A Tapestry of Voices

by Will Rogers


Radio taught me why the words "weave" and "story" go well together. Listening to the radio, I can sometimes hear voices as colors, and perspectives as directions. The fabric develops when the perspectives intersect and combine with each other.

Perhaps an illustration would be useful... an audio illustration. Listen to "Just Another Fish Story" , by Molly Menschel. It’s a 9-minute story about a beached whale in a fishing town (and no, it’s not the story about the beached whale that was blown up with dynamite). This piece does an excellent job weaving many voices into a single cohesive story.

Menschel shifts from voice-to-voice quite a lot in this piece - sometimes over twenty times in a single minute. Some voices are older, some younger; some of the voices sound clean and crisp; some sound frayed by years of cigarette smoke. They all tell one story, thanks to brilliant editing of these very small clips.

The story’s protagonist is a town: Lubec, Maine. In the story, this town (a) encounters a difficult circumstance, (b) decides what to do about it, (c) does it, and then (e) reflects.

The town has many voices, and they cannot always speak at once. Even though these voices come from many different directions, they stay ordered in thematic “chunks,” like miniature chapters or stories-within-stories. The tapestry has a well-balanced color scheme.

Some clips provide images ("almost the size of an 18-wheel truck"); some provide plot shifts, ("eventually, something had to be done"); some provide reflections ("I think people in a small town handle death in a different way"). Every clip contributes to the structure and texture of the piece.

But why so many different voices? Maybe it’s kind of like that blind-people-describing- an-elephant thing, except that in this case we’re blind only because we’re hearing the story via radio, and instead of an elephant, it’s a whale: each perspective gives a more thorough picture of the thing they’re describing

This is where the weaving analogy comes back into play. A bit of thread gives definition to a tapestry at every point where it’s at the surface. At the points when it’s tucked underneath the other thread, it gives cohesion. This story has many threads, constantly coming to the surface, being tucked under the others, then coming to the surface again. It’s woven very tightly. If you listen, you’ll find that you can not only see the image in the tapestry (maybe it’s an image of a whale?), and you’ll also be able to feel its texture. That texture is the voice of a community.

Just Another Fish Story
Produced by Molly Menschel in 2004 at The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies
8 minutes, 30 seconds
first heard on saltcast


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