In fall 2009, I had a whole house to myself for three weeks for the first time in my life. Feeling liberated and lonely, I recorded a short piece of music every day for 19 days straight on my Nokia flip phone.
This was before I had a digital audio recorder, so I used Blog Talk Radio’s now-discontinued Cinch recording service: they gave you a number to call, recorded whatever you played into the phone, and then uploaded an MP3 for you.
The end product is a goofy musical sketchbook, with few completed thoughts but something I would like to send out into the universe anyway. I mostly used that Casio PK-1 on top (that elephant keyboard, while the cutest, was garbage). By the 19th day I was ready to attempt something more ambitious — that recording was the prototype of this song.
Four years ago today I got up at like 5 a.m. and flew to Okinawa, Japan. (I was pretty sure I remembered the date, but I double-checked my Google Calendar, and sure enough I had February 11, 2010, labeled “HOLY SHIT.”)
Our 12-week trip was part vacation with my family, part English-teaching internship with my cousin, and part musical traditions study in an oceanic cultural crossroads. It’s the reason I bought a portable recorder, the place I started recording live music and found sounds. It was the greatest adventure I’ve ever had, and it opened my heart to ethnomusicological research. You can read all about it on our travel/music blog: oki yo!
It took me over a year to synthesize all my recordings, photos and stories into one compilation album, which was my goal all along. After many hours drudging through audio content and getting frustrated at Kinko’s, I had this neat little CD package, an oki yo! time capsule in four chapters: traditional concerts, private performances, adventures, and originals.
Each of these songs has a story on oki yo! if you want to search around or in the liner notes if you want to order the album!
While I was home in Sacramento, cleaning my old room and preparing to move, I found a shoe box labeled “jewelry + childhood.” It contained a handful of necklaces I’ve never worn, some drying up sparkly nail polish, and a stack of storybook cassette tapes. This one was the hidden gem.
My cousin Jojo and I recorded this probably around 1998, when I was 12 and he was 5, judging by our voices. My desire to document began at a young age!
The first part of the tape is a news show, in which we cover a recent flood and speak with a few survivors. If you listen to any of my “Phoning It In” episodes, you’ll notice that my interviewing skills have not improved. How twisted is it that we invented a character whose family died so he declines an interview?
I remember writing that song “Down in the Meadow” with Jojo — possibly the first songwriting experience for both of us. As I listened to it last month for the first time in probably 15 years, I could still remember the words.
In the final part, I’m pretty sure Jojo made up words to a song from Gradius III, our favorite SNES space fighter game. He sings another weird song by himself, and then I interview him and make some poop jokes. Golden.
Ian and I started a band. We’re called Moon Germs. This is our only song.
It’s the only song I can sing while also playing the piano part. We recorded it on our last night alone in our D.C. apartment, marking the end of this joint summer adventure. Maybe in three more years we’ll spend another summer in a weird place and record a second song, just so we don’t waste such a great name.
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.
You can hear it too!
Fushimi Inari Taisha is a mystical Shinto shrine that starts at the bottom of a mountain in Kyoto. Japanese businesses have donated thousands of these vermillion-colored torii gates — in honor of Inari, the patron spirit of rice, agriculture and industry — that line the paths up the mountain.
The shrine is open 24 hours, so Lou and I decided to go at night, when there’s no crowds and lots of croaking frogs. We took advantage of so few people, plus the pocket-sized mbira I bought earlier that day and the slide whistle he bought, and recorded a little song and filmed this pixelation animation:
(I edited the audio and Lou made the video.)
And here’s an alternate version of the mbira/whistle combo jam I layered, playing around with Audacity effects:
Read on about our rhinoceros beetle encounter!
One of my earliest vivid memories is riding in the backseat of my family’s apple green 1979 Volvo 240 on the way to Vancouver, B.C., with my brother, interviewing all our stuffed animals on a Fisher Price tape recorder just like this.
We probably filled up several “Now record your own!” B-sides of Mercer Mayer storybook cassettes, but only one is left in my possession. It’s titled “Way Up High Songs” and includes a decade’s worth of our cousins singing silly songs.
I’ll spare you my rendition of the Oscar Mayer Wiener song, but my brother Allan has given permission to share the first and title track. It was recorded circa 1986, when I was just a baby and he was 5, apparently during a dinner party.
I asked him once why it sounds like he got attacked by a pterodactyl at 0:07, but he couldn’t remember.
Lyrics in case you want to follow along: