Australian Audio Guide

Working With Sound: Irit Pollak

Irit Pollak co-produces the Private Parts podcast. She also drives design for social impact with Deloitte Consulting and collaborates with academics and artists on independent storytelling projects.

We chatted with Irit about how producing an independent podcast allows freedom, vulnerability and experimentation.

Irit Pollak (Photo: supplied)

What piece of audio has had the most profound effect on you – as a listener, as an audio maker or both?

Wow, straight for the jugular. There are many pieces of audio that have shaped me, and the answer to this question isn’t fixed but a few that come to mind today are…

Maria, Lena and Me – produced by Karla Murthy for Transom. I listened to this feature documentary during an afternoon cycle through Centennial Park in Sydney. Karla tells the story of Maria Yudina, a brilliant and widely unknown Soviet pianist with the perfect balance of history and reflection. I was caught off guard by the strength and emotion of the piece. It ended with a recording of Maria playing Bach’s Fugue in A minor, and I remember being completely entranced by the music as the park became dark. It was the first time I got classical music. This piece also encapsulated how sound can be a conduit for connection, transcending race, gender, age and ethnicity in a way that visual storytelling can’t.

The Living Room – produced by Diane Weipert for Love + Radio. This is one of my favourite pieces of audio. It’s comforting and intimidating all at the same time. Diane Weipert’s remarkable storytelling shows us how excellent writing can surpass the need for flashy editing but this also scares the shit out of me as I realise how much I have to learn.

Other pieces of audio that have effected me strongly recently include – ‘The Lady Vanishes [Revisionist History], Bowraville [the Australian], ‘Inside the Drug Court‘ [Earshot, RN].

private-parts

Where did the idea for Private Parts come from?

Elin Andersson and I came up with the idea for the podcast after countless conversations about social taboos in Australia. We felt that audio was the right medium for the project because it removed the visual from the equation, providing a more equal and intimate space to explore issues that are often clouded by the way people look. The title of the podcast, Private Parts, infers that the issues discussed are covert but common to all.

The idea was also to build a site – partlyprivate.com – where artists respond visually to each episode. The site provides an alternative platform for other new producers to get their work out there.

What’s your favourite aspect of making Private Parts?

Getting to spend time with wonderful people during the research process. My approach to making each episode is closer to a wonky science experiment than a journalistic investigation. I start with a hypothesis, for example – could inter-generational friendships help mend aspects of our broken political system? Then through speaking to a range of people connected to the hypothesis I see the episode taking shape. The process of finding the stories and connecting the dots is endlessly fascinating to me.

The other part I really enjoy is experimenting in the editing process – like overlaying Aristotle’s Taxonomy of Friendship with Beyoncé songs.

What’s the hardest part of producing Private Parts?

Boring answer – time deficit.

What’s the best thing about working with sound?

The intimacy of the medium and its newness to me. My background is in visual communication. I have no formal training in music, journalism or sound design (which probably comes through in the podcast) but it means that each episode is a full-blown learning experience. I love how the anonymity of audio allows space for vulnerability.

I love how the anonymity of audio allows space for vulnerability.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about podcasting?

I’ve received a lot of excellent advice from friends in the Australian audio community although there isn’t one piece that stands out. Something that might be worth remembering is that listening to other people’s podcasts and about how they go about making them is great – but there is no right or wrong in this space, so do what feels right for you and it will probably be better than emulating an established style.

What has been your biggest lesson as a producer so far?

Everything generally takes about 10 times longer than you’d anticipate.

Do you interact with your audience, or receive feedback or criticism about your work?

Audience interaction happens in a few ways. Partlyprivate.com provides an avenue for listeners or producers to write in with comments or pitch ideas. Outside of that conversations about the podcast with friends, friends of friends and local producers about what is and isn’t working happen all the time.

Feedback from experienced producers is probably the most crucial part to the editing process. Kate Montague and Nicola Joseph in particular have been invaluable supports.

Audiocraft and ad hoc radio club evenings in Sydney have also been hugely important.

If you could go out to dinner with any audio maker, who would it be – and what would you talk about?

There are a few … Kaitlin Prest on writing and editing for audio, Anna Sale on interviewing technique and Manoush Zomorodi on listener interaction.

What are you listening to at the moment?

Radio Atlas, Hidden Brain, Sooo Many White Guys, Lexicon Valley, Science Vs, Death Sex and Money and Revisionist History. I’m particularly interested in beginning to seeking out podcasts … in English … that aren’t British or American. Radio Atlas is a good loophole but I wonder what we’re missing out on in Asia or the Middle East.

What’s your favourite Australian podcast, and why?

I listen to bits and pieces of Australian podcasts. Lately it’s been Poetic Logic by Stephanie Cobon, Bowraville by the Australian and Zacha Rosen’s Not What You Think for FBi Radio.

What do you think is unique about Australian audio?

Australian stories are unique and when Australian producers tap into that – and confront the stuff going on here in a nuanced way – we get some extraordinary audio. I hope that as Australian podcasting continues to grow so do shows by producers from a wider range of cultural backgrounds.

What’s next for you as a producer?

For Private Parts, the plan is to keep learning, playing and unpicking the issues that matter. It feels like the right time to weave some more listener interaction into the show, starting with an upcoming episode on migration. I’m keen to keep collaborating with other producers and helping new guys out.

Outside of Private Parts, I’m sussing out ways that podcasting can be used in design for social innovation, as a way of getting more decision makers to act on the voices of communities.