Intro from Jay Allison: Documentary Photographer Nubar Alexanian has been contributing images and ideas to Transom since the beginning. This is his first try at radio. As he says, "There’s too much narrative here." But, this story could not be told well in pictures. It’s about hearing. Impaired hearing. And acceptance and love and endurance and other messages hidden beneath the surface, if we can receive them. In fact, there’s no overt narrative here at all. That was the challenge. "Perfect Hearing" was produced with Nubar’s daughter Abby and me, with help from the CPB-funded Open Studio Project, Transom’s sometime artist-in-residence program, and Viki Merrick.
Notes from Nubar
I never imagined doing a piece for radio. Ever. There’s way too much narrative here.
It’s not just that I know little about narrative forms. The real problem is that I’ve spent a lifetime portraying OTHER people. But I had a story I wanted to tell. So I had to come out from behind the camera. (It wasn’t bad at first. I convinced myself I could do a first-person piece about a disability I’ve lived with for more than ten years without it being about me. No problem.)
In 1991 I developed a condition called Tinnitus, or ringing in the ear (involving both ears in my case.). It started just after our daughter, Abby Rose, was born. There are many things that can cause this condition. What’s amazing is that 44 million people have tinnitus in the U.S. with more than 12 million having it severely, as I do. It’s also the same problem Van Gogh supposedly had which forced him to cut his ear off and deliver it in person to Rachel, his favorite prostitute.
Important to me personally was that producing this piece would allow me to actually “share” what I hear with my family and friends, transforming an abstract condition into something concrete.
I started working with my friend Jay Allison last spring. After a short interview, his instructions were straightforward, “Show us what it sounds like.” I recorded some sounds, made a list of stuff that should be included and as summer arrived, I hired my 14-year-old daughter to work in my office. One of her jobs was to transcribe tapes.
Abby and I talked about the material. When Transom’s Viki Merrick heard about our conversations, she suggested/insisted that I record them. The story ended up turning on these “production meetings.”
I know nothing about narrative structure, nothing about beginnings, middles, and endings. I didn’t know how to begin. After talking this through with Jay and friend Sandy Tolan, they both suggested I talk with Abby and get her advice. Which was: “Dad, we have lots of middle. No beginning and nothing even close to an ending.”
In the end, I approached it the same way I approach editing still photographs: look for what is strong and let it lead the way. Jay and I began editing not from a script but from the audio, and quickly got to the point where the piece had a life of its own (which included a couple of overzealous wrong turns.) We had four or five editing sessions, after which, if we made enough progress on the edit, we jumped into his boat and fished for dinner (successful, except for the one time when I brought a cutting board and fillet knife with us on the boat).
The ending was a surprise to both of us. I’m still not sure how it happened. Is this it? Is this the end? Let’s call Viki and have her listen.
I can’t say enough about working with Jay and Transom. Everyone comes away feeling this way. They made it easy for someone like me, fluent in one medium, to take risks in an entirely new one. It was an amazing experience!
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I worked very simply, using a small Sony DAT recorder with a Sennheiser ME 80 (along with a Sennheiser ME 25 when I needed to record in stereo, like with the wine glasses). Head phones were those cool Bose Noise Reduction headphones. Jay edited and mixed the piece in Pro Tools. We both work on Macs.
Music from In This House on This Morning by Wynton Marsalis.
Additional support for this work provided by
with funding from the