Week 3: Interviewing and Storytelling

Autumn is slowly arriving in Umeå. Temperatures have dropped below the 10° mark and the leaves are changing colours. This is the week after our ozCHI 24-hour design challenge and everybody still seems a little rattled from that experience. It turned out we didn't qualify for the final, but were shortlisted to have our paper published in the conference proceedings. The main theme of this week was interviewing and storytelling. More specifically, we were given the task to interview a person about their musical experiences. Based on those findings we were then asked to write an anonymised short story that describes that experience. Apart from that we still had our introduction to prototyping course (still focussing on processing 101) and our literary circle (focussing on aesthetics) to keep us busy.

The weather has turned colder even if it doesn't look like it.

The weather has turned colder even if it doesn't look like it.

I spent some time before my interview to put together some open ended questions and prompts. Coming up with these was pretty easy considering we spent last week trying to uncover one of our own musical experiences. 

The interview itself went pretty well. The person I was interviewing was really nice and easy to talk to. I was joined by my "critical friend" Emily, who was taking notes for me. During the interview I tried to:

  1. Appear friendly and keep smiling throughout
  2. Pay attention to my body language (make eye contact, appear interested). 
  3. Keep neutral and don't form opinions on what the interviewee was saying
  4. Encourage the interviewee to talk (open ended questions and simple prompts as "oh I see" and "mmhh") 
  5. Start with easy-to-answer questions and then gradually ease into more difficult questions
  6. Ask for clarification when I felt like that I misunderstood terms, names or expressions
  7. Watch out for their facial expressions and body language
  8. And above all: Shut up and Listen. 
The sunsets feel very long here. I'm not sure if its because most of the landscape is very flat, but I'm enjoying it.

The sunsets feel very long here. I'm not sure if its because most of the landscape is very flat, but I'm enjoying it.

Nevertheless, during the interview I kinda felt like a wasp being swatted away from the sugary soda on a hot summers day. As soon as I was starting to get close to the real experience, I felt like I couldn't get any further. Interestingly, during a discussion with Nicklas he described interviewing as being in a house of doors. The thing you need to do is try to find the right door that isn't locked and leads to the right place. Sometimes the house has a lot of locked doors and other times is feels more like being a supermarket with large revolving glass doors that you can't help but entertain. During tutoring I specifically asked for help in these kinds of situations. What tends to work well in these situations is to ask for the absolutely best or worst experiences of that moment. By going for the extremes one tends to open up the interviewee a little. I'll definitely try this next time around. Practice will help as well, of course.

After the interview had finished, it was time to type up the transcript. Using all of Emily's notes I then wrote a few drafts trying describe the particular musical experience my interviewee decided to share. I decided to write in the second person, trying to address the reader directly and telling her or him what to feel. My text was received rather well. At the end of the week I was asked to hand over the text to another person and I would then get another text and musical piece to work with for next week's assignment.

Sipping On The Sweet Nectar
A hush goes around the crowd. There's scattered muttering and then warm applause. About a hundred people are there. Jens Lekman has just stepped on stage. But it is not really a stage. It’s more of a podium. We're standing about four meters away – in-between other warm and mostly sweaty people. We both arrived an hour ago or so, and had been hanging out at the bar. The music wasn’t as loud there. Now just the stage is filled with soft and warm light. The ceiling is low. Everything is mellow. You’re holding on to a cold beer. The second of the evening.
Jens says «Hi» and the crowd smiles back at him. He's wearing a plain shirt. You told me he has that so called non-look, whatever that means. Jens starts strumming his guitar strings and whistles. A small wave of positive energy overcomes you. He constructs his songs one instrument at a time. Each melody builds on another. Beats intertwined. You know the song off the CD. And yet you hang on to every word. This guy is good.  Better than you expected. 
The stories he tells are ordinary. You know of the places he speaks of. Revisiting them as you listen. You grew up near some of them. You feel like dancing a little – just a little. You can’t let go of yourself completely. But tapping your feet feels fine. The song reminds you of summer evenings and barbecues with white wine and salmon. Somewhat fittingly, as the lyrics are about revisiting the important memories that make up our lives. There's something comforting about this moment. Like sharing a good dinner with your best friends.
Jens asks the crowd to join in clapping. You do, too. Somewhat awkwardly, still holding on to the beer bottle. Jens absorbs the noise from the crowd and twist and turns it. Back into the song it goes. It feels like we’re all part of this. Strangers united. The song fades out to cheers from the audience. The applause is something to have experienced. Both honest and exhilarating. Giving something back. It is about sharing your appreciation of what just happened. There's something special in recognising the performance for what it was: utterly rewarding.  And you know that a new memory was just born.