Wednesday, April 29, 2009

News from Salt Institute Part 3 from Alix Blair, Guest Blogger

Friday night now (April 24th). The last two days have been the school-wide critique for every Salt student & their work thus far in the semester. Everyone has about 20 minutes to present their work and receive praise/critique. I fluxed between feeling like, "this is okay, I don't care, it's just a draft" ... to nervous butterflies, because clearly I care a lot about what people think of my work. The teachers chose the students randomly with no previous announcement-- that is, you never knew when it would be your turn. Thursday passed without my turn and this morning, Friday, I commented to my friend, "I bet I'll be last"... sure enough (should have bet money!) I was last. It definitely made me anxious all day, just wanting to get it over with.

I felt especially nervous because unlike most all of the radio students, I was behind in my work (thanks to the 20-30 hours of audio I had collected) to the point I had not yet shared any audio version with anybody. So I had not yet had any feedback, whereas most folks had already shared their stories several days earlier to other radio students. The way Salt teaches, you focus first on perfecting your script, your paper version, before you get to work in Protools-- essentially your story's laid out before you and your next steps are to make your audio clips, record narration, and mix it together (oh, so easy-- please read the intense sarcasm)

I started my ProTools session at 8am on Wednesday morning (I had already lined up my audio & made my cuts), so started the piece at 8am and finished (the draft that I shared today) at 3am the next morning.

A word about narration-- a misguided radio class T.A. in 2004 told me I sounded like a British robot (??? I know!) when I did narration. Though five years older (wiser?) now, I still dread, and I mean DREAD narration. (That TA, like a mean boy you once liked-- you never forget what they said and they, to this day, have no idea you still carry those words with you).

Narration: I read my entire narration three times. I put up the photographs of two friends (who are looking at the camera when the photo was taken) at my eye level, so when I read my narration, I was looking at them, to try to help me feel natural, like I was talking to them on the phone. Ira Glass spoke at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland a few days ago and said your narration should sound like you're talking to your best friend late at night in bed on the phone-- that kind of intimacy given to the radio listener. The first time, I just read my words straight through (I had already obsessed on trying to make my word choice sound conversational). The second time, I read "over the top", smiling the whole time, and even outloud pretending to be my friend asking me the question that my narration was trying to answer. And for the third time, the time that would be the most successful (no one called me a British robot, actually I was complemented on my voicing). I listened to my favorite Lil Wayne song and danced and sang it out as loud as I could. As soon as the song finished, I went straight into my third read.

Actually, in one of Davia's workshops she referenced the brilliant Brian Eno and his article about the power of singing in our lives. I have a terrible voice (once I was booed while singing kareoke) but Lil Wayne definitely helped with my narration as a radio producer.

And so out of those 20-30 hours of recorded tape, I came in just under 10 minutes (including my host intro)

One of my favorite sounds is my recording of hundreds of periwinkle snails spitting out ocean water (my story has a lot to do with periwinkle snails)
The voice of snails! Who knew!

Tomorrow, early, early morning (Saturday April 25th) to Boston for the Megapolis (Audio) Festival.
with love, Alix

This is me at 8:30 in the morning after going to bed at 3:30, from working on my audio story until 3 am.
I am very tired!!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

More News from the Salt Institute by Alix Blair, Guest Blogger

Here is Alix's second dispatch from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. (Her first post can be read here).

We talk about finding and directing the EMOTIONAL CENTER of our story, how is it best if-- instead of in one sentence--you should be able to sum up your story in ONE WORD and most often, that is your emotional center and the direction you should craft your story in.

It looks like one of my two stories for Salt's radio program will take place in Lubec, Maine. It is the eastern most area of the United States and a ten-hour roundtrip drive from Portland! Recently driving the 5 hour return, I had the good fortune to hear Soundprint's Treasure Isle story which I fell in love with.

It's funny & shocking how much finding an audio story is like falling in love. You live it so much in your head before the first meeting. You invent conversations and scenes and expectations. You create the imaginary future and its brilliance. You spend hours fretting over the phone, wondering why they don't call you back. Did you say the wrong thing? Did you scare them away? Finally you meet the real thing.You learn it's not at all what you had in mind, you have to let go of certain preconceived ideas for the story. The story is different than you created. You must be open to all the new things that unfold and yet keep a map of the places you believed in--what brought you originally to the story in the first place.

Flowers in my tiny apartment, only a few blocks to walk to Salt.
They are a healthy reminder that there's life outside of hours and hours of transcription!

Here's some of what we're listening to (a mishmash selection of the past several weeks.) We usually start our Tuesday and Friday radio classes with 2-3 listenings and discussion of radio pieces, most often produced by past students. These are some of my favorites.

"No Praise, No Blame, Just So" Jessica Alpert.
Kitchen Sisters Tupperware Party
"Bringing the work into you" Megan Martin.
"Just another fish story" Molly Menschel--this one we listened to as before-Salt "homework." I love this story so much.
"World's Longest Diary" Dave Isay

We're reading Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writer's Guide compiled by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. I love this book. I LOVE THIS BOOK! It is so helpful, such a diversity of voices talking about documentary work. I am inspired by it. I re-read it all the time, certain passages that give me guidance. This book is wonderful.

Here are two quotes I collected that inspire me in this world of radio documentary work. Not related at all to Salt, but I have the quotes on scraps of paper pasted into my Salt notebook:

"He had the uneasy manner of a man who is not among his own kind, and who has not seen enough of the world to feel that all people are in some sense his own kind." Willa Cather

"Everything is collage, even genetics. There is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border that we cross." Michael Ondaatje.

Alix tries to stay warm in the cold Maine air and blend in with the locals!