I’ve already shared my affinity for radio programs such as the moth, and I also enjoy the occasional This American Life episode, also on NPR. For this week’s assignment, I listened to the This American Life episode, There’s No Place Like Home. Although they were disjointed, I was able to catch a few quiet moments to sit and listen to Ira Glass lead me through an exploration of what ‘home’ means. I tried to pay close attention to the ways the program mixed in audio to enhance the stories. The inclusion of audio, and the way in which it was done, created a rich listening experience. I’ll share an example of how this was done.
In Act I, Ira Glass introduces James Spring who will explain an interesting activity that takes place in a small border town in Mexico. Spring describes for us what he’s doing there; participating in a tourist event called, “Caminata Nocturna” or, “Night Hike.” It’s a simulated border crossing, complete with border patrol officers and safe houses.
As Spring walks through his experience of the night he includes bits of audio that made me feel like I was there. During the quiet time in the simulation, he plays the sound of crickets and it gives the sensation of being outside in the middle of a quiet night. When the border patrol approaches the group he included the sounds of sirens, dogs barking, etc. Those sounds conjured up a bit of panic and almost made me feel like I was being chased. These bits of audio were pulled in to the story just as Spring would get to that part. Sometimes he would pause speaking and let the audio play at a higher volume for a few minutes. If the audio was still relevant to what he was saying next, he would fade it out and layer his narration on top. I think the pauses in narration, with a focus on the additional audio, allowed me to reflect on what was happening in the story. It gave me a chance to imagine what it would be like to actually be at the Caminata Nocturna. It was very effective.
The program uses the same techniques in Act II. Whether it’s the sound of a young man rapping at a diner, or the sounds of patrons enjoying themselves at a toast bar, the different layers of audio mixed with the story narration really gave me a sense of what it would be like to be in those places, experiencing those moments. In a time where we are inundated with the visual (television, Instagam, etc.) it’s nice to be reminded that we can feel and experience things through simply listening.