Everyone has a story about their life. One man, who bore witness to the horror of the 1956 Revolution in Hungary, is fortunate enough to have lived two.
At the turn of the 1956 revolution, twelve year old Attila Marffy would only realise in his adult life, that he has lived two lives. Attila, the narrator, represents one of the many Australians who fled wore torn Hungary in the hope of a better life. This story is about an ordinary man, who survived extraordinary circumstances, and through his humour and experiences, has become the charismatic person he is loved for today.
‘The Art and Craft of Feature Writing’ by William. E. Blundell, really made me question and think about the structure of the narrative for this piece. Having written many a feature stories, I decided this would be the best form to articulate and convey Attila’s story.
In a feature, you have to “remember, (the listener) has no investment in you at all”, so my hook had to be something immediately captivating. After the narrator says “he had two lives”, he leads you on his story, with no interviewer input. After talking about “D-day”, the story progresses by him questioning, “So where should I continue? In Hungary? About…about what?”. The body of the work is where the climax and events unfold, and the conclusion, that Blundell says should have “an ending on it that will nail it into (the listener’s) memory”, forms a resolution, i.e, his happiness with his life, and his championship title as a tennis player…in Ormond.
The piece is intended to remain authentic, without overdone edits and FX.
My initial draft, incorporated only sound and one song playing for the entire duration, however with some feedback, I noticed that, apart from not having any substance, important stories were being drowned out by the repetitive musical underscore. I did not want to lose the integrity of the voice, but I came to realise that it would be useful to add gentle atmospheric sounds to help with the structure, alerting the listener to pivotal scenes.
This piece is very close to me, both on an emotional level, as the subject is my father, and in terms of showing my progression and understanding of the power audio has in telling a non-fiction narrative– something I didn’t think possible twelve weeks ago.
The most difficult aspect of this piece, was narrowing down what to focus on, because as Attila points out at the beginning, how do you talk about a life time with a five minute time limit?
I was faced with the difficulty, like all radio producers, of sifting through over an hour of content, and finding what it was I wanted to focus on in this short time frame.
All the subject matter was captivating, for example, his life as the editor of a newspaper, how his English teacher wrote the Oxford English-Hungarian dictionary, that he was the sixth person in Melbourne to have internet, or that he was scouted by Melbourne Football Club in Italy to play soccer, being the reason he came to Australia avoiding the nine month immigration queue. He even worked in radio for the SBS before turning to writing – but I felt his story of ’56 was the most profound. The thing that most surprised me about interviewing him, was that, although being a writer by trade, Attila was effortless during our recording session.
Portraying a man that I know for his wicked sense of humour was a struggle, given the content that was being explored. While the tone of the piece is sombre and the subject matter quite heavy, I endeavoured to find ways I could include his amusing side, hence the inclusion of his comment about his tennis.
If given the chance, I would love to turn this piece into a mini-series for an outlet such as Radio National, so that I could show this side a little more, as well as tell the other stories.
My role as a producer meant that the stories I have heard growing up could be shared with the rest of the world, and for my own archive in the future. One of the most differentiating qualities of my father, is his voice. I, along with others, have grown up trying to imitate his seemingly impossible accent, and I really wanted to focus on this aspect of sound design.
The texture and accent of Attila’s voice, although may be hard to understand for some, is a quality which provides a huge degree of individuality. The interview was done in a sound proof recording studio with a H4n that was pointed towards him. I sat directly in front of him, with only a desk separating us which is how I was able to get a sonically clear sound.
The atmospheric sounds were sourced from royalty free sound websites. The Hungarian folk music and the demonstration speech in Budapest from archive.org, and the splashing water and what is in fact the sound of fireworks, from freesound.org for the gun firing at the Hungarian Parliament house, as I wanted subtlety. I also use archived Hungarian folk music, “De szomoru ez az élet”, which translates to “How sad is this life”, as this aims to encapsulate the sullen mood of Hungary during this time, and symbolises a change of location within the piece.
The sonic framework of the piece relies heavily on not only the spoken word to tell you whether you are in present or past, but the music and sound effects. After making the decision to not have the song, which is heard at the beginning and end, playing the whole way through, I struggled with dead spots in my piece. My transitions come in the form of crossfades, waterfalls and segues, ensuring valuable information is not lost.
Atmosphere sounds come in before sections, such as the water sound coming in before the story about his “swimming mate”. After some feedback, I implemented the use of gentle atmospheric sounds to aid with the clarity of location and structure.
My initial inspiration was from a tutor I had when I first started at university, who’s regret was not recording his late father’s voice and the stories he used to tell. This idea has remained with me over the years, and right from the beginning of the semester, I knew I was going to tell Attila’s story as my final piece.
Over the course of Radio’s New Wave, I have had the opportunity to listen and learn about many different narrative styles, and how the human voice is radiogenic.
When time stood still by Geoff Parish, has a vaguely similar context, however is far more immersed in showing Sergeant John Parish’s trauma caused by the war. A moving piece which really was the catalyst to ask my father to participate in the piece, which he avoided and rejected for weeks.
I was also inspired by Joe Richman’s ‘Radio Diaries’ at the beginning of the semester, which tells the stories of ordinary people with extraordinary lives. This type of radio really appeals to me, as at times, I am put off by intrusive sound effects and over edited pieces.
One piece that really had an emotional impact to me, was ‘Witness to an Execution’, narrated by Warden Jim Willett. I was deeply influences by this piece, and wanted to pay homage to it by mimicking its introduction; having a song to set the tone which eventually fades then returns later.
Why does ‘Attila’ have to be in sound? Because visually, either in a film or on paper, the all important voice is lost. Language and accent are key characteristics of a person. Inflections to the tone of the voice, breath and tempo change when speaking about certain memories and subjects. Like for example, Attila’s cough/clearing of the throat, that occurs when he is lost for words.
Overall, I am really proud of what I have been able to achieve in this piece, more so, because the final product brought tears to my very brave-faced dad. It also shows my development over the course, and just how much I have learnt. I know there are areas for improvement, such as the overall sound quality which could be refined, however, knowing this is a piece I can have for the rest of my life, to tell my father’s story for years to come, is invaluable to me.