THE BEST OF THE BEST OF 2021

From the Third Coast International Audio Festival, these are the eleven best stories of 2021. In Our 21st year of the Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition, with over 600 submissions from around the world, these are the stories that our judges couldn't keep out of their ears and minds, the ones that pushed the boundaries of what audio is capable of & reconstructed our world in sound.

Read on for what our exceptional crew of judges had to say about each award-winning work, and click through to hear the pieces, and learn about them from the makers themselves.

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Time Bandit 

From This American Life

 

[Best Documentary: Gold]

Time Bandit will become a cherished fossil in the soul. It’s a whole new way of thinking about speech and time and audio. Its structure is simple, yet the ideas here are out of this world: radical and mind-bending, taking us in unexpected ways through jazz and translation and art-making and selfhood, with a Wizard-of-Oz lifting of the curtain that reveals something profound about our assumptions as makers. It’s a piece you listen to with your whole body.  — Judges Gretta Cohn, Axel Kacoutié, Arionne Nettles, Sophia Paliza Carre & Sophie Townsend. 

To listen to this work in full, and read more from the makers, click here.

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MONAEA, A 2020 DIARY

From VICE News Reports

 

[Best Documentary: Silver]

This is a rare peek into the mind of a young person making big decisions at a crucial time. Monaea’s energy is remarkable, and her story feels urgent in its joy and in the way it tackles hard subjects. Working with diary material is not easy, and we’ve all heard a lot of it. The craft here is basically flawless, and this takes a well-traversed form and does something completely new and extraordinarily sparkly with it. — Judges Gretta Cohn, Axel Kacoutié, Arionne Nettles, Sophia Paliza Carre & Sophie Townsend. 

To listen to this work in full, and read more from the makers, click here.

 

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Inventions in Sound

A Falling Tree Production from BBC Radio 4

[Best Documentary: BRONZE]

From the Judges: By radically de-centering hearing listeners, Inventions in Sound thinks deeply about what sound is. It pokes at ableist ideas in poetic, soulful, challenging ways that could really only work in this medium. A polemic full of magical, jewel-like moments that exploded our brains, took us out of our bodies, made us cry, and haunted us long after listening. — Judges Gretta Cohn, Axel Kacoutié, Arionne Nettles, Sophia Paliza Carre & Sophie Townsend. 

To listen to this work in full, and read more from the makers, click here.

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PMHx
From ShortCuts, a Falling Tree Production from BBC Radio 4

 

[Best Documentary: Short]

We would never have thought to make a story like this – which is so rooted in the right now – in exactly this way. The approach is so innovative, with sound design that does more than just illustrate the narrative – it becomes part of the communicative language of the piece, drawing on techniques from music production and science fiction. The voice crosses registers and slowly becomes more and more compressed, digitized, and robotic, bridging the divide between body and technology. — Judges James Kim, Veronica Anne Salinas, Duncan Speakman

To listen to this work in full, and read more about the makers, click here.

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Simultaneous

From DeutschlandRadio (Deutschlandfunk Kultur)

 

[AUDIO UNBOUND]

At the semi-intangible meeting point between a musical composition and a radio documentary work, Simultaneous sits between worlds, bleeding into each the two. It’s a very challenging approach to pull off successfully, but this surprising, conceptually layered, and beautifully crafted multichannel piece pushes the boundaries of the medium while remaining rooted in simplicity. Brilliant. Knocked it out of the park. — Judges James Kim, Veronica Anne Salinas, Duncan Speakman

To listen to this work in full, and read more from the makers, click here.

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ENTRE QUATRO PAREDES

(BETWEEN FOUR WALLS)

From FAXINA Media

 

[BEST DOCUMENTARY: NON-ENGLISH LANGUAGE]

This story covers a lot of emotional ground, and complicates simplistic narratives around immigration and domestic violence through thoughtful storytelling choices. Heloiza, the host and creator, brings her own experience as a Brazilian immigrant and former house-cleaner to her interviews;the comfort between her and her interviewee, Elza, comes across strongly in the tape. Through vivid scenes and subtle and lovely sound design, we feel the tension Elza feels as she faces hard choices, and she is given the space for messiness, complexity, and agency. — Judges Michelle Macklem, Ngofeen Muputubwele, Caro Rolando

To listen to this work in full, and read more from the makers, click here.

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Ep. 1 ONCE UPON A TIME,

A GIRL NEEDS DISTRACTION

IN QUARANTINE

From It's Nice to Hear You

 

[BEST NEW ARTIST]

The ambition of this project really stands out: elements of fiction, research, interviews, and comedy. It’s clever, fresh, nerdy, passionate, charming, centered in humor, and so much fun to listen to — but it also gave us goosebumps in its intimacy, innovation, and thoughtfulness. It shows such mastery and understanding of what audio is and can be. We can clearly hear the voice of the artist as she entangles herself with her subjects and plays with the so-familiar tropes of narrative podcasts and romantic comedies in an amusingly disruptive way. It’s ripe with potential, an embodiment of everything audio can do. — Judges Simone Alicea, Jenny Asarnow, Alex Sujong Laughlin

To listen to this work in full, and read more from the makers, click here.

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THE WAIT

From The Guardian

 

[BEST SERIALIZED STORY]

The Wait sneaks up and surprises you, but the weight of it will stay with you for a long time. The tape is raw and unadorned, full of small intense moments that take you to unexpected places. It takes big risks on a craft level, foregoing traditional structure and signposting in favor of a spaciousness that allows you to really sink into this world of life in limbo. A story about systems told by one individual moving through them, in sedimentary layers that build up into a haunting picture over the course of the series. The Wait is worth sticking around for, and will certainly change the way we make our own work. — Judges Sandhya Dirks, Alvin Melathe, Veronica Simmonds

To listen to this work in full, and read more from the makers, click here.

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PANDEMIC DIARIES: ONE COUPLE'S STORY OF ISOLATION AND LOVE IN A NURSING HOME

From New Hampshire Public Radio

 

[BEST NEWS FEATURE]

 

A simple recorder brings us inside a poignant and shamefully under-covered experience of the early weeks of the Covid 19 pandemic: the reality of living inside a nursing home. We are given the chance to listen to a transcendent tenderness between two people in a scary and stressful time, and they are given the space in the edit to just talk to each other. This story of a marriage becomes a window onto the systemic dynamics at play for the elderly living through Covid-19. A beautifully produced piece, this is both a timeless love story and a timely news story that will have enduring value beyond this moment. — Judges Carla Murphy, Barbara Raab, Lewis Wallace

To listen to this work in full, and read more from the makers, click here.

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INTERSECTION

For Queens Memory Project & Queens Public Library

 

[IMPACT]

We are so impressed by the community-centered oral history project at the heart of this piece, created by the Queens public library in collaboration with its residents. During this historic moment, when NYC was the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic and, within NYC, Queens in particular was hardest hit, representations of the city’s communities of color were difficult to find in local media. We were impressed with how the people who made this piece, and the people it was made for, clearly expressed its impact on them and on the Queens community; its impact will also live on as part of a future archive of this moment in time. We want to see more of this kind of work in the world. — Judges Carla Murphy, Barbara Raab, Lewis Wallace

To listen to this work in full, and read more from the makers, click here.

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LosT NOTES: 1980

For KCRW

[DIRECTORS' CHOICE]

Each year, after the rest of the judges settle on their winners, we get to make the difficult and exciting decision of choosing a final piece to add to the cohort. This comes after weeks of deliberation amongst the judges, and many, many months of listening, as a Third Coast team, to each and every piece that comes in through our Competition (at least once, usually multiple times.) The result is that a new landscape appears before us: of what is being made right now in audio, as well as a feeling of what audio could be. We love to chase that feeling, and to reflect it back to all of you with our own Directors’ Choice. 

 

That’s why we are so thrilled to award Lost Notes: 1980 with the 2021 Directors’ Choice Award (though it stood out to all of us throughout this Competition and actually was considered seriously for multiple awards by other judges). Lost Notes: 1980 confidently and beautifully broke our Best Serialized Story category, and made us rethink the shape of series in audio in the best way. The series is thickly researched, effortlessly listenable, and critically nuanced, sprawling elegantly across seven episodes, building an intricate patchwork picture of a moment in time, through music and the people who make it. This anthology-like approach to long-form audio storytelling is simple, but radical — and offers an opportunity to choose your entry point. A different episode burrowed deeply into each of us. We are so grateful to have heard it, and to get to celebrate it with you. - The Judges at Third Coast

To listen to this work in full, and read more from the makers, click here.