Part Wizard of Oz, part Dante's Inferno, part absurdist radio theater, and part anti-corporate musical, this 20-episode podcast follows the Tin Man (but not necessarily the one you're thinking of) on a bizarre and venturesome journey through landscapes familiar and unknown.
Along the way, the Tin Man meets a cast of memorable characters while tracking down a few missing body parts and finding his way to Heaven. And then to Hell. And then to Disneyland.
In episode one (featured in the player above), we meet an untimely doom -- and a curious scarecrow. To hear further episodes, check out the Extras section below.
Matt Sahr lives in Vietnam, where he is a middle man. He spent 15 years dabbling in theatre. The only time he actually made any money, he was a stage manager with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. But then, just before the dawn of the new millenium, he got fired. In 2000, Matt worked for an Internet bubble company, Teligent, as it spiraled into a smouldering 2.1 million dollar train wreck. Then he got another damn degree, and taught a few college classes. Then he became a maintenance man. He spent 2004 and 2005 fixing garage doors, mopping the floor, etc, at a Storage USA in Baltimore. Then he moved to Korea. Then he moved to Vietnam. If you want wholesale hand bags, send an e-mail.
An Explanation of The Tin Man by Producer Matt Sahr
On his initial forays into the world of audio:
In June 2005, my wife, Sarah, got a job as teacher-trainer in Anjung, South Korea. It's a little town of about 30,000 people. My job was to tag along as The Spouse, no work prospects lined up, but this was all part of The Plan. It was Sarah's turn to have a career choice. I had just gotten done with an MFA in theatre. (That was MY career choice, until I discovered I deeply dislike being a theatre professor). So, Korea looming, I had the prospect of TIME in front of me: no job, no kids, nobody to talk to except my wife (and she leaves every morning to go to work).
With the likelihood of Free Time on the horizon, I weighed my options. I come from theatre, I've written five plays, all of them produced in some form or another, but I have never made an ounce of money from it. So I considered what to do, and I landed on audio production as an avenue to investigate. Because audio is still WAAAY cheaper than video production, and also because you can do audio completely solo.
In preparation for our big move, I set to the task of auditioning audio software. I tried Acid Pro, Sony Vegas, Soundforge, Cakewalk Sonar, Steinberg Cubase SX3, Nuendo, Propellerhead Reason, Cockos Reaper, Audacity, a few others I can't remember. The usual suspects. I steered clear of Digidesign ProTools because I never wanted to be locked into any particular hardware regime. I settled on Cakewalk Sonar as the best fit for me.
I bought a book about Cakewalk Sonar 4. I read it. I bought several of those breathless computer music/electronic musician/future tech magazines. All the ones with the free DVD glued to the cover. I was still working in the States, and my maintenance man job was upstairs from a Barnes and Noble. I could sneak downstairs, buy a magazine, and then return to my storage shed, to pore over the latest for several hours. Sometimes I mopped the floor or fixed a garage door in between, just to take a break.
Further training: I worked at a U-Store-It place, a big two-floor warehouse space that used to be a department store. It had been an odd-shaped building to start with, so the retro-fit of steel-door storage closets made it into a vast, decrepit maze of identical-looking hallways, makeshift air-moving equipment, weird sounds of the old building settling into itself. I walked around sometimes babbling at random into a minidisc recorder, just to see if hopeless train-of-thought logorrhea would yield any interesting results. In short, I was the creepy janitor that haunted the post-industrial wasteland. I was that guy.
I also spent time learning the usual avalanche of virtual instruments and VST effects processors. I spent a lot of time with the VST effects stuff, because I figured it was going to be just me recording. I needed to make my voice sound like many different people, but still keep the vocal sounds in the realm of Not-Annoyingly-Techno.
Sometimes I failed. I am particularly disappointed with the Boatman, who comes near the end of the series. His voice I agonized over, and I still think it sucks. However, I had set myself the task of Doing the Podcast Thing, which to me meant primarily that I was committed to a weekly release schedule, no matter how good or bad the quality.
Before I left America, I had bought three things:
Behringher B1 Condenser mic $100
Edirol UA25 Audio Interfate $225
Edirol PCR 30 midi keyboard $125
I already had a reasonably up-to-date desktop computer. All items made the trip by boat, and arrived reasonably intact. Korean customs taxed me $88 dollars on the computer.
On his initial forays into the largest electronics market in Asia:
With my stuff arrived, I had almost everything I needed, but I had to get speakers. Korea is a bad place to buy audio electronics. Fifty years of resisting the squash of America's fat thumb has lead to some pretty extreme protectionist policies for Korean manufacturing. To wit, the government pays subsidy to Korean companies for every electronic product export. The government also charges HUGE tariffs on all imports, especially in the high-tech field. Which means that Samsung, Hyundai, LG Electronics, Phillips Electronics, etcetera products are, by political fiat, way cheaper to buy outside of Korea. The World Trade Organization can kiss, apparently, Korea's ass.
Korea is a technology heavyweight, and more power to them. They got there by being an effectively mercantilist nation in a pseudo-free-market world, and it worked out great for them. But it makes it PAINFUL to shop for tech gear in country.
Seoul has a district called Yongsan which is the biggest electronics market in Asia. I think this means it is the biggest electronics market in the world. It's about six multi-level shopping malls full of stuff, several square miles, spread out through small winding streets, elevated tunnels that float over the industrial train-yard, wind through the bus station (whose upper floors are given over to camera and cell phone shops), and dissipate out into warehouses which may, or may not, be shops that sell stuff, depending on the mood of the proprietor, and the day of the week that you visit (but none of the rules are posted, even in Korean). Word of caution: do not be tricked into thinking that Deep Space 9 (the nine-story mall by the train station) is Yongsan. It is only the high-priced front end of the Leviathan. Go deeper -- Yongsan lies beyond and beneath. It has all the computer gadgets and cameras and phones you could ever want. But (and this is important) THE AUDIO STUFF IS IN ANOTHER PART OF THE CITY.
The bottom line. I was bewildered, intimidated, lost, overwhelmed, and I paid $500 for a pair of monitor speakers that would cost $150 in the U.S. They are nEar 05 ESI Active Monitor speakers. And they buzz and the volume knobs are goofy, and I can't isolate their power supply to get the buzz to quiet down.
I also bought a pop-filter, of sorts. Korea has a thriving dollar-store culture. In my little town, the old lady who runs the big dollar store (it's five stories!) hates me. I think. Or expects me to steal shit. Or else, she has a deep abiding mistrust for foreigners who, generally, fondle the ladies and wage war on her land whenever they get a chance. Old lady's spite notwithstanding, I found in her shop some junky nylon mesh car window shades, which turned out to be the best pop-filters, pants down, I ever tried. I had to haggle with her, because they were used and dirty, and she could see I WANTED them, so she was not going to sell them. I ended up paying her 2000 won, which is about $2.10 in Imperial Coin. This window-shade discovery is, my opinion, the major DIY contribution I have to make to the audio production universe. Never again should anybody pay $20 for a pop-filter. They have been out-designed and out-classed by the cheap junk crap window shade sold everywhere in the U.S., and these shades come, generally, with at least one suction cup.
On making the podcast:
After the trauma of speaker shopping and the weird dollar store scene, I finally had all the necessary pieces to make some audio happen. Audio (instead of video) turned out to be a good decision, since Anjung contained a total of 14 native English speakers. Not that I needed native English. But I never found any kindred souls amongst the Korean bureaucrats who ran Sarah's institute. Instead, I ended up getting the help of some of Sarah's coworkers for the female parts in the Tin Man series (you might notice there are virtually no substantive female roles). Suzy and Lisa were very gracious and helpful, but they were both nervous and inexperienced in front of a mic, just doing it as a favor to me (they didn't really want to be the voice talent). So I cut short the experiment of using the local English teachers as performers. Suzy and Lisa's voices ended up in only about four minutes of the series. The rest is all my voice.
So, for 20 weeks, I had the luxury to make podcasting my full time avocation. My wife made money and I made the Tin Man. At first, it took me the entire week (all seven days) to write, record, trick out with noises and music, and upload an episode. I used my friend Steve Putt's music whenever I could. I like his music, and it seems most appropriate to work with something connected to me for the music parts that are . . . important. My favorite example of Steve Putt Music Integration is episode four, which incorporates, in pieces, the entirety of one of his songs. And keeps it loud.
Steve has a hefty ambivalence to my using his music in the Tin Man, a process which he refers to as "messing up my shit." But, at other times, it seems he is reasonably pleased, or at least nonplused, with what happened. Steve is a complex beast, simultaneously irascible and laid back, generally impossible to deal with. But he has a musical ear that I cannot fathom, and so trust.
I have a bad ear. I can't tune an instrument to save my life. When I play, I can eventually tell that my ukulele is out of tune, but then I can't fix it without an electronic tuner. I don't exactly trust my own musical sensibilities. But part of the podcast ethic, a part I like, seems to be that you do stuff anyways, even when you're unskilled. So I committed myself to using lots of music and sound, to the point that I was sure it was ham-fisted and overdone.
In the Tin Man, I tried to do "too much" as far as soundscape goes. Overdoing everything seemed like the best way to learn how audio works. And, I think, the Tin Man is soundscape-overdone. On the other hand, Sarah and I like to watch the TV show Lost. Holy crap. Those audio designers for Lost are over-the-top and beat-you-to-death-with-sound-cues, about 80 percent of any given episode. I don't think I'll ever get as heavy-handed as a Lost episode. But, I suppose it works. Just how much tension-soaked melodrama basso-chord violin stuff can an audience take? Apparently, a lot. Generally, as far as quantity-of-sound-stimulus goes, the radio I hear doesn't hold a candle to a Lost TV episode.
I did the podcast for 20 weeks. In the end, I could do the whole production cycle in about 3.5 days. So, I am now comfortable and reasonably productive with my system, which was the point. I got good enough that the production values in the first few episodes now make me cringe a bit. Mostly it's a lack of compression or normalizing, the volume of the Scarecrow is often too low. Along the way, I also got thoroughly burnt out, and stopped doing it.
I ended the Tin Man about six months ago. Since then, I have been writing. But it's more towards a book. I haven't done much audio.
On the ant factor:
Part of the reason I slowed down with audio is because of ants and electric shock. We moved to Vung Tau, Vietnam. I have found here not a single electricity outlet that has a ground. All plugs are two-prong. Makes it kinda dicey to run a desktop computer. In my current setup, touching the audio interface box delivers a small shock. Even if you're just adjusting the volume. What is worse, hooking up the condenser microphone makes the mic also deliver a shock. Worse than this, turning on phantom power to the condenser attracts ants.
We have three species of ants around our house. The tiny ones go crazy for fruit and dead cockroaches. The long-legged ones compete with the geckos for dead aphids. But the medium-size ants love, love, love electricity. When I turn on power to the microphone, they arrive, as if by magic, and march in large numbers RIGHT INSIDE THE AUDIO INTERFACE BOX. The first time I saw this, I had a real moment of self-doubt. Insects crawling in and around your work setup, that's the stuff that drove William Burroughs bonkers, wasn't it?
The ant infestation is real. It turns out that certain species of ants are attracted to electromagnetic radiation. Left to their own devices, they will nuzzle up close to live wires and electrodes, and just bathe in the electro-hum until, blissed and crackling, they starve to death. The ants even go so far as to chew away and spit out insulation, so that more wires are bare and sizzling. According to my friend Steve Putt, it is a bad idea to mix wildlife and electronics.
On the story of the Tin Man:
As far as the story goes: One part Wizard of Oz, one part Dante's Inferno. Mix.
The Tin Man character arrived of his own volition. Obviously, I didn't make him up, he's been around since 1900. But my own take on the Tin Man happened by accident. He was riding a horse. The first time I saw him he was cantering south, way out on a prairie ridge, backlit and gleaming sliver. And he was laughing real loud, the way Nietzsche used to laugh.
In late 2004, I was finishing my MFA thesis, and hating it. Normal. The way I fought back against the loathing was to include lurid, bizarre end notes. I figured that the presiding professors could frown and moan all they wanted about the main body of the thesis, but, by what f*** right could they object to end notes? End notes, for chrissakes. Some of the stuff at the back is a little hallucinogenic, and one of the notes describes a vision of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Yes, those guys. I forget who I named as the riders. The point was, the riders change for whoever is having the vision. I think mine were Marshall McLuhann, Baudrillard, Geert Lovink, and . . . and . . . a robot. There was a robot-riding fourth horse. How weird is that?
How do you know it's the end of the world? Here's how. When your favorite heroes are up there on a hill, headmen in the Apocalyptic Posse. That's how. The world is over when your heroes turn out to be the frontriders, and you realize you've been had.
A thought experiment: who are your heroes? Imagine three of them. You get to choose your three greatest heroes in all the world. And then imagine there is a fourth -- one more who you don't know. This is the hero who ties it all together. Who got the secret key.
This thought experiment follows from the obvious notion that a Tin Man is, duh, the opposite of a Straw Man. The usual idea: a straw man has weak arguments or ideas, which you can easily knock down. So a Tin Man was, therefore, a thing without ideas, but with SECRETS. A thing that had the inside scoop, the down-low mojo, but wasn't giving it up. The Tin Man knows, and he knows he is wrong. The Tin man can't be knocked down. The Tin Man has no arguments, no logic. He is the backbone of the Riders of the Apocolpyse. It's his posse.
Put another way. If a person lives forever. If a person is careful and full of will. If such a person lives in this world, i.e. the one we're in now, (the place of intellectual property gone wild hyper plasma metastasis) in such circumstance, that person will eventually own the whole world. He will own language. He will own thought. He will own the patent on asking a question. The idea of space. The idea of time. These are patentable concepts. He will own them.
Who is this person? The Tin Man.
So the Tin Man started at the end, so to speak. In the original Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man gets a heart, right? But what if his heart is ripped out? What if, in place of his heart, he gets Articles of Incorporation?
This is how the world ends.
On the fake commercials/froth-at-the-mouth stuff:
Why do I stick fake commercials in the Tin Man? Because. I am a Special Interest.
A Prairie Home Companion has run that series of Ketchup Advisory Board commercials for as long as I can remember. It has always made me not-quite-sure if their other commercials, like Powdermilk Biscuits and Sleep-Number Beds, were for real or just more jokes.
Who are Special Interests? Oh. The people who make advertisements.
Here comes the froth-at-the-mouth stuff, in case you thought the fake advertisements were just quirky. I spend a lot of time thinking about corporations, about the crazy leap of non-logic which is, to pretend a set of documents is a person, and then on top of that, that such a person can OWN things, including -- get this -- ideas. The whole idea of ownership. I guess I'm a communist?
I am just one more of those anti-WTO types, who bought Naomi Klein's book No Logo and ate every page. Down with fake terms like free trade and etcetera! The point? I have no particular insights about economics or the New World Order. I'm not even sure if George Bush Senior hit the "GO" button on that New World Order sucker, or whether he just left it on standby in the White House basement. It bears note that I don't have any piercings, and I have never actually left my couch to protest anything. But I agree with the protestors.
So. Corporations are, if not evil, profoundly weird, and in need of scrutiny. It seems that a corporation is an invention for aggregating the will of a group. Or, is that politics? An election, I suppose, is the normal way to formalize a legally binding answer to the question "what do we want?" In the Olden Days, a corporation was like a miniature government, suffered to exist by the king/queen for a specific purpose. The East India was perhaps the first semi-modern corporation, and its purpose was exploration. Exploitation was the next step, also under the purview of the company. Yep, that's pretty broad: explore, and then exploit, the universe. But British monarchy was not shy about abolishing corporations when their purposes went astray or otherwise annoyed royal sensibilities. These days, royal whim is gone, and we state the intention of a corporation to be the pursuit of "any lawful purpose." In other words, a corporation's purpose is to do anything the investors want it to.
The corporation's purpose is now "anything" which is to say -- The Will of The People (Who Invested). And the states can't change the Will As Contracted in the incorporating documents. As government, so corporation. Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, described it: "Corporations . . . are many lesser commonwealths in the bowels of a greater, like worms in the entrails of a natural man." But to make a distinction between government and company, we stand on historical convention. The tradition of the corporation has handed us one short answer to the question: What is the Will of the (corporate) People? Eh? What do we want? We want profit.
Profit is an untrustworthy concept, because it is too simple. Too much, as it were, under the hood. I understand that it is possible to make wealth without doing Bad Things(tm). I am not sure, however, that a responsible director of a corporation is fulfilling her fiduciary duty if she has not gritted her teeth, rolled up her sleeves, and at least considered the avenues of Bad Things(tm) for profiting her company.
Should corporations sell Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles and kiddie porn? Should they sell heroin on the streets and Bradley fighting vehicles in the outback? Of course, as long as the motive is profit. It is illegal to give charitable donations to terrorist organizations. But you would have to KNOW they're terrorists (you could look up the list of baddies at ict.org.il). You donate, you're a criminal. Why would you be donating unless you were a terrorist-lover? There is an assumption of ideological intent when you give charitable contributions. No such assumption exists for the money-grubber. If somebody came along and made a careless and reckless loan to the same terrorist organization, hoping to score big, the lender might be in a better situation -- to claim just greedy, otherwise ignorant. This seems to be the case right now in Iraq. The staggering amount of money being leaked all over the country cannot ALL be missing the terrorists. They don't NEED charity. They have our corporate investment.
"Did you know your oil investment scheme is funding suicide bombers?"
"Really!? I had no idea! I just profit from the company's operations!"
To profit from evil, we only need a plausible agnosticism unto the gods of Mammon upon whose teets we suck. This very agnosticism is, I think, a pre-requisite for anyone who lives comfortably in America and tries to sleep at night.
It seems that recently I write and think about what is, in the end, economics. Mostly because I am still a moralist at heart. Way back when, I was going to be a minister, so that I could exhort the flock from a pulpit. But if you want to do good (or do evil) it makes sense to find the biggest, baddest motherf***ing tool out there with which to ply your mojo. And that tool seems to me to be economic policy. More people get hurt, or helped, via policy nitpicking (a percentage point here or there) than by guns. I think.
But it gets tedious, In Sooth, to hand out bowls of porridge to starving African children. Much more fun is to find the bad guys and point fingers at them, hopefully to drum up an old-fashioned witch hunt. So the current bogeymen (besides politicians in general) are (1) corporations and (2) intellectual-property-fascists. Often, this is the same person, I think.
Oops. I said fascist.
I make commercials. I fancy myself a special interest group. Anybody who spends cash (or effort) to make a commercial is, by definition, a special interest group. I guess I'm a Communist? At any rate, I am a maker of commercials.
I make commercials in order to say the brain-dead obvious stuff about Exxon and Coca-Cola. It's the obvious stuff that Wal-Mart forgot, for some reason, to repeat over and over and over about its business practices. The same corporations who usually take it as divine prerogative to be the only ones who get to, via cash and mass-audience brow-beating, talk about themselves in the wide public. It's not like THEY have anything novel or interesting to say. Wal-Mart’s latest commercial? They got stuff on sale, and it's cheap, and the store is shiny. SAME STUFF AS LAST YEAR, DUDE. So, I have no interest in saying anything new. Just the same bang-a-drum stuff as before. Slave labor is bad. Poisoning the environment is bad. Existing as a faux person who has no brain, no soul, but tons of power and a profound lust for profit (Oh! To be a corporation!) is weird.
To make a commercial is a cool challenge. Try to say something that inspires, at the least, a drift in audience opinion, if not the actual no-money-down sale. A commercial must be short, evocative, catchy, not demonstrably false. Why don't more fake advertisements get made?
If newspapers still fill up their op-ed pages with columnists and write-in-ranters, why are there so few fake commercials? I guess because "fake" is still in the definition? They're not fake. They're short messages about obvious stuff.
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