Pressing Play May Stop Time

Beware: pressing play may stop time.
All In Time by Sarah Boothroyd

The first time I heard Sarah Boothroyd’s All In Time, I was at work updating databases, responding to emails and the like. But within the first minute, that had melted away. This thing needed all of my attention. It asked to be luxuriated in. Experienced fully. I sat back in my chair.

After listening a couple times, I had some questions for Sarah, the producer. She kindly responded, creating the following guest-post. She started with a recipe.

Where are all of these sounds coming from and how did you put them together?

Preparation time: several weeks

This recipe makes 25 minutes

Ingredients:

3 minutes Clips from CBS Radio Mystery Theatre episodes
6 minutes Clips from Physics Maven, Peter Watson
11 minutes Field Recordings (of clocks, newscasts, doors, piano, intergalactic blasts)
5 minutes Clips from Sarah Boothroyd and Family

Instructions:

1.  Sift through online scripts of CBS Radio Mystery Theatre episodes to find programs about time travel.  Contact copyright owner and plead for use of specific clips.  Once permission is obtained, trim downloaded clips.  Thoroughly clean clips, removing hiss and extraneous noise.  Set aside.

2.  Conduct initial interview with articulate professor who teaches courses on time.  Log tape.  Write follow-up questions.  Conduct second interview.  Log tape.  Write follow-up questions.  Conduct third interview.  Log tape.  (Note: these clips form the backbone of the piece, so careful collection is essential.)  Set aside clips.  Arrange and edit logged tape into paper script, along with rough ideas for sound treatment.  Update script as ideas arise.

3.  Visit elderly watch repairman who has over 300 clocks in his home.  Make recordings, edit them, and place in folder.  In a separate folder, place relevant field recordings, sound effects and musical clips.  (Some recordings will be home-made, some will be Creative Commons or Public Domain.)

4.  Import the above ingredients into a large editing session, as laid out in the rough paper script.  (Don’t worry if mix is fairly lumpy at this stage).  Divide this 25-minute master editing session into eight smaller editing sessions.  Work on each of these eight ‘chapters’ individually, in chronological sequence.  (Note: at this point you may choose to add Clips from Sarah Boothroyd and Family to enhance flavor and improve consistency.)  Continue to stir, lightly pound, mash, and blend until desired texture is attained.  Remove nonessential bits.  Adjust seasoning to your taste.

Best served with headphones or via octophonic speaker set-up.

What inspired these 25 minutes?

I’m not sure which of the three light-bulb-flashes-of-inspiration listed below preceded which in The Grand Causal Chain.  Perhaps each of the following transpired simultaneously in three parallel but conjoined universes…

The pragmatic answer:

I was inspired by the chance to win a free trip to Paris!

In July 2010, I came across this tantalizing call for submissions from La Muse En Circuit in Paris.  I sent in a proposal, crossed my fingers, and was notified in September that I had hit the Radio Art Jackpot.  From that moment until my February 2011 deadline I was inspired by (‘driven [very hard] by’ is more accurate) a crushing fear of producing something embarrassingly crappy and/or missing the deadline.  (Thank you, Fear: sometimes you are a marvelous motivator.)

The intellectual answer:

I was strolling around Project Gutenberg, when I was suddenly ensnared in The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Soon after, I found myself building a tower of library books about time travel, parallel universes, black holes, and space-time.  I became increasingly enthusiastic about the overlap between science fact and science fiction.  I started daydreaming about creating a sound artwork that would illustrate this overlap in vivid, fantastical colour – like a children’s picture book where the pictures would be painted with sound.

The personal answer:

My father died in the Spring of 2009 and in the Fall of that year I gave birth to my son.  All In Time is my first substantial audio work since then, so when I was casting a line for ideas, Time just seemed to wind up at the end of every hook: the inevitability of growing up, aging, dying, being born; the ephemeral nature of memory and hope; how our perception of time changes with age; how the world exists long before us and long after us.

For you, how is producing a sound art commission like All In Time different from producing a documentary or news feature?

Greater pressure to create something gutsy / avant-garde / challenging || Less tolerance for work that is derivative / predictable / ‘too accessible.’

More room to express your unique vision. || Less certainty that your vision will make sense to other people.

More independent decision-making. || Less feedback before the final mix is complete.

Greater artistic satisfaction. || No public-service-journalism-satisfaction that you’re covering a crucial issue.

Greater opportunity to work with timeless themes and re-sell the work several times. || Less emphasis on current and local matters, as well as The Almighty News Peg.

The work may wind up in galleries, concert halls, text festivals, poetry magazines, etc. || Fewer radio Big Wigs may identify the work as suitable for broadcast.

Do you wish this genre got more public radio airtime? Why?

YES.*

  • Because experimental radio can inspire radio producers and listeners to be more creative.
  • Because it reminds us that the sound of a radio story should matter: radio is an aural medium after all.
  • Because public radio without a scoop of sound art is like an ice cream parlor offering only chocolate, strawberry and vanilla.
  • Because art – of various genres – deserves a place in public space, including on the airwaves.
  • Because of c) below.

*I’m making a case specifically for sound art that is designed for public broadcast, and is at least somewhat appealing to a general audience.

For most American public radio producers, success is producing stories for All Things Considered or This American Life, working at a daily show, that kind of thing.  What do you think success looks like in the world of sound art?

a)  A successful contemporary sound artist looks like a cross-pollinated-mish-mash-hybrid of John Wynne + Chris Brookes + Alessandro Bosetti
b) Success as a sound artist is producing finished work that (at least remotely) resembles what you originally hoped to create.
c) Success as a sound artist is being able to pay for your kid’s orthodontics with proceeds from your creative work.  (I don’t know if a sound artist has ever reached this pinnacle of achievement.  It might just be an unrealizable ideal worth aiming toward…it’s one I’m aiming toward, anyway.)
d) An artist cannot fail.  It is a success to be one.
e)  All of the above.

September 11, 2011

It was autumn, and my junior year in high school. I was sixteen years old, and taking my driving test. The man giving the test had the radio on. We hardly spoke as we drove around.

I have probably repeated that information a hundred times in the last ten years. Because it isn’t just time that heals; it’s telling stories.

This week for the 10th anniversary of September 11th, we’re featuring two documentaries by three of public radio’s most gifted storytellers.

Not long after the towers fell, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva of The Kitchen Sisters began producing an intimate documentary about the history of The World Trade Center and its surrounding neighborhood. The documentary won a Peabody Award at the time, and has just been reversioned for the 10-year anniversary.

In the year following September 11th 2001, Richard Paul produced an oral history of survivors of the attack on the Pentagon. It was voted Best Radio Documentary by The Society of Professional Journalists, and received the 2002 Sigma Delta Chi Award for Excellence in Journalism.

More from PRX for 9/11/2011

I Can’t Get Enough Literary Boot Camp!

Maltese Falcon book cover The Maltese Falcon. I never read it. In fact, I’m reluctant to admit I had no idea what genre it is, or what a shaggy lapdog and bird of prey could really have to do with each other. Sure, it’s some kind of literary and cinematic classic, but given the long list of novels I’m waiting to read, there’s a good chance I will never get to it. And even if I did, I might not enjoy it. I have a pretty low threshold for underdeveloped or overly sexualized female characters, among other things.

But then the National Endowment for the Arts released their radio series for the The Big Read initiative. I can’t get enough of these documentaries. Seriously — in two days I’ve listened to two-and-a-half hours of these babies, including the one about The Maltese Falcon. They’re each 30 minutes long, and focus on one great book. First, a host introduces a famous actor (or in this case, Scott Simon,) who reads critical passages from one of his or her favorite novels. The passages are illuminated by the insights of the author’s friends and family, plus literary and historical experts. Carefully chosen music moves everything along. You get the extra context of an e-reader, but curated and delivered in a form you can consume anywhere: while driving, cooking, or (if you’re me) communing with Excel files.

So despite my hesitance to read The Maltese Falcon, I just got pulled in. Listening to excerpts of the novel while hearing about the Author’s real-life detective experience, literary inspiration and the original falcon (a bejeweled falcon given as a gift to the King of Spain from the Knights of Malta circa 1530), I couldn’t turn it off. It’s true, I may never read the book itself, but at least now, when people talk about that iconic novel from which a whole genre of American film was born… I’ll know what they’re talking about.

Check these out, or browse the whole series:


Back To School… Retrospective

14 years ago Radio Diaries handed a 13 year old kid named Nick Epperson an audio recorder. Nick recorded much of his adolescence, including his social isolation at school, an attempt at home schooling, and the cello playing that seemed to get him through. As summer winds down and school days approach (or the memory of them, at least,) it seems apropos to share this extraordinary story from Radio Diaries:

Listening to this recently — 12 years after it aired on NPR — I couldn’t help but do a little Google stalking. It looks like Nick may have made it through adolescence in good condition. Here’s his recent musical composition, “All Your Love,” on YouTube:

Tell me your thoughts

Of all the ways there are to communicate ideas with sound, radio commentary isn’t usually my favorite. But sometimes a piece will make me stop, captivated. This short one made me smirk. Then laugh. Then listen again. It’s by Afi Scruggs, a journalist who is new to radio. Her commentary is called “Ode to the Pencil.”

Some of my other favorite commentaries aren’t so much commentaries, as personal accounts. These two are not yet on PRX, but are worth mentioning nevertheless. They come from my friend Alysia Abbott.

A Mother’s Lament

Raised by her gay father, a poet, in San Francisco, Abbott writes about the conflict between the “magical chaos” of her childhood and her desire to give her own children a different, more structured life. But order, like chaos, she finds, has a price.

That You’ll Understand

…Alysia Abbott looks squarely at the day-to-day love and work of mothering a child with autism and developmental disabilities.

Proud to be…

G! L! B! T! P! Q! S!

June is GLBT Pride month. Even if you missed the parade (or got rained on, like we did in Boston), you can still celebrate with some gorgeous stories about love and self-discovery.

What’s in rotation on Remix:


PubRadio: Not So Nerdy, After All

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

There’s no need to be surprised when you see pics of PRXers Matt MacDonald and Rekha Murthy (right) among the likes of Brooke Shields, Darrell Hammond and Dan Savage at the 2011 Webby Awards ceremony last night. That’s just the crowd we roll with these days. No biggie.

The Webby is for our This American Life mobile app, in the category Entertainment – Handheld Devices. Ira Glass accepted the award at the ceremony, after which, Rekha says, he was mobbed both by women with camera phones, and Entourage star Adrian Grenier — who tweeted the photo to his 140,407 followers.

Rekha notes:

Pandora DJ’ed the event, which basically meant a guy in a suit stood behind a table and occasionally hit a button.  It was just too weird that Christiane Amanpour was part of the same event as Antoine Dodson, though Dodson’s performance of Bed Intruder (with the Gregory Brothers) was the highlight of the night for me and Matt. And when the inventor of the cell phone came to the podium, Matt beat him to the punch: ‘Can you hear me now?’

Why Remix + KALW =

KALW is a community station in San Francisco with a small local news team. But there’s something special about the stories they produce. It’s not just that they are so well-crafted — it’s that these local stories are captivating no matter where you live.

That’s why we air so many of them on Public Radio Remix.

But with a small staff and a tiny budget, how is KALW pulling it all off? I interviewed Holly Kernan, KALW’s News Director, for a PRX blogpost. Check it out.