Tony Schwartz – Audio Artist

In 1999, Kitchen Sisters produced an amazing radio story for NPR called Tony Schwartz – 30,000 Recordings Later. A replay of this radio story is re-presented in Saltcast’s 7/14/08 Podcast entitled “Knocking the Rust Out” (available on iTunes – I can’t link to the Podcast here).

Tony Schwartz was an agoraphobiac (one who has an abnormal fear of being in open spaces) who lived his life in a very small section of New York City: basically a few blocks neart his mid-town apartment. Schwartz recorded sounds all around him, chronicling such things as taxi drivers, children playing games, salesmen, city sounds — whatever interested him (and it seemed most things did interest him). Some of the sound pieces Schwartz recorded, rebroadcast in this 1999 essay, are absolutely amazing. For example, Schwartz recorded a two-minute “time series” of his niece from birth to age 14 when she died, and this two minute portrait takes the listener from sounds of the girl crying as a baby thorough learning the alphabet to growing into young adulthood. I was captivated with these sounds: I felt I was reliving the everyday experiences that Schwartz captured so simply. I really felt I was listening to someone from the grave. I listened to this recording twice, back-to-back. You may too.

Schwartz developed a global network of people also interested in sound recordings, and he exchanged audio recordings with his friends around the world. Schwartz’s audio collection came to hold 15,000 recordings collected from around the world. He said, “Voices and music of the world came into my apartment in New York City, and I travelled no further than my mailbox.”

This is an astounding audio portrait. I would highly recommend the 24 minutes to listen to it completely. You will be struck by the humanity and curiosity of a man who, despite his personal limitations, built a world out of his intense passion.

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