My Personal
FAMILY ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
site: fohp.info - file: dafuture.htm

Planning for Future Interviews (β)

Would your first subject be interested in doing a followup interview?

     After completing the critique of a finished interview project you may have developed a list of questions & topic areas that you wish that you had asked/followed-up upon. If there are a significant number of them, with numerous questions in the same topic areas, you may realized that there are enough additional (askable) questions to keep you and your interview subject occupied for several more hours in front of a microphone. Assuming that the interview subject enjoyed (not just endured) the interview process, you should broach the possibility of a followup interview with them in the near future. (while the memory of the first interview is fresh in both minds)

Were other (living) family members mentioned —
might they be interested in being interviewed too?

     They may wish to "set the record straight" with their version of events. They may have elaborations that, because of their relative age seniority over the previous subject, gives them a more "mature" rememberance of events. The recollections of two individuals present at the same event might be dramatically different depending upon their mental age — a five year old will remember an event differently from a 10 year old, or a 15 year old, ... Interviewing three or four family members about the same event may produce dramatically different recollections and perspectives on it — this is at the core of why oral histories are so valuable as part of the overall family history; multiple perspectives and interpretations give the listener a better sense of the event and how each individual experienced it.

Reading the transcript of the Coroner's Inquest that followed the May 1927 Bath School Bombings will more fully illustrate the phenomenon. Although the inquest was conducted barely five days following the event, townsfolk provided differing timelines for the sequence of events, what had been said by/between the primary participants, who those participants were, ... Eight decades later elderly adults are still coming forward to offer their perspectives, often for the first (and only) time in their lives.
Warning: some of the descriptions are quite graphic in the gory details of that event ]

Is a different (better) venue in order?

     Sometimes, the place (venue) can make all the difference to the interview subject. While listening to a completed recording the sound editor should try to get a sense as to the comfort level of the subject — if the interviewer is the problem, have a different person conduct future interviews; if the environment was perceived as unfamiliar, strange or hostile the interview subject may not have been very open and responsive to the questions — they're were too busy focusing on the element(s) of the environment that were bothering them. Unfamiliar or loud sounds, foot traffic through the interview area, hostile lighting (such as direct sunlight in the eyes), an awkward time of day, ... all things that might have prevented the subject from focusing exclusively on the questions being asked and the responses being provided.

     Public places are always a bad location for inteviews — foot traffic, random sounds, difficult or uncontrolable lighting issues. Hotel lobbies, restaurants, public parks, ... they seem like they may be good interview locations but the resulting interview recordings will often suck! An outdoor recording along a forested nature trail sounds like fun. If that recording took place along Lansing's River Trail — the part that runs parallel to the Red Cedar River AND Interstate 496 — you've got way too much traffic noise to understand half of what the subject is saying or the interviewer is asking. If your interview subject absolutely insists upon doing the interview along the River Trail please wait to start the interview until you've reached the point where the trail diverges from the freeway and heads down into the woods. Likewise, an August sunset interview, conducted while strolling in ankle-deep water at the Lake Michigan shore, sounds very pleasant ... unless the wind is nearly calm and the water is nearly wave-free there will be a lot of ambient noise to deal with. (much of it unfilterable)

Is different (better) recording equipment in order?

     Even the optimal venue from the perspective of the interview subject is worthless to the overall project if the quality of the sound (the intelligibility of the recordings) is minimal. This may be the result of the inadequecies of the available microphones, or the microphone mixer that was used, or the audio recorder, or some combination of all of those elements. Since this will be a non-income producing project for the interview producer, the budget for new equipment might reasonably be quite limited. So, from a budgetary standpoint, it will be best for the project producer/funder to focus on the first, best problem to fix — a new microphone, or the addition of a new or different microphone stand, or perhaps just the addition of a boom to an existing stand. Look for the one or two items whose addition or replacement will make the greatest overall contribution to the improvement of the next recording session, and pursue that acquisition.

     Over the course of a year or so, doing perhaps one recording session per month, you might add or improve upon 12 different items in your equipment satchel. Over the course of 5 years that would add up to perhaps 60 additional items that are at your disposal to make higher-quality interview recordings. A recording that employes four microphones might result in up to 40 separate hardware items being used in the project ... I have recorded events that required more than 20 microphones to be in use simultaneously ... it sometimes boggles my mind at all of the equipment that I need to possess — all of the little widgets that attach to the dongles that snap onto the whatchamacallits. (it's a lot like power tools, but for audio ... you always want/need one more doohickey). Sounds expensive — IT IS! A pretty good reason for restricting yourself to one-on-one interviews.

     If this was something that you have hired-out, don't be shy about letting the vendor know that some element of their recording or interview was sub-parr. If they can't fix it or do better in the future it may be time for you to assume a more active (hands-on) control of the deficient elements of the project. Purchase a modest (cheap) digital recorder and learn how to use it properly. Practice interviewing someone. Compile a better list of questions that should be asked during future interviews.

     Taken seriously, the project may rise above being a mere hobby activity for you. Treated cavalierly, the project might better be passed off to some other family member. Either way, try to enjoy yourself & let the other participants in the project enjoy themselves as well.


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    Page last updated
     12-17-2012