Monday, March 30, 2009

This American Life Live: Interview with Seth Lind

Imagining public radio as exciting is probably uncommon to most of the 'New Silent Generation.' While most find themselves sliding their thumb along the circular pad of an Ipod, many would admit to not bothering with skimming through radio frequencies anymore; it's just a sign of the times.

In comes two radio gurus, Ira Glass and Seth Lind with the generational across-the-board favorite, This American Life, a radio show with a certain flavor all ages can attest to enjoying.

Glass, a host and producer of TAL, spoke at Yale University recently of the need for aesthetics and witticisms in the media to keep our audiences tuned in and plugged what Lind, a production manager for TAL, is currently working on day and night: creating a live stage adaptation of the show to take place on Thursday, April 23rd in New York City. Being transmitted over satellite to 450 movie theaters and performing art centers, this will mark the second time that Lind has attempted such a production.

“Producers have struggled with describing the content since the beginning of the show,” said Lind over the phone of the perplexing mission of explaining This American Life, which has been on the airwaves since 1995. “They're amazing stories about people who wouldn't otherwise be in the news.”

Making an example of how a general public radio newscast would simply focus on the political and institutional aspects of education, Lind spoke of what made TAL different. “We would do a story specifically on what notes were passed in class and what the kids in the hallway were talking about,” he said. “That's what we care about, the under story.” This American Life validates a certain part of storytelling that people are interested in; something most other programs lack.

Just how popular could a public radio show be in the era of newfangled technology? Ever since TAL became available in podcast format a couple years ago, there are 500,000 more listeners thumbing through their Ipod for an hour filled with curiosity and wonder instead of a Top 40 pop ditty. “The average age of the podcast audience is 15 years younger than the radio [audience],” said Lind. “It's insane.” Admittedly, the show as a whole draws in a younger crowd compared to other public radio.

And just like that, the listeners respond back in a frenzy, giving kudos to the TAL crew and requesting appearances; the fans are the driving force behind the creation of the live shows. “We did it last year for the first time, and didn't know how it would go,” Lind explained. “No other radio show had ever done it. We showcased stories from our upcoming season of television (on Showtime) because we wanted to take advantage of the fact that it would be in high definition and had all these pretty stories to show, and some radio content. It was incredibly expensive and a big risk.”

The event paid off: as 32,000 showed in attendance, TAL were flooded with even more messages post-event, asking when 'this wonderful event' would happen again. Lind and senior producer Julie Snyder rolled up their sleeves, and began to plan the next live endeavor.

“So the stage show, is like an actual radio show,” said Lind. “It's an extended, inflated two hour long one with a theme.” The theme for April 23rd's show is set to be 'Return to the Scene of a Crime.'

Other than that, Lind was cryptic and would not divulge any secrets, including one about a 'top secret special investigation.' “It's totally top secret, but I can tell you I was just working on it,” he laughed.

Drawing back a breath, Lind admits to the constant back and forth, everyday labor put into the show set to take place in NYU's Skirball Center. “It's a huge effort, and it's still happening, and it will be until the minute it hits screens,” he said. Almost 100 stations nationwide that broadcast TAL will be promoting movie tickets ($20) and pledge drives to have listeners become members of their stations.

Stating simply that the audience will get to see people rather than just hear their voices, Lind was not able to tell what the performers would be specifically talking about. Instead, he gave comical anecdotes about some of his first encounters with them as a college student.

Having missed a speech of Glass' at Lind's college in 1997, Lind ran into Glass again when applying for a radio internship in NYC in 2007. “Ira was there hanging out, and was like, 'Hi, I'm Ira Glass,' and I was like, 'I'm Seth Lind.' My first impression was that he looked really normal, kind of how I pictured him to be by just hearing him on the radio.” he said.

Another performer for the show, Dan Savage, has a syndicated relationship and sex advice column called Savage Love, and as a young adult in college, Lind used to procrastinate and read it. After he had read Dan's response to a reader saying that there was no such thing as a platonic massage, Lind wanted to be a smart ass and wrote back saying there was. “He [Savage] wrote me back instantly and was like, 'Bullshit.' I was amazed at how fast he responded. Now that I work with him, I can't get him to. He'll respond to some random college student but won't sign his contract.” recalled Lind.

This American Life Live's seating at the Skirball Center sold out in one day at $50 bucks each, but Lind contests to the movie theater experience being much cooler. “There's six cameras with a live director cutting in between them, swooping and moving around,” he said. “Everyone should sit two-third's of the way back in the middle (of the theater.) That's where everyone should sit.”

“This is a big surprise and I shouldn't say it, but,” paused Lind. “We found a way to transmit beer over satellite; it's going to be coming out of a certain part of the screen,” he joked. “If you bring a cup, you'll be all set.”

Saturday, March 21, 2009

March To The Pentagon

Photo Cred: Karyn Danforth

“No justice, no peace. End the war in the Middle East!” rang the voices marching in unison. Looking around the chaotic cluster of people while snapping photos, my morning ran through my head like a running dialogue.

Passing by the homeless shelter as we arrived in Washington D.C, a line snaked its way up and down the sidewalk; residents with backpacks in tow waited patiently for the doors to open. It was eight in the morning, and I sat inside the bus, rubbed my eyes, and continued to stare out of the window.

After our bus driver stopped for breakfast, I boarded the bus again, sipping my burnt coffee in hopes that it would make up for the tossing and turning night of cramped sleep in that window seat; the Progressive Student Alliance trip to Washington had left Central Connecticut State University's campus at one in the morning, having drove all night long with just a couple pit-stops.

As fliers were handed out to students, voices filled the air about socialism and unions. Looking down at the piece of paper, it mapped the streets and locations where the march to the Pentagon began and ended; the march was an anti-war demonstration marking the 6th anniversary of the occupation of Iraq.

While everyone chattered around me, I had nothing to speak about; I felt uninformed, invisible. It wasn't long though until Marissa Blaszko, a fellow Central student, introduced me to the entire clan. Lamens terms didn't really seem to apply to the subjects that Blaszko and other students were rapidly firing at me; I felt as if I needed an Activism for Dummies handbook at my side to thumb through the definitions.

From a completely novice view, all I could really comprehend was the fight for unions to be recognized, and the general distaste for the government. Some students were socialists, like Jeremy Radabaugh, a Kent State graduate whom worked for unions in Ohio and Connecticut. Jeff Bartos, a medic from the Iraq War, was a veteran against occupation, while others were either from Youth for Socialist Action, or unaffiliated; merely going to enjoy an activist movement.

A few slight detours later due to cycling marathon, we shuffled off of the bus; one individual was handing each person picket signs that read different slogans: “Stop U.S Wars,” “Occupation Is A Crime,” and “Fund Jobs and Human Needs.”

Taking a long winding walk towards the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial, we passed the Federal Reserve, and the Washington Monument began to appear. The cherry blossoms framed the old architecture.

Arriving earlier than anticipated, a few of us decided to wander in and give Mr. Lincoln a visit. The reflecting pool didn't look in tip-top shape, but then again, the dead grass surrounding it was typical during the month of March.

Gathering information cards on the monuments from the information desk, we chatted with the older lady at the booth for a while as we watched robotic runners fly by in their striped running shorts, and looked above to see planes overpass every few minutes.

People from all over the country began flooding the Mall; booths filled with literature about socialism, anti-occupation and going vegan were lined up in rows. Specific groups were in attendance: from Code Pink to Veterans of War, interesting signs and demonstrations were happening at once. One accessory that adorned many necks of protesters was the kaffiyeh, a Palestinian scarf consisting of black and white stitching.

Groups approached us and handed out pamphlets, there was also a massive stock pile of different picket signs for anyone to grab. As a small army of individuals moved a giant banner displaying the words “Stop All Wars: Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Wasted,” a petite, older African-American woman sang into a megaphone, “What are we fighting for? This is a rich man's war.”

Among the other sights was an older man with a beret and sunglasses in a motorized chair, holding a sign saying “The Pentagon Pillar Pillage Horror,” in heavy red marker, a group of artists with abstract drawings symbolizing some of Picasso's Guernica, and fake coffins draped in flags representing those civilians or soldiers who have died.

Thousands were clustered, listening to an array of protest speakers: bereaved parents of deceased soldiers, rappers and preachers, and even foreigners protesting the building of U.S military bases in their countries. Around 30 speakers and two hours later, the crowd was growing impatient; they were ready to march.

Aligned a few feet away from the mall were seven horse mounted police officers. Ignoring them, the crowd passed the Lincoln Memorial and over the bridge en route to the Pentagon. Empowered fists pumped signs into the air, many helped carry the coffins together, and megaphones lead vocal testaments to the grief and frustration fueled alliance of bodies.

“Who's streets?” questioned the loud amplified voice. “Our streets!” replied the crowd.

Adrenaline took over as I snapped photos of these twisted faces of defiance. Stepping to the side to glance back as we walked further, a massive serpent-like line of bodies twisted back as far as I could see. Media helicopters flew above our heads, and then we found ourselves running up a hill to a highway overpass to get the ultimate view of the event.

Running back down and continuing further, Blaszko began to yell into the megaphone. This caught the interest of a Palestinian woman and her three small boys. Looking over at the woman, Blaszko held out the walkie-talkie device attached to the megaphone up to her and said, “Go ahead, say anything you want.”

“Free Palestine!” declared the woman. Offering it to the boys, one of them took it and piped up, “Stop killing children!” A chill went down my spine.

The march wasn't actually to the Pentagon, but it was passed by. Instead, they continued towards the headquarters of a building that manufactured guns and artillery to protest outside and lay the coffins beside it. Passing through Arlington, Virginia and into the downtown streets, people peered out of their apartments and skyscrapers to catch the commotion.

Riot police were everywhere lined up on the streets in full combat protective suits; even a cop in a tank made an appearance. Nabbing some free bread from a group of anarchists, we arrived at our destination. People swamped the entrance of the building, or as much as they could, for the riot police convened and began attempting to push everyone away.

The coffins were placed, but not even moments later the police began walking over, even kicking them. Threats were surfacing about the potential threat of tear gassing, to which my phone rang. “Get out of there,” said Blaszko. “Head back towards the street!”

Fortunately enough, this did not occur; the march was finished. Sunburned and sore, the group reconvened at a restaurant to regain some strength in the form of noodle cuisines. After eating and regaling our individual experiences, we sluggishly boarded the bus to return home.

Conversing and playing word games with everyone on the bus, we all participated and laughed at absurd jokes; albeit once intimidating to me, they were a thought-provoking group who included me and treated me kindly. Pre-departure, it was a mystery, but now it was an enlightenment.

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Well life's a train, it goes from February on, day by day, but it's making a stop on April 1st."

"April Fools"
Rufus Wainwright
Self-Titled, 1998

"Cross My Heart"
The Rocket Summer
Calendar Days

Waking up to chill wafts of air from an open window instead of a dusty fan is revitalizing; spring is creeping around the corner and into my lungs.
After not bothering to pay attention to the weather forecast during the New England freeze (There's snow on the ground. Okay, sweatshirt and pants.) I find myself clicking the 10-day forecast profusely while sitting in a bathrobe, waiting for Mother Nature's word on what I am allowed to accessorize for the day.
Certain aspects of our lives change with the season; we slough off the long johns, bulky boots, restrictive mittens and gloves. Materialism aside, many even opt for a change of tune.
During the not so sunny days of darkness after 5p.m, the music in constant rotation was that of a more mellow, guitar twinged sound: M. Ward's 'To Go Home' had me longing for my father's rural home in Massachusetts, Matt Pond PA's "Halloween" reminded me of my isolatory ways in public situations (not being able to speak at parties where socialization is out of the question), with every song comes an accompanying thought.
Once the temperature creeps up to 50 degrees, it's as if that overthinking fold of the brain decides to go on a vacation, yet checks a Blackberry daily for updates on the body's functionality. Another section of the brain sits in for the other on leave, but this one isn't employee of the month material, this little guy wants to kick his feet up in the cubicle and have a nice drink.
This is when the musical maniac in me begins to crave lighter, flow-through-your-room airy delights; songs reminiscent of the better days. Even though I am constantly trolling the music industry for new artists, during the hotter months I tend to pull out favorites that remind me of past summer memories. As a certain smell can trigger a figment of something once thought forgotten, music has always been a major firecracker that helps one remember an ex-significant other, a childhood home, and even a deceased loved one.
There is a warmer weather memory I have thought of constantly recently, and have tried my best not to be too melancholy over: driving solo in a car with no destination in mind, with the windows down and the stereo cranked. The two songs at the top have found their way into my past automobiles during these months for the past four years, where I loudly sing along tit for tat, note for note. Being momentarily without a vehicle, this could pose a threat to my ritualistic pleasures.
For this, I have found a temporary solution of planning walks, hikes, camping trips, and I can still of course enjoy my upbeat selections while being a trooper and taking public transportation. I may have to resist the temptation of singing, a stranger would probably tell me to not quit my day job, and then I'd overthink the reasons I don't have one.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From Flying to Jiving: Ornithopera, Aviary's Final Migration

Set up in one corner of Maloney Hall’s second floor art gallery was four tables of piano harps: the gutted insides of the giant grand instruments. “It’s a pretty amazing invention,” said Wesleyan University graduate student Max Heath. As his hands rested upon a large block of glass, Heath moved it across the piano strings as a camera projected the glass and strings onto the wall behind him. “I hardly have to move the glass to create sound,” Heath said.
This was only an element of Michael Pestel’s multimedia installation, Ornithopera, a closing performance of his exhibition Aviary, which drawn upon the lost voices of endangered and extinct bird species is also a celebration of the ones still alive. In the orchestrated event, it is scored for a minimum of 31 sound and a couple movement performers with additional participating members of the audience.
Students and faculty from Central Connecticut and Wesleyan were aligned against each side of the galley with different instruments, the majority being handcrafted by Pestel. Opposite to the piano harps were slate drawing tables and an upright piano; the other two contained of a row of typewriters and slate writing podias, which consisted of a board of holes with a mixture of stones in each.

The audience laid inside these four walls of sound, and eight performers with assorted string and wind instruments were inside of them centered around a bird cage atop a circular moving platform.

Giving background information to Ornithopera's significance, Pestel spoke to the audience outside the center of the circle he'd eventually step foot in. “The most important thing about this is listening to the lost voices, the voices of extinct birds species that have disappeared,” he said. “These species have been eradicated since the 1500's by the United States. We're moving into a world it will all be gone; 50% of all animals will be endangered and extinct by the end of the century.” Pestel posed the questions of what should we think and do about it.

Pestel urged audience participation with slates and chalk to create their own additional noises. The [slates] weren't ordinary however. Dan Yashinsky, a Toronto based storyteller, told the audience a tale of his mother, and the slates were saved from her roof; they were perched on by eight decades of birds.

Two 'Butoh Slowalkers' (movement performers) slowly made their way around the perimeter of the room; as they crossed an instrument, it signaled the noises initiated by each student. On the upright piano, Brian Parks, a concert pianist and composer, pounded down random patterns of notes at the same time; each note represented a letter in the Latin spelling of the species of birds. Briskly typing away bird proverbs into the old-fashioned typewriters, CCSU Art History professor Dr. Elizabeth Langhorne's Eco-Art class also chanted little utterances under their breath.

And just like that, Pestel was moving back and forth, using various instruments as he strolled around the wavelength in satiated room; his two-year old daughter Josey dawdled around holding a baby doll, ran to Pestel and, still playing his instrument, swiftly scooped her into arms and carried her around. He then stepped to the center and sat down with the eight performers, which was the initiation of the audience to partake. Chalking it up, some did rhythmic beats with straight lines, some went more free-form and curvaceous onto the slate. While the performers inside the circle kept to one instrument, Pestel used several bite sized items; mixing the melange of noises in the air. Pestel pulled out a traditional flute, Josey crawled into his lap with a doll still clutched in her hand.

All of the different sounds did seem a little intoxicating, enhanced by glancing at the videos projected on the walls of Pestel's various close up experiences with birds; playing an instrument as the bird chirps back at him. The sounds lasted for a couple Butoh Slowalkers rotations; about 20 minutes worth of ears ringing with high, low and clinky clanky noises. For what was seemingly a grand finale of sorts, Pestel arose from his seat, walked over and stood next to a gong, and shot an object out of his flute, symbolizing the end.

When asked little Josey how she thought dad's performance was, she smiled timidly, climbed over a chair, and was too busy being innocent to comment.

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