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BEHIND THE SCENES with Andi McDaniel


How did you discover Gordon Hempton and his project? Were you worried at first that it might not work for radio? I came across Gordon when my husband, who is a writer, received Gordon's new book One Square Inch of Silence, to review. Around the same time, he received another book about silence, Anne LeClaire's Listening Below the Noise. It seemed like an indication that people are beginning to think more critically about the "aural clutter" that we accept as part of our daily lives. Also, I couldn't resist the idea of a radio story about silence. I kept thinking about how great it would be to incorporate awkward silences into the piece. To really play with sound, as well as the idea of "dead air.

What happened when you experiemented with the dead air/silence concept

Well, for one thing, I realized that true, literal "dead air" really doesn't work in any kind of radio, even if it's used in a playful way. Because there's absolutely no information in dead air, so our imaginations have nothing to work with. Instead, I ended up using a sort of "orchestrated" silence, in which it kind of feels like silence, but in actuality, you're hearing birds and water and subtle background sounds (though I think I incorporated elk mating sounds at one point, which admittedly is not so subtle). Because while Gordon uses the phrase "One Square Inch of Silence," what he really wants to protect is natural noise. He wants to be able to hear all of the intricate natural sound effects that get drowned out by industry

Before producing the story had you thought much the noise in your everyday life? And about silence

I hadn't really thought about how noise might be affecting my health, nor had I thought about it as an environmental issue. But I do have a regular meditation practice, and I've gone on several "silent" retreats, in which you don't talk to your fellow meditators, or even make eye contact, for days. It's difficult at first, but then, for an extrovert like me, it's incredibly freeing and very peaceful

On a separate note, Gordon's passion for preserving "natural sound" just seemed intuitive to me. It seemed like, of course we should be paying attention to what we allow into our ears, just as we monitor what goes into our bodies, and what we are willing to look at--as in, natural beauty. At the same time, the idea of actually preserving silence in the form of one square inch, struck me as both impossible and kind of hilarious

In writing Silent Knight , were you concerned about how to portray Gordon so that he didn't sound a little "out there"? Yes and no. Gordon has actually been interviewed for a number of different shows, and he's very media-genic--to the point that he practically speaks in sound bytes. The other interviews I had heard mostly consisted of him sort of making his "pitch" about One Square Inch, which certainly has its place, but I wanted this to be more intimate. I've always been fascinated by Don Quixote-type characters, and I wanted to bring out that fine line between crazy and brilliant. My proudest moment was getting him to tell "the Rogaine story"--I had to ask him about 6 different ways before he finally spilled it. Also, I was really careful in the editing process not to turn him into a caricature--I wanted people to be able to relate to him, not to put him in a box

What, if any, other challenges did you face

The hardest part about producing this story was getting away from the story Gordon wanted me to tell. He frames his own narrative very well--he's quite experienced at it, and I kept finding myself veering back to his idea of what the story is. My instructor, Holly Kernan of KALW, was brutally honest when I'd play a version for her in which Gordon sounded really rehearsed, and well, boring. She'd encourage me to ask myself what really compelled me about the story--as opposed to what had the tidiest narrative arc

As a producer somewhat new to the field, what advice would you have for others when making their first stories

Based on my experience with this piece, my advice is to have lots of other people listen to your piece, even though that means more time, and more work, and it can send you in a strange new direction that might not lead anywhere good. The fact is, as great as a piece might sound to you, if it puts others to sleep, you're probably missing something.