The Cacophony Choir

Click here to listen online or download “The Cacophony Choir.”

Several years ago, Killing the Buddha conducted its first experiment with audio journalism at a gathering of a thousand or so semi-nude pagans and witches in a Kansas field. Peter Manseau and I attended on condition of partial disrobing ourselves, which presented us with problems when it came to recording: how do you juggle notebooks, pens, recording devices, and microphones when you’re wearing nothing but a sarong?

You don’t. Or at, least, we couldn’t. Instead, we settled for pen and paper, and our notes became our penultimate dispatch in Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible, the first book to incarnate in the ink from Thereafter, we kept all our clothes on when reporting and brought in professionals to do real recording. When we toured the country for the book, we were joined by two talented radio artists, David Miller and Jamison York. David and Jamie combed the audiences at our book events, searching for stories as good as or better than the ones Peter and I had told in the book. The result, produced for short-lived NPR program called RadioTag, is “The Cacophony Choir,” produced by David Miller. I’m the narrator.

We’re putting it online now because we think it’s the perfect bridge between the first Killing the Buddha book and, just published, the second, Believer, Beware: First-Person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith. In Killing the Buddha, Peter and I told other people’s stories; in Believer, Beware, a few dozen contributors tell their own. Which is to say, this book is cacophonous. Cacophony, after all, is the true sound of belief and unbelief in America, faith found and lost again, religion, ritual, and the rejection of all that, interwoven into our daily lives. Cacophony, not harmony; the sound of many people singing many songs, speaking in many tongues, telling as many different stories as there are souls. Here are a handful of our favorites.

Click here to listen online or download “The Cacophony Choir.”

–Jeff Sharlet

David Miller, online host for Oregon Public Broadcasting's Think Out Loud, spent three years producing radio documentaries under the large, brilliant ears of Dave Isay at Sound Portraits Productions before striking off on his own as an independent producer. His work has aired on various National Public Radio news magazines, including All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition Saturday, and Fresh Air. Jeff Sharlet is co-editor of Believer, Beware: First-Person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith and co-author of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible.