Tape Head: Avery Trufelman on Dating Apps and Genesis P-Orridge
What inspired the best creators in the podcasting world to be the best? In the second instalment of our interview series, Tape Head, Avery Trufelman picks out the pieces that made her.
Avery is a US-based podcast producer, best known for her work on the long-running series 99% Invisible, which focuses on design, and for launching its spinoff series Articles of Interest, which zeroes in on fashion and power, and describes itself as a “podcast concept album … on clothes”. Trufelman left 99% Invisible in 2020 to host the relaunch of The Cut’s weekly self-titled podcast, and has also hosted Nice Try! – a Curbed series about failed utopian experiments.
When I was starting out, I really wanted to be a radio producer. My parents met working at WNYC, I grew up listening to the radio all the time, and it just felt to me like this almost holy medium. But my timing and the industry’s timing worked out that I interned at radio stations, but I never actually worked in radio.
When I was an intern at 99% Invisible, my first job was cutting down our shows to fit into the five-minute break in between Snap Judgements. To me, that kind of represents the strange twilight era I was in: cutting down a podcast to be on the radio.
I worked for 99% Invisible for most of my professional life, and it shaped so much of who I am and how I see the world. That was such a huge chapter of my life. I'm still figuring out what the aftermath is.
Radiotonic - The Real Tom Banks
The Real Tom Banks is a story about looking for love on the internet, with the twist that Tom, its subject, has cerebral palsy and uses a computerised voice to speak. Produced by Jesse Cox, it won the best Documentary Silver Award at the 2014 Third Coast Festival.
There’s a perpetual idea floating around of why don't we have voices on dating apps? People fall in love with people's voices. But this story toys around with your emotion and the attachment you feel towards the voice, and it makes you fundamentally ask, "What sorts of narrators do you trust?"
There are so many shows that try to blend truth and fiction, and I'm not a huge fan of that. I think that trust in radio is really sacred. But this to me is the gold standard of blurring fact and fiction … it’s still all very emotionally and fundamentally true. One day I'd like to play around with voice trickery in that way.
Love and Radio - The Pandrogyne
The Pandrogyne is about how the experimental English artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge – who acquired a strange kind of fame as the lead vocalist of industrial band Throbbing Gristle – and their lover Lady J interwove lives, genders, art, and identities, and what happened when they could no longer be together.
This is a beautiful, timeless, transcendent, queer love story, and it begins in the most sonically intriguing way. I think we can forget that you don't have to begin with a hooky piece of tape or a hooky piece of writing. You can just start with a really compelling sound and use it to narrative ends.
Love and Radio showed me what podcasting can be. It was this really audacious mix of fascinating characters, and really bold interviews, but the thing that really made it was the sound design. I've never liked podcasts that just sound like a bunch of floating talking heads in space. I like to infuse it with that cowboy sensibility that Love and Radio has.
99% Invisible - What Gave You That Idea?
On the surface, this is a story about a commercial for an insurance company – Geico’s much-imitated “Neanderthals” TV spot, which began in 2004 and became a meme before there were memes. But the episode is really about how inspiration works.
Every time we took a risk and did something that wasn't quite about design [At 99% Invisible], people would be like, “Hey, this is a design show. Why aren't you doing design?” And I would go back to this very early episode to be like, no, we always were dabbling in how the world gets built and ideas of creativity.
This is a story about where the Geico Neanderthal commercial came from, and yet it's also a story about where ideas come from. Now that’s a whole genre of podcasting, but this was the first time that I was like, "Oh, you can really pick apart this piece of cultural minutiae and hit at something large and transcendent."
The Cut on Tuesdays - What Counts as Selling Out?
A short story by the writer Curtis Sittenfeld about an artist deciding whether or not to be in a toothpaste advert. If you want to make art, how do you get the money? And what compromises are you willing to make en route?
This is an incredible short story by Curtis Sittenfeld with very subtle scoring, and a very good interview at the end. Just meat and potatoes, but such perfectly roasted potatoes, and perfectly roasted meat.
The story itself is about a camera crew about to film an artist who's going to be in this commercial for toothpaste. She's wondering about her integrity and if she should do this commercial at all, but in the end of the story, it's not as important as this artist thinks. There are no material consequences for selling out or not selling out, it's all a matter of your own integrity. I think about that a lot in the times that I've walked away from projects because they didn't feel like me.
A biography of the Armenian Canadian musician Raffi, who has been called the most popular kids’ entertainer in the English-speaking world. Responsible for mega-hits including “Baby Beluga” and “Banana Phone”, he also campaigns on children’s rights. This 10-part series is hosted by comedian Chris Garcia.
I hadn’t felt this feeling in a very long time, like, "I've got to go take a long walk so I can catch up on my podcast." It was a lovely treat and a nice reminder of what podcasting can feel like.
The show isn't rigorous journalism about who Raffi is, but I don't really need that. The power of revisiting the character and these songs that defined not only my childhood, but so many childhoods was a lovely little bit of terra firma to come back to.
I don’t feel comfortable making stories about people, because people are so complicated and multi-faceted. It feels like gazing into the abyss. On the rare occasions that I do human stories, I feel compelled to find the meat, the grit, even though that makes me feel uncomfortable. The cool thing about Finding Raffi is that by and large, it's OK with being beautiful, and feeling good and loving Raffi. It's not trying to pull his mask off.