Eardrums Versus Eyeballs

When I was a staff editor at Guitar Player magazine, I always looked forward to doing interviews. As a guitarist myself, how could I not get completely jazzed about talking to—okay, grilling—those who’ve achieved success playing our cherished instrument? What could I learn from this brief, but intense encounter? And, more importantly, what could I pass along to others striving to connect more completely with the guitar?

Ah, a sense of mission … I felt responsible for bringing the juiciest bits, the choice wisdom to the readers.

The readers. Words on a page. But every interview I’ve ever done starts life as an audio recording. Being a writer, I’d transcribe the audio into text and then edit my way into what I hoped was a cool story. During that long transcription process, I’d often pause and think, “I wish others could actually hear this conversation. The voices, the sound of our exchange.”

My written words could only hint at—or at best, reflect—the spirit of the interviewee and the dynamics of our encounter. It was frustrating to absorb this info through my eardrums, only to rework it into an eyeballs format. Something was lost in translation.

How things change.

Thanks to the web, Internet radio, and the transformative force of digital audio, I can now keep my interviews in the eardrum realm and feature them in my weekly radio show. As someone who loves the art of interviewing, I believe this is a significant improvement.

Let’s compare text to audio and see if you agree. Here are three brief excerpts from interviews I’ve aired with Duane Eddy, Pete Anderson, and Sharon Isbin. Absorb the info both ways—first through your eyeballs and then your eardrums—and decide which you prefer.

# 1. Duane Eddy, the father of twangy guitar, is describing the water tank his producer Lee Hazlewood and recording studio owner Floyd Ramsey converted into an echo chamber in the late ’50s …

Eddy: They held about 2,000 gallons. They were old, sitting tanks, water tanks. They were just sitting there, rusting, so they bought one and moved it up to the studio, put a speaker in one end and a mic in the other, and that was our echo. It was sitting out on a little platform in the back parking lot behind the studio. We had to go chase birds off of it. Couldn’t work late at night.

One night we were working at about 11:00 o’clock and the next-door neighbors—there was a little residential street behind the studio, and there was a house over there—came over and said, “We keep hearing these strange, weird sounds, it’s keeping us awake.” Stuff going through the echo chamber, you couldn’t make it out as music. We went out and listened—played a tape—and sure enough, it was bizarre sounding. You know, whirrz, whirrz, whirrz. So we had to shut down about 9:00 o’clock at night.

Now the audio version: Duane Eddy clip

#2. Honky tonk bluesnik Pete Anderson, talking about stirring jazz lines into jump blues, and how T-Bone Walker and B.B. King helped pioneer this uptown approach to blues guitar …

Anderson: And you know, when you listen to T-Bone, these guys were getting on the front edge of some of that stuff. There’s a video of B.B. King and T-Bone playing together and B.B. plays some outside [beep]. It’s like, wow. He’s just laying in the weeds on you—at least when he was a younger man—and going [sings blues lines] and then all of a sudden [sings bop lines]. You’re like, what? B.B.!

And now the audio version: Pete Anderson clip

#3. Classical guitarist Sharon Isbin talking about meeting Joan Baez, who sang two songs on Isbin’s latest album, Journey To The New World

Isbin: If anybody had told me 20 years ago that a year ago Joan Baez would be knocking at my door and coming in and rehearsing with me in my home in New York, I would have thought they were nuts. And yet there she was. It was a beautiful experience. She wanted me to play for her, so she put a chair four feet in front of mine and sat down, and I serenaded her for half and hour, and she had tears streaming down her face. And it was so powerful, moving, and intimate, and remarkable to be able to have this interaction with someone who has made me cry for years, and there she is, and we’re sharing this moment together. It’s something I’ll never forget.

And here’s the audio version: Sharon Isbin clip

Text and audio interviews have one thing in common: They both require careful editing. I cut, paste, trim, and reorder the spoken word like I once manipulated its written counterpart. Audio editing is tricky, and I’m still learning the craft. To evaluate my efforts thus far, click here to find a free archive of streaming interviews culled from The Guitar Show broadcasts.

While we’re on the subject of audio interviews, I’ll just say it now: Terry Gross is my hero. Through the medium of her long-running Fresh Air show on NPR, she reveals her guests’ personalities with artful conversation. So inspiring! ♦