Monday, 30 March 2015

Scott Carrier's Home Of The Brave

If you've spent much time listening to This American Life, the wonderful weekly radio show and podcast from Chicago Public Media, then there is a good chance you have heard a story by Peabody award winner, Scott Carrier.

For me, what sets Carrier's stories apart form the other segment producers, writers and reporters on This American Life is his strangeness. His slow, careful way of talking and his high pitched voice make his segments on the show seem somewhat tense. Enhancing that feeling is the fact that his pieces are often quite personal in nature and punctuated with details of what seems like a uneasy life. For example, his latest appearance on the show, in the episode "Good Guys", he talks about his wife leaving him after an episode where he tore the walls out of the house with out warning.

But it's exactly this intensity and personal detail in his work that I find so compelling. Along with the slight uncomfortable feeling of hearing such details broadcast publicly, Carrier's humanity is really what shines through in all of his work, albeit in a slightly strange, other-worldly way. You feel that he really cares about the subjects he's talking about and the people he's talking too. There's a dry humor to his work as well. Often I feel, listening to his stories and his delivery, that I get some of the jokes in the work but not all of them. That some of the jokes are maybe just for Scott. Part of what keeps me listening is the hope that I maybe, later, understand a few more of them.

That's why his new podcast, and the first show dedicated solely to Carrier's work, Home Of The Brave is so interesting to listen to. Carrier is a man who at various stages in his life has always carried a tape recorder with him and each episode contains some of those recordings together with some narrative context. Whether it's a conversation with an old friend, interviews with people about the end of the world or a compilation of various fascinating recordings from around his neighborhood, the show invariably makes for compelling listening. Carrier has a great skill for capturing people on tape. His recordings are so evocative and well assembled that you get an almost complete sense of who the people he's talking to are. People seem compelled to talk to him and open up in a way they wouldn't to most men with a microphone.

The website for the show is almost a perfect visual representation of the show. Simple and spare on details, but containing all you need to get a perfect sense of what's going on. Carrier's, frankly brilliant, photographs accompany a simple audio player for each episode of the show. A perfect example of the dry humor I mentioned earlier is the promotional video on the "about" page. It's one minute and nineteen seconds of Carrier and his dog in the car, listening and occasionally barking along to "Television Man" by Talking Heads. That's it.

Augi Bear from Scott Carrier on Vimeo.

Home Of The Brave is the work of a man who has very thoughtfully and skillfully recorded and presented his interest in the world and people around him. The show is full of quirks and idiosyncrasies, but so is the world and so are people, so in that way, it's a perfect representation.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Between The Ears With Dan Carey
Dan Carey is a record producer, songwriter, audio experimenter of the highest order and previous guest on the Speaks Louder Than Words podcast.

Whilst we were talking for the podcast, Dan told me about a recent BBC Radio 3 documentary he had been a part of that focused on a tape recorder he had recently purchased. The machine came with a box of tapes, made in the 1950's and 60's which seemed to be of a group of friends in London. Alan Dein, the documentary's producer set about tracking down the machine's previous owner to talk about the recordings.

It's a story about found recordings, the intrigue that makes them so compelling and how a seemingly disconnected series of recordings can prove to be a document of an interesting story.

You can here the show in full here.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Field Recording: The Royal Mile

This recording was made outside of St Giles Cathedral on a recent trip to Edinburgh. My wife had ducked into one of the shops nearby and I was stood outside taking photos. As I took one of the cathedral, a busker further down the street began playing the bagpipes, something that occurs regularly in the more touristy areas of Scotland.

Perhaps it's the natural reverb from the large stone buildings and cobbled streets that gives this recording an eerie and atmospheric feel and makes the pipes seem somewhat distant and removed from the street noise but there was a certain quality in the atmosphere at that moment that inspired me to pull out my iPhone and record a voice memo.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Podcast: Jeff Middleton

As a British person, Country music is pretty much a mystery to me. I know what it is, I know where it comes from and I have a rough idea of what it sounds like. I enjoy classic country music, I listen to artists like Caitlin Rose and Steve Earle but I know that a lot of the Country I love is either considered alternative or from a by-gone era. From what I can tell, that's only the tip of the iceberg. What about the country music that dominates radio stations in the southern United States? I know so little about that side of Country music, yet it is it's own, separate, multi-billion dollar industry.

I was lucky enough to get to talk to Nashville songwriter and guitarist for The Dirt Drifters, Jeff Middleton. In between songwriting sessions on a recent UK trip Jeff, very graciously and with great patience answered my questions about Country music, Nashville and his own adventures in songwriting.

You can download the podcast for free on iTunes and you can follow Jeff on twitter.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Pitch, A Podcast For Music Nerds & Non-Music Nerds

I've found recently that my time spent with headphones on, has become increasingly spent listening to podcasts instead of music. I have a job where music and listening to music, sometimes the same track several times in a row, is a big part of what I do. At my desk I am constantly listening to music of all kinds on many different formats for many different reasons.

But I've found that when I'm heading off for my day in the office or I'm finished and going home, I prefer not to listen to music. My ears won't appreciate the subtitles of jazz or withstand the volume of hard rock or navigate the new textures of electronica. I need something identifiable, relatable but engaging enough so that I don't fall asleep on my 1 hour commute. So I turn to podcasts.

Like all aspects of media, the internet has thrown the doors wide open for unsupervised and unregulated production of audio programming. One of the top rated podcasts available and a personal favourite of mine, Marc Maron's WTF, is produced independently in his garage. Podcasts also allow you to listen to great, professionally made radio shows from far flung lands. American public radio productions like this American Life and the audible delight that is Radiolab have found huge new global audiences as podcasts. There are podcasts on almost every subject you can think of and probably a few on subjects you would rather not think about. Of course there are plenty on music.

One of my favourites is the independently produced Pitch. No other podcast out there captures my enjoyment of the geeky minutia that surrounds music as well as Pitch does. It's a podcast for music lovers who like stories and story lovers who enjoy music. Presented and created by Alex Kapelman and Whitney Jones, Pitch is different from other music shows in that it's not an interview show (like some podcasts) or a new music programme as much as it is a series of short audio documentaries.

Each episode takes on a small but interesting aspect of music. Whether it's the rise of Karaoke, the story of a song about a drummer in a 60's band or the strange laws around dancing in New York, Kapelman and Jones tell each tale with a level of interest that is usually only reserved for the obsessed, but in a way that even those with just a casual interest in these subjects will find enjoyable. My personal favourite is episode 3, “Rock The Longbox”. Not just because it goes into detail about the most (justifiably) maligned type of record packaging there is but because it's a story about how music, specifically R.E.M's “Out Of Time”, can make big changes in the world at large.

The podcast also has a wonderful newsletter too, discussing the most talked about music stories of each week and shining a light on some of the more important and perhaps not as widely covered stories that affect music listeners and the industry itself.

As someone who is often ridiculed, in a  good-natured way, for his music nerd tendencies, I have to say that I find Pitch's tone and content comforting. It's nice to know that small, sometimes almost unnoticeable parts of music lore and knowledge can be used to create relatable and interesting stories. That the minutia of it all can be used to do what music essentially does, build a strong, meaningful connection to the outside world.

You can get Pitch here on iTunes and follow them on twitter here.