about stephanie rowden

I make sound-rich stories for radio, podcast, installation and performance. More about my work and teaching can be found at www.stephanierowden.

about the project

Gravitation and Other Graces is a 26 minute audio essay that I think of as part documentary, part personal rumination and, in some small part, a fairy tale.

Wolfgang's garden bed

Some years ago, when I was returning to health after a year of serious illness, I stumbled onto a small group of friends caring for an elderly gnome-ish armchair philosopher named Wolfgang Hauer. In the beginning, I planned to make a short audio portrait about Wolfgang — I'd been told that he had a lot to say about his experience of gardening in very old age. A charming and manageable idea, I thought, after my year in bed.

And so began four years of recording.

I soon realized that Wolfgang didn't actually have that much to say about gardening. But I was fascinated by Wolfgang's gravitating presence. His younger circle of friends and caregivers were all the more striking because Wolfgang was without a single living family member.  

Unexpectedly, I found myself drawn into his circle. And entering this community was like falling down a rabbit hole. I started to wonder about the mysteries of human caring and generosity; about the gifts, and the burdens, that come with giving care ... and receiving it.

Gravitation and Other Graces: Wolfgang and Stephanie in the garden

As it turned out, the more I tried to understand the story of this unusual circle of friends and caregivers, the more I found myself trying to make sense of my own story. I started to reflect back on my own experience of receiving so much care— the very experience I had hoped this project would lead me out of.

I never would have imagined that a short audio portrait would turn into a nine year odyssey. Maybe this shouldn’t have come as such a surprise— moving through the world with Wolfgang was a very slow, non-linear experience.

[ More about Wolfgang can be found HERE. ]

My own place in the story emerged from 80 hours of tape, piles of drafts and dead ends. The challenge of sorting out all the narrative threads forced me to slow way down and consider more closely questions about who we take care of and why, how we deal with the isolation of old age, and what we want at the end of our lives.

Gravitation and other Graces is featured on the Third Coast International Audio Festival's Library Spotlight where there's more about how the project came into being.

I owe deep thanks to the people in Wolfgang Hauer’s circle who welcomed my microphone year after year: Lenny Bass, Nan Stoll, Zeke Bass, Tara Griffith, Dale Jerome, Jesse Rubin, Pattie Postel, and of course Wolfgang himself.

The music for the piece was developed under the direction of composer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bishop whose evocative improvisations on clarinet and bass clarinet helped me come to understand the sonic and emotional texture of the piece.  Thank you also to Julian Bridges (marimba) and Dave Haughey (cello) for their improvisations. The music recording was engineered by Jason Corey and Austin Stawowczyk in the Duderstadt Center at the University of Michigan. The final mix was engineered by Rob Byers.

I am grateful for the long thoughtful editorial conversations with John Biewen in final stretch of this project. Many people offered their ears and heart along the way and I can't thank them enough: Gillian Eaton, Janie Paul, Hannah Smotrich, Kath Weider-Roos, Laura Starecheski, Jennifer Metsker, Ami Walsh, Juliet Hinely, Megan Levad, Julie Shapiro, Andy Kirshner, Eli Kirshner, Suzanne Camino, Zak Rosen, Adela Pinch, Adrianne Finelli and Carla Zilbersmith, in whose memory this piece is dedicated.