Turning the Tables:
An Oral History of the Kitchen Sisters
Part 1

Photo of the Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva.
The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson (left) and Nikki Silva (right) at the Oral History
Association Annual Meeting, October 12, 2000. Durham, NC. Source: JMMH.

Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson with Charles Hardy, III

In October, 2000 the Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, delivered the keynote address at the annual Meeting of the Oral History Association in Durham, North Carolina. During their talk, they shared some of their adventures in gathering stories—oral histories—over the years, played excerpts from many of their favorite programs, and offered technical and practical advice on how to conduct an interview. With the help of historian, sound essayist, and Journal for MultiMedia History contributor Charles Hardy, we turned the tables on the Kitchen Sisters as they became the interviewees in the oral history that follows. To speed download times, the essay is divided into two parts. -- The Editors

Charles Hardy: So tell me a little bit about your backgrounds.

Nikki Silva: (Laughter) I love it! What an awkward situation to be in. No wonder these people look at us like we're nuts when we walk in.
Audio Segment 1:
Early History
(Time: 14:50)
28.8 | 56k

Davia Nelson: Starting where?

Nikki: Yes, how far back?

Charles: Well, take us all the way back. Where did you grow up? Would you like to start, Nikki?

Nikki: Sure. I was born in Oakland, California. And my family all lived within a couple of blocks of each other. We were sort of a tight family unit, Portuguese, and my granny lived down the block and my uncles and aunts lived a couple of doors away. I'm going to make a huge leap and come to UCSC, University of California at Santa Cruz, and that's where I went to school for the last few years of college. And did not meet Davia there. Did not. We were both at UCSC but we did not know each other during our college years. Davie?

Davia: I grew up in a suburb in Los Angeles. My dad had gotten his place from the GI bill and it was just as my parents had moved from New York, actually to move to San Francisco to be journalists in San Francisco, which never quite happened, but anyway, they got waylaid in LA. And that's where I grew up and then went to . . . but not with a big extended family around me . . . much more of that sort of people leaving their parents behind and starting out in the west from New York City. And then I went to UC Santa Cruz as well. I was the noon disc jockey in my high school, and used to write fan letters to disc jockeys from, you know, the time I was ten, eleven, twelve in LA. I was just fixated on radio since I don't know when, and a sound—not just of the music but the people intro-ing the music as well. And so I was the noon disc jockey in my high school and then went into the campus radio station in Santa Cruz, UC Santa Cruz. And then to the community radio station. And especially got interested in the lives of the old people in the town and doing stories with them. And that led me to Nikki.

Charles: Now how did you get interested in the lives of the old people?

Davia: I think that, Santa Cruz is this beautiful town, the University was pretty new then, and there was such a division between the University and everyone who'd been there for years and years, and I kept feeling that as I was in school. And I always have loved stories and I didn't know a lot about my own family's history and I think somewhere in me—I'd always loved history—and I think a lot of it was like this curiosity about this family that I couldn't really find out about. And it just pushed me and propelled me towards everyone else's story. And the old people just seemed to . . . I mean none of this was conscious, I don't think . . . it's looking back I think all those things, and just kind of was getting drawn in those directions all the time and to who could tell a good story.

Charles: And you were getting those stories on to broadcast?

Davia: Yes, sort of,
From KUSP Program Guide
Lost and Found Sound
I think. I mean, I was starting on an old people's show called Every Wrinkle Tells a Story. I can't even remember exactly what it was. It was always eclectic mixes of Ravel's Bolero into some story of someone old, and then some swing music into something; was this eclectic early morning, it was on so early in the morning I can't remember 'cause I don't wake up until about 4 in the afternoon. And then Nikki was doing similar work at the museum in Santa Cruz. I was also at that same moment working on a documentary about 19th Century women outlaws of the West. And starting to kind of travel and get that going, as well, because again, the history, things in criminal justice issues were really important to me right in that same period of time, so I was combining all those interests.

Charles: And what kind of documentary was this?

Davia: It was what is now known as multimedia, which was, I did not know that definition at that point, but it became a slide, tapes, synchronized, multi-machines . . . but again, in the 70's, so low tech version of what now would be called a PowerPoint or whatever these presentations are.

Charles: How then did you meet?

Nikki: I was working at the Santa Cruz City Museum of Natural History doing an arts program and a history program. I had just returned. I'd been in New York City for a year on a fellowship in studying museum education at the Metropolitan Museum and was this wonderful program where we were given money to do whatever our hearts desired. It was that very experimental wonderful era of big grant money and lots of people thinking suddenly in museums about "Oh, maybe we should let other people in the doors and try talking to them for a change and try to make the museum relevant to the people", and so one of the projects that I'd worked on when I was in New York was making a film. And when I look back on that film in that same way that Davie is talking—I didn't think about it at the time—but it really was in that same way that her Women Outlaws of the West documentary sort of foreshadows a lot of what the Kitchen Sisters have kind of become.

I think that film that I made in New York with another artist friend kind of foreshadows the work that we do. It was the story of a janitor at, or guard, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and he gives you the tour: his vision, his view, of the Metropolitan Museum, from the skywalks, from the basements. And he was also a weight lifter, and so he on his lunch hour would walk in the basement of the museum past these row upon row of Rodin sculptures and all these wonderful muscular poses. They were in storage and he'd walk past those to this little room where he'd put on heavy metal music and pump iron, and so we got this guy's little snapshot of him in this museum setting and then talking about the Monets and the artwork from his point of view and talking about what he'd learned from watching the visitors and how they react and respond to things. So, it's kind of a straight forward thing with a little twist, a quirk. A quirky kind of look at history, or way in to art, or way in to the museum. And I think that kind of . . . is a lot of what we still do with history and our programs about people.

So anyway, I came back from this fellowship and was working again at the museum and I got a call from Davia, who says that I snubbed her. I was in a very difficult time but she says I just sort of snubbed her. But anyway, not for long, and she showed up one day to talk to me about these old people because I was doing similar things with exhibits. We wound up sitting on the porch of the museum, which if you've been to the museum in Santa Cruz, it's right across the street from the ocean and it has this glorious view, and we wound up sitting there for 4 hours and kind of talking about our love lives and falling in love and that was it. We began working together shortly thereafter. Is that about right?

Davia: Totally right.

Nikki: Is that how you remember it?

Charles: So what was your first project? What did you decide to collaborate on?

Nikki: You know we've been trying to reconstruct that, too. Memory is fleeting.

Davia: We think that maybe we did one or two radio shows, the live weekly radio show Every Wrinkle Tells a Story. I had been doing it with somebody else at the time. And then we think that I left to do Women Outlaws of the West. For three months I traveled all over the west in a van chronicling the lives of these women, and I think that then the first thing we did together was that I left and Nikki did the radio show herself.

Nikki: Which I had never done radio.

Davia: But we're not sure. But that's something close to that. We kind of did a little bit together, we had the sense we wanted to do a lot together. I went off, she said "I'll try this" and then we think that she wrote a grant. I think you must have written the CCH grant. I think.

Davia and Nikki Raising Money.
Lost and Found Sound
Nikki: But we had obviously talked about it. Hadn't we? Anyway, the California Counsel for the Humanities. We wrote a grant to do this oral history project—the Tri-county Oral History Project of San Bonito, Monterey, and Santa Cruz counties called Every Wrinkle Tells a Story, and we had several themes we were going to pursue and do all of these oral history interviews and create these hour long programs for radio. That was our vision of it. We got the grant. But it was a matching grant. And we were given $12,000 and we had to raise $25,000 or something like that. Which at that time, in those years, was a lot of money to try and raise. We went practically kind of door to door raising money to do this project. And we'd get these $10 donations and $20 and at one point we considered selling Freshgar, this garlic product, to try and raise money for our project and it was a wacky time.

Davia: We barely did any radio because we worked so hard trying to fund-raise. But it was this really interesting point of view on a community, too, because suddenly we were at the Lions, the Kiwanis, the Rotary, any of those kind of local clubs, the banks. You suddenly see how a community supports or doesn't support projects which it does. Because a lot of the same people we were interviewing, a lot of these older people who were part of the fishing industry or . . . for some reason I end up obsessively thinking recently about Battling Nardo.

Nikki:Battling Nardo?

Davia: Remember Battling Nardo?

Nikki: Oh yes, I just used part of his oral history in an exhibit that I was working on.

Davia: Just different people and a lot of them have turned out were in these clubs, because they were these old Santa Cruziens who part of the kind of infrastructure of it. So, it was always that kind of crossover between who we were interviewing, who would then take us down to the club, where we would do a talk, kind of like what we did today—only we hadn't done anything really at that point we were just about to do it and had a vision of what it might be. But I think we thought we'd do far more traditional oral histories. We were doing weekly shows, so now we're back doing this weekly show, we both kind of cut loose from our other things and we were starting to just . . . It was a very luxurious kind of time where we just got to sit there everyday and say, read a newspaper, and see Nikki, I think, read a newspaper that said pool shark in town. And we would go see what the pool shark was and bring our tape recorders. Or go to the little convenience store and run into the Road Ranger and then decide to follow the Road Ranger as he rescued stranded travelers on Highway 17. It was election day and our show was always on Tuesdays so we would always try on Tuesdays to come up with something a little more interesting and offbeat. We'd call in our own show from telephone booths around town and drag people into the telephone booths to talk to us via the telephone. Each Tuesday was coming and featuring artists and writers.

Nikki: Our friend had a Tupperware party and we went which just led into this big piece on Tupperware where we began tracking down all the different folks in the community and went to several parties and went to where they train the Tupperware dealers. And so, that was a real fun one.

Charles: So what year did you get the California Humanities Council grant?

Nikki: Your asking really hard hitting questions. What do you think?

Davia: '78 or '79.

Nikki: '79 I bet. We didn't have National Public Radio in our town at that time. We'd never heard National Public Radio. Our station was a community station and didn't air any national programming. As we began experimenting on our radio program, we realized pretty quickly that we couldn't use these long form oral histories, as they were, on the air. We realized that right off. So we began editing and sort of taught ourselves to edit, as I remember. We thought that we had invented the mix. I mean we were completely convinced that we had come up with that idea. You know, you're putting a little music under there and doing a little of this and that. We started to make these short little snippets that we would then put on in the midst of our show. And we'd set it up, we'd say "Oh, we went out this weekend to San Bonito county and we saw Lola Golly, the woman who's the champion rodeo roper, and here's what she had to say." We started playing these little things. And then we ran into this costumed crusader, the Road Ranger, who was this fellow who would cruise Highway 17, the local highway—that very rugged windy road where there are lots of people breaking down all the time—and he would rescue stranded travelers. He would fix their automobile. And he wore a jumpsuit outfit and he drove in a Ford Ranchero pick up truck that said the Road Ranger on the side of it. And he had this wonderful demeanor, was very theatrical. We did a piece on him, we got in the car with him and drove up and down the highway rescuing stranded...

Davia: We went on patrol.

Nikki: We went on patrol.

Audio Segment 2:
Discovering Oral History (Time: 14:50)
28.8 | 56k
Charles: What you were doing, you were calling oral history?

Nikki: Yes, we were sort of going for the story.

Charles: So what was your background or training in oral history?

Davia: You know I think the word was just coming into the fore, right around then. Because, and again, if we could only remember, but we both have these memories of quickly meeting and me deciding to go to graduate school in oral history. We took a road trip to Santa Barbara, because she was sort of interested in oral history, too. So we went to check this program out. And I thought I'd go to graduate school there and we got to Santa Barbara. Did we even go into a classroom?

Nikki: Something happened and it was just wasn't us.

Davia: The place—it wasn't the place. And when I came here separately, and I can't remember if it was before—it couldn't have been before I met you because we were already doing the work. Someone had told me that North Carolina was this really amazing place for interviews and documentaries and oral history and I think the Southern Oral History Program was just coming into existence, too. So I came here. I flew to North Carolina somehow and did a presentation before a class. I cannot remember if it's, I think it was at Duke with a guy named Bill who, I used to be able to remember his last name—everyone here knows him—and we went to the Ivy, I remember that after the class, and we all hung out. And I was deciding again whether I was going to . . . I think they didn't select me is why I think I blocked that. They didn't select me for the class, for this fellowship or whatever it was. But I was still kind of interested. And I think our early grants were using that word of "we will do oral histories." It just seemed to define what we did.

Nikki: And it was in the wind, then, as this new upcoming thing of ferreting out . . . that was that same moment in time as the grant money is getting out. They were trying to get the people's stories and document the people more and it was right when we were starting to do our work.

Davia: And we always called our work actually pretty quickly, oral mysteries. We just started using that term for, especially when we met up and started calling ourselves the Kitchen Sisters. And we tried to do an oral history of the Kitchen Brothers and it was so quickly we became like these detectives and we would write in this kind of noir detective novel kind of way. And we would call it an oral, the story of the Kitchen Brothers, an oral mystery. So we were kind of goofing on the term as well. And then we used the term oral mystery again for a couple of things in the Lost and Found Sound series because it seemed to combine detective work and historical research.

Charles: So you really hadn't done any reading in oral history. You hadn't read Studs Terkel?

Nikki: Well, you were pretty interested in Studs Terkel and we loved Charles Kuralt, and we had these models in the culture that people who were doing those kind of things. But I don't think that we ever, I mean I never really imagined that we were doing that same kind of thing.

Davia: See, and I kind of came more from a beatniky folk music background so to me it was The New Lost City Ramblers, and all that early music on Folkways. It all just seemed of a piece, kind of people who chronicled America sang old traditional music. I came out of the womb thinking I was Joan Baez, and played banjo and auto harp when I was a little girl, and guitar through my teens. I think for me it just segued into radio, oral history, being a folk musician, a beatnik, and a whatever since I was tiny. I never was aware of any of the seams, it all just seemed to connect. One after another.

Charles: So who were your models then? You say Charles Kuralt, you listened to Charles Kuralt?.

Both: Later on.

Charles: When you were first starting out, you must of had heard something?

Nikki: This is what I was trying to say about no NPR in our region. I had not, I mean I'd listened to radio certainly as a kid in Oakland and KDIA and all the big stations. But I didn't, mostly for the music, didn't have the same obsession for the disc jockey as Davia did. I think story is the thing that everything hangs on. I mean I think Davia's interest in story, storytelling, and my interest in story through museum work and exhibits and all those kinds of things. That's, I think, the hook more than, I mean for me, much more than radio or the medium, was the storytelling. Be it film, museum exhibit, book, radio, audio.

Charles: So you all made it up as you went along?

Davia: Or thought we did. I mean, Bob Dylan probably influenced me as much as Studs Terkel did. And when I started reading Zora Neale Hurston, I think she influenced me and her life, how she approached it. I always felt it was anthropological as much as anything, but an anthropology in the way of that you were it—you were part of what you were doing and kind of living it. And for me again it was back to the DJ's. I grew up in LA and transistor radios and on the beach and these voices and I always thought that disembodied sound. I wouldn't have probably done this in another medium. Even though I love to write, and on that, and have written. But there is something about this sound just in the atmosphere and the intangibility of it and the imagination of it. Not that I was hearing these kinds of things on radio in LA, I was hearing Janice Joplin and Cream and Jimi Hendrix. The long stuff and stuff that lets you travel in your mind.

Nikki: Well, FM, you know that FM way of hearing versus the quick sound bite way of hearing. I think that made a pretty big impression at that time in my life, of just this endless stream. And things coming together in unusual juxtapositions and not necessarily having to follow in a . . .

Davia: And Dr. Demento.

Nikki: But before that the AM sound. I probably wrote letters to real Don Steele and Sam Riddle and the KFWV, and the other K station in LA at the time and being on the beach in LA and hearing all . . . and just hearing them kind of rhyme on the air, their little chant sounds to the voice, as much as the music. And then concerts, that's the other thing. Going to live concerts, that was the other kind of thing that I was obsessing on at the time. And started producing concerts all at the same time, too.

Charles: So how then does the collaboration develop?

Nikki: So I think the big turning point was when someone, a friend of ours, sent our tape to National Public Radio—of "The Road Ranger." He sent that produced piece that we had played on our radio show and it was, I think, about 12 minutes the first one, the music and cut together. And one morning we were getting ready to leave my place to go on the road to do some recording and the phone rings and it's Alex Chadwick from National Public Radio. He said, "Hi, this is Alex Chadwick." And I said, "Sure, ya know, what, who, huh?" And he said,"Well we have your tape here and we really love it but the quality is so bad. What kind of machine are you using? What kind of microphone are you using? What kind of tape are you using? We want to train you to do this better." So that was really, I think, the real turning point in terms of we really began to think of things as shorter pieces and sort of think of them that way. And we tried to get a little bit trained.

Davia: And we went to Western Public Radio. Was that before or after that? And Airlee. Airlee was a huge thing, producers' conference—a radio producers' conference that was held. It was a changing point, I think, for a lot of people. That's where we met Jay Allison, Terry Gross. We came together and everyone played their stuff and talked about what they were doing and brainstormed, and it was so exciting and seemed possible. And pretty quickly after that, we went to a public radio conference and people began asking us to come and teach radio production. By that point, we had begun getting training and doing more and more things in the vein that we'd begun. Sort of a little quirky, a little offbeat, stories and portraits cut together in sort of unusual ways with music or whatever sound.

And so we began, we went to Alaska and . . . before we go that far ahead, just going backwards . . . because there's Kim Aubrey who Nikki was mentioning. If there is an oral history he has to be named by name because he had such an effect on our lives and on the lives of so many people in public radio. He's now the technical director of Zoetrope. And he started—I want to say he started at BAI in New York, but I'm not even sure if that's the first station, and he was one of those genius kids who just loved radio from forever. And then went to WISO and sort of the Johnny Appleseed of a lot of public radio in this country. And he was part of the NFCB, National Federation of Community Broadcasters. And Mark Hand, who is now with the station resource group and does a lot of advising in the public video system. He was the first Kitchen Sister before we knew such a thing. That's who I did the old people show with. And Kim brought Mark and I to a National Federation of Community Broadcasters conference in Telluride, which I hadn't remembered until you started talking. I was going, "Oh, yes, right, how did we know about this stuff?" So we had already been aware that there was this thing called the NFCB—which was all these people—that these college stations and community stations developing that world and that sort of network. So we were kind of aware of that, and as Nikki said, we weren't affiliated in any way with public radio, that was the only loose affiliation that there was.

But somehow through the tundra drums we started hearing about things like Airlee and we had now had on the Road Ranger on the air.
More background information and links to audio of many of The Kitchen Sisters early projects is available in the Audio Artifacts portion of the Lost and Found Sound Web site.
And then we submitted our second piece—the one that we talked about yesterday at the workshop—the world's champion one-handed pool player, "The Legend of Ernest Morgan," and they rejected it at NPR. And they said it didn't have narration—which was going to be then the through-line for why most of our work would get rejected at first, or be really hard to get on air—because it was just that era of, like Nik says, Jay Allison and a lot of independents coming up and changing the sound of the era, defining it at that point. Because All Things Considered was still pretty new. But our second piece got rejected and they put into "The Road Ranger". When I listened to the NPR version—I think it was Alex—narrated "The Road Ranger" piece that went on the air and kind of set it up and came back in and out. Which I don't think we were even that aware of it at the time, we were just kind of so blown out that our work was on the air. And then we went to Airlee, and we met a lot of the people who were from NPR. And now people knew us and the same people said, "Oh, we'll go back and talk to All Things Considered and try and get that piece on the air". And I remember our friend, Bob Wisdom, who we'd met at Airlee saying, "Oh yes, I found the piece. It was in the trash can." And he took the piece out of the trash can and resubmitted it and now because people knew us—which I always think is part of what the point of the conference is, when people are in single stations not part of a network, not in DC, not at a big station and aren't known, it's harder for their work to make it onto the air. And we had that same exact moment and once we were a known entity, once we had gone to a national convention, once people saw the name—the people behind a story—suddenly this same piece got onto the air.

Nikki: I think also we had . . . I can remember having discussions and really arguing with, not arguing, but you know, trying to figure out: what is it about this piece that isn't quite right? And they—whoever we were working with at the time—the editor (I don't even remember who the editor was) but well, "You have to tell them it's in a smoky bar room and where you are. You have to place it." And I said, "But how did you know it was in a smoky bar room?" You've got ears, it's the bar, it's the jukebox, it's the glasses clinking, it's the pool player. But I think because it wasn't the normal way of telling a story, or the conventional way of telling the story, that it was harder for people to imagine it fitting into a format. And I think that's always the issue with people trying to do things that aren't exactly like the things that are already on the air.

Davia: To Alaska . . . I just wanted to fill in those blanks.

Charles: We made our way to Alaska here?

Nikki: Western Public Radio was before that?

Davia: Oh yeah, Leo Lee. His name has to be included in any oral history of the Kitchen sisters because without Leo Lee we would not have done what we did. He was at Western Public Radio and he established this first training center, first national training center for community and public radio producers. And we were chosen to be in the very first training workshop. There were about 10 people from all over the country. And it was like being anointed and it was being supported. And up until then, we were just two people doing it on our own, making it up, and suddenly it was real training and it was sort of taking yourself more seriously because other people took us more seriously. We met Randy Thom, who is another key person who has to be named by name, and any saga of our work because he was one of the trainers there. He was also from NFCB and from KPFA and that group of people at WISO who are so important to radio in that moment in time. And he already started making the switch from radio to film, and he brought us into a mix of One From the Heart. And we saw . . . I've always wondered what you thought during that mix, because it's what made me decide to move from Santa Cruz because I wanted to be a film sound designer from the minute I saw that.

Nikki: Oh, I know, it was really an amazing, amazing moment. I mean, it didn't make me want to move . . .

Charles: What is this? What are you referring to?

Nikki: It was a film, One From the Heart, Frances Coppolla's film and we'd watched the mix of the sound and music and being set with the film. And I think it was a real turning point for Dav.

Charles: So you went to the very first Western Public Radio workshop, then?

Davia: And they brought, as part of the workshop, we were taken in because one of the instructors was a film mixer so he brought us into a film mix. So we weren't in the course of these, it was a week long, I think, radio workshop or something like that, one of the afternoons was sitting in on a film mix. And suddenly, me, who loves radio so much, I mean I always loved movies too but I didn't imagine myself ever working in film. It wasn't part of my vision. But suddenly there was these pictures and this movie unfolding and someone sitting at a huge mixing board, beautiful all this. I remember them . . . what I even remember more and it's the thrill of my life, was there was a big cappuccino machine—really old—from Italy. And I remember walking in to the room and thinking, "I want to work here. I want to work in this building with this cappuccino machine and with this . . . because it was Tom Waite's music with Crystal Gail, with all the sound being put into the thing, and it was like, our work —but on, with visuals— and it was just like, "Ah, I want this, this completes it". So it just had that. And then ultimately I worked with Frances Coppolla, with that cappuccino machine. But Randy was so great because he really took our work seriously and really responded to us. And he offered to mix things for us, and so now it's kind of, I guess at that point, and we'd been doing it . . .

Nikki: We'd been doing all of our own mixing. Up until Route 66? War and Separation.

Davia: I think we'd stopped mixing way earlier than that.

Nikki: No, I think . . .

Davia: Because Lullabies—and that guy Rich, who engineered a couple other pieces. Remember?

Nikki: The stuff we did at NPR, they didn't mix. It wasn't this bad. We did the earliest pieces at KUSP. We had two reel to reel tape recorders, a cassette machine, and a turntable, and we didn't really understand the idea of pickups, being able to start and stop in the middle of a mix. So we would, on your mark, get set, go and the two of us would be running all the machines and all the levels up and down. We'd memorize the words, and go up and down on them, and this was a real feat in terms of our Tupperware piece. I don't know if you've ever heard Tupperware but it's the ultimate candidate for a heavy duty mix job, I mean with lots of pots going up and down. And that was a real breakthrough, I think that was a very amazing, I can still see us working.

Davia: It's a piece that's a result of mistakes which is that I think people . . . probably so many people's works reflects mistakes. Because at certain points in that mix just all the pots are up by mistake. And out of those mistakes, suddenly we loved the sound of the mistakes so much the caophony, all these women's voices, one cascading into the next, and it just came because we lost control of it. And then we just said, "No, that's the sound."

Nikki: And the clutter of Tupperware. I mean it was perfect for the subject matter. And I think trying to find a style that fit what we were talking about. That was like a light bulb going off, in a lot of ways.

Davia: But it was different, we did mix probably a half a dozen, the first half dozen pieces or so, that we did, we did ourselves. And then NPR would start bringing us back and forth, sometimes to Washington. We'd go in for 4 or 5 days or 2 weeks or something, and for specific pieces and they'd assign us an engineer and they'd work with us. And we haven't engineered our own stuff ever since and it's a real trade off because neither of us are particularly inclined toward engineering and really detail-oriented in that perfect EQ kind of way—and all that technology—or all that interested. And at the same time, that effort to communicate your ideas. And somehow we'd try it. We have a communication between us where it's two people's ideas. We know how to hash it out together. To add that third element and finding that third person who you can get your ideas across to. Those are tricky things. It sounds better, but does it sound better? That kind of question.

Nikki: And also, I think a lot of it was that we were willing to, because it was just the two of us and we were both going for this thing that we could hear and communicate with one another. We were willing to work it to death until it got . . . and there was no one to pay.

Davia: No hourly rate.

Nikki: Right. And there was no one to say, "No, you can't. You're done now." And I think that was a real luxury. And it defined a lot of our perfectionist attitudes when something's just not quite right. We want to make it right. And it causes problems when you're paying for a studio and paying for an engineer. Poor engineers!

Davia: Remember grinding them into hamburgers?

Nikki: Exactly.

Davia: And they're going, "Stop, shut up".

Nikki: I think we were also really lucky no one, or barely anyone else, at our community station was doing production. So we had almost 24 hour access to our studio there. And so we just lived there and tried stuff and tried stuff and tried stuff. But now people have that more with Pro Tools or one of those home editing systems, which is the kind of other side of the breakthrough.

Charles: So your Tupperware piece was when?

Nikki: I don't know. 1979? We don't know.

Davia: Yes, probably right around '80, '81. Because I moved in '83 to San Francisco, so it was before that, so, it's somewhere between '80 and '83.

Charles: And it was working on the Tupperware piece that you heard something new?

Nikki: I don't know. I think Ernie Morgan, I think The Road Ranger, all of them were, those first couple of 3 or 4 pieces, I mean maybe it was just because it was us doing our first stuff. And we didn't have a lot of models, you know, like you were talking about who influenced you in terms of production. We didn't really, hadn't listened to what was happening on public radio or how they did it. And so we were just trying to make it up. And how we imagined it and, I think, our pieces have always been kind of like little audio movies. And I think maybe it comes from interest in film and interest in visuals and just making, conjuring those images through sound. And I think that's the layeredness of it and that's the multiple voices of it and, you know, you can't put a picture up. So what are you going to do? How are you going to take someone there? What are your signals to that person? How do you at the beginning of a piece establish a vocabulary that then your listener can understand? Oh, I'm going to hear these kinds of things in this piece and it's going to be like this. And establish a brand new vocabulary at the top, maybe, it would be nice if you could do it all the time, but, you know, people are used to hearing things in certain ways. So it's tricky.

~ Continued in Part 2 ~

Making Lost & Found Sound | Oral History-1 | Oral History-2 | Durham Talk | Working With the Kitchen Sisters 

Turning the Tables: An Oral History of the Kitchen Sisters
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