Before, During, After…

Before, During, After

The Stories

The World Trade Center
The World Trade Center, 1991 Photo: Nubar Alexanian

Right after September 11th, we created the “Days That Follow” section here at Transom.org. Eventually, we expect to turn it into a timeline of work that resonates forward and backward from the events of that day. Creative and useful audio evidence, that’s what we’re looking for.Here in our “Shows” section, though, we’ll keep on looking for all manner of new and different pieces, not necessarily tied to those events. But this month we felt we should mark the time with work that relates.These are three pieces, each set in a temporal relationship to that day. Two come from New York City, one from Washington, DC. One is from a first-time producer, another from a seasoned journalist. Each was made within a week of the 11th and neither has been broadcast. The third piece was broadcast in 1983 and was made by a group of about a dozen recordist/producers living in New York City at the time. It was, and still is, a tribute. Jay A


Before: New York City – 24 Hours in Public Places

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Listen to “New York City – 24 Hours in Public Places”

WTCNotes from Jay Allison: (September 2001) We all first met though the New School where I was teaching at the time. We started gathering once a week to listen to each others’ work and critique. And we decided to make a piece together.

We went out to record life all over the city at different times of day, not all on one day, but whenever we had a chance and could get away from our other jobs, which most of us had.

We pooled the tape and shaped a chronicle. It was simply to be an homage to the city, where many of this group still live now, 18 years later.

At the time, I had a four-track Teac and an eight-channel mixer in an old barn in Ulster County where several of us gathered one weekend to mix. I don’t remember what the weather was like, but it seems like it must have been lovely.

Credits:

Recordists: Janice Ball, Portia Franklin, Alan Gingold, Katie Davis, Jay Allison, Karen Pearlman, Lou Giansante, Marjorie Van Halteren, Karen Frillman, Joanne Cooper, Charlie Gilbert.

Associate Producers: Janice Ball, Katie Davis, Charlie Gilbert, Karen Pearlman.

Narrator: Lou Giansante.

Executive Producer and Engineer: Jay Allison.


During: Golf Balls

Produced by Matt Lieber, September 11, 2001

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Listen to “Golf Balls”
NYC as seen from space
New York City as seen from space

From Matt Lieber: (September 2001) A week before September 11th, I moved to New York with the firm, vague idea of working in Public Radio. I was on my way, in fact, to find a temp job in lieu of public radio, when the second plane hit and when I saw the man hitting golf balls in the park. The scene was strange and compelling, and I figured I ought to talk to him on tape, a thought which was immediately followed by feelings of shame and self- indulgence. Shame for wanting to capitalize on this moment, for exploiting it. Exploitation is complicated, and I believe its the cardinal sin of documentary. There is nothing more disappointing than a radio story which amounts to so much pointing and staring.

I did the interview, collected sound, and sat on it for a few days. I told a friend the story about this man hitting golf balls as the World Trade Center collapsed, and he thought it was remarkable. I didn’t tell him that I had recorded the man until I had convinced myself that I was not, in effect, pointing and staring.

I got a Sony MR-70 minidisc recorder and a Shure SM-58 microphone this summer and recorded a total of 3 minutes 37 seconds of me walking around my house, flushing toilets, opening and closing doors, and unloading the silverware tray from the dishwasher. I couldn’t bear to speak into the mic, or to hear my own voice played back, and I put the equipment in a bag under my bed. I took it back out on September 11, and this was the result.

About Matt Lieber

I’m 22, I just graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, where I spent four years working in College Radio. I interned at The Connection, dearly departed, and now I need a job.


After: Reinventing Normal

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Listen to “Reinventing Normal”
National Cathedral
National Cathedral, Washington, DC
Photo: Joshua Barlow

From Katie Davis: (September 2001) I spend hours every day immersed in the troubles and astonishments of my Washington D.C. community and when I sit down the next morning to write often that is what wells up: neighborhood stories.

Through Neighborhood Stories, I am exploring the role of participant observer. This is not a role most journalists are comfortable with but I see it a natural evolution of my two passions – writing and community activism. The core of what I am writing about are experiences that I witness as a community organizer and youth worker. As a participant I have an intimate view of events and as a trained observer, I can step back and find the contours of the story.

About Katie Davis

I earn my living as a writer and am a regular commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and a contributor to PRI’s “This American Life.” I also write op-ed pieces for the Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post and a magazine called “Hope.” I have worked as a reporter, anchor and field producer for NPR- both nationally and internationally.

In addition to my professional writing credentials, I am the founder of a neighborhood youth group – The Urban Rangers Youth Service Corps. For eight years, I have worked with some 50 young people-age 10 years to 24 years old. The youngsters are both Latino and African American. I do a little bit of everything with these kids- repair bicycles, hike, landscape, coach basketball, tutor, counsel, encourage them, match kids with mentors and therapists, find internships for them and help their families when they face job loss, addiction or eviction.

Sample more of Katie Davis’ work at:

Open Studio Project
with funding from the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Jay Allison

About
Jay Allison

Jay Allison has been an independent public radio producer, journalist, and teacher since the 1970s. His work has won most of the major broadcasting awards, including six Peabodys. He produces The Moth Radio Hour and was the curator of This I Believe on NPR. He has also worked in print for the New York Times Magazine and as a solo-crew reporter for ABC News Nightline, and is a longtime proponent of building community through story. Through his non-profit organization, Atlantic Public Media, he is a founder of The Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org, and WCAI, the public radio service for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. More about Jay, more than you'd reasonably need to know, is available at www.jayallison.org.

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  • Jay Allison

    9.28.01

    Reply
    Before, During, After…

    It was hard to decide what to feature this month.

    We had already begun building a "timeline" in our Days that Follow section to gather what we’re calling "creative and useful audio evidence."

    But we haven’t felt ready to continue our general mission of presenting new work of all kinds just yet.

    So we’ve chosen three pieces with distinct temporal relationships to September 11th to mark this time.

    Katie Davis’ piece, "Rediscovering Normal," wrestles with that very idea of continuing the general mission. It is part of her ongoing series, "Neighborhood Stories" which experiments with combining a journalistic view of her own neighborhood in which she is not an observer, but an activist. This raises all sort of interesting questions. And it makes you glad Katie is back at work.

    "Golf Balls" is Matt Lieber’s first piece. In fact, September 11th was the first time he ever used his new mini-disk player. We spent a lot of time talking about how this piece might sound, based on the raw tape. Is it an essay, a story, an image? How should it be framed? How open should the ending remain? Is it for NOW, or should it last? We at Transom hope that Matt keeps on recording.

    The other piece, "New York City: 25 Hours in Public Places," has aired nationally before. In 1983. It is a tribute from a dozen producers to the city they lived in at the time. We are breaking our Transom rule of featuring only un-aired work. We think it’s okay.

  • Phil Easley

    9.28.01

    Reply
    first impressions

    How visual this medium is. Where do these images come from? I am absolutely certain I know exactly what all these people look like: the guy hitting golf balls, the owners of all those voices in the NY piece, and everybody Kate talked about in her piece. I can even tell you where all those kids in the World Trade Center observation deck were standing (squirming, actually) in relationship to the guy pointing out his car to them. They were to his right, and behind him…I’m sure of it. And I listened in mono, too. And I should mention, while we’re there, that the sound, the story…of all those kids and that guy finally seeing the same thing was one of the most fascinating sequences of events I’ve heard in a long time.

    Image, story or essay? All three pieces are all three, it seems to me. The question of observer versus participant? More and more I’m thinking one simply can’t separate those roles. As a matter of fact, rather than assuming they are at opposite ends of some continuum, we probably ought to complicate the picture by including the audience, and all that they bring to the experience.

    It would be interesting to hear the raw tape of the golf ball hitter. Or to at least know how much of it there was. It seems almost completely unedited, real-time…which I mean as the highest compliment. And, maybe, the more raw tape the higher the compliment.

  • jonathan menjivar

    9.28.01

    Reply
    Chhkkk….

    That’s as close as I can come onomatopoeicly to the sound that’s going to be in my head for the next couple of days.

    Matt, thanks so much for Golf Balls. I knew that there had to be some of these types of stories out there. Stories that exist in a vacuum…stories that are so much about the moment and say so much everything that comes after. Admist all the flag waving and overtly emotional reports that started to appear on all the t.v. newsmagazines after they were done reporting the facts, this piece stands out as such an honest document of what happened in a round about way. There’s been plenty of quotes on t.v. and radio that have expressed the shock of the whole thing ("it was like a movie") and the fact that America will triumph (whatever that means) but your piece reflects all of those concepts much more beautifully.

    What I really like about it is that it is so subtle. So open and thought provoking and real. I miss real.

    In the midst of all this news, it’s hard to remember how much I like and need story. I think others need to hear this. Congratulations.

    I’ll post more when I’ve heard the others. I had to get this out while it was fresh.

  • Jake Warga

    9.29.01

    Reply
    Good Work.

    Matt,
    Wow, great piece. I really enjoy your calm and intimate style of narration (David Radcoff?-like) If your reaction to events was to go out with a recorder, they you’ve got it…keep at it. Of all the coverage I’ve been listening to (TAL at the moment), I will remember the distance you set for us, the great quotations from your subject.

    Can I ask what mic you used, same for field and studio?

    Jake.

  • Lou Giansante

    9.29.01

    Reply
    don’t stop matt

    I’m an old guy matt, who used to do things like "golf balls."
    You’re a young guy wondering if you should keep going. Please do. I encourage you to take the machine out from under the bed more often.
    It will give me hope that there’s a future for public radio. I appreciate your honesty and soul searching about what you do and why. I don’t know any other way to be. So stay in touch with your hunches and instincts as you turn the microphone on.
    As a young guy maybe you thought of things to ask mr. golf balls but were hesitant. I would have been shy at your age. But now I would have been more in his face and said…"But all those people over there are stopped. They can’t do anything. They can’t go on right now with life even though like you there’s nothing they can do. So what’s the difference between you and them?" Anyway, that’s what I wanted to ask him. But that’s me, not you. Keep on going.

  • Jay Allison

    9.29.01

    Reply
    Editing

    I should mention that Matt and I went through an editorial process on this piece. The Transom style is to leave final decisions to the producer, but we’re not above kibitzing and helping, especially when asked.

    Matt described the piece to me. I said we were interested and he sent a draft script. We worked on his script. He recorded and sent his tracks and the actuality for me to edit and mix. There were some tricky parts and, in the time we had, he requested that route. Next time, I bet he’ll use his own rig.

    The main editorial questions turned on whether the piece should be more of a "commentary" relating to the moment/mood of the days it was written/presented (several days after) or whether it could be framed in such a way (without comment) so that it might have a more open quality.

    The other big decision was about Matt’s questions on scene. Some of them, in the vein of Lou’s note above, had a judgemental quality. We cut that out, thinking it preferable for the listener to make his own judgement. The phrase, "This is America, Man" can be interpreted 285 million different ways. I like that.

    Matt can tell you more about the back and forth from his perspective

  • Jay Allison

    9.29.01

    Reply
    Lou and Katie

    I’d also mention that it’s nice to see Lou Giansante here. He’s the narrator for "NYC: 24 Hours in Public Places." And Katie Davis, who produced this month’s AFTER… essay, was one of the recordists 18 years ago in New York.

    Katie’s "Reinventing Normal," by the way, received no editing. She sent the copy, got an okay, recorded it. I cut it from several of her takes, and presto.

  • beedge

    9.29.01

    Reply
    swiling sirens

    "golf balls" is a wonderful piece. all those police sirens swirling around this calm center: it’s lyrical. this piece is one of the the few accurate reports to emerge from the event. was an attempt made to get this thing aired?

  • Jay Allison

    9.29.01

    Reply
    not yet

    it’s brand new. You heard it here first.

  • Jackson Braider

    9.29.01

    Reply
    The business of moments

    Matt: I am growing to think that radio — the kind of radio we’re looking at here — is the capturing of moments. In one sense, it’s reporting, being the first there on the scene. So it’s luck, but it’s not luck. What you say is a beautiful set up for what we hear afterwards. Your piece was the second shoe dropping for me. Knowing Jay, I know he helped; but knowing Jay, I also know it’s your work. It’s gorgeous.

    As for "After…" It touched me, but there was a certain immediacy that I wanted but didn’t get. Perhaps because I had already read this by Sharon Brody:
    The Aftermath: When Your Child Doesn’t Need the Help You Need to Offer

    http://www.wgbh.org/highlight?item_id=464744

  • Joellen Easton

    10.01.01

    Reply
    wow

    Wow. There really isn’t much else for me to say. Wow…. it’s not the sort of style you hear that much on the radio. I appreciate that.

  • Matt Lieber

    10.01.01

    Reply
    Jackson Braider and the business of moments

    This is a very tricky business.
    When I’m thinking or talking about a piece of radio, a book, a film, a song, I often find myself thinking about a moment. But a good moment is like punctuation, it exists only in the context of a sentence, a paragraph, a story. And though I may remember only the moment, I only do so because of the rest of the story. In the final analysis, something like a longer form radio piece needs more than just a moment, more than just a few moments. It seems to me it has to be a sustained affair, for while the power of moments is piercing, the power of narrative is shattering.
    But then, here is an example which I think runs counter to my argument: My favorite moment in all of documentary film is in Frederick Wiseman’s “store,” which is not a great film, I don’t think. But there is one scene in which a man has brought his girlfriend to the department store (where the entire film is shot), to buy a mink coat. She spends a long time with the sales associate trying on different coats while the husband stands there with his hands in his pockets looking totally uninterested. But then, when the girlfriend goes into a different part of the store with the sales associate, the husband stays behind with the fur coat on the rack. And as he’s standing there alone in the store, he picks up the arm of the mink coat on the hanger, and starts touching it and holding it, touching and holding it as if there was a woman inside it. The moment is amazing, but the film is a failure (at least as narrative).
    Are moments the stuff of narrative, or the opposite?
    To bring this back to radio, I think the business of moments is really the business of length. Most of the stories I listen to on radio (the usual suspects) are not long form. They’re generally under 15 minutes, and rarely longer than 20. Can a longer form radio piece be sustained for more than an hour, and can it be done consistently? I ask this out of equal parts ignorance and curiosity. I can think of a handful, the most recent being an hour long piece on TAL called, I believe, “Hitler’s Yacht.” I admired the ambition of that piece quite a bit, and admired its sustained conveyance. In the end though, for reasons I don’t think had to do with length, I thought it was too clever.

  • Matt Lieber

    10.01.01

    Reply
    The edit of “Golf Balls”

    I don’t want to talk to much about this piece, it is what it is. What I will say is that there was brief talk about using this image, moment, scene, whatever, as an entrance into a commentary about how to persevere in the face of this horror. My idea for a commentary was a variation on the same idea that has now been quite eloquently articulated in the New Yorker, in the New York Times, and ten other places: that at this time, the only thing a thinking and sensitive person can do is to remain human if possible, and a gesture of helplessness, even of frivolity, might be the best way of doing that. In other words, bathe in the mundane, quotidian details of life, don’t drown in the big dark generalities.
    The reason I didn’t go the commentary route, however, was that eventually it would have sounded dated. Jay said it best: will this be listenable in a month?

    Jake Warga- I used a Shure SM-58 mic for everything.

  • Jackson Braider

    10.02.01

    Reply
    Moments and the ephemeral

    I really was going to go to bed, but …

    I used to work in a corner of publishing devoted to antiques and collectables and the place where I almost got excited was ephemera — the things that were supposed to be thrown out.

    So Jay asks, will this be listenable in a month. Commentary does tend to root something, doesn’t it? Roots that are not necessarily of the thing itself. They tend to be add-ons. The little bit of this-or-that that brings "closure" and "wholeness" and other kinds of wholesome, worthwhile characteristics to the piece.

    And then — whether it’s you or Jay, it doesn’t matter, the fact is you say it — "What’s your name, where are you from, that sort of thing" (I may not have it verbatim). I would have cut that in a flash — you were probably thinking so as you as the question, or else you would have been much more, oh, *reportorial*.

    Yet there it is. It is, God help me, *real*, and it makes a wonderful link between you and Dave.

    The throw-away question, the most ephemeral part of the entire piece, and yet it is this critical bridge between your reconstruction of the scene and the actuality of the golf club hitting the ball.

    And it, in a curious way every bit as much as what David has to say, makes the piece not ephemeral but, well — don’t take this the wrong way — timeless.

  • Jackson Braider

    10.05.01

    Reply
    Oh, the humanity!

    There was a spontaneous moment in the Hindenburg disaster when the reporter goes, "Oh, the humanity!"

    One of the balancing acts we must face at the frontier of radio is the point where artfulness and spontaneity collide.

    We always stand somewhere between Fred Friendly’s rap on Quonset (a lovely L&F Sound piece) and the TAL piece, where the almost throw-away line is pondered, poked at, and finally accepted.

    No one that I heard spoke of "Oh, the humanity!" at the WTC. God knows it would have been appropriate. Perhaps the need for an individual, distinctive, readily identifiable verbal "object" has disenfranchised us from evoking (conveying, even perceiving) a typical human response. The beauty of David from Brooklyn/Trinidad is the idiocyncracy of the voice, the gesture.

    But where is the more commonplace? A nice piece on ME this morning — folklorists emulating Alan Lomax after Pearl Harbor — offers an interesting path.

  • cw

    10.12.01

    Reply
    i liked this piece b/c it begged the question of reinventing normal but wished she would make that aspect more explicit

    no one has to reinvent normal. it happens. that’s why atrocities suck. b/c the next day you still have to brush yr teeth and feel regular about it. i think this piece touched on that in an interesting way.

  • Leah

    10.16.01

    Reply
    we all need to keep hitting our preverbial golf balls

    The reason our country has gotten through this crisis is people like that guy hitting golf balls in the park. Some politically correct folks might call him insensitive or unfeeling for not crying and staring and exchanging news from a pocket radio. But I ask you… what good would crying have done. Don’t mistaken me for suggesting that those who lost loved ones shouldn’t cry, or that the nation shouldn’t mourn. That is by no means my intent. We must keep "hitting our golf balls," flying on planes, and buying stocks.

    I commend you Mr. Lieber for producing this piece. It has had more of an impact on me than anything I have heard to date about Sep. 11. It seems unbelievable that this is your first time with a tape recorder.

  • Jill Kaufman

    11.02.01

    Reply
    Hello Matt!

    Just found your piece on Transom. Good to know you’re still pursuing work in this biz. Saw most of the ‘dearly departed’ last evening. I’ll tell them to find you hear. Your piece? The sirens, the sirens. That says it all.

  • j-dog

    12.05.10

    Reply
    great work

    This is actually one of my favorite radio pieces. I’ve been teaching radio off and on, and use this piece as a template. Bravo to Matt Lieber.

  • carole vallieres

    4.08.11

    Reply
    retrouvailles

    Hello from Montreal
    i’ve been a journalist for 25 years and met with Mr Louis Giansante in… 1984, i guess, while i was doing a series on Soundscape at the french network of the CBC. I thouht i had an old cassette that i wanted to share with my daughter… not found. How did I think to look for it on the web? well… i want to tell you what a joy it is to listen again to NYC 24 hours in Public Places.
    i will us it in a paper i am writing,
    is it anyway you would like me to report it in my Bibliography ?
    you may answer at: cavaliere@videotron.ca
    from Montréal , cheers!
    carole

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