Katie Semro ’03 has always enjoyed interdisciplinary work, and her creation of a series of audio art projects is an extension of this passion.. Her most recent project, a podcast called “Mother Mine,” is a collection of stories about mothers from all over the world, as told by their children.
Since her time at Bowdoin, Semro has embraced the opportunity to apply skills from multiple disciplines, frequently combining a number of her passions into a single project.
“I think that sense of the liberal arts, where I did a little bit of everything, carries through to this where I’m doing a little bit of everything,” Semro said in a phone interview with the Orient. “I’m doing a bit of marketing; I’m doing a bit of the actual audio work; I’m doing the story work—there’s all these different parts, and liked pulling all those things together rather than just doing one.”
Semro’s refusal to confine herself to one discipline or vocation was evident in her career path following her graduation from Bowdoin. After completing a year-long master’s degree program in England, Semro stayed in England and ran a wedding stationery business for five years. The summer of 2014, she moved back stateside with her son, daughter and husband, to South Berwick, Maine. In addition to taking care of her children, Semro also ran a fermented vegetable business.
In 2017, after she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid, she found a long-term focus for her work.
“It was interesting, because I obviously wasn’t feeling good and I didn’t know why,” Semro said “[The diagnosis] gave a lot of answers, but it also led me into alternative medicine.”
Inspired by her own desire to better her health, Semro trained to be a functional health coach, and started a podcast called “This Paleo Life” in 2019. This was Semro’s first entrance into the audio art world, and she found herself intrigued by the offerings of the podcast medium. By March 2020, she was convinced that she wanted to pursue audio arts in a full-time capacity.
“I really fell in love with audio,” Semro said. “I really liked health coaching, but the audio felt like it used all of my strengths and passions. I was trying to figure out how to make that transition.”
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Semro saw an opportunity to explore audio more deeply; she started a podcast called “Transmission Times,” and collected audio diaries from around the world about the pandemic. The podcast ran nearly weekly from April 2020 to January 2021, and allowed Semro to immerse herself in the audio art world through professional associations and workshops. She began branding her podcasts as “participatory audio projects.”
“I try to be really open-ended, because I’m always curious to see how people interpret the question,” Semro said. “It’s neat to see how people who seem really different might have a very similar answer to a question, and people who seem really similar might have a very different answer to the question.”
The production process for “Mother Mine” first involves participants sending in their audio files, which are usually about eight to fifteen minutes long. Semro prefers that her participants self-record, partly because it frees up more of her time, but also because she believes it increases the authenticity of their words.
“I think [they can be] a little bit more candid,” Semro said. “They’re talking to themselves, so they can just be themselves, and they don’t have to worry about the immediate reaction of the interviewer.”
Semro then breaks down their submissions and compiles them together into a narrative arc.
“I plot the points that I think are really salient,” Semro said. “It might be just a snippet; It might be just a section, or it might be a longer story or I might have like a bunch of little sections that kind of go together and just give an impression of this person and their mother.”
Later in the process, Semro adds other audio components to the narrative. She intends to use sound in a way that emphasizes the words of her participants, rather than competing with them.
“I’m trying to use sound in a way that’s evocative,” Semro said. “Sound that maybe brings out more of the emotional content, or that echoes that or heightens it, or maybe I’ll use a heartbeat if something’s kind of intense.”
Semro hopes that “Mother Mine”—as well as her other audio passion projects—will inspire her listeners to exercise compassion and empathy, especially during the uncertainty and turbulence of 2021.
“I believe in the power of stories to bring people together, to bridge divides, and to make a real difference in how we view and interact with each other,” Semro said. “I think that when listeners of the podcast hear people talking about their mothers they will be able to relate to those experiences—even if they didn’t have the exact same experiences themselves, and they will feel connected to people who may otherwise be very different to them.”