‘Who Am I?’ An unanswered question, but intriguing listen

Whoops, posted to my individual blog instead of the class blog? Here it goes:

My notes from this radio show are scribbled on post-its and a bit messy. I feel that may be reflected in this blog post.

So many different stories were jam packed into 56 minutes of Radiolab’s “Who Am I?” episode. As a listener, I appreciated the inclusion of many different elements and takes on the overarching question. My attention was kept as the segment shifted between different stories and narrators.

The segment began with Stephen Johnson describing an experiencing he had while his brain was monitored in a laboratory. As a listener, I was brought into that experience with him through hearing hospital monitor beeps, and an eerie, ambient noise layer with Johnson’s speaking. Following that, I experienced the sound of neuron’s firing, and it was discussed that mental life is what makes you, YOU. So essentially, the firing of neuron’s “little specs of gel” are responsible for this.

The “self-effect” (seeing oneself morphed with another object) was explained through morphing a photograph of Bill Clinton with speaker Julian Keenan. Julian would see himself in the photograph, whereas anyone else would see Bill Clinton. This point was aurally demonstrated by morphing Radiolab co-host Robert’s voice with Bill Clinton’s famous “I did NOT have sexual relations with that woman” quote. I felt this technique was both effective and humorous.

The segment shifted into a piece by Hannah Palin called “The Day my Mother’s Head Exploded” which as an intriguing story about a woman who suffered a brain aneurism and had a total personality shift as a result. The story is told by both Hannah Palin (daughter) and Nicki Plain (mother). Nicki begins by saying that she woke up one day with a horrible headache. She did what she would normally do and went to an aerobics class (fun, cheesy 80s workout music plays in background). The story goes on…her headache worsens…someone calls 911 in Nicki’s aerobics class. This is the last thing Nicki remembers for 4 months. Transition to Hannah’s voice talking about visiting her mother in the hospital (accompanied by hospital beeps). Hannah says that was the day that her mom died and a new mom replaced her. When Nicki is finally out of a coma, her personality has completely shifted. She is aware of past lives, talking about how she is/was a little man in Vietnam who grew vegetables (twangy, somewhat blusey guitar accompanies more reflective moments such as this). More is described about Nicki’s new personality, like that fact that she loves to sing, but hadn’t before the aneurism. Fun clips of Nicki singing about loving Wendy’s fast food and other clips of Nicki and Hannah signing together were added throughout.

Skipping ahead to a later, prominent part of the segment (for me as a listener), is the story about Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson fully believed that little people visited him in his dreams and told him amazing stories that would become his stories. From this, the question of authorship arises. Are these little people part of Stevenson, or are they separate?  One of the stories which was told to Stevenson by the little people is acted out. This was so different from anything else in the segment and really stood out (as well as entertained me) as a listener. Dramatic voices tell the tale of a son who kills his father and ends up living with his father’s widow. Birds singing, clanging, freaky piano, chaotic fiddle all contribute to the dramatic effect of the story.

General observations…Both Jad and Robert introduce and reintroduce themselves several times throughout the segment, especially when coming back from a break. They also introduce new speakers as they appear and typically repeat the speaker’s name when their part of the segment is done, effectively “signing them off.”

The music used was all instrumental. I noticed ambient sounding music, twangy guitar, bluesy guitar, manic fiddle, slow piano, old timey music etc, etc. All of the music made sense for the audio they were accompanying and enhanced rather than distracted from the story being told.

Overall, I was very entertained by this piece.

For my own work:

I definitely take note of the instrumental music, and realize that it can significantly alter the tone of the piece.

It is okay to mix my own voice in with the person I am interviewing, add my own opinions, anecdotes that relate, pose questions.

Adding many different perspectives and elements makes for a very interesting listen.




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