This week, in addition to work on the website, we had a new deliverable: an audio diary to be made at our cemetery location. Asma, our lead, gave clear direction:
“Record 15 minutes – 30 minutes of audio that capture sounds unique to your environment (the place of recording). Introduce your cemetery and later, the necropolitics that contextualize it. Conclude with remarks about your selection of data points that appear on MC’s Timeline and why it is important to you.”
At our weekly team meeting, I had pushed back. I was concerned that 15-to-30 minutes was too big an ask (both for us as makers and for our nascent audience of listeners), plus I was not sure that I could actually produce that much content! My team was, as they always are, supportive. “Do what you can.”
I went back to my working Word document …now some 100 pages of research and false starts …and read through it. Whenever I hit some copy that felt like it needed to be said, I highlighted it. When I got to the end, I had about twenty pages of content that began to read like a conversation. And that’s when it happened …that wonderful thing that sometimes does happen when you have been working and reworking text …the rewrite began to write itself.
It took about six hours to complete the script. [It was slowed by my also using that time to adjust the copy for my cemetery’s webpage.] I did a slow read, then edited it down. I did a second read, this time recording it, and listened back. More edits. I did a third read and now, listening back, it felt right!
All that Friday, I’d had the radio on in the background. At the top of the hour, the weather report changed every so slightly from “there will be rain”, to “there is a slight change of rain”, to “we are looking at clear skies tonight”. I emailed myself a copy of the script, paired my smartphone to an open-ear bluetooth headset, and headed out the door. The sun was shining as I walked up Broadway toward the Worth Monument.
Standing before the monolith, I was grateful for its relative isolation from any comforts (no benches where people might loiter and heavy traffic on its east and west sides). To record, I had to remove my mask. This was the first time in more than a year that I had gone, barefaced, in open air. It occurred to me that this was a public park and technically, masks were still required. I glanced around and the street-scape was devoid of NYPD; hopefully, this creative exercise would not end with a citation.
The first take was a challenge. When I listened back, it was forced and bit too breathless. The second take when well. And, toward the end the third take, those promised clear skies opened with a downpour for rain. Having not brought an umbrella, I ran across Broadway to crouch under the large overhang of an office building. Getting the mask back on was a process, given the now fogged glasses and non-intuitive headset. The tall man sheltering with me nodded as I gave my apologies. “I was watching you …were you having an argument with someone”? I laughed. “No, not all. I was recording something for school.”
Our conversation continued. I told him about the project. Played him back a bit of the recording. He worked in the neighborhood and, like me, had barely noticed the monument. While the rain lasted, we chatted about our Covid experience and the importance of parks. It was one of those lovely New York moments when you connect with a stranger. Once the rain cleared, he headed uptown and returned to the monument to complete the final take.
P.S. Our podcast network is being streamed on SoundCloud. Here’s the link: https://soundcloud.com/mappingcemeteries.
Due date: 29 April 2021 (published in final form on 18 May 2021).