Hometown: Started in Los Angeles, now claiming New York
Joined AIR: April 2016
Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell us about your professional experience and background.
My BFA is in fashion design, and I worked in the garment industry for most of my professional life. Because of this, design and fashion practices inform everything that I do now, from fine art to tending wardrobe on Broadway shows. (Viva IA local 764!)
What’s playing on your radio/streaming service right now?
Ha! I love that these prompts assume that everyone with audio tendencies never works without accompaniment! I swear this without irony, but I’m listening to Andrew McNair’s playlist on Spotify of “Background Music from This American Life.” I skip all the songs with vocalists. (It’s hard to compose sentences while listening to other people’s words.)
What’s a podcast you’ve just learned about?
I just found out about “Five Thirty Eight’s” election podcast.
What do you think about it?
In these days where it seems that there’s a news outlet to satisfy every possible confirmation bias, I’m intrigued by folks that are exploring things on the basis of what can be learned from data. I was also surprised to discover that the show is very entertaining.
What’s the best piece you’ve ever heard?
This is a very difficult question to answer. I listen to a lot of really great audio. In the olden days, I would have just said “any Joe Frank episode” or rattled off several different TAL episodes, like “The House on Loon Lake.” I looked in the archive for the heartbreaking episode about the experience of two young transgender girls, but they’ve taken it down, to protect the anonymity of the interviewees.
I think Jeff Emtman’s “Here Be Monsters” produced what might be my favorite sound piece to date, called “Do Crickets Sing Hymns?” It starts with what is purported to be a very slow-motion recording of crickets sounding like a choir, but Emtman uses this starting point to explore what happens to the natural world when it gets augmented digitally. It is masterful, breathtaking, highly textural sound design. Please, can someone explain “Welcome to Night Vale”? God, I’ve tried, but I just think I’m not cool enough.
What drew you in to audio?
My sense of hearing has always dominated the other five. It’s my strongest, and the one that directs my learning process the most. I have a very weak sense of smell, and I even think that I’m more than a little “face blind.” They call Paul Rudd an “everyman,” but to me, every man looks like Paul Rudd.
So that leaves sound. Often I will recognize an actor’s voice in a movie before I recognize their face. When I visit a foreign country, language is always the thing that unlocks the culture for me. The audible world has always held a certain magic and fascination for me. I remember lying on my stomach as a child, in front of the large speakers in our ’70s living room, convinced that if I peeled back their brown and orange fabric covers, I’d see a tiny choir of people, singing in a hollow box.
It might also be genetic. My grandmother claimed that she was “born again” because of a radio program. Apparently, during the Depression, she knelt in front of the radio and “turned her life over to Jesus” at the prompting of a radio evangelist. For my grandma, it was someone like Billy Graham, and for me, it was probably Ira Glass. Same syringe, different drug.
Today, I’m enamored with the richness and aesthetic complexity that is possible in audio. Crafting an audio piece can be as expressive and elaborate as designing an evening gown, but I’m finding that audio captures and distills the ephemera that great fashion only achieves for brief moments, and it’s not vulnerable to the passage of time or vanity sizing.
What are you looking to learn about your craft?
My ambition is to tell some transportational, and above all, surprising stories; those driveway moments that I think everyone in public radio hopes for. I know that a really big part of this is editing, so I’m after some really strong sound editing skills. Powerful sound design is a lot like great fashion. All of the materials and elements that create it are generally known and familiar, but it’s the way that they’re composed and contrasted that captures the imagination. In the beginning, my brain was really resistant to ingest the technical jargon of the audio world. It’s hard, but I’m slowly pushing my threshold for comprehending technical narratives higher and higher.
What piece of audio do you love to share with others?
When I try to get people excited about podcasts now, I often mention an episode of Eric Molinsky’s “Imaginary Worlds” called “Inside the Snow Globe.” I love the idea of parallel universes, and this episode explores a fan theory that a huge swath of American popular culture exists within the imagination of a fictional autistic boy named Tommy Westphall. Best of all, this theory can be extrapolated far enough to include our actual collective consciousness.
What’s inspiring you right now?
Man buns. I’ve always been fascinated by the lifespan of fashion trends, and this one is really interesting. I think it started with David Beckham, but I’ve begun noticing blips in the pop culture matrix suggesting that the zeitgeist is leaving man buns behind. In some corners, there’s a backlash against men that wear their hair like this, and I’m curious how it’s final gasps are going to play out. It’s a style that has, coincidentally, gained a lot of popularity at a time when advancements in transgender civil rights are also taking place.
I find it ironic that a lot of folks find this style emblematic of a rather ardent male heterosexuality, while it just reminds me of a man attempting a transition to the opposite gender, with a very high degree of transparency.
Skinny jeans hold a similar fascination for me. Isn’t it odd that the pants got so tight, right about the time that big mobile phones became ubiquitous? I’m only, this summer, spotting Palazzo-width pants on the streets of New York. Is it an accident, or did all the fashion taste-makers buy the iphone 6S Plus?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about audio?
Ah, big sigh. How about “Fail well, and fail often”? I’ve heard that success comes when you’ve made enough bad choices to recognize them in advance. Ira Glass has given this advice in a million different interviews, and it reminds me of learning how to draw.
Everyone can learn to draw, but you need the fortitude and discipline to make a lot of bad drawings before you can actually reproduce with your hand, what you see with your eyes.
How does media reflect your American experience?
I don’t think media reflects my American experience very much at all. I’d love to believe in the myth of a liberal media, but I’m still seeing way too many shows about straight, middle-aged, white men awakening to the fact that the world has revoked a portion of their privilege because they’ve lost their hair and the flat stomachs of their youth. I’m a gay, half-white, half-Filipino, former reality show contestant who used to REALLY “love the Lord” in the early ’90s. My American experience is hardly universal.
If, anything, I’m similar to most Americans because I’m susceptible to the illusory experience depicted by the American media. I was mistaken to think that being on reality TV would give me a professional advantage in the fashion industry. I think we forget that, in America, even the folks who cut to the front of the line discover that the line exists because somebody put up a red velvet rope in the first place.
How could it reflect your experience better?
Well, that’s my responsibility, isn’t it? Now that digital technology has lowered the threshold of entry into the world of audio, we all have the power to create a new media landscape that reflects us better. “Prep, publish, tweet and repeat.” Right? A lady once told me that if you find yourself thinking “someone should tell that story,” then that someone is you.
That is, of course, unless you tell a bunch of radiofolk that you’re collecting audio from men who wear their hair in man buns. In that case, someone else just might beat you to the punch, if you don’t get on top of it. Back away, copycats!
Who have you always wanted to interview?
Yoko Ono, hands down. I mean, seriously. She’s a lady who’s made a lot of lemonade out of a hell of a lot of lemons. How has she gotten out of bed every day for the last 40 years? I’d really like to hear her describe going outside to record snowfall on a random dawn in 1965. Talk about good tape!
• To find Andrae Gonzalo and a diverse array of audio and multimedia producers who are at the top of their craft, visit AIR’s Talent Directory.