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Where Should The Interview Be Conducted? (β)

Location. Location. Location.
It's not just important in real estate.

     Ideally, "Free" & "Nearby" will be at the top of your list of places (venues) in which to conduct your interview recordings. "Food-friendly" and "bathroom-equipped" are also right up there! (You may always edit-out the sound of them sipping at a glass of water as they spoke)

     While out walking, sitting on park benches, riding bicycles along a rail trail (linear park) & in public parks meet all or most of the requirements, they are not the best places to conduct these interviews.

Comfort & familiarity of surroundings for the interview subject.

     The best place to conduct an interview will (usually) be in the subject's living room area — there is usually a nice comfortable chair that they are used to sitting in to read or to watch television. It is their optimal (waking) comfort zone, so take advantage of it. (of course, if they are bed-ridden, the bedroom becomes the 1st choice) The one place that I would never consider as an interview location is in the subject's bathroom ... that is disturbing on so many levels!

     Another very good place to conduct your interviews might be at a publically-funded facility; see if your local library, community center or "Senior Center" has a genealogy room — some of the better-funded facilities have already set up a room to conduct recorded family interviews (cushy chairs, proper equipment, experienced recording engineer & ambient sound-dampening wall treatment included). The facility may need to be rented for a nominal fee, but the complete package of amenities will justify that expense (especially for your first few sets of interviews). Down in the southwest corner of Michigan, in the New Buffalo area, is a local library that has assembled a nifty venue for making & archiving oral history recordings. You should always check around where your interview subject lives to see if a facility has come into existence that might be rented.

     The physical comfort of the interview subject and familiarity of surroundings will always be a good starting point for obtaining satisfying interview results.

    Of course, if the interview subject really wants to be outdoors in a park or out on the links of a golf course, and expresses the sentiment that not being outdoors would be a deal-breaker for the interview, then you're going to need to accomodate them (after all, to them outdoors is their comfort zone). You will just need to take the extra steps necessary to accomplish the interview recording, minimize distractions and capture as clean a recording as possible under those more-difficult circumstances.

Limited (or no) distractions for interviewer & subject.

     Nothing will "mess up" an interview quite as badly as repeated interruptions — your optimal interview scenario has nothing happening to distract your subject from the question that was asked or the answer they are attempting to formulate and deliver.

     In addition to the random person walking into the room and innocently asking "what are you doing?", you should keep children out of the room — young grandchildren are often too tempting a distraction for many subjects — they'll stop in mid-word to fuss with a child.

     And, animals should be kept away, if possible. Again, fussing over a cat or dog, to the point of ignoring questions or the questioner, or of derailing a train of thought ... they may make it difficult to obtain any additional material once present.

     However, if the kids, animals, tourists, ... become a deal-breaker for the subject, you'll just have to live with that particular distraction for the duration of that interview session. One caveat about distractions that can speak — anyone that might speak during the interview should have their voice recorded well enough to be understood if they should happen to blurt out something that the interview subject then responds to. This is one contingency that your sound recording person should be prepared to address ... an extra microphone (or two), plugged in, mounted on a floor microphone stand, tested and ready to use "just in case".

"Clean" acoustics for the optimal recording quality &
ease of question comprehension by the subject.

     Nothing will muddle the listenability of a recording like a room full of tick-tocking cuckoo clocks that chime the quarter-hour in the middle of answers. Or a parrot on a perch next to the subject squawking away all during the interview. Or a phone that is nearby that keeps ringing and and ringing and ringing and ringing — "Would somebody please answer that?" Being interviewed in the kitchen next to a loud refrigerator; interviewing near the laundry room as something metal "clanks" away in the dryer. The loud creak/squeak of the recliner-rocker in which the subject is seated. The list is seemingly endless. Make a point of going into any proposed interview room to sit down, close your eyes, and just "listen" for all of the sounds that may occur. You'll probably find that we live in a very noisy society.

     In order to offset the negative acoustic aspects of the room in which you will be recording the interview you will need to do more than just employ basic audio recording equipment. Even a cheap microphone, properly mounted and optimally positioned to pick up only the interview subject, will pick up a lot more ambient sound than you might imagine — whatever sound is in the "background" is likely to become an unwanted part of the interview ... if it is too loud, it may reduce the intelligibility of the responses of the subject. If the subject is a naturally quiet speaker (or if they are somewhat intimidated by the microphone and speak quietly and hesitantly) you may be left with a recording that is unlistenable. The optimal positioning of the recording equipment may not be enough to offset some of the ambient sound in a room; the use of more specialized microphones may be necessary to limit the acceptance of sounds from outside of a narrow region to their front; filtering of the sound may be needed to eliminate low or high frequency ambient "noise."

     Whenever possible, select the absolutely quietest place available to conduct your interviews. Turn off the television and radio; stop the pendulum on the wall clocks; put the telephone ringer on "silent"; close the windows that face onto the street; ...

     If you have been able to gain advanced entry into the proposed room for the recording, see if you can do a simple microphone setup of just the equipment for the interview subject. Then, plug the mike into your recorder, turn it on, and record a few minutes of the ambient room sounds. The recording, when played-back through a good set of earphones, should be quite revealing — there is a lot to be heard in a "quiet" room, perhaps enough to convince you to move to a different room?!

     And, the interview subject themselves may present a sonic problem. We suggest that the subject not be miked closely (with an on-body microphone) unless they have at some time in the past already had that experience or they act like they can handle it without behaving as if the microphone and mike cable is "bothering" them. A starched dress that scratches and rustles next to an on-body microphone; the cat on the lap/chest that is purring on top of the microphone; the child that is squirming and fidgeting that starts playing with the microphone; ... all things that you don't want to end up on your tape.

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