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BEHIND THE SCENES with Sherre DeLys and Rick Moody


Format-wise, how do you describe The Dry vs. the Moist? *(from this point on referred to as DvM) A collection? Series? Assemblage?

Rick Moody (RM): We haven't really arrived at an agreed upon word for DvM and that is maybe a good thing, because once there's a word then there's a pre-existing format for the piece, and part of the point was to try to work outside of pre-existing radio formats. If I were required to come up with a term, I would suggest "audio collage," as distinct from "music concrete," e.g. Collage, in that the pieces are randomly assembled. Sherre DeLys (SD): When Chris Abrahams [ ed: Chris contributed all of the piano music in DvM ] heard the finished piece, he said that it was like an album, and that made sense. But Rick has a strong instinct for resisting the idea of "format," which I appreciate, and which has influenced our collaboration throughout

Can you explain the quite unique organizing principle around the six pieces

RM: Sherre and I sent a lot of e-mail messages back and forth with suggestions of subject matter, and then somewhere in the midst of this process, I compiled all the suggestions that had emerged to that point, after which I put all of these suggestions into a hat, an actual hat, a sort of Cat in the Hat hat. I pulled out a number of them one at a time and recorded this on video. The first six, whatever they were, would become the subjects for DvM. I think I might have ruled out a couple of things along the way for various reasons, but that was the basic principle. I wanted to build in randomness. SD: I loved this video. There was Rick taking whimsy seriously, documenting the beginning of the kind of unpredictable journey that means something. I laughed at the part where he leans into the camera, it was like he was looking through the frame into my workroom here in Sydney. It's a unique experience developing a mutual commitment to collaboration entirely by e-mail

What inspired you toward this approach? RM: I was thinking more about artists like John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and the notion of how to approach the task of making things using chance operations, where the method WAS the content. When I am really doing what I feel like doing, I get closer to Cage, and in this case I was really doing what I felt like doing

Did you self-impose any restrictions or guidelines at all when you started? Regarding length, content, or stylistically speaking

RM: I think the only restrictions were that we didn't want to do stuff that was going to be logistically impossible. (I remember baseball stadia were in contention at one point, but I couldn't see how we were going to find decent sound for a piece about baseball stadia, what with Sherre being in Australia, and I suppose I used editorial privilege and nixed this idea.) Other than that, there were no real restrictions. Once it became obvious that there were some general themes implicit in what we had chosen, then I think we refined along these lines. That is, DvM became the title after we chose the topics from the hat, and it became an orienting strategy thereafter

*Did you have any ideas (or concerns) about where DvM might eventually air, given its more experimental nature?

*SD: Later, after we'd finished the writing and Rick had edited the material we showed it to Tony Macgregor, the executive producer of Radio Eye at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and he was interested to commission the production. We were fortunate that Tony has a broad vision for Radio Eye , as spaces for long–form features which don't fall into standard categories are becoming rare on English language public radio.

**Rick you've mentioned that you feel you're still learning how to "write for sound" as opposed to "writing for the page." Can you elaborate on this, and Sherre, what are your thoughts on "writing for sound?" RM: I'm not sure I've totally figured it out yet, because now I know I could have made the texts even better. My texts, I mean. There were parts of Sherre's pieces where, on the page, I wasn't sure why she had phrased something the way she had, but then, when she recorded it, the text seemed completely appropriate, even beautiful. I don't find that my texts are quite as limpid, but I'm learning a lot, as I produce more radio work. I learned a lot about this from watching over Sherre's shoulder. The key, it seems to me, is to read things aloud a lot, and to have other people read them aloud. Sherre has done enough of this work that she writes with these issues in mind, but I still write first for the page, and only later for the human voice. SD: It's such a big topic, isn't it? Another aspect is the relationship between sound and written text. I've always written around the sound, meaning I've started with recordings (which can include language) and used text to suture these sound objects- much like quilt making I suppose. I've always thought of that as writing with sound, noodling around in the studio until stories form. But this work with Rick has taken me into new areas: we started with written stories that arrive as complete objects with their own semantic logic. I'd never conceived a meaningful role for sound in relation to such a sturdy structure as the story, but I was so into the idea of working with Rick -- feeling ridiculously privileged to be writing alongside someone of his abilities -- that I felt up for being shifted into new ways of working. The interesting thing is that although I've never told Rick about my usual working process, the one I described earlier, he's proposed that for our next piece we start with sound, so I suspect we're each feeling our way towards common ground. Anyway, in DvM we aimed for sound which wouldn't simply underscore but would form relationships that are more parallel or tangential, relationships between sound text and music that create spaces which the listener can enter.***

**The scoring of music in the pieces is an integral part of the project, unifying the stories in mood and tone, despite their contrasting themes. Did Chris start each song from scratch after hearing its respective story?***

**SD: How about some thoughts straight from Chris? "I recorded the music whilst the piece was being written and put together. Even though I had knowledge of the spoken, verbal part of the piece, I wrote the music separately -- not whilst listening to the stories. Although I had heard and read most of the pieces before I started recording, I didn't specifically write certain tracks to coincide with certain segments of the spoken part of the piece. I was much more interested in the various coincidences which would happen in a moderately indeterminate way. By "moderately indeterminate" I suppose I mean that I had a definite aesthetic in mind -- "melodic," solo, upright piano. How the pieces would sound alongside the other contents of the program however, would be unplanned. Yet choices could be made as to appropriateness, or lack there of, of some pieces with the spoken text. "The decision to use solo upright piano for the music was based on the idea of having just three voices in the piece: Rick's, Sherre's and mine (upright piano). To me it had a nice simplicity. Not only would this add an unpretentious quality, it also would provide more of a dialogical dimension -- as opposed to a background music / underscore approach. I hope this comes through in the end result." We were also lucky enough too to be able to work with an extremely talented sound engineer, Russell Stapleton. If the piece is a coherent and luxurious listen that's lots to do with Russell.***

*And what about the final segment, Vinylator* ? It seems a sort of bonus track at the end -- not quite dry or exactly moist either. Or wait, is it both? RM: It is kind of a bonus track, in my view, but it fulfills an important function -- besides being great audio -- and that is to keep total coherence and shapeliness from taking over. The vinylator is neither dry nor moist, which means that any strategy to completely control the material with logic and reason is somewhat defeated. There are other examples of this throughout (the bingo soundtrack that accompanies my "Cactus" section), but the inflator is right in your face with its verve and eccentricity, and that's lovely.***

**What did you learn from each other through this collaboration? RM: Sherre is one of the great thinkers about radio. And I love seeing how she's going to respond to something. It always delights me. I'm probably spoiled now, because I have only collaborated with extraordinarily gifted people. And she's able to roll with very strange ideas about process and to come right back with incredibly creative responses. Plus, as I said above, she writes very well for radio and has a beautiful voice. SD: Well, Rick's an astonishing writer, and I'll always be reading and marveling at his novels and short-stories, so of course with DvM I learned from hearing how he made sense of the topics we chose. But there was lots of learning. There's Rick's deep commitment to making things and to process that was inspiring. He's keen and adventurous and I admire the way he works across many different types of projects. I think he loves collaborating with a variety of people too, which I do as well for the ways it encourages you to move away from your own habits. And we were just both always there for that, day after day, ritually.***

Any plans for future collaborations? RM: There are two plans. First, we're just beginning to attempt an actual radio play, hopefully a somewhat old-fashioned radio play, complete with melodrama, music, characters, plot twists. That is a three-headed collaboration with Chris. And then Sherre and I are considering, in the further distance, a sort of a follow-up to DvM called for the moment Soul vs. Mind . One of my secret wishes with that piece is to record the sound bed first. SD: The interesting thing about this is that I've never told Rick how challenged I was by writing text first on DvM. I like it, we're each feeling our way towards common ground.