The World According to Sound (Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett)

December 14, 2021 | 00:43:48

The World According to Sound is the brainchild of two rogue audionauts who rebelled against the NPR mothership: Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett. It began as a micro podcast that held one unique sound under the microscope for 90 seconds each episode. Then it became something much more ambitious: a live sonic Odyssey in 8-channel surround sound. Starting January, Harnett and Hoff bring their realtime soundtrips direct to your home headphones via the internet in their winter listening series.

We are sure that Phantom Power listeners will love this experience. And right now, you can buy tickets for 25% off with the promo code phantompower25. (As a public university employee, I should probably note that I am not receiving financial compensation through this promo code. –Mack)

In this episode, host Mack Hagood talks to Harnett and Hoff about why they grew frustrated with working in public radio and how they now assemble sonic experiences that don’t impose a fixed narrative on their listeners. We also listen to some fantastic excerpts from their upcoming listening series.

We also briefly discuss a sound art classic, I am sitting in a room by Alvin Lucier. You can hear Lucier perform the piece in this video from an MIT symposium in 2014. Shortly after our interview, Lucier passed away at the age of 90. May he Rest In Peace.

Today’s show was written and edited by Mack Hagood. Music by Graeme Gibson.




Ethereal Voice: This…is…Phantom Power.

[Snippet from The World According to Sound]


Mack Hagood: And welcome to another episode of Phantom Power, your monthly deep dive into all things sound in the arts and humanities. I’m Mack Hagood, and the audio you just heard comes from the long running project called The World According to Sound.

It started off as a podcast then it became a live listening series. Now it’s a virtual distributed experience, that’s available to folks online, streaming.

I mean, it’s a little bit hard to explain actually, but we’ll get into that.

But The World According to Sound is the brainchild of my two guests today.

Chris Hoff: I’m Chris Hoff. I’m actually based in San Francisco and yeah, I’m more of a sound engineer. I come from the public radio world. And I’m the co-creator of The World According to Sound.

Sam Harnett: I’m Sam Harnett, primarily a reporter, but now full-time World According to Sound co-creator.

Mack: Like Chris, Sam comes from the world of public radio, and as you’ll hear, they sort of have a complicated relationship with their old boss.

Sam: Well, we started basically as a reaction to public radio, I mean, Chris and I have both been doing public radio for over a decade–Chris as an engineer and me as a report.

And one day we were just like, “You know, as much as we love public radio, there’s like no sound on radio.”

If you listen to public radio, what you hear is people talking. You hear facts and information and stories and characters, but you hear very, very little sound.

[Snippet from The World According to Sound]


Mack: When I met Chris and Sam, they were in the middle of editing their latest project and you might say they were neck deep in what we could call “ancient audio.”

Sam: Oh man.

Chris: It’s kind of been a hard week.

Sam: We are mired in the pre-1923 audio show, and let me tell you, that material is interesting, but after listening to it 40 hours. You’re like, “If I hear one more crackly, hard.

Chris: One more shitty cylinder spinning, you know, with cracks on it.

Sam: Right, and I don’t care if it’s the first time Thomas Edison’s voice was recorded or if it’s the first banjo solo or if it’s an exercise tape from the teens.

Like I just don’t want to listen to this shit anymore.

Chris: But it doesn’t bode well for the show.

Mack: You guys are doing the hard sell right now.

[All Laugh]

Mack: As you can probably hear, Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett bring a bit of a skeptical ear to things. They are really sensitive to the kinds of tropes and cliches we’ve become accustomed to in radio and podcasting.

They are restless listeners who attempt to blaze a different trail in audio to a place where sounds inspired divergent experiences, rather than having a narrator, like me, tell you what to think.

But as I quickly learned, Sam and Chris bring this same skeptical ear to their own work, and despite their very impressive body of work, they are not ones to rest on their laurels.

So, today we’ll have a wide-ranging conversation about The World According to Sound and towards the end of the show, I’ll share a special opportunity for you to take part in their upcoming sonic experiments.

[Transitional Music]


Mack: For our listeners who don’t know, what is the World According to Sound?

Sam: So, the show started with the premise of, “Can we make a radio show that actually has sound as the focus?”

And our concept was we’re going to formally restrict ourselves to basically force us not to abandon our public radio conventions.

So, the idea was we were going to make a 90 second show, and we were going to not have a story or characters, be the focus, but actually have sound.

[Snippet from World According to Sound]

Sam: These are telephones for sale at Yodabashi Camera, a giant electronic store in Kyoto, Japan.

In one corner of the shop, there are racks and racks of phones, all ringing and playing their answering machines.

[Snippet Ends]

Sam: And that was, that was like the Genesis of the show.

Chris: Yeah, but, I mean, we did that for only like a year and a half. Like we were making these little 90 second episodes, but we quickly turned it into this other thing. Like this, basically this live event.

We got this idea, we had all this like really cool sound that we’d just been digging up, both in our own recordings and from other people, other artists.

And like this idea just like came to us that, “Yeah, we should be kind of mixing this stuff for multi-channels” and we settled on eight channels, but with that, you can really move sound around a space.

And when you bring people together, all in the space to listen, like really intentionally, there’s something really powerful about that for us.

And that’s where we’ve been going since then, is this much more sort of dynamic, I don’t know the word.

It’s like a much more sort of immersive sound experience, and that’s more where we are today. Like we’ve kind of gone away from radio, not entirely, but this is really not what our interests are anymore.

Sam: Yeah, I mean, in some way we sort of backed into both of these things. I mean, like if you dial back the clock on public radio, the idea of having audio pieces where sound is the focus was like very commonplace on public radio airwaves in like the 80s and early 90s.

There was actually one of the guys who is in one of our shows that the sound artist, Bill Fontana, he used to have a public radio program that was four and a half minutes of sound and all he would do is at the end, he would identify what the sound was and that was on.

Chris: KQD

Sam: It was on KQD and it was syndicated to most major public radio stations. Like that was a common program you would hear, and now you, you know, you wouldn’t hear anything like that.

So, our show is, in a way, we were just kind of redoing what people were doing in the past, even in like a kind of more limited context.

And sort of the same thing about our live show, like this idea of getting together and listening to a bunch of stuff on a speaker array, like, you know, sound artists and folks in that world have been doing that forever.

But in the public radio world, like that kind of aesthetic experience or sound centric experiences just isn’t done.

So, we’re very much like novices, I would say, and like we sort of backed into both of those endeavors.


Mack: I think this piece about NPR and its influence is really interesting. I read somewhere where you guys were talking about how you got sort of bored and frustrated with the role of narrative in NPR’s programming and in your jobs.

And I think that’s fascinating because you know, my interest in starting my podcast, as an academic coming from that space, is that all academics are storytellers, but we don’t usually know it. Right?

Like when a biologist writes the methods section of their scholarly article, that’s a story they’re telling.

But in order to maximize our academic authority, we’re kind of trained to suppress the story part and the idiosyncratic and interesting aspects of what we do. And so, in Phantom Power, I wanted to use sound as a way to draw out these really interesting narratives that I see embedded in scholarship about sound, which we kind of have to tell on the silent page.

But as I progressed in, you know, as this sort of amateur, trying to feel my way towards doing something that sounded good, I couldn’t help but notice that like my lifetime of listening to NPR had really imprinted itself on what I was doing and the way that I told the stories.

And I have really mixed feelings about that, you know, because NPR launches like the best storytellers in audio, but it’s also kind of like this hegemonic force that has gotten sort of, I don’t know, like you say, like less experimental than it started off.

Chris: I mean, there’s a ton to say here.

Sam: We could talk for hours and we’re also not the most articulate on that subject because I think it is really complex.

Chris: Yeah, just a couple of things. It’s two things.

It’s A) this is going to sound like a cliche, but storytelling is incredibly powerful, right? Like, that it is I think the best way for sort of humans to synthesize information, you know, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years.

It’s clear that that is super effective and super powerful. At the same time, kind of what you’re getting at, though, if it can fall into, you know, like sort of ruts and if you’re not critical of it, it just becomes this, you know, sort of stupefying force in itself.

It’s just the form itself becomes monotonous and you just kind of become uncritical and unthinking, and that’s why where Sam and I kind of got to after being in this world for, you know, 7, 8, 9 years.

It’s like, yeah, it’s super powerful, but we’re kind of all doing the exact same thing and we’re all using it in this sort of like, you know, very, almost manipulative way.

And like, how can we kind of wake up to that and get ourselves out of that like as a medium, as a public radio medium?

That was kind of one thing.

Sam: I would like to leap off of that. Basically, storytelling is a powerful format, but it’s not good in and of itself.

Like telling a good story, I always think of the story is the frame to get people to pay attention and to follow you. It’s actually like a way to command attention, right?

If you’re a good storyteller, everyone’s paying attention to you.

But if you don’t have some reason for telling that story, then it does fall into what Chris is saying, it’s sort of manipulative. You’re just getting people to pay attention to you without any substance.

And I think what has happened is like this format works really well. People like Ira Glass or, you know, producers for NPR. They’ve gotten really good at this format, but what they forgotten is “What are the reasons for telling these stories?”

And what we’ve arrived at is that a story is good in and unto itself.

Like if you tell a good story and people are engaged with it, then you’re doing something good. The critique is missing. I think about this all the time.

As a reporter, you’re like, you’re doing these stories about like homelessness or income inequality or racism, and you find yourself falling into these predictable story formats where there’s.

It’s intriguing. There’s a twist. There’s character development. There’s plot. And people are following along to get this story. And then when you take a step back, like with these subjects are huge.

Like in a four and a half minutes story, like you probably shouldn’t have a predictable end or a satisfying close to a story on homelessness because it would be.

Chris: Yeah, it’d be very confusing and upsetting. Like that’s what it should be because the issue is a goddamn mess. And like, you don’t understand it after four and a half minutes, you understand 2% of it.

Sam: And in the storytelling format, that doesn’t work. Right? Like you can’t just like, be like,

“And that’s the end of the story, and actually there’s no conclusion or satisfying end.”

Chris: And we’re kind of fucked and our character is really fucked, but like, we’re going to pretend like he’s okay.

Sam: So, that all led us to like, well then you if you want to get at bigger subjects or like think differently. You can use sound in an aesthetic sense to create feelings or emotions or at least spark intrigue or curiosity.

So, again, I think like the central idea of our show, our 90 second show, or even our live show, is that we want to use sounds to sort of get people in a space where they’re like having thoughts themselves, critiquing format, thinking about different things, but not like presenting them with these, like pre-packaged little sort of anecdotes and answers.

Chris: Or even with the point of view, for that matter. I mean, basically yeah, the whole space it is to have an experience and not come away with any sort of meaning or message or moral.

Sam: What’s the takeaway, Chris? What’s the through line? Where’s this going? It’s like, what is the audience going to get out of it?

Chris: Just one last thing. It’s really weird too, through this work, we’ve come to realize like how much more memorable this kind of form that we’re working in.

People remember things from our show and our work years later. And no one remembers like any of the stories we’ve ever done, ever in our lives.

Even from one week to the next, you know, people don’t even remember that story on homelessness, but they’ll remember the ants.


[Snippet from The World According to Sound]

Sam: These are ants. Hundreds and hundreds of small black ants.

[Snippet from The World According to Sound Fades]

Chris: You know, like four years later, somebody came back and (said), “I can’t forget those ants like crawling around the room.”

I don’t, you know, there’s something there, there’s something powerful there as well.

Sam: Yeah and I mean, maybe one more anecdote on all of this, as a reporter, you know, I remember getting my first couple of stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered and being really excited.

You know, people I grew up with would call me like, “Oh my god, I heard you on the radio” and I be like, “Oh, what’d you think of the story?”

And they couldn’t even like express the basic ideas or facts of the story. They be like, “Oh, it was like something about a farmer or something.” And I was like, “Wow, I worked in that story for like two weeks.”

And I’m glad you liked it, but you also can’t remember any of it.

And I think it started to dawn on me that that’s because that story had the same exact format as every other story. It was the same length. It had the same kind of tropes and development and it’s like, it’s just not going to stick, even if it’s really good, important, well-told story.

Mack: I mean, that’s a debate that we’ve long been having in the world of academia. You know, do lectures work?

Because we professors love talking and we love to give lectures, but do they actually do anything for students at all?  

And it’s kind of humbling because you know, you test them on stuff and it’s like, “Nope, none of that sunk in at all.” And then you have to come up with alternate methods.

Sam: That’s why my physics professor in college, who I loved that’s why he was like, you come into class and he’d have a bowling ball hanging from the ceiling and he’d like go stand in the room and put it at his nose.

And you’d be like, “Oh, all right, we’re talking about like conservation of motion,” or like he did all that stuff. You know? And it actually worked.

I don’t remember Newton’s Laws, but I remember the bowling ball.

Mack: So, what are your bowling balls? What kinds of specific techniques have resulted from this escape from narratives?

Sam: Well, it’s funny, we were just talking about that last night in a crisis of confidence of like, “Do we just have our seven tricks that we do every time with sound?”

Chris: Yeah. It’s a tough one. I mean, it also depends on what we’re talking about because, you know, we have like two different forms now, basically.

You know, we have this eight-channel thing in a live pace and we have another kind of show built for two channels, built for headphones.

Sam: Maybe we should describe it.

Chris: Which is very different, and we do different things.

Sam: So, the two shows are we have a live show, where we have an eight-channel speaker array and there’s eight speakers spread around the room, kind of like in a box, it’s a box around the audience.

And the audience sits in the middle with an eye mask on in total darkness. And each speaker’s independently controlled.

So, to take the ant example, we have these ants that are recorded with contact microphones, and then we can move them around the space. So, they can appear in one speaker and then disappear and appear in another speaker.

They can kind of move from one speaker to the other. They can be on all eight speakers. So, it’s just multi-channel immersive, communal listening event that’s live.


Mack: A fair number of our listeners will be interested in the sort of technical aspects of that. So, like what kind of, you know, mixer are you using? Like how does this work when you’re rotating the sound around eight different channels?

Chris: I think we do it in as like sort of analog and as basic a way as you can. We don’t need to use a mixer, we just have an audio interface with eight outs and we run everything through pro tools in this case. It doesn’t have to be pro tools, but it works pretty easily.

And we just designate things to, you know, like each output has its own track or two.

And then we’re, you know, using mostly volume automation, sometimes some other stuff like some delay and reverb, to make the thing move from speaker one to speaker two in like a smooth believable way type of a thing.

Sam: It’s funny. It is very sort of “cave person” in terms of like…

Chris: We’re not using any fancy digital (devices). There is stuff exists…

Sam: We have an Amazonic mic, we played around, you know, with, the sort of 3-D virtual audio editing plugins and stuff.

But we found 99 times out of a hundred what we’re doing is not a realistic representation of reality. It’s taking something, like a shotgun mic recording of something specific, or a contact mic recording of ants, and then manipulating that and creating a piece that’s aestheticized.

So, for us, I mean, we have a couple of parts in our show where there’s like a person walking around you. And like that actually probably would have been a lot easier to (do) if we record it with an Amazonic mic and then played it back in the eight channels using this fancy software.

Instead of what we did is, I sat in the middle of the speaker array and Chris would be like, “Okay, the guy’s walking from here to here. Does that sound realistic?”

Mack: Oh, wow! And am I right in thinking this is a pro-tools session with eight tracks and each track is the output to a different channel, and then you’re just kind of fading sounds from one track to another?

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. In the most simplistic terms, yes. That’s basically what we’re doing.

Mack: Wow!

Sam: If any of your listeners have a better solution.

[All Laugh]

Chris: Well, better is relative. Like maybe it’s something would work better, but our system it’s very sort of foolproof.

At least for my brain’s very simplistic. Right? I even just designate a track to a space and it’s just easy for my brain to work that way, but you know, everybody’s different.

Sam: And I do think there are things like, it would be great to say take our mix for our first live show and do it on a speaker array that had 40 speakers or the speaker array that was configured in a dome or some other.

And again, I know we have experimented with software that can sort of do that.

Chris: But we haven’t really gone into that world.

Sam: And whenever we’ve tried, it’s like, “Yeah, the guy that’s supposed to be walking around you and we built it for the eight speakers it works on that system.

Mack: There are Dolby Atmos plugins that, theoretically, you could mix it in Atmos and then take it to any theater with that kind of system.

But in reality, will it really translate the way that…you guys have your own speakers, right? You’ve got your thing put together. I really liked the kind of punk rockiness of that.

[All Laugh]

Sam: Born out of ignorance.

Chris: It just came out of, you know, “Here’s what I know and here’s how I can figure out this problem.”

You know, because we weren’t coming from like super educated sound engineer places. Like it just came from this knowing how to mix stuff.

And then, you know what I mean?

So, we were coming at it from a basic angle, and this is how we figured it out.

Sam: A basic angle and of limited resources. When we were doing our first show I’m like, “We need an interface. Oh, the motu has eight channels. Great. We got eight speakers. Great.”

Mack: Yeah. Yeah, that’s fantastic. You know, you guys did like a residency, I believe it was at Cornell, where you did like a sonic portrait of the university.

And I was just like kicking myself, beause I teach a sound class where I have students go out with field recorders and stuff, and I never thought of really having them do that kind of in-depth portrait of the sorts of nooks and crannies and different areas of specialization of a university in that way.

And I kind of felt that’s where maybe the NPR reporter side came into play, like really snooping into the sonic dimensions of this huge campus.

Chris: That’s a good point, actually. I mean we came at that project with, you know, in our like sort of World According to Sound hats, but I think the way that we do a lot of our work it’s clearly informed from our public radio and from our reporting sort of, you know, skills.

And so, we only did a few things there with actual students. But we did work with students on three of the sound pieces. We had this simultaneous recording of the chimes from 12 different locations on campus.


[Campus Bells ringing]

So, we had a bunch of students work with us on that.

Sam: We did a Latin class. That was fun.

[People Speaking Latin]


I mean, again, we’re super critical of public radio and NPR, and there’s like a lot of critique to be had. But, actually, I think why we can do what we do is because of the narrative lens that we’ve gotten from working in public radio for so long.

You know, it’s like you’re presented with a sound like, “Okay, we have a Latin class. Conversational Latin. Where the point of the class is you to actually speak Latin, as opposed to just read it, write it.”

“How can we make something sonically interesting out of that that has a point?”

And the frame for that is kind of a narrative frame. And the same with the chimes piece, like, “Okay, we have this idea of recording the sound of this central…

Chris: Bell tower.

Sam: Bell tower at all these different places, but there’s a narrative idea of how we’re going to hear all the different places and the same song.

It’s a narrative construct, and that’s definitely from working public radio for so long. And that’s what’s beautiful about public radio, in its best sense, that’s what the best folks in public radio have done through the years. Figured out how to capture an idea or a story sonically and present it to people.

Mack: So, starting in January 2022, so this coming January, you have a new series that you’re presenting. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Sam: Sure. Well maybe let’s take a step back.

So, once the pandemic started, we took our live show, because we couldn’t do in person, and we decided we would live stream it and we would translate the eight-channel mix to a headphone mix and try to keep a lot of spacialization.

So, we made the first show, which was all about like quarantine, basically, the sonic experience of quarantine. And we recorded a lot of stuff with binaural mix and we remixed lucky eight channel stuff for two channels to keep the spatialization.

And we did that show and it went really well, it had like 250 people at our first live show and they bought tickets. So, we decided we didn’t want it to be like, “You’re at home sitting in front of zoom, listening to audio in your crappy computer speakers,” which was like 99% of the offerings during pandemic. Right?

We decided we wanted to create something that really had that like live communal listening feel. So, what we did was we mailed everyone an eye mask and these instructions for how to tune in.

And then everyone would listen at the same time to this live stream of the show. And that show went really well and we decided to make a series.

Chris: Yeah. So, this is last year, we made a nine-part series. Four of them were just these themed shows on an abstract theme, like time or bodies. And we’d have all this different material, like our own stuff, and again, working with other artists.  

And then we had these other four shows about sound artists basically. So, we had the Kronos Quartet. We had Bill Fontana. We had Matmos. And we made these like 70-minute, again, we don’t have a good term for it because our language doesn’t really have it, but these 70-minute audio experiences.

Sam: Show is clearly the wrong word because it’s a visual.

Chris: I always feel so clunky.

Sam: Audio event and performance seems a little. It’s a little above our pay grade.

Chris: But yeah, we did these things once a week in the dead of winter, in the dead of pandemic and they were so, I mean, we’d get like 150 people to come to a show. So, it’s a lot, but also not.

But it was this community of people, and the same people would come week after week and they were super into it. And it was just like this thing we did, you know, for nine weeks, every Thursday night. And it just felt really nice.

And we talked to people after the show, like there’d be a YouTube chat and we’d be fielding questions and talking to one of the artists as like a guest.

And so, we just like want to keep doing it and we’re adding three new shows and it’s starting January 6th. So, there’ll be a 12-week run from January through basically March, a different show every week.

Sam: And the three new shows we’re doing a show about audio recorded before 1923, which is entering the public domain on January 1st because of the Music Modernization Act.

So, all of this tens of thousands of recordings are going to be available. So, we’re making a show out of all that material. We’re making a show on the Firesign Theater. We’re working with some of the surviving members of the group to present their material from a sound perspective.

And then we’re doing a show, we’re teaming up with a radio show called BirdNote, and we’re doing a show about all things birds.

Chris: Lots of birds, which will be challenging also.

Sam: It’s all challenging. We have this habit of picking these projects like, “Wow. that’s a good idea, but that’s going to be hard.”


Mack: This is amazing. You actually shared with us some sounds, some short pieces that were excerpted from some of these live events.

Chris: Yeah. We made this like little, we’re calling them trailers but they’re not. They’re small pieces from the whole.

Mack: These remixes, you drop into your podcast feed?

Chris: Yeah, in preparation for the upcoming series, the kind of like little teasers

Sam: Little sonic teasers.

Mack: So, let’s listen to one of those. You brought us a piece called Transposition, so maybe let’s listen to that and come back and talk about it.

We’ll just listen to the first couple of minutes.

Chris: Great.


[Snippet from Transposition]

Alvin Lucier: I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now.

I recorded the sound of my speaking voice, and I am going to play it back into the room again and again, until there isn’t frequencies in the room [inaudible].

[Snippet from Transposition Ends]


Mack: I’m hearing like shortwave radio sounds (crackling, roaring, electrical hum) and then like a really well-known piece of sound art in the mix.

Can you talk about what this piece is doing and how it relates to this theme of transposition?

Sam: So, all the sounds come from our transposition show. The idea that transposition show is just moving people from place to place or putting people in different locations.

Like the first recording you hear is this recording of the ionosphere, I think, made in the 50s. It’s from The Folkways Collection. It’s just a really strange recording, like atmospheric recording. And then you hear Alvin Lucier, you know, “I’m sitting in a room,” which we liked because he’s in the same place, but the sound it keeps changing as it’s rerecording.

Mack: Yeah. And for those who aren’t familiar with that piece, that’s a famous piece of his from 1969, where he kind of does this monologue into a mic sitting in a room about the fact that he’s sitting in a room. 

And then keeps rerecording that sound. Playing it back through speakers, picking it up with a microphone over and over again, until it sort of brings out the harmonic frequencies of the room, I guess.

Chris: Yeah. That’s the idea.

Sam: I mean, he also had a little bit of a stutter and so I think what’s interesting is as the recording deteriorates with each successive rerecording, like it all kind of flattens out just into a sound. Yeah, really wonderful piece.

But yeah, with that little episode, there’s also all the cuts of Tony Schwartz, you know, who all these were recordings were made from inside his own apartment.

So again, like one apartment, one location, but all of these different sounds. It’s like the sonic world of one little space is actually huge, I think that’s really kind of the idea there.

And then maybe something that we were talking about our kind of tricks or what we do with sound. There’s a point at the end of the piece where there’s all this sound that builds, this different sound, and I really like it.

But I feel like when I’m making things, I find myself, “Oh, I’m doing that thing again where all these disparate sounds are coming from all these different spaces,” and it’s all kind of grown into this cacophony. And then there’s like a very subtle sound that comes out of the mix.

I like it, but it does fall into this, like, “Hmm. Like how many times can you do that before it becomes a similar problematic format to storytelling?”

You know, every story has got a beginning, middle and end. Every sound mix has its crescendo of stuff, you know?


Mack: It’s interesting. Are there just certain, I don’t know, modes of cognition, ways of thinking and listening that humans have that’s sort of a narrative is going to tend to unfold in a particular way. 

Or a piece of sound is going to have a certain musicality, that it’s going to have these kinds of crescendos and things.

Chris: But I also often wonder, you know, if like a super trained musician were to work with us or to take one of our ideas and make something. What they would do?

I think there are different sort of ways of human cognition depending on your background and your training. It’s like as an individual, mine is limited and Sam’s is limited, but other people have theirs.

And I think there are many different ones, but it’s just that he and I, as sort of individuals, we have a finite number of sonic ideas basically.

Sam: And a skill set, like when occasionally when we tried to do some acting or when we tried to make a peace musical ourselves. There’s a ceiling on that skillset.

Chris: But other people’s ceilings would be just really different is what I’m saying.

Sam: Maybe one thing that I keep returning to that sort of gives me hope for making more and more pieces. Because basically the existential crisis we had the other night, I was like, “Are we going to do our 10 things and that’s going to be it,” you know?

But I do think that part of what works about our show is we are working in the literal. All of our shows, the pieces, again, coming from the public radio background, a lot of them do have kind of an idea or a point or information or even a little bit of narrative.

But what comes across in the mix is that, I think, every piece you can sort of hear the hand behind it a little bit. And I think that’s an interesting concept that, as a form, you can use over and over and over again.

I think you are, as a listener, experiencing the “curatorial hand” and that with different material is a valid format. I don’t know if that makes any sense.

Chris: But if you keep hearing the same hand.

Sam: The same hand, doing the same thing over and over again.

Chris: That frickin hand, give me a different hand. That’s my pessimism.

Mack: Well, I think like any great artists, you guys are your own worst critics. I think people are going to absolutely love this series. I can’t wait to listen to it myself.

And I really feel like I’ve arrived as a podcaster because I have a promo code.

[All Laugh]

If listeners use the promo code, PhantomPower25, you can get 25% off either individual tickets to individual shows or to a season pass. And I don’t get any kickback from this or anything. 

This is just purely because I think this is fantastic and I’m really excited just as a fan to be in the distributed audience around the world, listening to this live.

I think it’s really exciting guys.

Chris: Thanks.

Mack: Guys, thanks a lot for talking to me today.

Chris: Yeah, no, thanks. It was nice.

Sam: Yeah, that was a pleasure.

Mack: Okay. So, let’s go out on one more piece. What do you guys want to share with us?

Chris: We got this other one from a show called Bodies, which was a really good show and we have this little five minute, I don’t know what it is, but a five-minute representation of that 70-minute show.

Mack: This is Bodies by The World According to Sound,

Sam Harnett and Chris Hoff. Thanks a lot, guys.

Both: Thank you.


[Snippet from Bodies]

Female Voice: Record one. Lesson one.

The unvoiced T-H sound (as in thin, nothing, bath) is produced by placing the tip of the tongue lightly against the lower edge of the upper front teeth and blowing out an unvoiced breath.

Think. Thank.

Throw. Through.

Health is wealth.

Why does a healthy child put his thumb in his mouth?









Muffled Male Voice: The first tracing is taken from the apex of the heart. Since it is late in the afternoon and this patient is hungry, you can also hear the bowel sounds in this tracing.

Female Voice: So, that was the terminal-internal carotid. Now, I will angle up and forward and we’ll get the middle cerebral artery.

Chris: All these sounds are part of our audio show entitled Bodies. It’s running on February 17th in our Winter Listening Series.

Join us to learn what these sounds are and to hear more like them. You can get tickets at

[Snippet of Bodies Fades]


[Music by Graham Gibson]

Mack: And that’s it for this episode of Phantom Power.

Just a quick note, shortly after we did that interview, Alvin Lucier, whose work we listened to during the segment, passed away at the age of 90.

Lucier was a legend in the world of sound art and a mentor to many, and he will be missed.

Thanks again to Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett of The World According to Sound. Remember, you can buy tickets to their Winter Listening Sessions by going to and using the promo code “PhantomPower25”

Link in the show notes.

You can find that link and transcripts and all of our episodes at You can also subscribe to our show there or wherever you get your podcasts.

We’d love it if you would rate and review us on Apple Podcasts and tell a friend about us on social media or give us a shout on Twitter or Facebook, @phantompod.

Our outro music today is by Graham Gibson.

Have a happy New Year and we’ll see you next year.


[Music Fades]