Hundreds of people filled Shannon Hall at the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union Monday to hear a lecture from award-winning Radiolab host Jad Abumrad.
The host and creator of the radio program, which is broadcast on more than 400 radio stations nationwide, spoke about creativity, storytelling and discomfort in his lecture as a part of the Distinguished Lecture Series.
Abumrad talked about dealing with feelings of discomfort, which one of his co-founders called “gut churn,” both as a child and in his adult life, as well as the creation and structure of the program itself.
He described the structure of a Radiolab story as a moment of synthesis and understanding followed by a gap, another moment of synthesis, another gap, and so on.
“Basically what we’ve done is created a story structure that mirrors the process of getting lost and then being found,” he said.
As an Arab child growing up in Tennessee during the Gulf War, Abumrad said he experienced discomfort on many levels but found spending time in his room and composing imaginary film scores to be comforting.
“It felt like a kind of freedom, really, to be able to sit there in my room by myself and still somehow access the dramas that were happening outside in the world,” he said.
Part of the reason people go into radio is because they can be with people while being by themselves, an experience much like what he saw in his childhood, he said.
When starting Radiolab in 2002, Abumrad said the feelings of discomfort of launching a new program without a template were strong enough he decided to record the noise from his stomach to show his discomfort.
“No one talks about that crappy, queasy space that you’ve got to swim through when you’re trying to make something new and you don’t quite know what you’re doing, but there’s no template and you’re afraid,” he said.
While talking about discomfort, Abumrad also joked about the football team’s performance against Ohio State Saturday in Indianapolis.
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He also described the discomfort and importance of finding one’s voice, both in terms of sound and as a means of expression.
“Trying to find your voice will always and forever be uncomfortable. I’m convinced there’s no easy way out,” he said.
The next speaker in the Distinguished Lecture Series will be Bill T. Jones on February 12, 2015 at 7:30 p.m.