then my job is done. However, I don’t doubt there are times when I’m simply talking into a void. And that’s fine too. Beyond that there’s solipsism; solipsism with a microphone and an FM transmitter.

Describe the typical planning for one show…

At the beginning, I would regularly spend an entire day writing and rehearsing an episode, attempting to combat my fear of the speech links by planning every detail. This definitely helped at first, but with practice (and not having that kind of time to spend) the bare bones of a show can now come together in about an hour. The playlist is a constant process however: I’ll settle on a theme early in the week and then spend a lot of time thinking about what should feature, trying to balance what listeners would expect (you can’t do a fantasy-film show and not play The Lord of the Rings), what they might like but might not have heard (Ilan Eshkeri’s score for Stardust for instance), and what might surprise them (that the score for The Last Airbender is actually very good). This may sound tedious, but I listen to film music day in and out, so quite a lot of it is almost unconscious.

What is your advice for someone starting out with CamFM?

It took me a long time to realise, but radio can be great therapy for public speaking. Not necessarily argumentative, but for a mumbling wreck, I now feel like I can string a sentence together without falling over my larynx. Perhaps there is a rather vain idea of the ‘imagined audience’ to it, but it’s important not to let the fear of speaking deter anyone. Nor should you be put off by the technology hurdle – the mixing desk is exceedingly simple to operate and is designed so that it isn’t in the way. Best of all, it’s a relaxing hour to listen to music you enjoy, so it definitely qualifies as a study break!

What’s your favourite place in Cambridge?

There’s something quite indescribable about Clare Fellows’ Garden.