Intro from Jay Allison: This piece comes from a student in the Transom Story Workshop Fall 2013. For many of the participants, this is the first radio work they’ve ever made, which is not an excuse but a cause for amazement. In their two months in Woods Hole, under the guidance of Rob Rosenthal & Sarah Reynolds and the Transom Team (along with renowned visiting teachers like, this time: Jonathan Harris, Ira Glass, and Andrea Seabrook), they learn the skills of recording, interviewing, structuring, editing, writing, voicing, mixing, etc. etc… while creating work for broadcast. The fun part is not that they just learn the rules, but that they also break them creatively. The harmony in these groups, as they help one another, is inspiring. We asked students to write about their challenges and what they did to surmount or circumvent them. They share their own vulnerability in order to help others, which is part of the wonder of these workshops.
About “Oh Brother”
Jonathan Harris, Internet wizard-artist and creator of, among many things, Cowbird, came to visit us in Woods Hole. In the afternoon, he sent us away for an hour to create our own Cowbird — a short audio piece connected to a photograph. The night before I had been on the phone with my mum, learning that my younger brother had been lying AGAIN about dropping out of school — and at that moment, this was all that I could make something about. So I did, and the Cowbird I made turned out to be terribly personal. Then I had to decide what to do with it. Do I keep it up on the Internet? Do I take it down? Do I show it to my brother?
So all this was buzzing around in the background as I was searching for and pursuing my second story. And although I did a whole bunch of interviews with a whole bunch of people, this thing about my brother sat like a blood clot I couldn’t ignore. After weeks of resisting and avoiding, I realized that sometimes you just have to work with that thing that doesn’t go away, even if, maybe especially if, that thing is difficult.
In class we talked about approaching an interview with a rough outline of how the ideal story could look –what would be the perfect ending, the perfect beginning, where could the story arc take you — that sort of thing. I found with a personal story like this, making an outline was harder to do. I had the beginning down, I knew how it would start, but I had no idea how my brother would react to what I had to say to him. This made making the piece scary as hell, but also kind of interesting — I don’t know what’s going to happen next and neither does the listener. I think you can hear this in my voice and you can hear the change in my brother’s voice as we begin to talk about something we’ve never talked about before. This lack-of-knowing provided a real time quality I couldn’t have put in an outline. I sort of had to prepare and to let go all at the same time.
All of the tape for this piece, except for my narration (recorded by the luminous Viki Merrick), was recorded over Skype using Audio Hijack Pro. I had to ask my brother to muffle the noise of his computer fan with a number of blankets, remind him repeatedly to stop fiddling with that damn pencil, and ask him to sit quite close to the microphone. Despite all this I was surprised how tolerably “skypy” the sound turned out to be. My parents actually came home in the middle of our interview and I could hear them in the background putting the kettle on and letting the dog out to pee. It did provide some much-needed comic relief, but in the future I’ll be sure to ask my interviewee to find a quieter location.
I want to add that I don’t know if I would have made this piece if not for the incredible support I felt from the Transom Workshop community. Rob, Sarah, Kathy, Jen, Jenny, Ethan, Eric, Britta, Tobin, and Vanessa — that was epic. Thank you.
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Annie’s Sonic ID
I met Patrice one afternoon when I walked into a retirement home in Falmouth looking for a story. She was sitting behind the desk, her hair done up in a magnificent coif, her smiling eyes blinking behind a large pair of purple-rimmed glasses. We had been speaking in class about how choosing a person for a story can almost be like casting for a role in a play. Patrice had a magnetic personality and I thought, heck, she’d be great on the radio stage! I ended up exploring Martha’s Vineyard with her and recording her deep love for the island. This sonic is the result of about four hours of tape.