Life ... set to music

Weekly podcast features real stories that are remixed and scored

October 05, 2006|By Jessica Berthold | Jessica Berthold,The (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call

If public radio show This American Life was hosted by poet e.e. cummings, it might sound something like Catalogue of Ships (

The weekly audio podcast is composed of true-life stories read by one man in North Carolina, whose words are then artfully remixed and musically scored by another in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The result is a quirky, experimental blend of phrases and sounds that is sometimes disorienting but never dull.

Alternately humorous, sad, thought-provoking and puzzling, the show's unique format can be challenging and rouses listeners from their usual aural passivity.

David Terry, 29, is a writer and graduate student in communication studies at the University of North Carolina. Michael Kraskin, 28, of Brooklyn, has a background in sound design and works as a Web producer for Comedy Central. The two, who are the creators of Catalogue of Ships, met as undergraduates at Northwestern University in Chicago.

How did you get the idea for this concept?

David: The initial project came because I was bored and I started recording my dreams on a Dictaphone. Mike and I decided to see if we could do something with it, splice it together and experiment with different sounds.

Mike: But the dream thing is something we actually haven't used at all in the podcast yet.

Did you ever perform before your 2001 show at NYC's Living Room Festival?

David: One time we did a performance that was me telling stories and Mike interrupting me with the sound of my own voice, trying to make me cry. We performed it upstairs at this deli, and people paid $10 to come. I felt bad for them, but we eventually honed in on a sound and performance style we liked.

Can you explain your style?

David: It's a way of storytelling that doesn't push toward catharsis or wrapping things up. It lets listeners or audience members have more to chew on so it's not as predigested. The stories will sit with you and be weird, so you have to think about it more. It's more productive than the storytelling that seems so pat.

Are the stories mostly true?

David: To my knowledge all of it is true. There are things that other people at those events might tell differently, but it's what I remember. You've had a lot of interesting things happen to you.

Michael: David is just one of those people who has experiences that other people have, but at an extreme level.

Do you write the stories out before you read them?

David: No, most of the time I rehearse them. I know what I want to get at, and I like the quality of having chosen the words at the moment. I want it to be crafted orally, rather than on the page, especially in contrast with Michael's well-sculpted sound design.

Your blog title refers to a section of Homer's Iliad that's basically just a boring list of ships. Why this title?

David: We want our lives to be beautiful and epic, but lots of time things happen to us in a list without a predetermined meaning.

So rather than fight it, you have to learn how to live within that catalog, and to make meaning within the form of what we are given.

What do you mean, that things happen in a list?

David: You see the list everywhere. VH1 has its list of the most awesomely bad love songs.

Our MySpace profiles are all lists, as is anything on It's all about turning your life into a series of lists, so you surf that list and make it stick.

Jessica Berthold writes for The (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call.


In a word:


E-candy for:

Fans of This American Life and surrealism.

In sum:

Weekly podcast of true-life stories read by one guy and remixed and musically scored by another.

This blog as a person:

Jack Kerouac crossed with Philip Glass.

Sample topics:

A letter written to US Airways describing a string of customer service flubs, including losing the reader's luggage for 13 days. A 21st birthday celebration at a depressing Irish bar that includes watching a woman steal a taxi and ends with the reader having his leg peed on at a subway stop.

Classic podcast:

Retelling of a trick that was played on the writer and other students in a pretentious college seminar, whereby a professor insists they analyze a boring passage from Homer's Iliad comprising a long list of ships and captains. The point, that post-modern life constitutes a series of lists we must decipher for meaning, is a mission statement for the podcast (Episode 1).

Making it happen:

Writer David Terry, 29, and Michael Kraskin, 28,


November 2005.




Smart and creative.



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About 600-800 downloads per week.

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