On Producing SFHL
Interviewer: So what do you do for the series? What is your job exactly?
Jay Allison: Sitting in the observation tower, bringing the planes in, sending them out on missions and bringing them back safely. In some cases, producers come to us and their payload is a completely made piece. In other cases, they just bring back parts in a box. It’s up to us to edit and assemble.
Emily Botein: We’ve sent a lot of people out on these trips and I think my goal is to get their piece to sound as enthusiastic and engaging as the first conversation you had with them when they came back, when they’re like “And then this happened! And then THIS happened!”
Something I was struck by in the series is that there are people like Jonathan Goldstein, a very urban Montrealer, who becomes incredibly anxious in nature, right next to people like Yingiya Guyulu, an aboriginal Australian, who is only truly comfortable when in nature. That, in terms of tone, it’s just all over the place.
JA: Yeah. I think that we were conscious all along that environmental pieces tend to have a certain style. The reporter is in a place and there’s a problem and we as a species are to blame… After a while they all run together, you can’t remember whether it’s about clear cutting or heavy metals or a lost tribe, it’s all part of the same tone. And our hope for this series is that the tone would be surprising. Wherever we possibly could we tried to come at the natural world from a different angle. You’ll hear better if stories are presented in ways you don’t expect.
I felt a bit that way listening to the music Bill Frisell composed for the series.
Learn how legendary guitarist/composer Bill Frisell created the music for the Stories from the Heart of the Land series.
EB: We felt incredibly lucky to get Bill’s time. He’s constantly traveling, but we had him for two days in Seattle. We really didn’t know what was going to happen.
JA: A lot of this series has been about surrendering control to the collaborating producers and I think that went for Bill Frisell too; we trusted his talent and his music before we went in, but we went in with some of our usual expectations, like that there would be a series theme and variations, the way we’ve done things before. And it didn’t end up that way. We don’t have a theme song for the hours. They’re all a little different.
EB: And it works. It was a trio of stringed instruments, Hank Roberts on cello, Jenny Scheinman on violin and Eyvind Kang on viola, plus Bill Frisell on guitar. In Seattle, we’d play bits of tape into the musician’s headphones and listen to what came out. We put Charles Bowden’s voice into their headphones and it happened to be Hank, the cellist, who most worked with Bowden’s voice. That was pretty intense.
JA; It was. It was really something. And you know the music has pushed the hours in a direction they wouldn’t have gone without Bill’s creative energy. That informs the way I host it too. To know that my voice is going to end up partnered to his music and that Emily will use those two elements to create a dance.
EB: I like to think of the music – and maybe this sounds goofy and dorky — but the music should sound like the different ways we walk on the land.
JA: No, I don’t think that sounds goofy.
So there you are in the observation tower, sending people out on these trips and hearing their excitement when they come back… I wonder, did you ever wish that your roles were switched?
JA: There’s a part of me that would have loved to travel around the world for two years and do every single one of these stories, [laughs]. I mean, that’s what I did twenty years ago, but now I’m much more involved in creating contexts for producers and citizens to get their voices on the air. So, I’ve got to get a This I Believe essay up every week, I’ve got to get the Transom site updated every week, I’ve got to do a live four hour radio show here very week, I’ve got the Public Radio Exchange. I’m a little bit a prisoner of that mission, as much as it’s meaningful to me. It leaves me a bit un-free to wander the world
EB: Which piece would you have done if you could have gone?
JA: Well, I would like to go to steamy crazy dark and wild places.
Anything else you wish you could have done?
EB: If we had more money, I would have liked it if Randy Bell from Vancouver could meet Charles Bowden from Tucson, could meet Yingiya Guyulu, from Arnhem Land in Australia. It would be a really fun dinner. These people are on different sides of the planet but they share this language of the land… Even Jonathan Goldstein would be like, Oh my god, I don’t fit at this table, but they probably would be like, Come on, it’s okay.
JA: We could seat them the way we sequenced them in the hours.
JA: Jonathan next to Yingya.
EB: [laughs] Yeah, that might really freak both of them out.
Emily Botein says that there will be a dinner party of sorts—this November, the three river guides featured in Cry Me a River will meet, for the first time, at Ken Sleight’s Utah ranch.
- Transom: http://www.transom.org
- This I Believe: http://thisibelieve.org
- Public Radio Exchange: http://www.prx.org
- Bill Frisell: http://billfrisell.com
Atlantic Public Media.
Curated by Jay Allison and Emily Botein.
Funding: Supported by The Nature Conservancy and Visa.