Things I've Learned:
An occasional series of hard-won-wisdoms from the mischief-making, pixie-dust-sprinkling, original-thinking auteurs of the audio world
Please supply a short 'official' biography
Sharon Mashihi makes movies, radio, and performances. Her audio can be heard on the podcasts The Heart, Stranglers, Snap Judgment, Unfictional, and many others. As an editor, Sharon worked on The Heart 's critically acclaimed "No" series, as well as 2016's Peabody Award Finalist, "Silent Evidence". Sharon won Silver for Best Audio Documentary at the 2018 Third Coast/ Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition.
But who are you, really?
Jesus. If I knew the answer to this question, I wouldn’t be sitting up in bed in a hotel room, typing these words as a way of avoiding my life.
There are nice things I can say about myself here. And there are critical things. I can say for sure that I am a person who feels very deeply. I cry almost every single day, but I do not consider myself to be particularly sad… but maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe I have more-than-average sadness. Not sure. How to know?!
I am an improviser by nature. I am fast at writing and coming up with ideas. There are ideas buzzing through my head at dizzying rates. If only I knew how to wield them better.
I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, on Long Island, and have always been obsessed with New York. I don’t drink much alcohol. I hate the sensation of a dulled mind. When I am in groups, I tend to feel like I do not belong.
I believe in God. I question why and how the universe exists, and it is my favourite thought to hold.
I have a lot of fear in me. If I had less fear, I would be more prolific, and probably live a richer life. But also, maybe the fear is the very richness itself.
I have incredible friends. I always have. I am drawn to people who inspire me, people I admire, people whose brilliance makes me jealous. My friends are fierce and passionate lovers of life. They are observers of the world. They help me keep going when life is hard.
When other people are around me, I want them to feel invited to be the truest versions of themselves. I want very much for people to feel welcome and loved and… really, the word is invited.
What are your top tips for making audio pieces?
In no particular order:
1. I like to tell the whole story into the recorder early on, uncensored, and then transcribe what I have. That’s my first draft.
2. Index cards. I put all the beats of the story on index cards and then shuffle them around. I display them on a wall or on a table.
3. My general rule for making art is to consume as much other art as possible while I’m working on something. Hopefully other people’s genius enters me by osmosis and my own work gets better. Whenever I read a sentence by Joan Didion, I am instantly a better writer. I also like to re-watch Mad Men. And see dance performances in New York.
4. Always be working in sound. I do not write drafts of my scripts and then record them. I write sections, and record them as I go. I also sound design as I go. If you leave the sound design or scoring for after the writing is finished, then the parts won’t work in tandem. The music will feel tacked on, superfluous. And if you write the whole script without getting a feel for how it sounds as you go, you might be writing something that works great on the page, but doesn’t work so well for the ear.
5. Anything that enters your mind while you are working on a piece should be considered relevant and includable. What I mean is: say you are making an audio piece about the cost of couches in America. You’ve interviewed all the relevant couch people, you’ve written your couch narration…. And as you’re working, you’re suddenly inspired to sound design a little poem about how much you love your sister. At first you might think, “What does my sister have to do with couches?” But I recommend you shed that thought from your mind. Perhaps the thought of your sister came to you because you have memories of sitting on the couch watching TV together as children. Perhaps your sister used to beat you up on the couch. In any case, I believe that there is a place in the couch story for your poem about your sister. If your mind went to sister, then sister is related to couch. And if you put them together in your piece, then the listener might gasp with surprising recognition.
6. You must be willing to be ugly. We all have our definition of ugly. I wish I could tell you what ugly is for you. For me, ugly is how I feel when I am sitting at a table with people who are much smarter than I am. It is the jealousy I feel toward all my closest friends. It is the selfish need to be liked that pervades my every utterance.
But of course, revealing something about yourself is not the only way to be ugly. You can be ugly in form as well as content. Ugly can also mean letting your work be rough around the edges; letting scenes go for too long, not bringing things to a tight conclusion. All of that is ugly. Notice what is ugly and consider it essential to your work.
7. I like to take walks in the middle of working. As often as possible. And sing made up songs. Gets the brain going. The body contributes much to the brain.
8. I like to scream when I work.
9. I like to read self help while I’m working on anything. Self help really calms me down. If I read a few pages of The War of Art or Big Magic, or nonfiction by Anne Lamott, it helps me shed my fear.
10. As much as possible, don’t reject ideas until you’re at least all the way through a first full audio draft. Once I open the door to rejection, the part of me that’s wild and brilliant shuts down, and there go all my good ideas. It takes 25 bad wild ideas to get to one good wild idea. Wild ideas should always be welcome.
What's your favourite of all the things you've made and why?
My true favourites are my journals and love letters, but I won’t include those here. I feel kind of boring including my other favourite thing because it is the only thing of mine that has received public praise. But it has probably received that praise because it’s one of the first good things I’ve made. It’s a radio piece I made about my relationship with my mom, called Man Choubam (I am good). I like it because it changed my life. Making it completely transformed the way I think about and relate to my mother.
What's your (current) favourite piece of audio by someone else?
My favourite audio is an installation by Janet Cardiff. It’s called The 40 Part Motet. Forty speakers are set up in a circle. They are all at ear-level. Cardiff recorded a 40-person choir, and lav-ed each person separately. Each speaker is playing the recording from a different lav mic. You walk around the circle, and you hear each person’s distinct singing voice. And what’s even better, included in the piece, is the banter before and after the singing. And the breathing. All of it. I love being able to experience the piece differently depending on where I am standing or how I walk around the room.
I love knowing that when the group sounded like this, one individual in the group sounded like this.
Who are your influences (in any medium)?
Joan Didion, Grace Paley, Lydia Davis, Audre Lorde, Agnes Martin, Anna Deavere Smith, Miranda July, Jonathan Franzen, Faye Driscoll.
Please supply a visual representation of your life in audio
I write messages to myself on walls. It is the only way to prevent from psychological spiraling. The wall messages bring me peace and help me keep going. They are like the self help books. This is a photo of my latest wall message. I posted it to the wall while I was working in my studio at an artist residency. The sign is paraphrasing the writer Junot Diaz.