Since 2015, Chileans Catalina May and Martín Cruz have been practicing narrative audio journalism with the rare (Adonde Media), a podcast Documentary focused on Latin America that narrates “stories of freedom with a unique sound design”. She, coming from written journalism, and he from the audiovisual world, working on popular science documentaries, narrate about major current issues. They address migration, social inequality and feminism either from the intimacy of very personal stories or from the point of view of collective struggle.
Last week they received one of the Ondas Globales Podcast Awards for best episode for 59 bullets. In that installment they focus on reconstructing the life and death of Alex Nieto. He was a Mexican American murdered in 2014 by police in his own city, San Francisco, after white men, newcomers to his gentrified neighborhood, found him suspicious and called 911.
Ask. the rare it is a happy union of talents.
Response. (Catherine May). It was the perfect way to bridge our two worlds. We had no referents in Spanish. It was all to do. As soon as we started publishing, we realized that there was a kind of void of this type of content. With our second episode they were already calling us from when [comunidad de podcasts independientes]when we did not even know that there was an international community that cared about the podcast.
P. One of the great successes of this space is its selection of topics. Is it difficult for you to agree on it?
R. (Martin Cruz). I trust her when she is certain that there is an interesting story behind a topic. We then weigh whether it has sonic potential and technical feasibility before moving forward with it. Due to economic resources, once we start a story we try to move it forward. We can’t afford that half the stories don’t come out.
P. For this they also have a network of collaborators. What profile should they have?
R. (May) It is important for us to have collaborators, mainly because we have the possibility of telling stories from different countries. We accompany them very closely in the development of the topic, both editorially and technically. In general, they are journalists, but they also need to know how to work with audio, which is the most difficult part to find. It is what makes the difference. When the story is worth it, we send a journalist with a sound engineer.
(Cruz) It has happened to us several times that they have offered us excellent stories, but in terms of execution we see that they are not possible because the person does not have the appropriate recording equipment or knowledge.
P. Because the other great strength of the rare is the sound.
R. (Cruz) Taking care of the sound is something that has helped us stand out. I see that in the industry there is still a lot of precariousness in terms of technical execution. Many conversational formats abound, from two people recording on a living room with a microphone that they got out there. The level of production puts you in another place and there are already certain platforms and production companies that are betting on that, to stand out in this sea of projects that is becoming gigantic.
(May) Martín has always been very emphatic in remembering that sound is the essence of podcast, which sustains it. In addition to being a technical resource, it is also a narrative and aesthetic resource. It is the way to take advantage of all the possibilities of the environment. It’s like redundant and it’s like crazy to think that it’s not done.
P. How are the melodies that later sound managed?
R. (Cruz) In general, we make a music library for the season. Every season, we meet with musician Andrés Nusser and think in terms of instrumentation, styles, variety. At first it’s all subjective, because the stories haven’t come yet. This last season, we made rhythmic matrices, separating the themes by families, according to their tempo and its meter, which allows me to combine themes and experiment with them.
P. How did the opportunity to narrate come about? 59 bullets?
R. (May) We had already collaborated with Dennis Maxwell, who is the guest producer on this story. We were in the midst of a pandemic, locked up in Santiago de Chile and with zero chance of going out to report outside. For this fifth season we had to resort to collaborators with whom we had already worked or wanted to work in other countries. In this search for topics, we were in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement and there were just murders of Latinos in the San Francisco area, where Dennis lives.
(Cruz) He had already proposed this topic to us a couple of years before, but it turned out to be a tense and complex story. At the time of him we did not see the angle.
(May) But then that context arrived and it stopped being an old story to become an iconic story that tells us about a very contingent issue, which was police brutality and systemic racism in the United States against the immigrant community.
P. What was the hardest part about getting this story off the ground?
R. (May) It was an issue that needed a lot of work, to get the court files and the audios from the police on the day the murder occurred. [tanto la llamada que alerta sobre Alex como las comunicaciones de los agentes con los operadores que les transmiten el mensaje], which was very important for the narrative. And it was also difficult for Alex’s father to want to participate, to make him understand why it was important to tell this story when so many years had passed. When we already had all the material, we wrote the script and the most interesting part for me is the sound design, which allows us to understand the different points of view of the story. We are not only telling his story, but the fight for justice and for the memory of his community. The 59 bullets arrive in the 15th minute of the episode. We had the debate whether or not to ring them; whether it was sensational or central to the story. We concluded that it was important to understand how strong it is to have someone fired at 59 bullets. We put it in so late because, if someone arrived at that time, they were already prepared to deal with it.
P. the rare it is not intended to be listened to while traveling from home to work by car or public transport…
R. (Cross) You can, but it’s not ideal. Our listener is someone who sits down, puts on the headphones and takes those 25 or 30 minutes that we ask for. Listening has to be attentive, it cannot be casual or background, because a good part of the work behind it is lost. Every word, every sound is chosen, and leads to a much more complete experience. Still, when I mix the sound, I consider all listening possibilities, because I know that’s going to happen, whether someone listens to it in the car or without headphones.
P. What did the arrival of Where Mean as a collaborator?
R. (Cruz) It has been a very important ally, which has allowed us to work with people who are on the same page as us (in terms of publishing, work ethics), which is something that is generally difficult.
(May) And it has allowed us to be part of a team; stop being the two of us alone before the world (laughs). Even when we reached an alliance with Spotify for the sixth season, Adonde Media helped us in all the matter of signing contracts and lawyers and all the complicated part of dealing with these giants of the industry.
P. Will the time come when the rare have new lives in other media?
(May) Yes I think it will happen. We have had different opportunities and we will have different ones. But we haven’t felt the urgency yet, because it’s a very complex world with intellectual property and derivative rights…
(Cruz) And you have to have a lot of trust with whom we give you the possibility of adapting our product in image, which already has its own identity in audio.
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