BEHIND THE SCENES with Chris Trimmer

How did you first learn of these early recordings and First Sound's efforts to uncover them, and do you believe these are truly the first audio recordings in all of history? Might they find earlier ones yet

Our radio station subscribes to a great experimental music magazine called Musicworks, which happens to include a CD of related material with every issue. A latenight DJ was talking on-air about an article in the magazine regarding the First Sounds project, and proceeded to play the 1860 phonautograph recording of "Au Claire de la Lune." It completely took hold of my imagination. The recording sounded so ghostly and ethereal - it resembled a singer, and that particular tune, but it also felt like some radio signals had been crossed over and I was fortuitously channeling a singer from beyond. Though, with some more explanation, my imagination quickly latched onto pretty much the same train of thought that Dr. Feaster describes during the first playback of these recordings - the sheer awe and wonder that I was listening to sounds recorded 150 years ago, pre-dating Canada as a country. That was certainly enough motivation to find Patrick for an interview, and start plotting a show

From the research that I did on this topic, I do believe that Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville (ELSdM) was the first to purposefully record sound. Dr. Feaster mentioned in the interview that the very earliest recordings of ELSdM from 1857 may soon be decoded and played (although of much lower quality), but I'd be quite surprised if there is still an as-yet-undiscovered inventor that was working on recording sound prior to that

On the other hand, who knows what will turn up? There was a report from 2006 that some Belgium researchers had successfully used computer scans of the grooves in 6,500-year-old pottery to extract sounds of talking and laughter (caused by vibrations of the tools to make the pottery) - but that turned out to be false, if not an outright hoax. The interesting factor in all of this is the current (and future) advancements in technology, and how those will mediate our ability to unlock sounds that could otherwise be right under our noses

As listeners we parachute into the history of recorded sound through the story of your friend's voice message. What role does this anecdote serve for the larger story

The voice message in question was my friend Russ calling with one of those, "I can't believe what just happened, and I need to tell someone" phone calls. In this case, he went on a first date where he connected right away, sparks flew, etc. At the time, it seemed enough like an anomaly that I instinctively grabbed my recorder. I suppose the disclaimer is that someone who works with audio is always thinking about recording and capturing audio, which can often lead to nothing, but in this case, it was (luckily) a moment of foresight

I feel it's the inclusion of the anecdote which really grounds the piece. It's the "Why is this important?" part of the radio story. Without it, the piece is, at best, an intriguing foray into technology, an in-depth look at the process of invention, but it lacked the "personal" or human-ness. As mentioned above, there was something about the experience of hearing that 1860 recording, a sense of awe and wonder, that I felt needed to be translated into the piece for the listener. Being able to tell this incredibly serendipitous story - I had a sound recording of my best friend gushing about his soon-to-be wife after their first date - was the best way to represent what was possible with the phenomenon of recorded sound (even if this wasn't, necessarily, what ELSdM was envisioning 150 years ago)

I eventually gave the recording to them as a wedding gift - so for them to be able to keep that particular moment in time, where that first notion of deep emotion and connectedness emerges, locked up in a sound recording, well, that's where the metaphor of "lightning in a bottle" came from. It's a comment on how infallible our memory is as well. Each of them probably has a fairly generalized memory of that event - a memory of the specifics of that night (5 years on) clouded with time, and perhaps associated broad labels of emotions attached to the event ("I remember I was over-themoon happy"). That's the very nature of memory - but with the recording, they have specific access to the very real and subtle complexities of emotion that Russ felt that night and, to some degree, they're able to climb back into the mind-frame of a momentous occasion from their shared past

Talk about the sound design of the piece, including dramatizing ELSdM, the music beds, and playfulness with certain effects throughout

Before I begin, a nod to the folks who are big influences on how I use sound design in radio. When I was in grad school, and having a re-awakening to the potential of radio, it was mainly because of Radiolab and CBC's mini-series on electricity in music, The Wire . Not only did both shows present topics and ideas that were intrinsically fascinating to me, but they both knew exactly how to create mood, rhythm, space and harmony (the musical kind) using their skills of sound design. This was influential in showing me what the possibilities in this medium really were - you can verbally tell something to a listener to access their logical/rational mind, but at the same time you can be utilizing creative sound design and music to access that "emotional: part of the brain and intuitive level of thinking. I think that's where radio displays all its potential - if you start creating radio that sounds like music, you have the best of both worlds, and the opportunity to really connect with a listener

While the sound design of Lightning in a Bottle was rooted in that philosophy, it also served a huge functional purpose in this piece. The interview with Dr. Feaster was meant to have been a part of a much larger, dynamic show on the history of recording mediums, from Phonautograph to Mp3s. Unfortunately, the radio gods were against me and our radio station's device for doing phone interviews decided to stop working for an extended period of time

So I had to refocus the intent of the show - this was the point I decided to include the anecdote at the beginning, and it took on a life of it's own. What do they say, "Necessity is the mother of invention"? I had a phone interview, a superb one at that, but to make it dynamic radio, I felt I needed to elevate it somehow above the verbal, the logical retelling of facts and stories. I focused heavily on sound design to broaden the listener's imagination. With the help of Cian Cruise, a local actor, we were able to give a personality and character to ELSdM. To utilize playfulness and help explain challenging audio concepts, many additional sounds were added to help keep a tight rhythm to the story. These all culminated in creating an audio world for Dr. Feaster's stories and anecdotes to reside

One difficult editing decision that I wrestled with was the fact that I didn't make a very direct connection between the anecdote and the topic of the documentary -- the discovery of the first recorded sounds. It's often preached by the heavyweights in the creative radio field that radio is didactic, and that the producer should always explain what is happening at any particular moment to his/her listener. While I'm in agreement for the most part, in this case, it's up to the listener to make the inference of how the anecdote relates to the larger story, and to keep that anecdote in memory during the final minute while the answering machine message is playing. I think there are a multitude of possibilities for exploring the limits of the listener interaction within radio. How well can I encode emotion or meaning in a radio piece so a person can just pick up on it, or "feel" it? These are all ideas that researchers have been wrestling with in music psychology, and other disciplines, so I guess it just seems natural, and fascinating, to see how that translates to the radio domain

Tell us more about Cognitive Dissonance . Is it a regular program? What other topics have you explored?*

I was once sitting in the audience at a music psychology conference and a presenter dropped this tidbit of knowledge on us all: Music psychology isn't simply about finding out why we, as humans, are driven to create and listen to music and the effect it has upon us all. Instead, music psychology holds the key to many of the mysteries of what it means to be human - after-all, music is the quintessential human activity that uses all parts of our unique capabilities. Music involves rhythm, singing, communicating emotion, coordinating motor movement (i.e. dancing), knowledge of musical syntax, mathematics, pitch perception, eye/hand coordination and countless other abilities. There's a reason there's no "music" area of the brain - it's because we need all areas of the brain to experience music

That's the perfect metaphor for Cognitive Dissonance . It's a radio show that uncovers the various ways we relate to music in order to shine a light on our greater humanity. Music is a window into the soul of the other, but also a mirror reflecting back onto the self. For example, one of the first episodes was on tone deafness. A lot of research indicates that tone deafness is, for the most part, a fallacy. Most people who believe they're tone deaf, greatly underestimate such things as their singing ability. Throughout the course of the show - interviews with people who believed they were tone deaf, researchers, and karaoke stars - tone deafness was a way to discuss how our minds can trick ourselves into believing we're capable of less than what we can actually achieve. We steer away from the things that come natural to us, thinking we don't posses the capability of a professional, gradually perpetuating our own self-fulfilling prophecy

Another episode, on noise in music, featured interviews of two friends sitting next to each other at a noise-rock concert. Afterwards, one is gushing about the brilliance of the band, the other is incensed by how insulting the music was to her ear drums. The theme gradually uncovers a fact of human perception: music, like any other perceptual stimuli, is heard through the lens of past experience. There isn't a perfect correlation between outside world and our internal (brain) world. We impart our past memories, experiences, thoughts, beliefs on all incoming stimuli, always. Cognitive Dissonance is a radio program that relies heavily on story, interviews and wonde to discuss and present ideas related to the psychological, cultural and technological aspects of music. The ultimate goal is to blur the listener's perception of whether they're listening to music or listening to spoken-word radio. Now in its fourth season, the show will soon be launching as a regular podcast at ###

What are you working on these days

Well, outside of working on a few new episodes, the large audio project I'm currently working on is a full-scale documentary on Glenn Gould's seminal Solitude Trilogy radio documentaries. If you haven't heard them, here's the quick story: Glenn Gould, classical pianist and Bach interpreter extraordinaire, suddenly quits playing live music and refocuses his efforts on the recording studio. While most assumed he would spend the bulk of his time recording classical music albums (he did some of that), he instead spent many years working on his magnum opus - three radio documentaries about Canada and isolation, both physical and psychological. A creative left-turn to say the least.They're not very well known, mostly because they aired on the always-ephemeral medium of radio, but they're also not like any form of radio you may have heard. Gould took on the monumental task of creating radio that, quite literally, was a musical composition. He overlapped multiple voices, akin to Bach's use of musical counterpoint, and used dynamics, harmony and rhythm of speech in his documentaries in much the same way a composer would write a new symphony. For me, as a person who spends a lot of time thinking about the musicality of speech, and all its psychological aspects, they were a revelation to hear. With my co-producer, Michael Morreale, who is coming from the classical music end of the spectrum, we're working on a documentary that looks closely at what Gould was trying to achieve with these documentaries, tracing back to the late '60s to see how that metamorphosis from international musician to radio producer affected his unique idea of music. [ Ed. note: We're big fans of Gould's, here at the Third Coast. Check out this feature we pulled together back in 2002, and be sure to click on EXTRA for more audio and musings from a variety of radio producers about Gould's impact on their work. ]