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LightHouse Listenings

All summer, tune into KQED on Fridays for a blind tour of California

Every Friday starting April 26, The World According to Sound’s new radio series will take listeners on an audio exploration of California from the acoustic perspective of the blind.

Over the last year, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired has partnered with Bay Area podcast The World According to Sound as they collected footage to take listeners on an audio exploration of California from the acoustic perspective of the blind. Starting this Friday, the radio series will begin airing on KQED during The California Report Magazine at 4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. PST. Tune in live or visit this link to listen at your leisure.

Each radio episode focuses on one sound or story that captures what it’s like to live in California as someone who is blind or visually impaired. You will hear from wanderers, beekeepers, commuters, hikers, teenagers and retirees. Using the latest in binaural 3D sound recording, the World According to Sound’s producers, Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett, capture vivid sonic environments, stories and observations from all corners of our beautiful state.

Since the experience is all about the audio, and we know our sound-savvy audience, here are several tips for getting the best out of the strange sounds you are about to hear:
  1. Put on headphones. This way, you’ll be able to experience the binaural sound in all its eery depth.
  2. If you have vision, remove as much visual stimulation as possible. Dim the lights, close your eyes, or put on a sleep mask if you have one!
  3. Don’t multitask. Stop what you’re doing for 5 to 7 minutes and just listen.
  4. Tell your friends. Okay… we admit this one has nothing to do with the listening experience. However, we’re hoping this series will get people thinking more critically about the sounds they hear every day. What’s your favorite sound? Tweet your answer with the hashtag #myworldaccordingtosound.

What’s next? A live tour!

In the fall, The World According to Sound will kick off a tour of live shows, like this one we collaborated on a while back. During these live shows, ambisonic recordings and stories are projected on a ring of speakers. Surround sound engulfs the audience to give both sighted and blind listeners, seated in total darkness, a new appreciation of their environment through the rich and often-overlooked world of sound. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive event announcements in the fall.

The series is a partnership with LightHouse, with additional support from California Humanities. The goal of these episodes is to push the boundaries of audio storytelling and further LightHouse’s mission both in-person and over the airwaves. For more information about this collaboration and the performance, please contact thewatsound@gmail.com or press@lighthouse-sf.org.

About the World According to Sound

The World According to Sound is a podcast, radio program, and live performance. 90-second episodes of the radio program have aired on NPR, The California Report, and public radio stations across the country. The Washington Post wrote that “each episode contains a neat little story about an evocative, unusual sound rendered in intense aural detail.” WBEZ featured the show’s innovative approach to radio on Morning Shift, and the podcast HowSound dedicated an episode to the philosophy behind the program’s minimally-narrated, sound-dependent audio. Show producers Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett have taken the live version of their program on tour and have played at over 40 locations, including colleges like Cornell and Brown; performing arts venues like WNYC’s Greene Space and PRX’s Podcast Garage; and galleries like the Lab and the Whitebox.

On April 11: LightHouse Listenings (in the dark) with Romanian Guitarist Ioana Gandrabur

LightHouse continues its live listening party for ears only, LightHouse Listenings, on April 11 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. at LightHouse Headquarters. Join us for an evening of live music in the dark with award-winning classical guitarist Ioana Gandrabur, as she incorporates music with lively interactive discussions about music, blindness, and non-visual entertainment. Learn more and RSVP for the event.

“I used to keep the music apart from the fact of being blind,” says 45-year-old Romanian musician Ioana Gandrabur.

Ever since she was young, Ioana felt a draw and a connection to music. After learning the piano at age five, she picked up the guitar, and by age 14 she had won the Romanian National Guitar Competition.

At 16, she moved to Canada to study at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal, where she graduated with honors. She continued on to Europe, where she studied at the Musikhochschule in Kolh, Germany, the Musikakademie in Basel, Switzerland and the Musikhochschule in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Throughout her education and pursuant career as a musician, Ioana was very aware that her blindness impacted how others perceived her identity.

“I never wanted to be known as a blind musician, just a musician,” she says. “But in time, I realized that it’s part of who I am just as much as being a woman.”

With age, she says, she realized that she had a unique perspective on music that she felt compelled to share.

“I joke with musicians and say that as a blind musician, I’m forced to do what any good musician does anyways, which is establish a non-visual connection with their instrument, tactilely and acoustically. This non-visual connection helps with memorization, too. So in some ways, blindness helps hone musical skills.”

Ioana says the opportunity to speak about how her blindness shaped her perspective on music, and music on blindness, attracted her to performing at LightHouse.

As part of her LightHouse Listenings performance, Ioana will play a concert in complete darkness – a format she says not only changes how the audience perceives the music, but also how she performs.

When she had performed in the dark previously, she remembers instinctively getting up to bow at the end of a piece.

“I realized, ‘Wow, I’m bowing to people that can’t even see me,’” she says. “It’s a very funny feeling to be in the spotlight, so to speak, and unseen; it’s a weird paradox.”

She says that this paradox creates a rich space for introspection, and that she hopes to cultivate an musical environment of understanding and appreciation.

“It’s an invitation for people to share the way me and other blind people perceive the world. And, for me, it’s an invitation for me to realize just how much my sense of being seen shapes reality.”

What exactly are ‘live listening parties’?

LightHouse Listenings is an event series dedicated to non-visual entertainment that foregrounds sound (check out this one with Bay Area podcast The World According to Sound, or this one featuring blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer). We’ll host panels, album releases, live musicians, you name it — if you’re into listening, we’ve got the venue. If you’re interested in staging your event for LightHouse Listenings, contact LightHouse Events Manager Andrea Vecchione at avecchione@lighthouse-sf.org.

Blind Explorer Erik Weihenmayer on Occasionally Forgetting His Socks and Being a Blind Ambassador

The Cover of Erik's Book, No BarriersOn May 2, we’re welcoming blind explorer Erik Weihenmayer as our guest for the next installment of LightHouse Listenings — a live event “for ears only”. Erik will join Davia Nelson of NPR’s The Kitchen Sisters for a candid conversation about his work as an athlete, adventurer, author, activist and motivational speaker, as well as his new book (relaunched April 24) No Barriers

Many of us are familiar with Weihenmayer’s worldly feats — climbing Mount Everest and kayaking the Grand Canyon, to name two. But while it’s easy to focus on the dazzling peaks (literal and figurative) of Erik’s achievements, this doesn’t leave much room to talk about the nitty gritty, behind-the-scenes of traveling the world as a blind person. What goes into planning a trip like this? How do you ignore the haters? What silly things has he forgotten?

With our Holman Prize semifinalists filling out their proposals and preparing to embark on adventures of their own, we decided to grill Erik for more than just lofty inspiration. The Holman Prize Team collected some practical advice for blind travelers including fully immersing yourself in the experience, getting to know the currency and occasionally making time to do some adventuring in your very own backyard.

Here’s the full conversation:


Holman: When putting together the trip of a lifetime, how long should you take to research and plan? Any rule of thumb for time spent planning versus the actual execution?

Erik: What gets attention, and what people remember, is the summit, the big rapid or whatever that “apex” is – but I don’t think people realize for every hour of summiting, there’s a hundred hours of tedious planning. It’s sitting behind the computer writing everyone you know, trying to raise money, trying to understand the business side of how to make it happen, promoting it in the right way, and all the tedious hours that go into training.

Holman: When you walk out the door, what do you most often forget?

Erik: First of all, when I get on the plane I feel relief, I take a nap. One of the hardest parts – the planning – is over. Now it’s just put your plan into place – execute well, and that’s completely different from all the planning, all the worrying, all the anxiety, all the orchestration. You get on that plane and you’re like, ok, stage one of the adventure is done.

That being said, I’ve forgotten all kinds of things – even socks. Imagine going up Mount Everest and realizing “Oh my god! I thought you were going to bring all the socks!” and then you have four pairs of socks for going all the way up the mountain. Then there we were, looking for yak-wool socks in the markets of Namche Bazaar, and trust me, those aren’t as warm as SmartWool.

I’ve forgotten books. When you’re blind, and you’re not really getting stimulation from looking out the window, sometimes you need a good book to help you – with jet lag especially. If you have insomnia don’t forget those books, or music, or podcasts or whatever you need.

One thing I tell people is to be careful to separate the experience itself from the promotion of the experience. Of course you have to send out the travel blog or the video or the Facebook update, and that stuff’s important to spread the message, but there has to be a very clear line. You have to be ready to immerse yourself in the experience, and that’s a tricky thing in the modern world – being there to actually be there, not for your résumé.

Holman: What are the cultural considerations of traveling around the world as a blind person? Any tools you recommend for assimilating when moving from country to country? Any must-have items, besides the obvious?

Erik: In the developing countries I’ve been in, bringing a dog would be really hard. It’s kind of you and your cane. Going from America to a developing country, people don’t know about blindness. The blind people in their communities maybe don’t come out as much. In many places, blind people stay in their huts, cook, and are sheltered.

I went to Russia once and was getting ready to speak at a bank. All the people with different challenges – blind people, wheelchair riders, etc. – would come up in my talk, and they told me ‘You will shock people if you talk about them, because we don’t see those people in our culture.’ They’re hidden away.

For that reason, definitely try to connect with the local blindness organization. Stop in and share knowledge. When I was in Katmandu, I went to the association and it was great, we had lunch together and talked. It was wonderful.

Always go knowledgeable. Learn the money, learn how to identify the money. And if you speak the language, you are golden. If you know the language, then everyone is relying on you to translate and you’re getting pushed to the front to talk and interact with the local people.

Understand that when you go into one of these not-first world countries, there’s chaos. You’re stepping in pig poop, there’s open gutters with sewage, and it’s not ADA compliant. But that’s part of what makes it fun, too. I remember walking through the streets of Katmandu and a guy came by on his moped, and literally his moped bumped me. His hot tail pipe burned my leg. It wasn’t a disaster, you just have to be able to handle these sorts of inconveniences.

Holman: When traveling, how do you keep track of your story? Do you take notes, keep a journal, or somehow otherwise keep track of your milestones with a physical inventory, or do you keep it all in your head?

Erik: Everybody’s different, but writing in a journal throughout the trip is really great. Even bring a digital recorder and just jot notes down or turn it on and capture an experience you might want to remember later. And if everyone takes a journal, then you can go back and read everyone else’s, too. It become a collective consciousness type of thing. If you plan on writing about the experience, you can’t beat a firsthand account of how you were feeling on any given day.

Holman: Ever been an amazing adventure in your own community?

Erik: There’s incredible adventure all around us. Recently my wife and I rode our tandem bike up to this ghost town called Animas Forks, and explored all the old buildings where these miners lived through the harshest of winters. I went to South Carolina last year, to Beaufort, and we took a tour, learned about this language, almost like a separate language that the African-American culture spoke, based on their language from Ghana. There are incredible cultures and adventure right under our noses, you don’t necessarily have to go to the other side of the world.

Holman: Is it more important to do something first or do something best?

Erik: It depends on what your goal is. I’ve never looked at adventure in terms of “hey, I survived it!” The point of these adventures isn’t just to survive. You don’t learn anything from being in a survival stage. You want to be ready. I think it’s more important to take the time to flourish in these environments or cultures. What you’re trying to do is learn things.

If you can prepare for something, and be first, it’s pretty fun, but at the same time, you can be a pioneer without being the first. Because pioneering is mostly in your mind. It’s not about being the first “out there,” as long as it’s a meaningful experience for you. It’s icing on the cake – but it’s not quite enough in itself.

Holman: If people don’t believe in your ability to do something, how do you proceed?

Erik: It’s a tricky one, because even though I’ve done a lot of big cool things in my life, I may be sitting in the airport trying to figure out how to get on the right bus. You’re still  a human being, and still confused in that moment. It’s ok to ask for help and accept help.

It is a balancing act of accepting help and also being practical about what you can do and what you don’t need help with. Honestly, people could argue with this, but getting out there and flailing and bleeding is perfectly acceptable. People want to immediately grab you, and help you, people don’t want to see that flailing. You tap someone’s foot with the cane and they freak out. You have to say “No, that’s how the cane works.”

I think that you’re teaching by being out there and being positive. If you become the grumpy blind guy, you’ve lost. You’ve got to be graceful, and be the consummate ambassador, and if you’re lucky enough to have the time to educate people, do it in a nice way.

Meet Erik at LightHouse Headquarters on May 2 for his talk at 7:00 p.m. Reception begins at 6:00 p.m., with complimentary wine and beer included in your ticket.

The cost is $10 in advance and $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets can be purchased through our Eventbrite page.

If you are unable to buy your ticket via Eventbrite, contact Events Manager Dagny Brown at dbrown@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7311.

 

LightHouse Listenings presents Erik Weihenmayer with Davia Nelson

In 2014, Erik Weihenmayer, the first and only blind person to ever reach the summit of Mount Everest, attempted a new and daunting challenge: to ride 277 miles of thunderous, wild rapids down the Colorado River in a solo kayak. Why would he take such a gamble? How exactly did he pull it off? Discover the answers to these questions, and more, when Erik joins us at LightHouse on May 2 for a far-reaching and candid conversation with Davia Nelson, of NPR’s award-winning production team The Kitchen Sisters.

The event is the latest installment in our ongoing series LightHouse Listenings and follows, most recently, a live production of the podcast The World According to Sound. A “listening party for ears only,” the LightHouse Listenings series is a celebration of the aural medium, and is designed to create a space for conversation, creativity, and sound that connects blind and sighted audiences over a shared experience. At each event, we provide sleep shades in order to give you the option to focus solely on what you’re hearing.

Event details

LightHouse for the Blind Headquarters

1155 Market St., 10th Floor, San Francisco

Cost: $10 in advance. $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets can be purchased through our Eventbrite page. Reception begins at 6pm; the event at 7pm. If you experience any difficulties with accessibility, contact Events Manager Dagny Brown at dbrown@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7311.

This unique event is an opportunity to meet Erik during his national No Barriers tour and to hear the blind adventurer in conversation with one of the world’s finest radio journalists, Davia Nelson.

Davia’s work has taken her all over the world, from interviewing hummus chefs in Ramallah, to wine physicists in France and “kitchen botanists” in India. We can’t imagine anyone better suited to interview Erik about imagination, non-visual exploration and what drives him along his incredible journeys.

We’re proud to program and host this one-of-a-kind event, which will include braille passages from Erik’s book, read aloud, a meet-and-greet reception with attendees and an open bar. Books will be available onsite for purchase.

About LightHouse Listenings

This year, we began putting on regular listening parties for ears only – from live podcast recordings to pre-recorded material. To bring your sound experience to a live audience in San Francisco, contact dbrown@lighthouse-sf.org.

About Erik Weihenmayer

Over the past two decades, Erik Weihenmayer’s name has become synonymous with determination and ambition. In 2008, when he reached the top of Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia, he completed his quest to climb all of the Seven Summits-the tallest peak on each of the seven continents.

Erik is the author of the best-selling memoir Touch the Top of the World, which was made into
a feature film, as well as The Adversity
Advantage, which shows readers how to turn
everyday struggles into everyday greatness. His
latest book, No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to
Kayak the Grand Canyon is more than an
adventure story, it illuminates how we overcome the barriers that get in our way. He is an internationally recognized speaker and brings his message of living a No Barriers Life to audiences around the world.

About Davia Nelson

Davia Nelson is one half of The Kitchen Sisters, producers of the du-Pont Columbia and James Beard Award-winning series Hidden Kitchens, as heard on NPR’s Morning Edition, and two Peabody Award-winning NPR series, Lost & Found Sound and The Sonic Memorial Project.

The Kitchen Sisters are also the producers of The Hidden World of Girls, heard on NPR and hosted by Tina Fey. Their first book Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes & More From NPR’s Kitchen Sisters was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.