My phone is running low on memory, so I dumped out all the little snippets of sound I captured using the Mini Recorder Free app. Among the rejects was a guy asking everyone waiting to sell their clothes at a consignment store if they would be interested in joining his modeling agency—everyone except me.
But a few of the pieces made it into this silly one-minute collage. You’ll hear:
A little doot doot song I made during a commercial break in Sacramento
Two women on a spirited rant on the P6 bus in D.C.
Canadian geese and some other bird at the National Arboretum
When I walked out on my balcony this evening, I soon realized I was not alone. This little cicada guy was buzzing all over, crashing into my window. Hours later, and he’s still resting on my screen door (or he’s dead on my screen door).
He reminded me to do something with another cicada I recorded during the day last month, also from my balcony. In the recording, it sounds like he’s standing right in front of the mic, but actually I couldn’t even see where he was. I don’t understand how something so small can make a sound so big!
Here he is doing a duet with a Tuvan throat singer demonstrating harmonic ranges for a spellbound audience at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in July. I decided they sounded pretty similar.
Yesterday was my Day 1 in Washington D.C., where I’m summer interning at Smithsonian Folkways. (I arrived the day before, but I’m counting that as Day 0 since I was running on zero sleep.) In my one-time tradition of recording and synthesizing found sounds when I move somewhere new, I have this collection:
1) Metro Green Line 2) The Carousel on the National Mall 3) Garifuna conch 4) Greensboro sit-in demo at the National Museum of American History 5) Constitution Avenue busker 6) L’Enfant Plaza Metro busker
I think I’ve been working toward this for a really long time, and I’ve only realized it in the last few months. I’ve always wanted to be a journalist, but my interest and confidence in writing has waxed and waned. I’ve always loved sharing music, but you can only do so much storytelling with radio DJing.
Producing radio documentaries seems to be a culmination of so many skills I’ve been working to gather: recording music and atmospheric sounds, interviewing, writing narration, editing audio and creating a compelling story.
I met one of the hosts of “Feminist Magazine” while taking pledges for the KPFK fund drive last month. When I told her I studied journalism at USC, she invited me to contribute stories to the show. Right away I thought about Sharmi and Anal Cube, who were coming to L.A. in a couple weeks on a tour they described as “sweaty hairy femmes of color combing through the pubic U.S.”
So I worked it out with Sharmi, got the bands’ permission, went to two of their shows (but only recorded music at the second because I got smoked out at the first), brought them to the KPFK studios to record an interview, transcribed for days, edited for days. How do people do this every week?
The story aired today, and I got to hear myself through an actual radio, from outside the studio, for the first time ever. And I can’t wait to work on more.
Every time my friends and I are in Seattle, David insists that we go up the Space Needle, and Ian shoots him down. Too touristy, too expensive, waste of time. It’s been an ongoing joke — albeit not a very funny one — for years.
So when the day came last month that we were in Seattle and Ian was not, we each shelled out the $19 to shoot up 500 feet in a golden bullet elevator in a breathtaking 45 seconds. I had been up once when I was 5 years old, and, although I don’t remember it, I felt myself instantly revert to a state of childlike wonder when we stepped outside.
We couldn’t have picked a better day to go, with clear skies in every direction, including the snowy mountains we had just passed through earlier in the day. We stayed almost three hours — though I can imagine staying all day — watching ships come and go, northbound airplanes U-turn back toward SeaTac, families and friends also reverting to childhood.
The people-watching was almost as good as the people-listening. With everyone cramming elbow-to-elbow for balcony space, you don’t think too much about who else is listening to you. I am listening to you, and recording you like a creep.
I recorded for 17 minutes and cut it down to the loudest and clearest pieces of conversation. I tried to include different languages and recurring themes (i.e. the Ferris wheel, making sure someone doesn’t drop an electronic device through the wires).
Even though all the clips are in chronological order, I like how separate bits seems to be in coincidental conversation with each other (i.e. “Where’re you running from? I never saw you move so fast.” / “I wanna go in! I wanna go in!”).
Last week I visited my alma maters, UC Davis and the UC Davis Gamelan Ensemble. I was hoping to practice along with the group, but instead I played the spectator — for the first time! — at their end-of-quarter performance.
Ian Martyn led the first group singing this song, “Warung Pojok.” Director Henry Spiller explained: “The song is actually about the corner food stall. Warung is the place you go to eat really, really really, cheap, student-type foods. The lyrics are talking about how delicious the food is and how sweet the coffee is. The only thing sweeter than the coffee is the waitress.
“So it’s just Ian’s kind of song,” he joked.
I continued my classically Davis day with an underground stop at KDVS, dinner at Delta of Venus and the monthly Sick Spits open mic poetry and comedy night.
I walked in just in time for Sacto pseudo-celeb Random Abiladeze, who has recently changed his name to Rasar. He tried out some new material a cappella, and I tried out mashing it up with the gamelan’s “Solontongan” recorded earlier in the day:
Yesterday I learned that I had never before heard a cicada, and that they sound not unlike some of the noise musicians I’ve had the displeasure of hearing.
I stood above Yotsuya Station in Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, recording this crazy sound, thinking first it was electrical noise coming from the trains, then maybe the escalator malfunctioning. It took a couple of minutes to realize it was insects.
The first half of this is two different cicadas. The second half, starting with the clicking, is a huge camouflage moth. When I held up the recorder to it, maybe a foot away, it started clicking faster. Then it lifted up its hind leg, like a dog, and squirted out a liquid at me, like a dog.
I wonder if it was a defense mechanism, because then it started that super high-pitched buzz, and the other moths in the tree followed suit. I left before they swarmed me.