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Mar 022010

From left: Wess, pds, Paul, Jimmy, Charlie, & Tim. Taken by Paul.

Here’s an episode that almost never happened.  It was designed as a simple photo-op for an article The Tennessean is writing wrote about local podcasts.  In order to make the deadline, they had to shoot a photograph for the story by the end of the weekend.  The writer Dave Paulson thought our show would make for an engaging picture.  I quickly called in the troops; and we assembled last Saturday in my basement, squeezed tightly together to make for a nice picture and blindfolded because it looked cool and because . . . well . . . we’ve never done that theme before.

I’ve been working on a computer program that reads Twitter messages aurally via an open-source speech synthesizer called Festival.  I’m preparing that program for next Saturday’s Podcamp Nashville.  We’re doing a live improv for the conference where audience members can tweet to the hashtag #pcn10ore and hear those tweets in the mix.  This little last-minute improv was a perfect vehicle to test that program.

It was a complete coincidence that last Saturday happened to be the day when all hell broke loose.  Saturday was the day after the Chilean earthquake; the day of the tsunamis; and, if you searched for the keywords earthquake and tsunami in Twitter like I did, the end of the world as we knew it.  I fed those two keywords into my tweet synthesizing program, and the resulting narration became the backbone of the show.  Some of the tweeters posted on-the-scene updates, while others joked about the impending disasters, and others prayed for the areas affected and called out to loved ones.

The theme was being helpless in the face of tragedy.  The blindfolds seemed fitting, though, I admit, they weren’t practical.  Most of the performers had them off within 10 minutes (exception being Charlie Rauh whom Jimmy had to poke to make him aware the rest of us had already de-blinded).

I’m quite fond of this show.  We were in the right time, the right place, with the right performers and the right technology.  Helpless features John Westberry on drums; pimpdaddysupreme on records, vocals, and effects, Paul Cain on accordian, saw, and water bottle; Charlie Rauh on guitar; Jimmy  Thorn on keyboard and chaos pad; Tim Carey on keyboard and mandolin; and Wess Youngblood on guitar and delay pedal.  I pressed the buttons on the laptop feeding the tweets and did the live mixing.  Portions of the show were edited for pacing.  The show ended before the tsunami reached Hawaii, so I continued recording the tweets for about 20 minutes after the show was over and inserted the most fitting ones into the show.

Special thanks to Jayesh Salvi for writing the initial Python program Talking Twitter Client and to Bryan Kemp for helping me modify it to suit my purposes.  Thanks also to the developers of Festival, to Tennessean writer Dave Paulson and to photographer Jeanne Reasonover.  Thanks to Paul Cain for taking the above-photograph.  A big thank you to all the performers!

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