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Why We Make Mystery Meat, America’s First and Only Podcast
By Justin from Mystery Meat Podcast
*Editor's Note: Love the Mystery Meat podcast? Support it on Patreon!
When we tell people we are a podcast, the immediate response is always “Cool, what do y’all talk about?” It’s such an understandable question, because that’s what podcasting almost always is. Go to any podcast and it’s a couple of soothing or soothingly goofball voices discussing a topic. Lovely, but why isn’t there more talk about how limiting this is?
Podcasting, as a creator-accessible forms of expression, is a medium full of opportunity to experiment because it’s almost empty of monetary risk. It’s astoundingly easy to make one. Chances are there are at least three decent microphones in your home right now, embedded into the electrical devices you already own. If your laptop didn’t come with audio editing software you can find freeware online in 15 minutes. iTunes is a hassle to get your recording onto, but you’d probably have to be producing pornography for them not to accept your content, and once you’ve jumped through a few frustrating hoops, you’re in. Publish onto your RSS feed through Soundcloud and it goes up automatically.
So where are the weirdos? The medium explorers? The abstractors? Those unfunded, under produced too-stubborn-and-too-in-love-with-absurdism-to-indulge-in-traditional-narrative dream heads? Why is improv comedy the apex of the avant garde in the world of the podcast? Isn’t there enough mad and anonymous genre bending genius on the internet for some of it to enter the podcastdrome? Are they hiding somewhere in the deep dark web or have they not discovered it yet? Or does the brand of “Podcasting” embody too much talk radio and not enough pirate radio?
We live in an exciting time for surrealism and experimentation. We’ve lived in it for a while. David Lynch got nominated for an academy award for best director 16 years ago. Adult Swim has a ten hour programming block on the Cartoon Network. Y’all seen Skittles commercials lately? The absorption of meme and internet culture into mainstream advertising? Heard the use of electronic instruments, sampling, abstract melody and rhythm in popular music for the last 60 years? So where the hell is the Samuel Beckett of podcast land?
Or more importantly, where is the Eliane Radique, the Delia Derbyshire, or the (pretty please) Laurie Spiegel? This part of our article is ripped off pretty essentially from an article we read in the fall of 2015, called “Noisecasting: The Search for Podcasting’s Bleeding Edge” by a podcaster named Josh Richmond. We read it at a time while considering whether podcast land could be a home for our interests and ideas. It convinced us there was a need to be filled.
(have you been counting how many times I used the word “podcasting”? there will be a quiz)
Mystery Meat formed through our ties in experimental theater. And a shared frustration in trying to work with limited space, limited technical resources, logistical difficulties of working with other artists with limited time, and limited reach to the audience that would have enjoyed and helped to sustain us. Improv podcasts like Comedy Bang Bang and Spontaneanation solve a lot of these problems cleverly and use the limitations of audio as strengths. Like radio drama, the blindness of the audience to the reality of the studio allows the improvisers to create whatever scenic details fit into the world they’ve established. No labor or material needs to be put into a set that can be created by description. It’s like the damn Elizabethan theater makers who performed in daylight and carried a torch onstage saying “boy it sure is dark out” to let the audience know it’s night. It’s efficient. It’s cheap. It can be used to enrich the magic of your world with both poetic and comedic effect (fun fact: suspension of disbelief doesn’t require a budget unless your performers or writers don’t have the necessary skills, and it’s a bunch of bull-dick anyway). Why doesn’t more experimental theater and performance art move into the resource-light and reach-heavy world of podcast land?
I mean we’re kind of rambling here. We’re not a radio-play podcast, except sometimes. We just feel pretty alone now and then without other abstract podcasts. If it weren’t for our wonderful submitters we might feel completely alone. But that’s the big thing. We’ll let Jonah Weiner, in a fascinating Slate article called “The Voices”, say it better than we would:
"The point in the specific case of podcasts is that this empathic partnership unfolds in the context of the Internet, where we’re constantly trying to combat novel forms of loneliness with novel forms of connectedness: I dial up a TV recap, my Twitter feed, or a blog post, and the air around me suddenly thrums with friends, fiends, and other lively interlocutors. In the case of podcasts, the air literally thrums, our eardrums vibrate, and the cliché of the “human touch” is physicalized."
That’s real, y’all. We started listening to podcasts out of curiosity, but it quickly became our medicine for all kind of lonelinesses and the loss of our academic wombies (I made up that word, is it ok? “womb” is too serious). Social media can medicate that too, but it’s poisonous and nasty and full of vanity and addiction and bright lights and Pavlovian effects. Podcasting is often educational and nutritious. It can be a damn pleasant activity with company.
Part of our experiment’s goals is to improve the reach of that human touch. Be the conduit between the listener at home or in traffic and the man in the snake costume telling a story about man-eating catfish. And between the listener and the protest, recorded with an iPhone in the pocket of someone you’ll never meet. As well as between the listener and the sound of a room. The sound that you only notice when you are listening for a sound in a quiet place. But not journalistically, not distanced. We want to do it in a vital way, with play and with intention and personality.
And we want people to do this with us. Have I explained what Mystery Meat does yet? We’re a sound collage podcast. People send us the material for these collages in recorded audio of their choosing. Some of these people record conversations in bars. Some of them are poets that record themselves reading. Some of them record sounds. Some of them get their friends to say funny things. Some of them make collages themselves and send them to us. We take what we get and make something new out of it. It can be described as a conversation between us (the manipulators) and you (the listener and field recorder).
Control is death. We’ll let Old Bull Lee and Ah Pook be the final word on that. What we want is to be appalled and surprised by submissions. We want to wrestle them. And we want submitters to be inspired to make it more difficult or worthwhile or easy or fun at their will. And we want the submissions of one listener to delight and surprise another. It’s easy to record. Every smart phone has a mic, and most of them have an app that will store tracks you can email directly to us.
And we want Mystery Meat to get people to listen in different ways to the world we live in. The world is richer and brighter with more senses, and the auditory world is a damn rich one that a lot of people almost complete ignore. If I talk more about this I’ll get all goopy and lose the points. But I’ll stop with a quote from Pierre Schaeffer, who is credited for inventing musique concrete: music based completely on sample and manipulations of field recordings. Regarding a composition created from noises of a train, called “Etude aux chemins de fer”, he said
"I hope that one day there will come together an audience that prefers the theoretically less rewarding sequences, where the train must be forgotten and only sequences of sound color, changes of time, and the secret life of percussion instruments are heard."
That’s not the best quote to make my point or support whatever argument I made a few paragraphs ago, but marinate on it if you have the time and you might agree that it’s full of a truth he didn’t know how to describe. Or maybe you already see the honesty of it. I’m not writing this to call you stupid. A lot of people have an ingrained suspicion of imprecise artistic language. I’m trying to be conscious of that. A lot of people have been taught to think “4’33” was just another joke played on the art world. We can thank Duchamp for that, and whether we should be sarcastic or not about that “thanks” is up for debate (at least to me, I don’t have a masters yet). But we need to let people in on these joys. It’s up to us to win back and invite the audience we want to delight.
(Oh shit, is that the point I really wanted to make?)
There’s a long history of the work we do. Really ever since sound was recorded and able to be easily replicated without musical instruments people have been playing with this in radical and (often barely listened to) ways. There’s a fascinating and abundant world there. One that has guided and driven music ever since it was conceived. Y’all ever listened to the soundtrack of Forbidden Planet? Before electronic music was a reality, a husband and wife team of non-musician sound makers built a soundtrack for a major studio film release out of sounds produced only from electrical circuits. Today the electronic fields of planets are transduced into audio we can drool over. I just heard in a lecture about some guy who made a recording of manipulated voices recorded at an Egyptian exorcism before Pierre Schaeffer and before this guy had access to magnetic tape. We’re really not experts in these subjects, we just love them. Feel free to attribute the level of genius ascribed to any landmark of electronic music to us creepers too.
I love podcasting (this is just me now). I once sincerely told a potential employer, at a job interview at a radio station, that I was interested in working in radio because it was a dying form of communication and I found that compelling and could see reasons for saving it. I didn’t get that job. But you know what I mean, though? It’s more of an adventure when you have nothing to lose. Mystery Meat loves you. Podcasting is still very young. We hope it can grow diverse and pure and vibrant as a medium. And we hope we’re helping to make it that way.
P.S. We’ll have a patreon page up by next month!