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The Shop

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

It's pretty hard to write a blog post for a piece that you kind of want to leave self-explanatory, without too many words attached to it. In fact, when I presented my draft on the penultimate day of the Oral History Summer School, I didn't explain anything at all. I just put up a large piece of paper with some free writing I had done earlier. But these words, too, didn't really encompass everything about it. And really, I don't think I could have explained this before the conversation that came after the presentation. It was one of those serendipitous things that don't always work out. One of those projects that ends up being so far from your original idea that you can't even necessarily trace how you got there.

The free writing thing I did. It's a little silly, but I wanted to capture how I imagined the shop when I was younger: as a magical, mysterious place. I thought it would be so cool to work there and know how to operate all the machines. I mean, is there any better place to let a kid's imagination run wild?

Throughout the second week, I was really interested in the idea of authenticity and playing with "negative space" through audio. I was thinking of the importance of those blank spaces in poetry, and of blackout poems. After my interview, I was thinking about all the things I didn't talk about, and I wanted to create a piece that used my words like an audio blackout poem. I wanted to use those words to talk about what I didn't talk about before. I was really excited about doing this, but of course quickly realised there was no way I would have enough time to get that done well.

As usually happens when I realise I have too much to do in too little time, I got completely overwhelmed and was sitting around doing nothing. I went downstairs to take a mental break and talk to some other workshoppers. Because I'm a curious and nosey person, I asked someone if I could listen to his piece. It was super cool, and I was amazed that he had finished it so quickly. "I just threw some audio together and played around with it," he said.

"Damn, maybe I should do that."

"Just go do it."

And do it I did. Besides your basic editing and my basic idea, I didn't really think too much about what I was doing. I knew it would be about my dad, and I knew I wanted to use two recordings:

The first is a recording of a song he used to sing to my sister and I when we were younger: "Edelweiss," from the Sound of Music. Part of our workshop was song collection, and we re-interviewed our original life story partners to do this. We were each asked to prepare a song, if we wanted, and our interviewer would then ask us to explain its significance briefly. I had two in mind, but ended up choosing this one the day of. There are only a couple seconds of the talking used, the rest is just the song.

The second recording is from Digifab, a digital fabrication shop of architectural woodwork and metal work. As we were being taken around the floor, we came upon the metal work area, where people were welding. These are the sounds you'll hear, along with other shop noises.

The day we went to Digifab, I had just done my song collection interview in the morning. I already had my dad on my mind, and when we got there, there he was at every turn. My dad works at a metal shop, so the sounds and smells reminded me of him, and of the trips I would take there with him when I was younger.

I was going to write more, but I do really want the piece to speak for itself. And I think it does. All I want to add is that every time I listen to it, I discover a new layer of meaning. After I presented, one person mentioned that the arrangement was actually quite beautiful and, in a way, the shop sounds were elevated alongside the music. I thought that was special because my dad is a musician, and I want him to know that there is music and beauty and love in everything he does.

Listen to The Shop.

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