Self-described Actor/Writer/Comedian/Musician/Plant-Owner Lila Newman stops by to discuss her piece-in-progress about Ora B. Nichols—one of the most influential artists of early radio, and specifically of early radio sound effects.
You’ve heard Nichols’ work if you’ve ever heard the the 1938 version of The War of the Worlds. You know, the one produced by Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater on the Air. The one that may or may not have freaked people all the way out when it was first broadcast. That one.
But despite being involved in something so iconic, Nichols herself is largely unknown and borderline-ungoogleable. At least in part, that’s because we don’t talk nearly enough about the history of radio, or of sound in general—and that’s because the aesthetics of radio have taught us all how to hear, to the point that we take those aesthetics for granted.
Lila Newman walks me through a bit of that history, and along the way we talk about her work on A Prairie Home Companion, the endless oddness of making art (for lack of a better term) for a living, why not all performance art consists of “crying and punching meat,” and the importance of discussing women who did great work without essentializing or over-emphasizing their gender.
• As I mention in the intro, arts.uchicago.edu made this interview possible. You can read my piece on Lila’s work and the Edes Prize over there, and the edited, narrative version of the interview is on SoundCloud.
• I mispronounce Descartes as “Dis cart” and Edes as “Eddie’s. And I say “Nakobov.” Ah well.
• Here again—hard to post it too often, really—is a link to the live Radiolab about The War of the Worlds.
• If you’re so inclined, you can go and listen to the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast, as well as some of The Mercury Theater on the Air’s other productions.
• And here’s that perform-your-own-4’33” app.
• On the topic of trading in unhealthy compulsions for health(ier) compulsions, see also: Thomas Lennon talking about video game addiction/compulsion with The Indoor Kids.
• The interview mentions that Lila’s dad is a sound effects man, but neglects to mention that he is the rather great Fred Newman.
• Seriously, get out a pair of headphones to listen to Lila’s binaural recordings.