The Kitchen Sisters

photo of the Kitchen Sisters

Intro from Jay Allison: The Kitchen Sisters are fun. They just are. If you're having a party, invite them. If they invite you to work with them on a major radio series, do it. We first hung out together in Alaska. After the oil boom, there was money to bring up independent public radio producers, of all things, to wander around teaching in places like Dillingham, Bethel, Kodiak, Sitka, Ketchikan, etc., places where PUBLIC radio was the ONLY radio and was tied to community in a way that's unimaginable in an urban market. The Kitchen Sisters were perfect in that atmosphere. They were giddy communicators, interested in hearing about EVERYTHING, ALL THE TIME and then passing it on. They charmed everyone in sight as they still do, so beware! They're about to charm you. P.S. Their names are Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, and no, they're not sisters.

Download “The Kitchen Sisters” Manifesto (PDF)

Notes From The Kitchen

Notes From The Kitchen – Part One
Davia Nelson

04.04.01

“Radio to me is a living thing… sound give it to me, give it to me.”
Sam Phillips, Founder, Memphis Recording Service, Sun Studios, WHER

I still can’t put my finger on it. What exactly it is about sound, about sound coming out of a radio that captures me. But whatever it is, it does. I recently read a quote from Marcello Mastrioanni about his feelings about working in theater, about “his devotion to an art form that evaporates.” That quote says some of what I find so mysterious and compelling. I also feel radio is like food. You spend days and months and hours gathering the ingredients, cutting, mixing, making it cook. The minute it hits air/the table, it’s gone – but its transformed. The memory of it lingers, almost like a dream. Hopefully, like a good meal, it gathered people together in some way – opened up the senses – sparked emotion and conversation.

Sometimes Nikki and I talk about creating radio you can smell. Sometimes it’s a movie we’re making when we set out with our dat machine and microphone. If you can’t see it or smell it, you probably can’t hear it. I don’t think we set out consciously in the beginning to make cinematic radio, but it seems to be one of the main ways we work. History with a theatrical twist. Archival artifacts merging with stories from people whose voices don’t often make the airwaves merging with music. Ricky Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker, The Maysles all have a place in the inspirational pantheon, as does The Grand Canyon. Layer upon layer of rock that is layer upon layer of time. Bright angel shale into fluted shist, into the tapeats formation. Sounds stacked and stretched, individual stories building into a bigger story, human stories so minute, detailed and particular, that when layered they become the universal story.

Possessed By Sound

I was possessed by sound at an early age. I grew up in LA and heard the hopped up voices of AM disc jockeys squeezed out of transistor radios, and it was all over. I started writing fan letters when I was about ten to Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele. KFWB, KRLA. I critiqued their work, told them what I loved about their show, their voice. I wanted to do a show too. I was the Noon Disc Jockey in my high school in The Valley. I wrote my high school career notebook on whether to be the first woman Supreme Court Justice or a disc jockey.

I got side-tracked by radio again at UC Santa Cruz at the campus station KZSC. Then I got a tape recorder and started wandering around Santa Cruz talking to old people. I heard the words “oral history” and it sounded like what I was doing, what I wanted to do. Then I met Nikki Silva.

Notes From The Kitchen – Part Two
Nikki Silva

04.04.01

Davia arrived at the doorstep of the museum where I worked one afternoon to brainstorm about oral history and Santa Cruz and her radio show. I can see that day – bright, blue – sitting on the porch of the tiny Natural History museum on the cliff above Seabright Beach. She arrived around 1 – and left about 6 – I’m sure, we must have talked some about oral history, but all I remember was spilling my guts about the current status of my love life, laughing a lot, and being captivated by her ability to tell a story. And that’s pretty much how it is to this day.

At that time I wanted to be a filmmaker. I’d just returned to Santa Cruz from a year in New York City where I’d been working on a museum fellowship. I’d just finished a 16mm “documentary with a twist” about the Metropolitan Museum of Art through the eyes of a museum guard who lifts weights amidst Rodin sculptures in the basement of the museum during his lunch break. Oddly, in making the film, the only part of the process I couldn’t relate to was the sound – I just couldn’t see it. I think a lot of what Davia and I have been doing together all these years has been trying to make sound you can see (and as she said, smell, taste and maybe even feel).

About the Telling

I think telling “story” is what propels me the most – through sound, exhibits, writing, films – I love to listen to good tellers put the words together. In all this Transom discussion about narration/lack of narration, I think it boils down to whatever works best. In my mind, Kitchen Sisters pieces are highly narrated, even though our voices are rarely heard.

I just listened to an aircheck from 1980 of a Kitchen Sisters’ show on KUSP-FM. It was like watching home movies. There we were pitching during the annual pledge drive, playing snippets of some of our early stories – “The Road Ranger,” “Miss California,” “Les & Stevie Liebenberg, Trainers and Tamers of Wild Rattlesnakes.” We used to do a live 2 hour show each week which became the test tube for our early produced pieces. (This weekly show contained all the kernels of what would twenty years later reconfigure and become Lost & Found Sound).

We had never heard NPR before – no one in our region aired it and no one around us was doing produced pieces. And I think we honestly thought we were inventing “the mix.” I remember coming home from one of our four hour interviews with Lola Galli, a 60 year old champion cowgirl and quickly realizing that no one – not even us – would enjoy listening to this story unfold in real time.

Notes From The Kitchen – Part Three
04.04.01

Davia back with Nikki here…

Meanwhile, someone at the station taught us how to use a razor blade and we began to edit furiously. Whittling, honing, little snippets of tape, labeled with grease pencil, taped to the walls all around us. We began to work in a method that we have continued and evolved over two decades. We do extremely long interviews – our average is two hours, but we’ve been known to go up to sixteen hours over the course of a month or so. These epic conversations are contemplated, cut, re-cut, distilled to their essence – we couldn’t bear to leave out a particular phrase, a tangent, a moment that made us laugh – the pieces become highly composed – writing with other peoples’ words. We are committed to never altering the spirit or intent of what someone says, but we do cut the hell out of them.

Along with this reputation for no narration (which we think more of as a sort of ventriloquism) – we speak through other people and other people speak through us, what probably makes our work a bit different is collaboration. There are two of us, two opinions, two minds and spirits and hearts, two approaches to story-telling, to sets of ethics, two senses of humor. Two people to worry about getting lost on the way to the interview, being on time, and who’s going to remember to charge the battery.

In the Sharing

At first we thought we were unique in that regard, producing nearly all our radio work in collaboration. But we just made it official, gave it a name. The Kitchen Sisters. A radio identity that made it more fun and mysterious and was easier to pronounce than Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva. But when we look around the public radio landscape, stealth and not so stealth collaborations lurk everywhere.

Jay Allison is probably The King of Collaboration. Carmen Delzell, Marjorie van Halterin, Carol Wasserman, Steve Rowland, Christina Egloff, all of Life Stories… the list goes on. David Isay and Stacy Abrahamson, David Isay and Beverly D’Onofrio. David Isay and Henry Sopitnik and Yair Reiner. Ira Glass and every writer in America. Ira and They Might Be Giants. Mary Beth Kirchener and Nick Spitzer. Or the Hearing Voices Rat Pack – Barrett Golding, Larry Massett, and Scott Carrier (whose windswept voice and stories always make us ache). You get our point. There’s a lot to be said for not doing this work entirely alone.

First of all it’s not so lonely. Because as inspiring and educational and challenging as producing radio documentaries is, it can get long and lonesome driving in the middle of nowhere to an interview, listening back to tape that only you hear ’til it’s all cut and produced and on the air, and you couldn’t figure out how to keep the best line of the whole interview in, and so now no one will ever know it but you. Or being holed up editing and mixing for days on end. Or writing grants by yourself. Let’s face it, the money sucks, you’re not in this work for money. (Though you deserve it.) So you might as well get the deepest, most imaginative, and compelling parts. And have someone to rail and celebrate with.

The idea behind Lost & Found Sound is just that. Collaboration on a grand scale, Deep storytelling from a variety of perspectives, in a variety of styles and formats. An experiment in working with hundreds of others like we work with each other. That’s what this all is, isn’t it? An experiment.

The Kitchen Sisters
Nikki Silva & Davia Nelson

Kitchen Sisters

About
Kitchen Sisters

The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva) are the producers of the duPont-Columbia Award-winning NPR series, Hidden Kitchens and two Peabody Award-winning NPR series, Lost & Found Sound and The Sonic Memorial Project. Their most recent NPR series, The Hidden World of Girls aired on All Things Considered and Morning Edition. The Hidden World of Girls specials are hosted by award-winning writer and actress, Tina Fey. Their new radio and multimedia series, The Making Of…, a collaboration with KQED and AIR, looks at what people make in the Bay Area and why. The series is part of new public radio experiment, 10 independent producers collaboration with 10 stations throughout the country to create the new public radio programming of the future. The Kitchen Sisters are the producers of hundreds of stories for NPR and public broadcast about the lives, histories, art and rituals of people from all walks of life who have shaped our diverse cultural heritage. Their nationwide radio specials have been hosted by Frances MacDormand, Francis Coppola, Paul Auster and Willie Nelson, who narrated Hidden Kitchen Texas which was nominated for a James Beard Award and the inspiration for their book, Hidden Kitchens Texas: Stories, Recipes and More from the Lone Star State. Other noted Kitchen Sisters stories include: Waiting for Joe DiMaggio, Route 66: The Mother Road, The Nights of Edith Piaf, Carmen Miranda: The Life and Times of the Brazilian Bombshell, WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, Guillermo Cabrera Infante: Memories of an Invented City, Tupperware, The Road Ranger, and War and Separation. The Kitchen Sisters are also involved in educating and training new voices for public media in an imaginative, artistic approach to storytelling. They have taught at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, the University of California Santa Cruz Social Documentary Graduate Program and frequently lecture and provide training at universities, festivals, workshops, radio stations, public forums and events throughout the country and abroad. They also train and work with interns, college students, and youth radio apprentices and participate in the life of the public radio community throughout the country. In addition to producing radio, Davia Nelson is a screenwriter and casting director. She lives in San Francisco. Nikki Silva is also a museum curator and exhibit consultant. She lives with her family on a commune in Santa Cruz, California.

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  • Jay Allison

    4.04.01

    Reply
    Welcome Sisters!

    The Kitchen Sisters are fun. They just are.

    If you’re having a party, invite them.

    If they invite you to work with them on a major radio series, do it.

    We first hung out together in Alaska. After the oil boom, there was money to bring up independent public radio producers, of all things, to wander around teaching in places like Dillingham, Bethel, Kodiak, Sitka, Ketchikan, etc., places where PUBLIC radio was the ONLY radio and was tied to community in a way that’s unimaginable in an urban market.

    The Kitchen Sisters were perfect in that atmosphere. They were giddy communicators, interested in hearing about EVERYTHING, ALL THE TIME and then passing it on. They charmed everyone in sight as they still do, so beware! They’re about to charm you.

  • Jay Allison

    4.04.01

    Reply
    P.S.

    p.s. Their names are Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, and no, they’re not sisters.

  • Davia Nelson

    4.04.01

    Reply
    Notes From the Kitchen – pt.1

    "Radio to me is a living thing… sound give it to me, give it to me."
    Sam Phillips, Founder, Memphis Recording Service, Sun Studios, WHER

    I still can’t put my finger on it. What exactly it is about sound, about sound coming out of a radio that captures me. But whatever it is, it does. I recently read a quote from Marcello Mastrioanni about his feelings about working in theatre, about "his devotion to an art form that evaporates." That quote says some of what I find so mysterious and compelling. I also feel radio is like food. You spend days and months and hours gathering the ingredients, cutting, mixing, making it cook. The minute it hits air/the table, it’s gone – but its transformed. The memory of it lingers, almost like a dream. Hopefully, like a good meal, it gathered people together in some way – opened up the senses – sparked emotion and conversation.

    Sometimes Nikki and I talk about creating radio you can smell. Sometimes it’s a movie we’re making when we set out with our dat machine and microphone. If you can’t see it or smell it, you probably can’t hear it. I don’t think we set out consciously in the beginning to make cinematic radio, but it seems to be one of the main ways we work. History with a theatrical twist. Archival artifacts merging with stories from people whose voices don’t often make the airwaves merging with music. Ricky Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker, The Maysles all have a place in the inspirational pantheon, as does The Grand Canyon. Layer upon layer of rock that is layer upon layer of time. Bright angel shale into fluted shist, into the tapeats formation. Sounds stacked and stretched, individual stories building into a bigger story, human stories so minute, detailed and particular, that when layered they become the universal story.

    I was possessed by sound at an early age. I grew up in LA and heard the hopped up voices of AM disc jockeys squeezed out of transistor radios, and it was all over. I started writing fan letters when I was about ten to Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele. KFWB, KRLA. I critiqued their work, told them what I loved about their show, their voice. I wanted to do a show too. I was the Noon Disc Jockey in my high school in The Valley. I wrote my high school career notebook on whether to be the first woman supreme court justice or a disc jockey.

    I got side-tracked by radio again at UC Santa Cruz at the campus station KZSC. Then I got a tape recorder and started wandering around Santa Cruz talking to old people. I heard the words "oral history" and it sounded like what I was doing, what I wanted to do. Then I met Nikki Silva.

  • Nikki Silva

    4.04.01

    Reply
    Notes From the Kitchen – pt. 2

    Nikki here.

    Davia arrived at the doorstep of the museum where I worked one afternoon to brainstorm about oral history and Santa Cruz and her radio show. I can see that day – bright, blue – sitting on the porch of the tiny Natural History museum on the cliff above Seabright Beach. She arrived around 1 – and left about 6 — I’m sure, we must have talked some about oral history, but all I remember was spilling my guts about the current status of my love life, laughing a lot, and being captivated by her ability to tell a story. And that’s pretty much how it is to this day.

    At that time I wanted to be a filmmaker. I’d just returned to Santa Cruz from a year in New York City where I’d been working on a museum fellowship. I’d just finished a 16mm "documentary with a twist" about the Metropolitan Museum of Art through the eyes of a museum guard who lifts weights amidst Rodin sculptures in the basement of the museum during his lunch break. Oddly, in making the film, the only part of the process I couldn’t relate to was the sound – I just couldn’t see it. I think a lot of what Davia and I have been doing together all these years has been trying to make sound you can see (and as she said, smell, taste and maybe even feel).

    I think telling "story" is what propels me the most – through sound, exhibits, writing, films – I love to listen to good tellers put the words together. In all this Transom discussion about narration/lack of narration, I think it boils down to whatever works best. In my mind, Kitchen Sisters pieces are highly narrated, even though our voices are rarely heard.

    I just listened to an aircheck from 1980 of a Kitchen Sisters’ show on KUSP-FM. It was like watching home movies. There we were pitching during the annual pledge drive, playing snippets of some of our early stories – "The Road Ranger," "Miss California," "Les & Stevie Liebenberg, Trainers and Tamers of Wild Rattlesnakes." We used to do a live 2 hour show each week which became the test tube for our early produced pieces. (This weekly show contained all the kernels of what would twenty years later reconfigure and become Lost & Found Sound).

    We had never heard NPR before – no one in our region aired it and no one around us was doing produced pieces. And I think we honestly thought we were inventing "the mix." I remember coming home from one of our four hour interviews with Lola Galli, a 60 year old champion cowgirl and quickly realizing that no one – not even us — would enjoy listening to this story unfold in real time.

  • Davia Nelson

    4.04.01

    Reply
    Notes From the Kitchen – pt. 3

    Davia back with Nikki here…

    Meanwhile, someone at the station taught us how to use a razor blade and we began to edit furiously. Whittling, honing, little snippets of tape, labeled with grease pencil, taped to the walls all around us. We began to work in a method that we have continued and evolved over two decades. We do extremely long interviews – our average is two hours, but we’ve been known to go up to sixteen hours over the course of a month or so. These epic conversations are contemplated, cut, re-cut, distilled to their essence – we couldn’t bear to leave out a particular phrase, a tangent, a moment that made us laugh – the pieces become highly composed – writing with other peoples’ words. We are committed to never altering the spirit or intent of what someone says, but we do cut the hell out of them.

    Along with this reputation for no narration (which we think more of as a sort of ventriloquism) – we speak through other people and other people speak through us, what probably makes our work a bit different is collaboration. There are two of us, two opinions, two minds and spirits and hearts, two approaches to story-telling, to sets of ethics, two senses of humor. Two people to worry about getting lost on the way to the interview, being on time, and who’s going to remember to charge the battery.

    At first we thought we were unique in that regard, producing nearly all our radio work in collaboration. But we just made it official, gave it a name. The Kitchen Sisters. A radio identity that made it more fun and mysterious and was easier to pronounce than Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva. But when we look around the public radio landscape, stealth and not so stealth collaborations lurk everywhere.

    Jay Allison is probably The King of Collaboration. Carmen Delzell, Marjorie van Halterin, Carol Wasserman, Steve Rowland, Christina Egloff, all of Life Stories… the list goes on. David Isay and Stacy Abrahamson, David Isay and Beverly D’Onofrio. David Isay and Henry Sopitnik and Yair Reiner. Ira Glass and every writer in America. Ira and They Might be Giants. Mary Beth Kirchener and Nick Spitzer. Or the Hearing Voices Rat Pack – Barrett Golding, Larry Massett, and Scott Carrier (whose windswept voice and stories always make us ache). You get our point. There’s a lot to be said for not doing this work entirely alone.

    First of all it’s not so lonely. Because as inspiring and educational and challenging as producing radio documentaries is, it can get long and lonesome driving in the middle of nowhere to an interview, listening back to tape that only you hear ’til it’s all cut and produced and on the air, and you couldn’t figure out how to keep the best line of the whole interview in, and so now no one will ever know it but you. Or being holed up editing and mixing for days on end. Or writing grants by yourself. Let’s face it, the money sucks, you’re not in this work for money. (Though you deserve it). So you might as well get the deepest, most imaginative, and compelling parts. And have someone to rail and celebrate with.

    The idea behind Lost & Found Sound is just that. Collaboration on a grand scale, Deep storytelling from a variety of perspectives, in a variety of styles and formats. An experiment in working with hundreds of others like we work with each other. That’s what this all is, isn’t it? An experiment.

    The Kitchen Sisters
    Nikki Silva & Davia Nelson

  • Viki Merrick

    4.05.01

    Reply
    ventriloquism

    Welcome ! You two are irresistable and you just proved it to me that I wasn’t just dazzled by your combined "tranquillo e frizzante" qualities in real life. THere is so much to chew on in what you both say.
    Ventriloquism : this rocks me. It is perfect. I feel freer about working with everyone else’ s stories, voices – instincitvely more sure of the larger message that wants to be harnessed and best revealed – as a closet writer I now feel somewhat absolved.

    Lost and Found was a months-long epiphany for me and delightfully described by the Quest Master when he talked about the sound experience of someone else’s Mother becoming all our Mothers. The careful orchestration of voices, or rather the marrow of those voices, is an incomparable form of the art. To slip into your smell and taste metaphor, it is like "vin santo" – that intense wine you dip brick-hard biscotti into – "vin santo" is made from letting the grapes be possessed by the sun until there are just two MAYBE three drops of juice left to squeeze (NEVER to be confused with a raisin for godsakes). If you take a sip without the biscotti – it is everything a grape is or was including the original cuttings from which that vine grew and the cuttings before that.
    I don’t think you can drink a glass of it – it’s so heady. you’d get sick or die probably.
    LFS was, remarkably, many desserts of vin santo and biscotti.

  • Gregg McVicar

    4.09.01

    Reply
    Shelter From The Norm

    You both have lived in major cities — LA & NY — yet your work took seed and incubated in the the relative isolation of Santa Cruz. NPR actually aired the Kitchen Sisters long before NPR ever aired in Santa Cruz.

    What is it about living away from the daily crush of conventional voices that may have helped foster your work — and to what extent (if at all) do you purposely maintain life styles & attitudes today to artificially recreate that freeing sense of isolation? Are the shields "up" or "down?"

    Or to put it another way: do you ever feel Terry Gross or Nina Totenberg seeping into your brain?

  • Jay Allison

    4.10.01

    Reply
    listening

    While we wait for the Kitchen Sisters to come back (they’re traveling and due home any minute now), you can listen to their work or find out more about them at these places.

    Lost & Found Sound the series we produce together for NPR.

    The Third Coast Festival where their "Tupperware" piece is featured right now.

    HearingVoices where some of their pieces are gathered in Barrett’s online audio art mini museum.

  • Davia Nelson

    4.11.01

    Reply
    Shelter From The Norm

    Dear Greg,

    I feel everything seeping into my brain all the time. Which is why I& AS has been so eclectic and also why it takes Nikki and I so long to do anything. We always have 6 or 7 stories-in-progress at any given time because compelling people or events come along and we have to chronicle or interview or document even if were on deadline. It’s like we’ve failed in our "mission" if we don’t capture it on tape and present it to a larger audience. The act of bearing witness with a tape recorder is something that feels essential to us and motivates us to move in a lot of directions at once.
    About manta Crux as isolation tank/incubator can original ideas only really germinate in tinier town like Woods Hole or manta Crux? Hard to say. We were on our own there. There were one or two others around KUSP thinking about production – but for the most part we were just with each otherr and people we interviewed or begged for funding 10-12-14 hours of the day – developing our ideas, methods, obsessions. There were not a lot of distractions or outside influences at first. We rented a small studio and just went there together day in and day out, making every mistake in the book. We still make every mistake in the book. That’s probably a lot of what it takes. Not being afraid of your mistakes and knowing when to use them.

    All for now,Davidd

  • Davia Nelson

    4.11.01

    Reply
    ventriloquism

    Dear Viki,

    I’ve heard you did your first live show on Cape & Island Radio send it please. I want to hear your "ventriloquism" and your amazing voice on air.

    I wonder what your remarks are on Gregg’s comments on developing radio vision and chops in a small town versus a large metropolis.

    Davia

  • Jay Allison

    4.11.01

    Reply
    Nomination

    Nomination for Quote of the Day:

    What it takes: Not being afraid of your mistakes and knowing when to use them.

  • Andy Knight

    4.11.01

    Reply
    Funding

    Sisters, you’ve mentioned the time you spend obtaining funding twice now… What do you go through to get your grants? How often are you rejected? How do you find out what grants are available? Any tips for those who have yet to join the circus?

  • Nikki Silva

    4.12.01

    Reply
    Country Mouse — checking in

    I think the isolation of Santa Cruz had less to do with our early work than having the time and luxury to listen and look around and think and imagine what we might do. Ahhh …. it was simpler back then for me … sort of … no kids, rent was cheap, we had a matching grant that kept us tethered to our course . Davia and I met every day in a tiny garage office a block from the beach – thinking about our weekly show on KUSP, plotting our interviews, trying to raise money to match our California Council for the Humanities grant, making each other laugh. I think our style grew out of wanting everyone to have a front seat in Davia’s funky green Datsun as we wandered the backroads of the tri-county area looking for interesting stories.

    Now Davia lives in San Francisco and I live in La Selva Beach just outside Santa Cruz – we’re spending our days together again, like we did in our beach cottage garage, only now it’s over the phone, the internet, in the Lost & Found Sound office in the Zoetrope building in downtown San Francisco (I commute to the Big City quite a bit), and on the road doing stories (our favorite).

    Our stories still come from the heart and meander down the side roads, like always. They come from Davia’s rich and remarkable life in the big city and my more country life in a co-housing situation (that’s code for hippy commune) in Santa Cruz. We still try to entertain each other – make each other marvel and laugh – the odd clipping from an unlikely source, a snippet of overheard conversation, stories and gossip from our daily lives. If one can intrigue the other, it’s probably what we want to pursue.

    Driving my kids around, fixing dinner, when I get up in the morning — I love listening to the "crush" of voices coming out of my radio — thank God they’re here — Nina and Terry "seeping into my brain"… the daily news people, the independents, the documenters, the storytellers, the personalities …. So many producers — far too many to name… I can’t get enough. Hearing the range of work being done, the stories, the styles, the passion and commitment of other producers pushes us, I think.

    So, Greg, the shields are definitely down. My only problem is time – like all of us – how to find time to listen more and stay in touch with this extraordinary world of producers and creators – while working to be a good mom, wife, daughter, friend, work partner, member of hippy commune, producer, creator, storyteller, imaginer…

    Over & Out for now,

    Nikki

  • Nikki Silva

    4.12.01

    Reply
    Funding

    It’s a love hate thing with the grants — writing them is excruciating but ultimately it forces us to articulate our ideas, plan things out, practice convincing people that they want to hear what we want to do, develop a budget, timeline….all the things we never do if we don’t write a grant.

    Yes, we’ve been turned down — NEH rejected our Lost & Found Sound application one year, but funded it when we submitted it the next year — and there have been others. My favorite grant we didn’t get was 20 years ago when we applied to the NEA to do a film (I think it was a film) about this father son tree trimming duo in the Santa Cruz mountains who train and tame wild rattlesnakes — they dress them in senorita gowns and have them pull little wagons. I think it was the cover of the grant that distressed NEA the most — a xerox copy of the palm of Davia’s hand flat against the glass holding Les & Stevie Leibenberg’s business card — "trainer and tamers of wild rattlesnakes."

    Advice for grants? Get to know the folks you’re applying to — talk to them constantly — send them drafts of what you’re thinking — study what they’ve been funding over the last few years. Another thing — you’re trying to sell them on an idea — make it sound rich, remarkable, unforgettable from the very first line — seduce them. Also, I think your letters of support are critical. The panel is looking for ways to validate your proposal — help them.

    Sister Nik

  • Viki Merrick

    4.12.01

    Reply
    Nomination

    second that. let’s get it up there.

    What it takes: Not being afraid of your mistakes and knowing when to use them.

  • Viki Merrick

    4.12.01

    Reply
    rattlesnakes

    if you guys have sadly shelved that project (which you definitely should not – I would help revive it….) could I at LEAST get a copy of that xerox?

  • Jay Allison

    4.13.01

    Reply
    Togetherness

    How much do the two of you argue when you work? Does one sensibility or the other tend to prevail? How do you divide creative tasks? Mundane tasks?

    How would your work be different, either of you, if you worked alone?

  • Viki Merrick

    4.13.01

    Reply
    Ventriliquism – Small Town – plenty thoughts

    Dav – the Sunday show was pre-recorded thankfully – don’t know if I could be trusted live….it was sort of ventriliquisty since on playback I noticed my cadence to be remarkably familiar….given the many times I have recorded "himself"…mostly it was fun. I decided to go with being afraid and no one got hurt…

    Small Towns

    I used to think it mattered where you live – and it does sometimes, like when you’re longing for real Lebanese food or a man… but learning more, stretching your limits, finding inspiration – you can do this anywhere. And you can filter out the crap without even putting up the shields (you might miss something…..) regardless of where you are. I am as simultaneously curious and selective living in a huge city as I am in Woods Hole. It is not an external thing, it’s curiousity, meaning anntennas (interior ones, not radio …), and good instinct which make good filters. Not to down play the wondrous career you’ve established but Santa Cruz, SF – or Woods Hole, you and Nikki could find the interesting aspect of moisture in a mushroom cellar, if there were one to be found, and transform it into gripping stuff. It’s the spirit of the eyes and ears we see/smell/touch with that urge things to take an expressable form. and the trust one develops within to know that even if it says pate but it looks/smells/feels/tastes like manure, it probably is. But that’s what I think about content.
    If you want to, you learn techniques anywhere too. Especially today. Lookit Transom – about half of these people NEVER held a microphone in their hand before. Being jazzed can get you anywhere, from any place.
    Ok, ok everyone’s thinking yeah but Jay ALlison lives there and YES ! We are lucky for that but Jay does here what he does on the Transom: you want to work? – here’s some tools, go forth. I’ve made some grotesque mistakes and then some great moves – it’s a dance.

    what Greg seems to ask and is perhaps what I want to ask is how your works remain so unconventional – they began that way and have remained that way in spite of the fact that first there WAS no NPR, then it was "radical" (new) then it came to Santa Cruz for godsakes and now while the venue has become quite tame, so mainstream -still, your works stick out like indomitable curls. Maybe what Greg is asking, do you make a CONSCIOUS effort to be unconventional, or can you just not help yourselves? But I’m thinking, you can smell deliberate unconventional – so it can’t be that. Do you search beyond what is meaningful to what is quirky and poignant and don’t stop searching til you find it? I have my own instincts that react to something – an age old subject can be dealt with in a new elevated way – but I think it would be an intriguing discussion for everyone. Talk about choosing. Is it this simple as Nikki says?

    "We still try to entertain each other – make each other marvel and laugh – the odd clipping from an unlikely source, a snippet of overheard conversation, stories and gossip from our daily lives. If one can intrigue the other, it’s probably what we want to pursue."

  • Sage Clegg-Haman

    4.18.01

    Reply
    Mistakes and magic

    Hi!
    I am working on my first radio documentary and looking through this conversation made me want to ask a few questions.
    I was wondering what kinds of tricks you two have for making an oral history into a radio show. How do you take something so huge and fit it into something so small while maintaining the elegant details? Are there some ideas you always use with every project? Is there a formula to help the magic happen?
    I was curious about some of the mistakes you two have made. What are one or two of the most memorable mess ups, and what did you learn from them?
    Thanks!
    Sage Clegg-Haman

  • Carol Wasserman

    4.18.01

    Reply
    What We Would Pay For Rattlesnakes

    Oh Kitchen Sisters! I have had several Dark Nights of the Soul recently, but have been pulled back from the edge by thoughts of rattlesnakes dressed as senioritas, wiggling along pulling little wagons. If the world contains such things, what right do we have to be fearful or glum?

    There has been discussion here at the office about passing the hat to get that story funded. Bake sales. Car washes. The world is in desperate need of those snakes and their little ruffled snaky dresses, their darting tongues!

    Questions about place, and the importance of being in the right one at the right time, seem less crushing now than they did in the days before email and streaming audio. It was once very important to find a mentor early in life. Failing that, one had to rely on blind obsessive determination, on a kind of lunatic optimism. "When the pupil is ready the teacher comes," we muttered under our breath, while trying to figure out how, dear god how, do we get into radio.

    You two, of course, found each other. And the energy which is generated by collaboration.

    That said, however, it is obvious that your art is the result of very, very hard work, combined with a kind of brightness and buoyancy. Of unflagging delight in the process of finding and giving stories.

    So now we have the internet. And we have Transom. And a world transformed. It becomes possible for us to connect with colleagues we may never meet face to face. We can relax a bit, and stop worrying about whether we are hobbled by location.

    And concentrate instead on having fun. On staying loose and wide-eyed, like Nikki and Davia. Who find trained rattlesnakes with better wardrobes than my own.

  • Nikki Silva

    4.18.01

    Reply
    Togetherness…Quirky

    We argue a lot. We fret and agonize a lot. We get frustrated a lot. But we try not to hurt each other — even though we do sometimes. When we’re working we each get attached to certain things — a moment, a story, a sound — "Cut this out over my dead body!" sort of thing. Then, of course, it comes time to cut — the funny thing is, in the last moments we usually flip-flop — fighting for the other’s piece of tape — even if the other person has let go.

    Luckily we mostly agree — on the sound, the shape, the overall story of the piece. We hear things in the same way — similar things touch us. And we trust each other and both care deeply about what the other person thinks.

    Who does what….we each have our strong points — Davia does good phone — I’m better at computer. But essentially we’re both watchdogging everything — so if one of us flounders, or runs into hard times, or gets sick — there’s someone trustworthy and loving holding the net. Not just holding the net but continuing to push and build — the story, the project, the grant. It’s easier to enter back in when your non-judgemental best friend has been minding the store.

    How would our work be different? Not sure. We’ve both done lots of projects on our own — I don’t think we cease being The Kitchen Sisters when we work independently or with other partners. We have a particular style and a way of approaching story that reveals itself in some way. But The Kitchen Sisters — Davia and Nikki — seem bigger than both of us to me — a synergistic type of thing — I often find myself thinking of The Kitchen Sisters in the third person — it always surprises me. That’s what’s great about working in a good, strong, creative partnership.

    Vik —

    I don’t think we make a conscious efffort to be unconventional — but we experiment a lot and work hard to find different ways of approaching the story. Also, our lack of narration often pushes us down unconventional paths.

    Beyond story, we also spend an enormous amount of time working on the overall sound and structure of the piece — it’s like composing an opera or musical suite. But I don’t think we do this consciously — it’s just the way we hear it — like a piece of music.

    You asked about "quirky" — Davia and I are naturally drawn to quirky — it’s everywhere — it’s entertaining — it often reflects something very deep in us all — sometimes not. We’ve noticed that typically when you leave an interview the story you wind up telling and retelling people is often some weird — offbeat — unexpected thing the interviewee did or said. It’s amazing how often those quirky moments don’t make it into the final piece because they just don’t fit. We struggle to make them fit — and sometimes include them even if they don’t. Unconventional? I think it’s more like stubborn.

    Nik

  • Davia Nelson

    4.23.01

    Reply
    oral mysteries

    Hi Sage, Davia here. Oral histories are often at the heart of our radio stories, and they’re often the bane of our existence. The "tricks" for using them and creating compelling radio out of them often break a lot of the rules for how classic oral histories are done. In an ideal Kitchen Sisters radio world we can interview someone for hours
    on end, usually with a specific topic for a specific story, but also with the time to go down other paths when they emerge during the interview to get a feel for the larger life of the person. In our ideal world, someone came along thirty years before us a tape recorder and did the exact same thing with this fascinating person. We love to have layers of interview and time to play with We know when we start a story that our questions will probably not be in, and there will probably be no narration. Often we use period music, and archival audio artifacts the way others use narration – to move the story forward or back and to create transitions between scenes. We often ask people the same questions several time, trying to get complete introductions to topics, and we tell people that we’re cutting ourselves out, and they need to nitro all their ideas, and usually over the course of an interview people get the idea and start doing that. If not we gently ask them to start again. For example – Question: Where were you born? Answer: Barstow. Take 2 Question: Could you please begin the sentence " I was born….". Answer: I was born in Barstow….That helps move the story, let’s your question disappear and sometimes leads in interesting directions as the person sort of labels and narrates as you go. Radio stories really need a topic, more than oral histories do, so know what story you’re setting out to tell, and then don’t be afraid to abandon it, or shift priorities if a better one is revealed in the course of the interviews.
    We live for the details. We’ll often forego the big headlines of a life for the smaller moments that seem to say everything. Though small details alone don’t a story make either do they? It’s an odd balancing act, beading the necklace. I’m sure there are a lot of "formulas" that we’ve come to use, though we never quite think of it that way, and get excited each time we do a story as if we’re discovering some new method or technique. When we look back, these revelations were often ones we had in previous productions, with new voices or topics. I just saw The Princess and The Warrior, by the German director who made Run Lola Run. The two films could not have been more different or more the same. It’s what I feel about a lot of peoples work I love. They are often plowing similar fields, but rotating the crops. Except for Ang Lee who can do anything. The formula for magic is to take as much time as you can to get the story to feel right to you. And to be willing to throw everything out if it isn’t what you want to say, no matter how much time you’ve put into it. But the other formula for magic is to never really throw anything away, because it’s probably not as bad as you think and if you listen critically with the next day you can see what just might work.
    Our mistakes, do we really have to talk about them? Trust us, they’re there in droves. Attenuators put on by mistake so that the one of a kind, never get that interview again interview is recorded so low you need an PR forensics specialist to uncover it. But then you meet a great PR engineer and he becomes a friend and colleague for life. Maybe more on mistakes later. Forward ever….Davia

  • Davia Nelson

    4.23.01

    Reply
    A Radio Wardrobe

    Carol, I find your writing so compelling. In such quick strokes you immerse me in your worlds. Thank you for the kind and insightful words. It is strange how all the technology does make place and location and being in the suppossed center of things less important. But that human contact sure makes a whole lot of difference. The difference between what Nikki and I accomplish together in a room, vs by email or wave file, or even telephone is so great. That wide eyed place of wonder comes more easily to me the less distance and technology is in between. And yet, it does a connection possible.
    Staying loose is the other deep truth isn’t it. To not be afraid of saying the wrong thin, a bad idea, a half baked concept, a joke that didn’t quite make it. To find a collaborator, or editor, or friend to run the bad ideas as well as the good ones by is critical for me. To know that a good half the time you get it wrong before you get it right. That’s a big part of our process. Sometimes hours or days are spent on what turns out to be a wrong idea. That’s probably the biggest commitment we have to eachother, to not walk away until it’s right, to stay up til we’re both happy with it. To not bully eachother into liking something that doesn’t work for the other. To find that creative consensus. Hope your work goes well. Davia

  • Nannette D.O.

    4.24.01

    Reply
    tupperware

    Dear Kitchen Sisters,
    I have many nice things to say about your work. I like the way you manage to go as far as possible without making fun of people. But I’ll try to be brief.

    I thank you so much for coming out about the collaboration energy. Reading that was a eureka moment for me. It makes sense that people dedicated to making creative connections wouldn’t want to work alone all the time. Having a collaborator means, at the very least, that at least one other person will ask about your progress and knows that you weren’t just taking bubble baths while the dishes collected in the sink, etc.

    would you be so kind as to talk about how you miked and mixed the tupperware piece?

    I was wildly enthusiastic about getting into this work, but now am feeling quite discouraged about getting enough volume. At the pep rally were you getting ambient sound in the audience or did you have to have a mic at the podium?

    and did you do interviews with pep rally background or did you do them someplace quiet and then mix the rally sound in?

    I listened to the Tupperware piece at Hearing Voices again. (The site’s given above in Jay’s post of April 10.) I wasn’t able to find the tupperware piece at third coast (there’s a tupperware picture on the home page, and then it sends you to the archives, but I didn’t find it there. tried to send Elizabeth Meister a msg but was not able to from this borrowed computer sans password)

    I hope you don’t mind a question about ancient history. It is so much more helpful to ask about a specific piece rather than a general question about microphones. thanks Nannette

  • Andy Knight

    4.24.01

    Reply

    I don’t believe the Tupperware piece at 3rdcoast is any different from the one at hearing voices. I love the Tupperware story, especially the tupper-songs that they sing… a friend of mine was in the tupper business (in San Fran., I believe) in the 70’s and his stories about it are just hilarious. He knows the songs and the rituals and he used to dream of going to TupperWorld, which was just an annual convention, but he always pictured it as a Tupperware Theme Park (where everything is made out of a rainbow of Tupper). He was selling the stuff for his drug money and had weekly Tupper parties at women’s houses who used the parties as an excuse to meet up and play cards. I should record him before he moves away again.

  • Nannette D.O.

    4.25.01

    Reply
    up again

    Tupperware is up again at The Third Coast Festival website – Elizabeth Meister responded in a flash. And I see there’s a nifty production note there.

  • Jay Allison

    4.28.01

    Reply
    In a week

    In about a week, we’ll be introducing a new special guest (Tony Kahn, Host of "The World") so this would be a good time to prod the Kitchen Sisters to divulge all their secrets.

    Nikki and Davia’s Lost & Found Sound office computer seems to be rejecting RealAudio, which is why they haven’t commented on the recent pieces, so we’re sending them a 78rpm lacquer disc dub. Their comments will be coming soon…

  • Viki Merrick

    4.29.01

    Reply
    IN A WEEK

    geeze, I don’t want them to go…
    3 chairs for SNAKES, STUBBORNESS, PR FORENSICS and NOT being afraid to ask the same question twice.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    4.30.01

    Reply
    Close-miked collaborators?

    Kitchen sisters? You there?

    I asked about miking above. are all your subjects close micked all the time?
    so are your subjects are in a sense collaborating because they have to agree to a level of intimacy, focus and attention over time?

    I was wondering whether many of the voices we hear at Tupperware events are NOT close-miked. You said "I brought along a mic to record the event" so I picture you in the middle of the room, not jumping from mouth to mouth.

    I’m in Germany and am wondering whether it’s worth trying to "bring a mic along to events" or whether you really have to formally request to get close enough for anything but the briefest ambient sound to place things, or background sound.

    I realize close-miked interviews are the mainstay. But would you say there are three layers or levels of distance or two? or something else?

    And what did you say to people initially? "this might be on the radio?" And have you changed what you say to people when you approach them?

    (and Viki, 3 chairs? you giving chairs away now instead of t shirts?)

  • Nikki Silva

    5.02.01

    Reply
    Close-Miking in the Kitchen

    Hi folks, back again

    Nanette, thanks for all of your questions. Yes, I’d say bring along your tape recorder — you never know — and often its very presence makes things happen. Even if you haven’t had a chance to organize interviews, people are usually pretty willing to talk on the spur of the moment — sometimes it’s even better than if they’ve time to fret about it.

    Miking….we close-mike all of our interviews — I mean really close mike. When we interview together, one of us is dealing with the recorder, the other is miking — sitting practically in the interviewee’s lap. We mike just below the mouth & off to the side — it’s out of their line of vision so they forget about it pretty quicky. Also, maintaining eye contact and communicating reactions through facial expressions is critical. Our faces ache when we leave an interview.

    If they’re behind a desk, we drag them out. A couch is always good — you can rest your weary mike arm on the back of the couch and maintain an intimate distance from the person.

    The Tupperware piece… our friend was having a Tupperware Party –sounded good to us. 1 – We recorded the general hubbub background sound of the party — some of this was distant, some medium (you could actually make out conversations) 2. We close-miked the tupperware lady as she sold her products (we asked her before she started and then positioned ourselves next to her during the demo) 3. We tried to close mike the guests as they played the tupperware party games (i.e. going from person to person as they introduced themeselves –"I’m Lucky Laurel and I’ll be your Tupperware dealer tonight…She’s Lucky Laurel and I’m Looney Lisa…). Having a close-up of this was important because it grabs the listener’s ear — gives them a focus — within the chaos of the audio party we wanted to create in the piece.

    After that first party we wanted more — so WE threw a Tupperware party. We also went to a Tupperware Rally where we recorded: the ambience of the room; the rally itself — the singing, speeches, testimonials (if it had been possible we would have plugged into the PA system, but I think we just recorded from the audience); and after the rally when people were chatting we did close-miked interviews with everyone we could grab.

    We called ahead before attending the rally and told each person we interviewed that we were producing a radio program and that we’d send them a copy. Nowadays, we have people sign releases whenever possible.

    Tupperware is a complete and total construction — layer upon layer of sound. Crowded and crammed like Tupperware itself. Picture 3 to 4 tracks playing simultaneously (we’re talking analog here) — with the levels rising and falling as key words and phrases come and go. We merged the two Tupperware parties to create the underbed for the first half — the games and chatter rise and fall between interviews. The Tupperware medley section towards the end of the piece where dealers recite all of the "benefits" they receive from Tupperware …"crystal dinner bells, Noritaki China, feminine things that women love…." was a complete accident. While mixing the piece we had several tape recorders going and left all the pots up at once — we looked at each other — and that was it.

  • Jay Allison

    5.05.01

    Reply
    Still here

    Tony has just joined us in his topic, but the Sisters are still around for a little while longer, so don’t feel you have to say goodbye just yet.

    Same is true for feature pieces. You probably intuited this, but when a new piece goes up, it doesn’t mean that talk about other ones need cease.

    Everything remains on the site forever and discussion can continue as new people wander in with something to say.

  • Jay Allison

    5.23.01

    Reply
    The Sisters REVIEW

    The Kitchen Sisters issue of the Transom Review has been posted and is available for online viewing or in downloadable PDF format…here:

    http://www.transom.org/news/index.html

  • Jay Allison

    9.20.01

    Reply
    Posting for the Sisters. They’ll be along in a bit…

    Dear Friends,

    We’re gathering stories of people who found themselves travelling across America last week in unexpected ways with unexpected people because of the grounding of planes throughout the nation in the aftermath of the WTC/Pentagon disasters.

    We’ve talked to one woman who was on a flight from Atlanta to LA when the pilot announced the terrorist attack on the WTC — she found herself grounded in Tulsa, renting a car, and travelling across America with 2 strangers who were on there way to Las Vegas to get married. Another man, a high tech VP who had just met with his workers in New Hampshire to explain downsizing and paycuts, was unable to find a rental car within 100 miles of Logan Airport. He and two co-workers finally found an old motorhome — they left at 4:30 PM Tuesday and drove 53 hours straight — tethered to the radio. Reflections from other rerouted travelers include — former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta, producer/writer Michael Moore, writer Armistead Maupin.

    We’re searching for recordings off the radio — particularly AM radio — local ids — regional voices — and the constant outpouring of news. 

    Any thoughts on what radio stations you’d hear loud and clear in a car driving these routes? Did anybody take samplings off the radio Tuesday – Monday? Any stories of travelers you think we should include? Here are the radio routes we’re searching for:

    ROUTE 40 (and thereabouts) — Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California

    Interstate 80 — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah…

    Interstate 70 (parts of)– rural Massachusetts, Upstate New York, Indianapolis, Missouri City, Kansas City, Denver

    We’ve also been talking about beginning a national collaboration through Lost & Found Sound and Transom.org to gather material for a sonic monument/audio remembrance to the people and places lost in the tragedy in New York —- the voices of the people who worked there — their phone messages, home recordings, corporate videos; the sounds of the building — historical recordings of the construction, interviews with the builders, the sound of the elevator, the musak; fragments from a just completed World Trade Center audio tour for visitors to the 101st floor observation deck. As we watched the marble and steel and iron turn to dust and the paper fly we wondered about the audio remains — the shards of sound, the fragments of tape.

    Things are raw now — this is a long-term project. Perhaps some of you would like to work on this with us or have ideas for tracking material.

    Thinking of you all —

    Nikki & Davia
    The Kitchen Sisters

    Please reply to:
    nsilva@cruzio.com
    milocos@zoetrope.com

  • Andy Knight

    9.20.01

    Reply

    Missouri City? The suburb Northeast of Kansas City? Odd choice.

  • Sally Sutton

    10.19.03

    Reply
    screenwriting

    I have discovered the joy of screenwriting but living in Toronto, Canada it is difficult to get get my work looked at.
    Do any of my southern neighbours have any suggestions?

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