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KCRW’s ‘Sonic Trace’: A radio show with visual panache

Mat-ter + Build Studio

Anayansi Diaz-Cortes, producer of KCRW’s Sonic Trace, has an ambitious vision: to trace the stories of immigrants to Los Angeles from Mexico and Central America, illustrating how entire communities have reconstituted themselves in LA. Not only that, but she wants to do it in style.

Diaz-Cortes and her producing partner Eric Pearse-Chavez have successfully raised funds to construct a unique mobile recording booth: a shiny sphere they have dubbed La Burbuja (The Bubble), which they plan to take around LA to collect first hand accounts of the immigrant experience. The booth has been designed and constructed by the team at Mat-ter Design + Build Studio, but the campaign isn’t quite over yet.

While they’ve surpassed the initial $5000 goal, to complete their vision of a visually striking chrome sphere they’ll need to meet the stretch goal of $3000 more dollars in just a few days. Not to mention some of the other “above and beyond” objectives they’ve now targeted. Like dedicated transportation for the portable booth.

We caught up with Diaz-Cortes, who had just returned from a reporting trip to Oaxaca, via email to ask about the last minute stretch goal sprint. That and what– aside from a giant metal sphere– sets the Sonic Trace apart from other radio projects.


TURNSTYLE: How important is it to hit the secondary stretch goals– particularly the $10K for transporting the sphere? What’s the back-up plan for lugging this thing around LA?

Anayansi Diaz-Cortes: The back up plan is doing a call out to friends, neighbors, the KCRW community to lend us a trailer while we raise the funds. La Burbuja will stay built at a given place for at least three weeks at a time, so if Hugo and the Mat-ter team help us install it in our first hot spot at Guelaguetza Restaurant, we’ll have three weeks to think of Plan B.

TS: There might be a little confusion here as the sphere has been built, but isn’t quite done… and yet the campaign is still on. How did La Burbuja get built before the crowdfunding campaign finished? Will it go chrome-less if the $8K goal isn’t reached?

ADC: KCRW and Hugo Martinez fronted the entire budget in order to meet the August 9th deadline and give La Burbuja life before Labor Day. This is something Sonic Trace envisioned, since we need to get out into the field collecting stories as soon as possible. Hugo was generous enough to take us up on it and see the urgency that we see in getting these stories told and produced. The funds raised on Kickstarter will be used to pay back Hugo and KCRW.

If the $8k goal is not reached, the chrome finish will definitely be sacrificed. It is too much burden on Hugo, his team, their time and money invested to try to pursue the chrome finish without funds guaranteed. This is tragic for an architect and visionary that has invested so much time in giving birth to his vision. For the next 24 hours we are emailing friends, family and making personal requests to make the best of our Kickstarter campaign.

TS: The name “Sonic Trace” is really evocative from an audio standpoint… I wonder if you could go into a bit of what the storytelling style of the show will be.

ADC: Good storytelling is universal. It is quotidian and timeless at the same time. Sonic Trace aims towards this core in every single story—radio feature, sonic ID, contributed web story, podcast, video and blog post. Making stories universal and timeless is both a goal and a curatorial parameter. Beyond that, a Sonic Trace story should represent a very local Los Angeles narrative that crosses into a local narrative of a city, town and village of origin. We want to know what it feels like to bump into a childhood friend from the Honduran highlands in the heart of Santa Monica. Or, the ways in which entire communities in Mexico and Central America have been transformed by el otro lado (the other side).

Gary Scott, KCRW’s News Director puts it nicely, “Where other news stations might see ‘local’ as constraining, we see local as a pathway to other parts of the state, country and world; a pathway to other cultures and across generations. These pathways connect us, and they sometimes serve as lines that we fear to cross. The concept of ‘local’ is an entry point. After all, we might not be ready to hear about a tragedy or triumph in El Salvador, but we might learn about it if the story starts at our corner store—and we learn that foreign really isn’t foreign at all.”

Sonic Trace is a sister project of KALW's own Hear Here: A Pop-Up Radio Project. Check out more about Sonic Trace and La Burbuja on today’s edition of KCRW’s Design and Architecture, or see a slideshow of La Burbuja’s construction on Flickr.

This interview was originally published on TurnstyleNews.com on August 21, 2012.