These are stories I pitched, wrote and sound designed. 
I’ve made audio documentaries for a variety of outlets including the BBC, ABC RN, NPR, CBC and KCRW.
Below are a selection of my documentary works.

“Our Rocks Are Alive”

Short Cuts, BBC Radio 4

On Short Cuts, BBC Radio 4
Featuring Alicia Potts
Singing by Chanse Adams-Zavalla
Photo by Alicia Potts
Co-produced by Michelle Macklem, Alicia Potts and Zoe Tennant
Edited by Andrea Rangecraft

Each autumn, when the oak branches shake off their acorns, Alicia Adams Potts gathers the nuts. Alicia, who’s from the Maidu tribe in northern California, grinds the acorns into a silky white flour using a stone mortar and pestle that belonged to her grandmother, and to her grandmother’s grandmother before her. Alicia’s sister grinds her acorns in a Vitamix, but Alicia likes to keep it old school, she likes to hold the same pestle that her ancestors’ hands held. Alicia often gets texts and calls from other Indigenous folks about how to prepare acorn -- she’s known as the go-to acorn person. Alicia, like the Maidu women before her, uses the flour to make acorn bread and acorn soup.

For Indigenous tribes in California, like Alicia’s, acorn is more than food. Acorn was, and still is, at the centre of everything.

Acorn was at the heart of Indigenous social and economic systems, and at the centre of their story. That story became buried, though, in the wake of colonization. But today, Indigenous people like Alicia are bringing the acorn back into focus.

“Our grinding rocks are all over the state of California. Our creation stories start here, we are created here. We believe our rocks are alive,” Alicia told us.

Listen on Short Cuts

“Gow Gei”

Short Cuts, BBC Radio 4

On Short Cuts, BBC Radio 4
Featuring Jess Ho, Denny and Ophelia
Co-produced by Jess Ho and Michelle Macklem,
Edited by Eleanor McDowall

Jess’s Dad has always told her that she have the palate of an old man because she loves bitter flavours, and old-school, traditional Cantonese dishes. As long as she can remember, Jess loved this herbal soup her dad made for her as a kid. Because her parents didn't know how to translate gow gei into English, she grew up calling it 'leaf soup’. Her Dad is extremely protective of the leaves used to make the soup, and his elusive tactics have left her searching for the truth behind the recipe.

You’ll hear from Jess Ho’s parents, Denny and Ophelia, and of course, Jess as they head out to the garden to try and find some answers. Jess translates her parents’ conversational Cantonese into English.

Listen on Short Cuts

“The Acorn”

Outside/In, NPR

On Outside/In, NPR
Featuring Louis Trevino and Vincent Medina

Produced by Michelle Macklem, Zoe Tennant, Louis Trevino and Vincent Medina
Edited by Justine Paradis

Apple podcasts Spotify

In the early 1900s, an Ohlone woman named Isabel Meadows was recorded describing her longing to eat acorn bread again. Meadows detailed the bread’s flavor; the jelly-like texture; the crispy edges; the people who made it. And she talked about the bread’s place in the creation story of her tribe. A century later, a young Ohlone man named Louis Trevino came across the recordings and recognized Meadows as an ancestor from his community. Trevino and his Ohlone partner, Vincent Medina, are on a journey to bring acorn bread, and the language and traditions connected to it, back to the Ohlone people. 

Sit with Trevino and Medina as they grind acorns in their backyard and cook Ohlone dishes; listen to archival recordings of Meadows; and hear how the Ohlone languages reflect the surrounding mountain ranges and valleys. “The landscape,” said Medina, “gets embedded within our language itself.” 

The Acorn: An Ohlone Love Story is a documentary about Ohlone food, language, land and history -- but, ultimately, it is a story about Ohlone strength, and about how the landscape that stretches from the East Bay of California, where Medina's family is from, to Monterey and Big Sur, where Trevino's family is from, has been, and continues to be, Ohlone land. And at the heart of this story are acorns.

Listen on Outside/In

“Emu in the Sky”

Short Cuts, BBC Radio 4

Featuring Krystal De Napoli.

Co-produced by Michelle Macklem, Krystal De Napoli and Zoe Tennant
Edited by Eleanor McDowall

“What if I were to tell you that a brief glance at a single constellation in the sky can tell you about current local animal behaviour, seasonal change, the availability of food sources, and impending weather patterns?” - Krystal De Napoli, Gomeroi woman and astrophysics student in Naarm, Australia. 

In Indigenous Astronomy there are oral traditions that tell stories about the stars, ones that contain deep scientific knowledge about the earth  -- where asteroids hit, the solstices, hunting seasons -- and this is one of the things that establishes the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander astronomers as the world's first astronomers. But documentation from early anthropologists got chucked into boxes and tucked away into random libraries and much of it hasn’t been touched, until Krystal De Napoli and her colleagues came along.

The Emu in the Sky is one of these constellations. For the Gomeroi, the celestial Emu represents different things at different times of the year. The Emu first becomes visible in March. When it is fully visible in the Milky Way, during April and May, it takes the form of a running emu, a female chasing the males during mating season. Because emus begin laying their eggs at this time, the appearance of the celestial Emu is a reminder that these eggs are available for collection. Held within these stories is nurture, knowledge and survival for the Gomeroi. 

As a young girl, growing up in a rural town with dark skies, Krystal’s mom often pointed out constellations to her. The more she studies astronomy, the more questions Krystal has about the stars and the sky and the universe. “I still look up, and I have so many questions.” 

Listen on Short Cuts

Sonic Sculptor:
Suzanne Ciani”

Lost Notes, KCRW

This episode was written, produced, and scored by Michelle Macklem.

Special thanks to Andrew Huang, Leticia Trandafir, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, and Tim Taylor for contributing to this documentary.

Apple podcastsSpotify

In 1968, Suzanne Ciani was a music student at UC Berkeley when she met Don Buchla. Buchla had just created one of the first electronic musical instruments, a modular synthesizer. It looked like an old telephone switchboard with knobs and wires, dials and faders. Ciani fell in love with it. And it became the catalyst to her career - one of the most consequential and influential music careers of the 20th century. Ciani has been nominated for five Grammy Awards for Best New Age Album. Her warm, inviting electronic compositions have inspired numerous modern, avant-garde synth composers.

But, without even knowing, it's far more likely you've heard Ciani's work in the commercial space.

Michelle Macklem scored this piece on the Buchla 200 and 200-E.

Listen on  KCRW

“The Restaurant:A Table Divided”
Ideas, CBC Radio

Produced by Zoe Tennant and Michelle Macklem.
Edited by Nicola Luksic.
Original music composed by Michelle Macklem and The Black Spot.  

Ever since they began, restaurants have been mirrors of who we are: our social aspirations — and our social inequalities, reflecting and refracting both our best and worst selves. And today, Canadians and Americans spend more money dining out than ever before. 

Through conversations with restaurateurs, chefs, food sociologists and food historians, producers Michelle Macklem and Zoe Tennant ask one central question: what does this institution — the restaurant — reveal about us as people? 

Their immersive documentary The Restaurant: A Table Divided is composed of interviews and soundscapes recorded in: two cities (New York and Toronto), four restaurants, an old tavern, and two kitchens. The Restaurant is a story about the French Revolution, turtles, the Civil Rights movement, disappearing white table cloths, Williamsburg, sexual anxieties, and colonization.

“Tiny Jalopy”
Short Cuts, BBC Radio 4

Produced by Michelle Macklem.
Edited by Eleanor McDowall.
Original music composed by Michelle Macklem.

There are approximately 10,400 species of birds in the world. About 1000 of those species live in Canada and the US, and on the edge of the world – in the tiny coastal town of Bolinas, California – there’s an art studio that’s recorded sightings of 228 – or 22.8% – of all North American birds. 

Of those 228, there are 4 species that local birder Keith Hansen is particularly interested in: the Rufous, the Anna’s, the Allen’s and most recently, the rare Broad-billed – all hummingbirds whose migratory patterns hit an important crossroads right here at Keith’s art studio. Keith speculates that the Broad-billed hummingbird is here because global warming has been pushing tropical species of birds off track, hundreds of miles north from their usual migrations.

In fall, we hear how the sounds of hummingbirds’ wings describe their age. A young virile hummingbird sounds like a bright constant motor, buzzing with presence, their feathers fresh and new. An older hummingbird with molten wings sounds more like an old jalopy, a bit dilapidated – but it’ll do the trick.

Keith’s art studio is full to the brim with his own drawings of birds in books, postcards and prints. The studio is a hub for the community; people pop in and out all day long. There are locals wandering by to hear what Keith has seen that day, curious tourists, and keen-eyed birders in to talk shop.

Listen on Short Cuts

The Heart, Radiotopia

Produced by Dane Stewart, Katie Hill, Matthew Kariatsumari and Michelle Macklem.
Sound design by Michelle Macklem.

Special thanks to Renée Hodgins, Emily Skahan and Mira Burt-Wintonick.

*audio fiction work*

“Sometimes you can be in one place and everything seems right. And then the wind changes, even just a little bit, and everything seems different, or everything seems normal and that's terrifying.”

Powerful memories are like paused tapes in our minds – a hum barely heard beneath the noise of our everyday – ready to be played at any moment. This audio fiction explores the process of falling in love with someone, fading away and eventually discovering all that you have left of them is a memory. Carter, our narrator, is on a present-day first date with Frankie, but is distracted by memories of past lover, Alex, which play like a tape in his head. But with each replaying, the tapes seem to have warped, or maybe Carter has.

Listen on The Heart

PocketDocs, ABC RN

Produced by Katie Hill, Matthew Kariatsumari and Michelle Macklem.
Sound design by Michelle Macklem.

*audio fiction work*

Jessie is a woman socially programmed to fulfil the needs of her long-distance boyfriend. Follow her inner monologue in a day as the perfect girlfriend.

Third Coasts' pick in the 2016 ShortDocs Challenge: Radio Cinema.

Listen on the ABC archive
© Michelle Macklem 2024