The Stroma Sessions on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3’s The Stroma Sessions is an experimental radio programme which attempts to create an audible experience of a psychological drama. The series is made up of the recently ‘found-footage’ recorded by a musical ensemble, the Blackletter Quartet, who all mysteriously disappeared five years previously. The programme edits these recordings together, tracing the four musicians’ travels to Stroma, an abandoned island off the coast of northern Scotland, where they seek inspiration for their music.

Although the group sets off on their journey in high spirits, once they reach the island, the tone sharply plummets, as they realise that Stroma may really be haunted after all. The bulk of the narration is guided by Riley’s account, as she records the group’s endeavors. Though Riley begins as the most self-assured of the musical ensemble, she grows increasingly panicked when she realises that the group is trapped on the strange island. The dreamy Hilde, in contrast, becomes bewitched by the beautiful music the group is producing in Stroma.

The story follows how the Quartet’s encounters with the otherworldly alters their understandings of their reality, as they struggle to cling to both their sanity and their connections with each other.

While the ‘found-footage’ technique produces alarmingly realistic horror films, such as the cult-favorite The Blair Witch Project, it is not as successfully adapted to the radio format.  The story is often told in fragmented dialogue of the Blackletter Quartet’s musical sessions while a third-party narrator provides contextual information. Unfortunately, without the help of a visual aid, points of momentous action fail to thrill. A man throwing himself into the sea, for example, is not shocking, as the action becomes muddled by Riley’s narration. Similarly, the eerie depiction of Hilde leading a ghost orchestra becomes diminished by the excessive narration.

However, although the programme fails to imitate the thrilling horror of the typical psychological drama, it succeeds in creating an eerie atmosphere.  The clunky and often confusing dialogue is greatly aided by the soundtrack, which ultimately serves as the guiding force of the narrative. Beneath the music, sounds of the violent wind and waves remind the listeners of the unnerving nature of the ghostly island. Despite its narrative flaws, The Stroma Sessions delivers a unique experience. The atmospheric programme immerses the listeners into the supernatural world of Stroma, allowing them to engage with the story as if they themselves were one of the characters.

Image: Jonathan Combe @ Flickr

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