Monday, July 30, 2007


my pal aaron and i have been talking for months about organizing an enormous game of catch this summer, at kosciuszko park. we're envisioning an officially record-breaking collection of eager catchers, a veritable BYOMitt free-for-all, though neither of us is sure just how many people would have to participate for this to happpen. at this point i'm not sure our monumental dream will ever come to be...but there WILL be some record-breaking going down at the old town school of folk music on august 7th, when the world's largest music lesson brings an entirely new crown of glory to chicago.

that's the goal, anyway. the entire guitar-teaching staff will be instructing folks how to play two basic chords and will then perform two full songs with the largest student body ever gathered solely for the sake of playing music. they need to officially teach more than 539 people to break the record in the guiness book, which is currently held by a bunch of swiss harmonica-ers.

you have to enroll to participate, but that's about all that's required, besides showing up at 6 pm. the lesson starts at 7:30, please, no stairway to heaven verses, while you're waiting.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

so many hows

the stockyard institute in chicago is organizing a pedagogical factory this summer, "exploring strategies for an educated city" by among other things (happening at the hyde park arts center) offering numerous public events which have been programmed by AREA chicago (art / research / education / activisim).

there's tons planned for the next two months, including three audio-inspired sessions - "how we sound" (
featuring the favorite chicago sounds project, 8/18), "how we listen" (featuring audio artists lou mallozzi and christina kubisch, 8/18) and "how we listen pt. 2," (featuring wbez's new project, 9/12).

i love the idea of Teaching the City, and expect these sessions will be provocative and revealing, each in its own way. i hope to report back about them after the fact, but in the meantime - there's so much else going on at the pedagogical factory - check out the entire schedule and marvel at how much there is to learn - for free. then find your way down to hyde park and get yourself some.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

medium of life

taking a short break from russia, to talk about iran. specifically, about the international radio festival, which is held each may (coinciding with the birth of radio in iran) by the islamic republic iran broadcasting (IRIB) in a city called mashad.

the IRF is in its eighth year, and seems in some ways similar to the project i've spent the last seven years working on, despite some differences, like the nods to god in the directors' message.
one other divergence is the list of countries involved with the IRF, which includes afhganistan, iraq, ivory coast and bashkortostan. we've made some strong connections with europe and the australian/nz corner of the world, and have practically been taken over by the canadians (no complaints!) but have yet to work with anyone from africa, or the middle east.

but our goals are especially correlative, as both festivals seek to nourish creativity in radio production and pave the way for exceptional radio work to reach more listeners. i'm especially fond of the IRF's motto: radio is the medium of peace and friendship and the medium of life.


we're hoping some producers from the IRIB will make it over to chicago for the third coast festival conference - it would be amazing to meet them, and learn more about what's happening on the iranian airwaves. in the meantime - take a look around the festival's website
to learn more about it.

Monday, July 02, 2007

5 tiny stories about moscow

this post will have less to do with sound, and more to do with all of these stray impressions of moscow that are rattling around in my brain. (though i AM typing this to the pops and cracks of firecrackers being shot off in the alley behind our apartment. t'is the season.) there's no cohesive narrative to be found (much the opposite, in fact) so i'm listing.

ready, go:

1. one morning in moscow i rode a one-eyed horse. he was very sweet, and had good balance despite his handicap. his name was kavkaz, which i'm told means 'caucasus', like the region in eurasia.

2. many, many of the people i met - from young producers at the radio festival to the mysterious older woman i encountered one night walking home from the train (she's been seen around town with a parrot on her shoulder) - wanted to know if i was married. then every person wanted to know why not. and they all thought i was about 23.

3. the subway system in moscow is incredible. there are huge soviet-style statues all over the place, and mosaics, murals and paintings all over the ceilings and walls. ornate yet mighty chandeliers hang in many of the platforms, and the escalators leading up and down are endless. apparently advertisements are played for commuters while they ascend or descend, but occasionally a poem is read between ads. (shaving cream, pushkin, nescafe) the trains come about once a minute and i noticed a lot of young boys traveling with their grandmothers on the subways, and wearing funny hats.

4. because i hadn't recently pondered it seriously, was not expecting moscow to be so capitalistic. my first hint was passing the IKEA on the way from the airport to lena's apartment. the next day while looking from one corner of red square (which was closed for a party?!) over at lenin's tomb, i also noticed a louis vuitton store in my peripheral vision. and while i expected to find mcdonalds (not to mention mccafes) and other corporate franchises, did NOT expect the tgi fridays, or that crappy fast food 'italian' chain sbarro, which was everywhere. didn't see a starbucks. but they've got their version of it going strong ("coffee house") AND a competing local chain - "coffee mania", which is actually a great name for a coffee shop chain.

5. my new favorite food is kachapuri, which is sort of a georgian (NOT the peach state) version of grilled cheese. it's a round bread stuffed with a white cheese. the kachapuri i found was nice and light on the cheese, but i hear this is not always the case. i also tried many other variations of the 'cheese and bread' theme - a safe vegetarian choice available pretty much everywhere. during the radio festival, lunch was served at a chinese restaurant at the hotel where the festival was held. sitting down the first day for fried rice at a table with a brown checkerboard tablecloth was also pretty surreal. and the condiment containers were ace.

stay tuned for a few more tiny stories about moscow. in the meantime, here are some photos i took at the huge riding stable where i met the handsome kavkaz.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


after a 43 hour adventure getting home from moscow, i've been back for a few days...but am still figuring out how to write about the experience. in the meantime, my luggage eventually caught up (with armenian vodka bottle, chocolate bars and assorted souvenirs still intact) and i've had some time to reflect back and collect some thoughts about the experience. there's so much to convey...

to summarize - i was over there to present the third coast festival / american public radio work at a festival called "vmeste radio," which means "radio together", or "radio brings us together". (fabulous logo above) the festival is organized by the foundation for independent radio broadcasting, (FNR), which i wrote a little bit about in the previous post. i presented one 90-minute talk and also participated in a special session about radio stories covering xenophobia. both were translated into russian as i spoke, a few sentences at a time. if i'm not mistaken i was the only non-russian at the festival besides the inimitable kari hesthamar, from norway, a german-russian journalist and one other american who trains commercial radio djs (and who i didn't cross paths with much - he was working with an entirely different segment of the festival.)

about 200 producers from all across russia (including eastern siberia, northern-most points and a secret city or two) gathered for the happening, and spent three days talking about, listening to, debating, praising and challenging all aspects of radio documentary/feature making. even though i couldn't understand a word of the conversations, it was clear that the producers were passionate and serious about the radio medium - and the power it has to reveal, describe, ponder, define the world. [not so different from the context i work in every day around the TCF.]

i was especially impressed with the young producers i met - in their early or mid 20s - who are _on fire_ about radio production. they're dying to LIVE through radio, and help their audiences learn how to understand radio in new ways. on the last day during the xenophobia session mentioned above, we heard 7 pieces by producers who had all made stories related to that theme. though i couldn't directly follow the stories, my ever-generous host andrey allakhverdov (photo below) summarized and explained them in english, so i was able to listen and then get a sense of the subject of each. stories ranged from a portrait of an anti-fascist rock band to the story of one elderly german woman living absolutely alone in a russian group home, who longs to return to germany. the production quality and sophistication of these pieces was quite impressive - this came through even without understanding a word of them. and the discussions that followed each program were equally dynamic and provocative, which was also evident purely from observation. there was also a good amount of laughter in those discussions - these folks have _sharp_ senses of humor.

the festival culminated with a big celebration and awards ceremony, honoring the year's best documentaries, news reports, critical media analysis, promotion and websites for commercial radio stations. again, it was hard to follow exactly, but a lot of fun nonetheless. scenes from famous films featuring radio references were screened between prizes and one award trophy was presented along with two huge turnips. i'm still trying to figure out what THAT was all about.

now that you have some sense of what was happening at the festival, what i really want to express is how deeply valuable FNR's work - the promotion and support of independent media, highly-skilled journalism and community radio - is at this point [especially] in contemporary russian history. the best i can do is [over]simplify, but: recently the putin regime has shown little tolerance for independent media, as evidenced by the situation with the educated media foundation, which recently suspended activities after an eleven hour raid on its headquarters. (please follow the link and read more - it's important.)

though radio in russia is rampant, it's mostly in the form of commercial music stations (think - Morning Zoo-type shows and DJs) and other independent networks that are increasingly coming under the control of governmental allies, such as the Russia News Service which recently implemented a mandate dictating how much 'positive' news must be reported each day. (50%)

so especially in this context, the FNR's work shines a bright, bright spotlight on a darkening media landscape. the energy, excitement and commitment to honest and meaningful radio production that FNR is cultivating and nourishing in journalist and producer communities across russia is so significant: historically, politically, culturally and artistically. i was more honored than i can express to be a part of this year's festival, and to share a few american tidbits ranging in topic from mexican/us border crossings to shopping mall culture to teenage obesity and an overview of human conflict throughout history, in two and a half minutes.

pictured with balloons (stay tuned for TCF balloons) are andrey allakhverdov and lena uporova, who are not only two of FNR's hardest-working staff members, but also the most gracious hosts imaginable. they both made my trip even more special. and special thanks to babaev, for his endurance on the highways and byways stretching across moscow, all the while playing calexico cds.

so there are a few impressions to start with. coming next - cultural observations and tales of unexpected equestrian feats, narrowly averted skinhead skirmishes and the georgian version of grilled cheese sandwich.

in the meantime, here are some pictures: churches and skies, and subway snapshots.
more to come...