Matt Perry and Jake Warga sent us this piece a while back. It had a lot of heart, but we at Transom.org felt that its structure to be more suited to print than audio, so we started talking about possible revisions. Jake and Matt were interested in attempting a revised version, which we are featuring.
You can read a bit of our email exchange (and original version below) about this. Being a quasi-didactic website, we are also interested in production choices and the evolution of style, so we have also included the first version below for those zealots among you who would choose to compare and contrast.
Notes from Jake
Matt and I share an interest in public radio and have a proclivity for MiniDiscs-we met by confessing those interests. Documentary production is a solitary experience, especially when the subject matter is personal. But working together gave us the confidence that having a partner brings-the confidence to approach a group of people in public and ask if we can take them, and their dog, away for a
while to do an interview.
One of us would escort the person and start the interview, while the other would run and get the promised sandwich and dog biscuits. I was often the runner, and at the end, the photographer. When editing time came around, it was good having a partner to split-up doing transcripts and topical discussions.
[For the first version] We each edited 2 participants, and then I did the master editing at home on my own time, sharing with Matt as I finished larger sections. We went back out and, based on what I felt we needed, get street sounds and street musicians to accompany the story. For a few weeks, we each carried a recorder in hopes of capturing a musician or assorted sounds. It took a while since he works and I was in school full time. For subject matter like this, having a partner was a good idea. We have no future collaborations planned-each doing our own stories-but still support each other with the web site and playing sections of our own projects for comment, encouragement and support as needed.
Notes from Matt
On a strictly practical level, I would say that Jake took a slight lead in some of the production tasks — editing, recording music etc. while I took a slight lead in writing and conducting interviews. These are just general characterizations of how it worked. There was no strict division of labor, and we did both do a little bit of everything.
The general concept of the piece, and its overall organization were decided by agreement between us. I am beginning to see this as a weakness. The piece needed a stronger focus, and I think that in the course of accommodating each other’s visions, favorite tape, and editing styles, we may have ended up with a watered-down hybrid of what each of us would have produced on our own. This is a challenge that we will have to address when we next collaborate.
For now, we are each working on a couple of stories independently. I am working on a couple of things. One is the story of people who have recovered and are recovering from sexual addiction, and the other about corporate rent-a-cops in downtown Seattle.
About how we recorded: The story was recorded on a Sony MZ-R70 mini-disc recorder. We edited it using the free version of pro-tools, with some help from SoundEdit16 for Macintosh. We are a 100% freeware/shareware operation. This is mostly a matter of financial necessity, but is also in part an ideological choice. We want radio to remain an open medium – a person shouldn’t have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to begin producing. We
certainly didn’t. That said, we really do need to come up with some money to upgrade our mics. The ones we have right now are atrocious. Our $80 stereo mic does ok at collecting background noise and some music, but the poor old omni mic we used for the interviews was purchased for about $30 at Radio Shack and certainly sounds like it.
We were somewhat surprised that interviewing street people was no more difficult than interviewing anyone else. There were certain challenges of course, but these we were usually able to turn into opportunities. For example, since our interviews took place outside (mostly in public parks), there were quite a few interruptions. Several times, friends of the people we were interviewing came up and started talking to us during the interviews. On at least three occasions during Sadie’s interview, she was approached by people either offering or requesting drugs. These incidents produced interesting tape, and we included them in the piece where possible. There was also the matter of the dogs. The participants had to manage being interviewed and watching over their pets at the same time. Stray’s dog Jax in particular seemed to want to run around the park and nearby road. We were able to get some good tape of Stray yelling after Jax to come back to where we were sitting.
Overall, we found that the people who agreed to participate were eager to talk to us. It should perhaps go without saying that we did not pay them for their participation (although one of them asked for payment), but we did share our sandwiches with them (and their dogs). However, the intensity, warmth and length of their responses to our questions leads me to believe that the homeless kids we interviewed were speaking because they wanted to be heard, and not for any other reason.
The university district has in recent years enacted some drastic (and possibly unconstitutional) local ordinances targeted directly at homeless kids who tend to congregate on certain streets. These laws ban sitting or lying down on the sidewalks or in doorways, and the Seattle Police have taken to enforcing them with draconian strictness. Two weeks after moving to Seattle I was cited and briefly detained by a couple of officers for sitting on the ground in front of a University district falafel shop while eating my lunch. Laws like this are the business community’s way of telling homeless people, and their pets, to move on to some other neighborhood. That they do; when I first lived in Seattle, the Belltown neighborhood (directly north of downtown Seattle) was a Mecca for homeless folks. Nowadays it is almost completely devoid of them; gentrification, city ordinances and shelter closings have seen to that.
For the underrepresented, e.g. dogs...
Help Transom get new work and voices to public radio by donating now.
Street Dogs: Original Version
Comments on First Version of Street Dogs (email)
Dear Matt and Jake,
When the piece started, I was captivated even though I didn’t know where I was going. Part of that was due to the rhythm of the bites, the street percussion. I was engaged by the musical quality in lieu of an apparent narrative.
Your structure, though, is more literary than radiophonic. Each grouping of voices contains all four speakers, separated by a block of narration. But this is not clear to the listener because we don’t recognize their voices. I didn’t know it until I looked at the script. We can’t tell them apart because we’ve just met them. They are a faceless chorus to us. Your arrangement schematic in a way that makes sense “viewed from above” on the page doesn’t translate into the linear “on the ground” movement in time.
Can we consider laying out the piece musically, disregarding the notion of all four getting a chance to speak on each theme? Maybe they interrupt each other, or share in telling some part of their reality by cutting back and forth between them in much faster style occasionally. No listener will be able to discern individual identities, so think of them as libretto. The score is the music, and the street sounds, their calling and cooing to the dogs, the dogs themselves.
Let the piece sound the like the broken, vulnerable reality it represents.Let things happen gently and also suddenly. Loud and soft. Overlap and weave. Re-use sonic elements: “Jax!”
Cut EVERYTHING that doesn’t relate to dogs, unless we can jam it into the preamble.
Did you get any other great tape besides what’s there? When you think back does anything stick in your mind that didn’t make it into the piece?
all for now…