StoryCorps Cribs: A Look Inside Our Recording Facilities
The heart of StoryCorps is a 40 minute conversation between two people who care about one another. This moment happens within the space of a soundproof booth whose walls bear witness to stories in 54 different languages and contributed to recording 30,000+ hours of audio.
From San Francisco to Atlanta with Chicago in between, plus the countless stops along our Mobile Tour, tens of thousands of people enter our booths and immerse themselves into a different world for the next 40 minutes. Those 40 minutes are held with great reverence and pride at StoryCorps and we know how much the physical space of our recording booths impact the experience.
That’s where Elaine Kamlley comes in. As StoryCorps’ Manager, Recording & Operations, Elaine holds the (metaphorical and physical) keys to all StoryCorps facilities and ensures that they are the most ideal environment to share stories in.
We knew she’d be the best guide for touring our sites and explaining what makes them so unique. So join us now as we take a walk through the StoryCorps real estate, one soundproof booth at a time…
Before we go any further, let’s just run through the basics of our recording facilities. Here are some key terms for your reference:
MobileBooth: Airstream trailer outfitted with recording equipment to collect stories in various cities year-round.
StoryBooth: Publicly accessible recording studios permanently located in one individual city.
So in sum, the MobileBooth is like a recording studio on wheels…
While a StoryBooth stays in one place…
“The StoryBooth is basically an 8′x8′x8′ cube,” says Elaine. “This model is currently in San Francisco and Chicago and is deliberately designed to be easily disassembled and reassembled. The recording booth is made of 12 interlocking panels that can be fitted together without using any power tools.” This design comes in particularly handy when a change of venue is in order. For example, our most recent move in San Francisco.
The StoryBooth had to be moved from The Contemporary Jewish Museum to the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) last month. The ability to construct and deconstruct the StoryBooth at any given time certainly helps in such instances. In fact, the StoryBooth currently residing at SFPL has been through the process a few times.
“That model of the StoryBooth has been installed and operated in 3 locations–Milwaukee Public Library (2007-2008), the Contemporary Jewish Museum (2008-2014), and now SFPL,” says Elaine. “After our fifth installation, we’ve really taken advantage of that modular design.”
FUN FACT: In the five locations these specific models have been in, they have collected 3,617 interviews and approximately 7,000+ people have sat at its microphones.
Okay, so the ease of assembly (and dismantling) is great for those who have to move the StoryBooth from one place to another. But how does this affect the quality of the interview process? Elaine explained that the design of the booths very much “reflects the simplicity of the storytelling process itself.” The materials of the StoryBooth might seem simple–aluminum, acoustic wood panels, and foam–but painstaking care goes into every StoryBooth site from concept to design.
Elaine mentioned that when choosing a site, accessibility, quality of sound, and level of comfortability for our participants are all measured and considered.
“During that first site visit, we are looking for a place that is quiet, welcoming for participants, and supportive to our staff,” she says. These checks never truly end, as upkeep and management of the already installed facilities are an ever-present necessity. “My work doesn’t just include one initial visit prior to installing the StoryBooth,” she added. “I visit and maintain the sites year-round.”
As one can imagine, these many trips have resulted in a lot of experiences during her adventures on-site, particularly with the people she works with. “What is most memorable about site visits is getting to know our field staff,” she told us. Elaine trains our facilitators and field staff during her visits–ensuring they are masters of audio recording. “The brilliance, passion, and scrappiness that our field staff exude makes my job so much fun and worthwhile,” Elaine says. “Plus, they know the best places to get local eats.”
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