From the series Neighborhood Stories– Park Life, profiling the daily life of a community’s urban oasis: “Country Bobby” Lowry is the guardian of Walter Pierce Community Park in Washington, D.C. He’s been keeping an eye on the park for almost three decades, and knows more about how it than any city official — he knows the trees, the plants and the kids. In the first of four stories about the park, we meet this transplanted farm boy who never takes shortcuts in his work. See NPR’s has great photo gallery.
Utah’s Zion National Park draws 2.7 million visitors a year, and a major attraction for hearty hikers is a trek along the Grotto trailhead to Angel’s Landing. From the banks of the Virgin River, the yellow-and-red sandstone sides of Zion Canyon rise 2,000 feet. It feels like being inside a huge body. The canyon walls are the rib cage spread open and Angel’s Landing is like the heart.
The sounds of a St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball game are combined with the echoes of Scott Joplin’s ragtime and the distinctive calls of Bushy Wushy the Beer Man. This 39-year veteran beer vendor at Busch Stadium, he shares his love for the game, the crowd, and the communal spirit of St. Louis. Commissioned by Continental Harmony, a partnership of America Composers Forum, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the White House Millennium Council. Performed by Equinox Chamber Players, who premiered the work in their hometown of St. Louis.
“National Anthem” (1990 5:01) Gwen Macsai of Re:sound
Our “Home Team” guest host goes to games at her local minor league stadium, in Prince William, Virginia. After hearing the a host of different folk try to sing the Star-Spangled Banner there, she figures she could do better. That’s where the trouble begins.
“Rookie League” (1989 9:41) Barrett Golding
At the Helena Brewers ballpark in Montana, teens and early twenty-somethings get their first, and for most their only, taste of playing of pro baseball.
“Dug-Out” (1993 27:15) Terry Allen
The fictionalized history of two people: a man born in the late 1800s who runs away from home to play baseball, and a woman born in the early 1900s in a half-dugout (a small house partially built into the side of a slope or hill), who grows up to be a piano player and a beautician. Told by Terry Allen, Jo Harvey Allen, and Katie Koontz, with music by Terry Allen. Commissioned in 1993 by New American Radio. (“Radio Memories” self-interview with Terry Allen.)
Audio diaries document a decade of life with CF, a chronic, often deadly, genetic disease:
“Radio Diaries: My So-Called Lungs”” (2001 / 21:13) Joe Richman
A classic Radio Diaries: When this program premiered, Laura Rothenberg was 21 years old, or, as she likes to say, she already had her mid-life crisis a couple of years ago, and even then it was a few years late. Laura has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects the lungs and other organs. People with CF lived an average of 30 years then (now it’s 37). Radio Diaries gave Laura a tape recorder and, for two years, she kept an audio diary of her battle with the disease and her attempts to lead a normal life with lungs than often betray her.
“My So-Called Lungs” was reported by Laura Rothenberg and produced by Joe Richman, for Radio-Diaries-dot-org, with support from the Open Society Institute and Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Deborah George was the Editor. Laura Rothenberg died in March 2003. Her memoir, Breathing For a Living was published a few months later. And Joe Richman had this Laura Rothenberg Remembrance on NPR.
In 2010, there were 1,770 lung transplants performed in the United States — the most ever in a single year. For a person with Cystic Fibrosis, the transplant may extend life by years — or it could lead to continued suffering and rejection of the new organ. This documentary follows two young people struggling with end-stage Cystic Fibrosis, and struggling with a decision about transplant. While most of us are just hitting our stride in our late 20s, Beth Peters and Brian Sercus are medicating, massaging and coaxing their lungs into lasting as long as possible. Producer Catie Talarski documented Beth and Brian for a year to understand what its like to live with this chronic disease.
The Quiet American (Aaron Ximm) sound-captures the forbidding warning signs rattling in a harsh wind and “Desert Sun” outside the nuclear Nevada Test Site north of Las Vegas.
Back in the early 1990s, SLC producer Scott Carrier found the Basin & Range, near Nevada”s “Battle Mountain,” beautiful, lonely, dreary, and full of sagebrush, solace and stories. And more Desert Solitudes.
Photos by David Matherly’s of deserts in the American West:
Beatrice is a white toy poodle, a neighbor, and “the most evil entity, force, energy known to man. Death to humans is a mere plop of a pebble in the ocean that is the evil that you are Beatrice. Evil Beatrice the white poodle.”
From Sonic Scenery, an exhibit I worked on at the natural history museum in Los Angeles a couple years ago. Composers were invited to record music specifically to be heard in wings of the museum. The visitor wears a headset, which plays the compositions when triggered by remote signals in the galleries. Experimental duo Matmos took it all the way by making audio environments for each of the seventeen dioramas in the North American Mammals hall. The timechart (above) was intended to cue the visitor to move from one window to the next, but you can read along for a similar effect.
In general, our work starts by taking an object, making sounds with that object, and working outward from those sounds in a free-associative manner, without a preconceived result or specifically targeted genre in mind.
In this case, we have had to reverse this process and have tried to think about the precise specifics of the North American Mammals hall and work to gather sounds that will evoke both the natural locale and the specific behaviors of the animals in the room. We decided to anchor our piece around the sounds of animals eating, breathing, and sniffing their environment, and to locate these noises of animal life against a backdrop of plateaulike drones generated with musical instruments associated with “Americana”: pedal steel, acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonica, and autoharp. Feeding peanut butter to a friend’s dog, we built up a basic library of mammalian lip-smacking, huffing, barking, whining, sniffling, and breathing noises, and combined this with a percussive battery of antler noises made by smacking deer antlers against each other and some softer rustling textures harvested by stroking and rubbing the pelt of a wolf.
The work is divided into miniature ‘cells,’ which stand in for the seventeen distinct dioramas/environments and animal species represented in the room, and this is split down the middle by a central section that corresponds to the large bison display at the far end of the room. Our work is intended to be a sound map of a walk through this room and is paced to coincide with a five-to-seven-minute counterclockwise walk through its contents
“17 Species of North American Mammals” (2:22 excerpt) Matmos
LA’s The Natural History Museum commissioned original music compositions to accompany their 2006 exhibit Sonic Scenery: Music for Collections. Matmos’ music used the vocal sounds of North American mammals.
One of America’s oldest roadside attractions is the Linesville Spillway in northwest Pennsylvania. Tourists toss bread; carp amass at the spillway’s edges: The fish are so thick that mallard ducks hop, skip and jump on the fish’s backs to compete for a slice of bread. Original music by Tim Fite, part of LHP’s song/story series.
Writer (Amazon), hunter, angler, outdoorsman, Norman Strung demonstrates the shrill sound and thrill found in calling for elk. (Miss ya, Norm: “Labradors [are] lousy watchdogs. They usually bark when there is a stranger about, but it is an expression of unmitigated joy at the chance to meet somebody new, not a warning.” –Norman Strung)
Father Rupe LaRock and son Joe provide a hunter’s perspective of the annual deer breeding cycle. “You can just smell the heat and smell the rut right in the air.” Another of the Deer Stories , produced with Gregory Sharrow at the Vermont Folk Life Center.
Shortly after the World Trade Center fell in autumn 2001, it became clear the United States would invade Afghanistan. Producer Scott Carrier decided he ought to go there too. Why? To see for himself: that’s what writers do. Who are these fanatics, these fundamentalists, the Taliban and the like? And what do they want?
For the weekend of 9/11/11, Hearing Voices from NPR presents Prisoner of Zion. Carrier narrates his trip to Afghanistan. With his young guide and translator, Najibulla, they tour the horrors of war.
Years later Naji tells Scott he must leave his homeland — the dangers for a translator have become extreme. Scott gets Najibulla accepted at Utah Valley University. Naji, it turns out, handles the Mormons quite well, while Scott, teaching at the same school, has a hard time with them. At the end Naji is graduating, about to get married, and start a new job; while Scott wonders whether he can stand teaching another year — or if he’ll wind up on the street like Naji.
→ From Afghanistan: A photo-audio-essay by Scott Carrier; with sounds, images, songs and prayers of the Afghan people.
Pasquale Spensieri spends his days driving around Brooklyn looking for dull blades. When he rings the bell on his truck, the owners of upholstery shops, restaurants and pizza parlors come out with knives and scissors to sharpen. Pasquale’s father first started sharpening knives during the Depression, with a pedal-operated grinding machine strapped to his back. At that time, there were hundreds of door-to-door grinders in New York. Today, at the age of 71, Pasquale is one of the last. Produced by Joe Richman and Emily Botein (WNYC) for their series New York Works.
Since the 1880s, Mohawk Indian ironworkers have been known for their ability to work high steel. From the Empire State Building to the the World Trade Center, generations of Mohawks have helped shape New York City’s skyline. Each week, they commute to Manhattan from their reservation in Canada, framing the city’s skyscrapers and bridges. In September 2001, after the fall of the Trade Center Towers, the sons and nephews of these men returned to the site to dismantle what their elders had helped to build.
A short symphony in pistons and rings, made from tractors recorded at the Reidsville, NC Antique Engine Show. All sounds are actual engines; the piece has no instruments or effects. Paul Overton is at: Dude Craft | Every Day is Awesome | PRX.
The ethanol-injected noise of cars, drivers, and fans at the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, an ocean-side street race with top pro race-car drivers from around the globe. One-hundred-and-eighty thousand aficionados gather around a two mile course of Fast & Loud in downtown LB — 186mph avg, 200+ on the straightaways. Co-recorded by Joe Skyward.
A century ago the six Crow Reservation Districts came together for a cultural gathering with other Great Plains tribes. Every third weekend of August the Crow Fair honors that tradition in a “giant family reunion under the Big Sky.” Five days of celebration in southeastern Montana, with a parade, Pow Wow, rodeo, and traditional and fancy dancing.
In 1977 a team of NPR producers and recordists spent a week collecting sounds and interviewing people at this annual event. This early ambient sound-portrait breathes with the arts and activities of the Crow people: the Apsaalooke Nation.
Thruout the hour, we hear excerpts from the tracks “Zhangmu: Crossing A Landslide Area” (2300 meters above sea level), “Palung: A Yak Caravan is Coming (5400m), “Cho Oyo Basecamp: Morning” (5700m), “Jobo Rabzang: A 6666 metre peak in the Cho Oyu Himal”, “Camp 3: Neighbours On Oxygen” (7500m), “Summit: Only slight breeze on the summit at 8201m.” Also this piece “sampled and processed from a cassette of Tibetan music.”
For twenty years, Reverend Robert Shields, of Dayton, Washington, kept a written record of absolutely everything that happened to him, day and night. For four hours each day, Shields holes himself up in the small office in his home, turns on his stereo, and types. His diary, at 35 million words, is believed the world’s longest. A Sound Portraits production, on the CD Holding On: Dreamers, Visionaries, Eccentrics And Other American Heroes (and companion book)
“Nick in SLC: Home School to High School” (1999 / 16:39) Radio Diaries
For RD’s Teenage Diaries project, they gave “tape recorders to young people around the country to report on their own lives. They conduct interviews, keep an audio journal and record the sounds of daily life — usually collecting more than 40 hours of raw tape over the course of a year. Nick Epperson of Salt Lake City began his audio diary when he was 13. The talented singer/cellist music, but has a hard time making friends.
For many years, Transom.org editor, Sydney Lewis, worked side by side with Studs on his radio show and his books. For this remembrance, a blend of documentary and reminiscence, she brings together a crew of Stud’s co-workers. They share great stories and wonderful previously-unheard tape of Studs himself. Sydney Lewis co-authored Studs’ book Touch and Go: A Memoir.
Erica was a private investigator; now she’s a radio producer. The skills overlap: you ask questions, try to figure what happened, and make a report. (None of the interviewees were clients when she recorded them.) Produced by Larry Massett.
A good neighbor goes bad in the producer’s DC block. Dozens of rats are infesting her yard and attacking other houses. Produced for This American Life, “Neighbors,” and part of Katie’s Neighborhood Stories series. End music: Music: “Cheval Noir” Fug, Ready For Us..
“I can break the law because… I am the law.” Sleepless in Tbilisi. A twenty-four hour tour, from Turkish baths to Batumi beaches, through the country of Georgia, in Southwest Asia. High-speed sight-seeing, driven by the accidental tourguide: “a ‘detective,’ or ‘special police,’ or ‘security force.’ It’s not clear. Sometimes he even says ‘KGB,’ though that no longer exists… does it?” Music: “Dachrilis Simgera (Song for Wounded)” Tbilisi Vocal Ensemble, Georgian Folk and Sacred Songs (2002). (Annotated transcript.)
In the early 1960’s, the United States was losing the Space Race. The first satellite in was the USSR’s Sputnik, 1957. The first human in space was Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, April 1961. The next month President JFK made a Special Address to the US Congress (2:10), that started the program which landed us on the moon eight years later.
“President John Kennedy’s Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs, May 25, 1961”
“Zero G, and I Feel Fine” (6:01) transmissions are from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, with music by Jeff Artnsen of Racket Ship.
A women dreams of a visitor from the “Third Planet” (2:14) by Bisophere.
The “Last Man on the Moon” (2:41) are Apollo 17 astronauts Ronald Evans, Eugene Cernan, and Harrison Schmitt. They left the lunar surface December 1972. No one’s been back since. The music was by Jeff Arntsen.
A President has a distorted phone conversation with an underwater spaceman in “LBJ & the Helium Filled Astronaut” (7:21). Commander Scott Carpenter spent thirty days in the ocean at a depth of 200 feet as part of the Navy’s SeaLab project. This 1964 tape of helium speech comes to us from Larry Massett and Lost and Found Sound. More…
Part 1: A bike trip through Yellowstone and Teton National Parks, into windstorms, between snowbanks, and in the middle of a bison herd. Interviewees: Rick McAdam, Yellowstone Park Ranger; Geyser Gazers at Old Failthful; Kathy Urbigkit of Spin a Yarn, Dubois WY; Wolves in West Yellowstone MT.
Part 2: Finishing seven hundred miles of miking and mic-ing in Wyoming, riding north on the east side of Yellowstone,. encounting killers, hunters, special forces, and trips to Heaven. Interviewees: Dan Herring, Herring & Sons Taxidermy, Thermopolis WY; Special Forces members Buck Wilkerson (US Army retired) and David Owens (Tech Sergeant, US Air Force) at Honor Our Special Operations Forces Weekend, Memorial Day, Cody WY; Pastor William Hardrick, Kingdom of Heaven Embassy visiting his kids in Riverton WY (photo gallery).
The paving of America as seen from the shoulders and sidewalks of our country’s roads. Musings-in-motion recorded during a 5000 trek from Arizona to Georgia to Maine. “It is becoming illegal to travel this country by foot.” Music by Jeff Arntsen. (A longer version of this story is at Third Coast International Audio Festival.)
Bhutan is a land of prayer flags, Buddhism, and, like everywhere else: poverty, poor health, and domestic violence, Queen Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuk believes her job is to increase the Gross National Happiness. To do that she treks into the most remote corners of the country, meeting people she’d otherwise never see, asking about their lives, helping them with health care issues, and working to end mistreatment of woman. Outer Voices accompanied her into an unmapped corner of the high Himalayas — they are the first foreign journalists invited to accompany a Bhutanese monarch on a trek, and to interview the Queen.
The Queen Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck (photo by Jack Chance)
Special thanks to Her Majesty Queen Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuk, the staff and clients of RENEW Bhutan, Tshering Uden Penjor, Françoise Pommaret, Ariana Maki, the Royal Body Guard and the Royal Bhutan Army, the Zulikha Nunnery, Hotel Zhi Waling, and the people of Daifam, Zamtari, and Shinka Lauri villages.
RENEW = Respect Educate, Nurture and Empower Women, “an organization dedicated to the empowerment of vulnerable women of our society so that they can emerge as socially and economically independent members of their communities.”
Offbeat retreats and obscure tours thru the heart of Americana:
“Losing It at Universal Studios” (4:37) Mark Allen
Temporarily insanity during a tour of Universal Studios in southern California. So many cool things to see, to do, to tour. The writer is overwhelmed by the magnificence of it all, and pretty much loses his mind. Based an Mark Allen’s web essay “I Suffered Stendhal Syndrome At Universal Studios Hollywood!.”
Boonville is a small community in Northwest California, founded in 1862, a few hundred feet in elevation, with few hundred residents. And… the town has it’s own language, Boontling. We go sharkin’ and harpin’ thru Boonville with Charles C. Adams, author of Boontling: An American Lingo.
“David Lynch goes into clean neighborhoods and finds the germs and bugs beneath; I go into dirty neighborhoods and find the life.” That’s how filmmaker Tony Buba describes his twelve documentaries about his hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. Buba is the son of Italian immigrants, part of the wave of Europeans who came to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to work in the steel mills of Braddock and other towns around Pittsburgh. Now the steel industry is almost dead, and Braddock is the prototypical post-industrial “‘rust belt” town, a town where a person either lives by his or her wits or lives in poverty. Buba tours through the streets of Braddock, past the old Croatian and Slovak social clubs and through streets, now empty, that once bristled with activity.
Sarah Vowell is a gunsmith’s daughter, in “Shooting Dad,” produced for This American Life (from Lies Sissies & Fiascoes). Sarah’s latest book is The Wordy Shipmates. (Music: “Rebel Rouser” Duane Eddy 1958 Have Twangy Guitar Will Travel, “Burnt Down With Feedback” Phono-Comb 1996 Fresh Gasoline, “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” Jonathan Richman 1990 Jonathan Goes Country.)
Joe Frank lets us eavesdrop on a father-son phone call between “Larry and Zachary” Block, from Joe’s hour Karma 3.
Host Larry Massett and several other sons try to get to know their “Lost and Found Fathers,” produced for Soundprint, with help from Barrett Golding, Brian Brophy, Bob Burrus, and Henry Dennis.
From the British prime minister’s speech to the House of Commons, June 4 1940, preceding the Battle of Britain:
We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
From the benefit CD Path To Zero – A Prayer Cycle I(video below). Proceeds go to Global Zero, an international organization dedicated to nuclear disarmament. Some voices on the album: Sting (on “Atomic Mother”), Robert Downey Jr., Sinead O’Connor, Jonathan Davis of Korn, Jon Anderson of Yes, Angelique Kidjo, and Pakistan’s Rahat Fateh Ali Khan; along with archival tape, including a previously unreleased recording of Jim Morrison, performing a poem on the plight of Native Americans in Los Alamos, New Mexico. (Face: Prayer Cycle | Space: Jonathan Elias.), and J. Robert Oppenheimer, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
The recollections of Hiroshima survivor Kaz Suyeishi, rendered by two young Japanese woman, Kazuka and Kiyo. Alvin Huntsman performed the improvisational music by banging, scraping, and bowing several large sculptures by Gary Bates, including the “Wind Wagon,” a 35-foot multi-stringed banjo-like structure.
Land of 10K Homeless is a Minneapolis music-audio documentary project by Voices of the Streets, “An Artistic Portrayal of Homelessness in Minnesota.” Thier “website of artistic activism provides a space for the disadvantaged to share their stories.” Producer Danny Burke created this mix of the main theme, blended with interviews with individuals staying at a family shelter in Minneapolis.
After leaving the Marines, George Hill became addicted to drugs and alcohol. He soon found himself on the streets of Los Angeles, homeless for 12 years. But the kindness of another homeless man changed everything. Hill is now off the streets, working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and pursuing a computer information systems degree at Cal State University. Recorded in Santa Monica, CA; part of StoryCorps’Griot Initiative.
A portrait of the self-named, Crazy John, who lives on the streets of Austin, Texas. He tells writer Carmen Delzell about his life. Carmen was homeless for a couple of years in the early 1990s. This piece was made after she got on her feet and was living in Austin. Produced by Jay Allison (PRX).