I physically feel sound. Sometimes when I say it, even I think I sound ridiculous. I only realized exactly what I was experiencing when I came to Transom and spent hours every day thinking about sound with a room full of sound nerds. I knew I had other kinds of synesthesia, but this one was a new discovery.
Before I decided to do this piece, this was the conversation Rob and I kept having:
Rob: You should do a piece on having synesthesia.
Me: But there’s no narrative. It would be like doing a story about someone who is colorblind. Just because they perceive things differently doesn’t make it a story.
Rob: I’m sure you can find a narrative.
Then, when all my other story ideas fell apart and I went back to the synesthesia story, this was the conversation Rob and I kept having:
Rob: Where’s the narrative? You don’t have a beginning, middle, or end.
Me: I know. There is no narrative. What can I do to make this piece work?
Rob: Find a narrative.
I didn’t really end up finding a narrative. I have scenes, characters, themes, musical cues, and all that other stuff I’m supposed to put in a radio piece, but I lacked that one key element of a story — the actual story part. And yet somehow, I think the piece works. It has background, action, and reflection. It’s a topic most people don’t know much about, so hopefully raw curiosity can make up for the absence of a clear plot and hold people’s interest.
Because this was a personal piece, I had a lot of freedom over the content of the story. I never had to wish the subject of the piece had said something different or in a different way. At the same time, this also meant I had to be especially conscious of using different types of sound. Too much of any voice, mine included, is boring. So I had to find ways to make the piece personal without making the listener hate the sound of my voice.
Matthew Simonson, a fellow Transom student, agreed to help me out. We spent the better part of a Sunday morning together; he played sounds for me, using a mix of household objects and music software, and I tried to describe how each sound felt in my head. (And then we got brunch.) I consider the tape from this session the most important part of my piece. It feels relatable. I’m off-script and free-flowing, which makes the whole piece feel looser and more fun. And Matthew also asks really thoughtful, interesting questions.
So, to be completely blunt and unartistic about it, here are the lessons I learned:
- Everything is easier with a narrative. Do things with a clear narrative. Don’t do things without a clear narrative.
- But sometimes it is possible to do a story without an obvious arc. It’s just a lot harder. Only do things without narrative if you are open to a constant feeling of demoralization and frustration.
- Ask friends for help. They make your work better. And they also get brunch with you when you are feeling demoralized and frustrated.
Ilana’s Sonic ID
This was an anecdote from my Ways of Life piece about Naomi Turner, writer of “Wrinkles: The Musical.” I originally wanted to include it in my story about her, but it didn’t fit in, so I used it for a sonic ID instead. The music is from the song “I Can Do That” from A Chorus Line, a song about tap dancing.