One Hello World is a man, a phone number, and a few musical instruments. Here’s the premise: anyone who wants to tell a story can call (316) 247-0421 and leave an anonymous voice mail message.
“Max,” the mind behind this Postsecret-esque project, will then compose a musical soundtrack to correspond with your story. He posts the completed tracks to his website at onehelloworld.com.
If you couldn’t guess by the quotes, “Max” isn’t his real name. Why the pseudonym, you might ask?
“I just don’t plaster my name all over the thing,” Max explained, “since One Hello World isn’t really about me.”
That’s because it’s about you. And me. And you, and you, and you.
Back in January, I called in and told a story about a panic attack I’d had in college. Unlike any of my other panic attacks, this particular attack resulted in a free chicken sandwich and a chocolate bar from a stranger. (I know, I know — it’s hard to string that one together and compute how A leads to B. If you want to hear the whole story, listen here.)
Max composed some music to correspond with my story and the stories of many, many others. And now, he’s raising money on Kickstarter so he can release a CD compilation of this unique crowdsourced work that highlights the human condition through narrative and music.
Last week, I chatted with Max about the project, his reactions to the voice mails he receives, and his upcoming album, The Listener.
Summer Beretsky: So, I’ll start with a very general question: what inspired you to start the One Hello World project?
One Hello World: Well, I was recording some music one night and I decided it needed more than just my composition. So, I asked my friends to call into a voice mail and tell me how they defined happiness. I compiled the recordings into a track and posted it online. In seeing the interesting work that came out of projects that follow the anonymous contributor model (like PostSecret), I wondered if people I didn’t know would be interested in “collaborating” by sharing their story with me. That’s when I posted the track and the phone number on tumblr. People’s interesting stories (and their candor in sharing them) inspire me to continue to produce soundtracks.
SB: Yeah, people ARE really candid in many of the calls. What do you think makes people so comfortable sharing their stories with you?
OHW: Their own anonymity and my ongoing promise to pass no judgments. My music and the blog are simply a conduit to convey their message.
SB: You’ve probably heard plenty of voice mails over the past…year? About how long have you been doing the OHW project? And what kinds of stories do you hear about most often? Breakups? Failures? Achievements?
OHW: I’ve been producing One Hello World since August of 2010. In that time, I’ve heard thousands of voice mails. The topic I most often hear about is love: falling for the first time, breakups, uncertainty, or cherishing the continued affection of somebody special.
SB: Can you describe the range of reactions you’ve had to the voice mails you’ve received?
OHW: My personal reactions have been on a very broad range. Because I’m listening to the voice mails from an empathetic point of view, my feelings tend to fall in line with that of the caller’s — the more inside the person’s thoughts I can get, the better I can reflect them through music.
SB: Empathy is a wonderful thing! But does it ever get exhausting? Especially when composing music for sadder stories, like the ones about breakups or uncertainty?
OHW: It might if I was always working with the most depressing material. I try my best to maintain a balance of moods and expressions on One Hello World. That’s not to say that I’m not deeply affected by some of the more upsetting stories. Of all I my callers, I’ve only ever known the identity of one. And the reason I knew was because I was familiar with his story of losing his father to cancer. It was very depressing putting together that track for him and to this day is a difficult one to listen to.
SB: So, why do you think the project works? Why do people like listening to voice mails from strangers? (I’m always intrigued by projects like this, and like PostSecret… it sort of feels like spying to me, but in a welcome way.)
OHW: I think the project works because people either have a curiosity for experiences and perspectives that they have not had themselves. Either that or they have the desire to relate to somebody. I know I feel vindicated in my own frustration, joy, sadness (etc.) when I hear from a caller who has had a similar experience or feels a similar way about something. That’s why I think people are interested in listening.
SB: It’s pretty cathartic. Actually, I cried when I listened to the “Dream Act” track. I think about it occasionally, especially when I hear the Dream Act mentioned somewhere and I wonder how that girl is doing. Do you find yourself thinking about any particular callers well after you compose the music and publish it to the site?
OHW: Absolutely. I think about the gal who called in for “Movies When You Die”. Her monologue is almost my mantra. Everyday, I’m writing this screenplay with what I do. Not that I endeavor to live an overly dramatic life, but I wish to live one full of various experiences. I want my movie to be a romance, an adventure, an existential drama where life defines itself by the smallest terms (rather than grandiose ventures). For some reason, that track has really stuck with me.
SB: What have you learned about people throughout the course of this project? People in general, that is. The world at large.
OHW: It’s taught me that, when you break down human existence into the fundamental emotions we experience, we’re all so very similar. We all feel sadness, happiness, confusion, courageousness, etc.
SB: Now, the album. You’re on Kickstarter and I see you’re almost halfway to your goal with about two weeks left to donate. If you raise enough money to produce the album, who do you envision buying it? Who should buy it?
OHW: People who are fascinated by the complexities of modern existence. People who like to hear stories. People who are seeking inspiration for living a full and unapologetic life. And I guess if you’re a film score junkie like me, you might be into the music. Though I’m no Howard Shore.
SB: Do you aspire to be the next Howard Shore? I know that you mentioned on your personal blog, awhile back, that you… Design websites for a living and work on OHW in your spare time. Where do you want the future to take you?
OHW: Like anybody, I have wild dreams for the possibilities of what this project could evolve into. I’d love to work with other musicians. I think it’d be interesting to perform these tracks live, to tour the world and bring these stories to other cultures, to have other cultures contribute their own musical stylings to the project – that would all be wonderful. And maybe this Kickstarter album (“The Listener”) will help me get started in some of those ventures. In all, so long as I have people calling in their voice mails, I’m happy to create music for them.
If you want to leave a voice mail for One Hello World, call (316) 247-0421. To listen to some of the latest tracks, check out onehelloworld.com. To contribute to the project, visit their fundraising page on Kickstarter.
Artwork credit: theonlymagicleftisart.com