Monday, July 13, 2009

From the Mind of X. Dell

The origins of The Golden Ganesh, as a radio drama, were fourfold. First, I fell in love with radio drama because of Max Schmid’s WBAI show, The Golden Age of Radio. I especially liked the noir dramas: Nero Wolf, The Adventures of Sam Spade , Candy Matson (the only female detective in the bunch), and most of all, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

The second origin of the project came in the spring of 2007, when JeannieGrrrl, a whiz at finding cool and interesting freeware, alerted me to an application called “Audacity.” I immediately put it to work, transferring as much of my music from analog to digital—with varying degrees of quality.

The third came May of 2008 in the form of an invitation extended to me by Monique Caddy of Middle Ditch. Superbly written, acted and directed, I immediately fell in love with this radio serial. Of course, I was a bit envious too. They weren’t just doing what I dreamed of doing. They were (and still are) kicking ass at it.

Upon hearing Middle Ditch, I began to fantasize about gathering all my friends, doing a radio drama, and posting it on the web. But I had a problem. Many of my old friends had left New York. Although we still keep in touch, they were no longer present. I then thought, “Well I have cyberfriends. Maybe there’s a way to....”

And then I thought, “It would never work.”

Even if I managed to get everyone to record their lines, there would be varying mic and recording standards. And because the actors weren’t together, I imagined that they would interpret the action and their lines so differently that they would sound as though they were reading different scripts, from different stories. Worse yet, how could I splice them all together so that they sounded at least remotely coherent?

And then I thought, “Audacity!!!”

It occurred to me the very same software I had been using for music, I could use for this. Instead of splicing mp3s together, I could multitrack the actors, as if they were musical instruments. And since Audacity lets you equalize, compress and cosmetically improve sounds, you can blend multiple standards together more smoothly.

And then I thought, “Nah. It won’t work.”

Supposing I could find a way to match recordings. I still would have to enlist the help of you, my cyberpals. It would be presumptuous of me to think that just because I wanted to do it, you wanted to do it. I imagined interest in doing a project like this would be lukewarm and non-existent—that is, until the fourth origin kicked in.

Following the disastrous post of June 6, 2008—an anticipated live feed from the COPA conference on the RFK assassination got cut off at the source (Los Angeles)—JohnB and I had a lengthy IM chat. I casually mentioned doing a radio drama, and I sensed his enthusiasm for it. IMing Foam a few days later, and getting a similar response, I thought that maybe, such a project might fly.

Academics by-and-large have the opinion that the Internet is primarily a networking tool, not one that actually builds communities. But I had already gone on record with my belief that cyberspace really mimics meatspace social interaction, and thus communities form nonetheless. I’d always said that people who had never met could develop emotional attachments to each other, and rally ‘round a central node in their own patch of WWW. They could do things that meatspace communities do. Whether it was a quilting bee or an I-gotta-barn type of production, they could produce cultural artifacts.

And then I thought, “It’s time to put your money where your mouth is, X.”

In July 2008, I floated the proposal for doing a radio drama, just to see if you guys would be interested. Some of you weren’t (which is cool too; somebody has to be in the audience, after all), but enough of you were. I still had grave doubts that it would ever become a reality. But at least we would give it a try.

Then something happened. I got the first mp3 from Pjazzypar playing the role of the Captain. Before reciting her lines, she deftly picked apart the scene, its significance, and so on. Needless to say, her performance was wonderful.

And then I thought, “That’s cool. Too bad her effort’s probably in vain.”

But then more recordings began to trickle in from JohnB, Holy Cannoli, Foam, Boneman, SJ and K9. I began playing around with them in Audacity to see if they had any continuity. To my astonishment, time-and-again the actors were on the same page, both literally and metaphorically. Without rehearsal, without talking to each other, they were eerily in sync.

And then I thought, “It would be cool if this actually worked.”

At the time, we still didn’t have a star. I was almost resigned to performing the lead role myself (which I didn’t want to do) when Ricardo stepped in. This was the critical step in the whole process. The role of The Detective serves as the glue that holds the drama togethe. And it makes a big difference when you have a trained actor in that part. I didn’t get my first recording from him until September 2008. When I did, I put together the first rough episode cut featuring Ricardo, and Holy Cannoli.

And then I thought, “This could really work.””

Pjazzypar did yeoman’s service in taking on additional characters. K9, first content to do a bit part, took on the additional role of Felicity. JeannieGrrrl then submitted her recordings for the role of Lynn. In the second rough cut made for The Golden Ganesh (episode seven) I heard a really neat chemistry develop between Jean and K9 as twin femmes fatales.

Still, we needed more actors for key roles, most importantly that of Dee von Zelle. In the novel that I cannibalized into the radio script, Dee was Australian because her prototype (who loved the character and the story) was Australian. After a certain point, enough actors had alluded to Dee and her nationality, that I couldn’t change her into anything else without issuing a second script and asking people to re-record (talk about a pain in the can). Then too, I had always had our friend down under, FATTY, in mind for the role. But the demands of academia prevented her from participating. Still, she helped us out in this mad search for Dee, along with Boneman, Ricardo, Crushed by Ingsoc, Monique and myself. Some good came out of this. I met Aggie through the search, and she’s a welcome contributor to The X-Spot. Still, we had no Dee.

Other actors bowed out for good reasons (meatspace pressures, technical issues, etc.), which I kinda expected. I finally decided to go to the high seas to find the players I needed. In cyber terminology, “the high seas” translates roughly into Craigslist.

I put an ad in the local (NYC) Craigslist. I didn’t find Dee, but I found an extraordinarily talented actor named Pamela Ringgold. Pamela will prove to you the old adage, “There are no small parts, just small actors.” After moving to DC, another found two veteran voice actors—Paul Weaver and Amy Insley—to take the roles of Mountie Smythe and Col. Smith. Both of them did an outstanding job—but then again, those two know what they’re doing. We also got an amazing performance from up-and-coming comedian Ravi Khanna. Still, we didn’t have a Dee.

And then I thought, “This is gonna work if it kills me.”

Lauren Ash-Morgan answered the DC Craigslist ad seeking a bit role. As a graduate student studying languages, however, she had a decent ear for accents. A very talented performer and gifted musician, she transformed into Dee quite nicely. It took some time. After all, she’s finishing up a master’s degree (some of us know what that’s like, right?), so she had more important things to do. But upon listening to her first submission (which she did over again, because of technical reasons), I decided to wait for her, and for good reason. To paraphrase a character from Seinfeld, she’s real, and she’s spectacular.

After Pinetop Swamp knocked out the announcements, we finally reached the point where I can honestly tell you that the next post, here on The X-Spot, will kick off The Golden Ganesh. On behalf of the cast and myself, we hope you enjoy it.

~ X. Dell ~

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The Golden Ganesh by X. Dell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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