Sound Scene Installation: Clay Spiral / Material Feels final episode


Saying goodbye is hard.

I’m so much better at starting things.

Sketching out ideas.

Making intense eye contact with the moment,

Getting swept up in the sensations of the present.


Clay will always be there. In the edges of riverbeds and in the cracks of my countertops.

If treated right, you can wrap up a piece of clay leather hard, carvable clay and come back to it again, and it will be just as you left it. If you leave it out or let some air in by accident and it becomes bone dry, brittle and unworkable, you need to embrace a change in plans. There may be feelings of frustration, regret, annoyance and finally acceptance, and detachment. Place that bone dry piece of clay back in water.

This is the reclaim process.

The material will soak up as much as it needs to come back to itself. It’s called slaking. You fill a bucket with shards of bone-dry clay, and pour life-giving water in until air bubbles fizz to the surface. Overnight, the excess settles, a clear, clay-less layer; you can pour this off and use it to water your plants if you like. Then you reach in and squish the clay particles together with your fingers, breaking down any lumps leftover. You lay out this fresh sludge on a plaster bat, and depending on the climate, you flip the hardening slab like a pancake.

Once it’s malleable but no longer sticky, you knead it with your hands until it is wedged back into usable material.

Materials are patient, persistent teachers when it comes to limitations, and forgiveness.


I’ve put off making this episode for a few months now, but all the while the emotions have been mulling.

Three years ago, I signed up for a Podcast Bootcamp at UC Berkeley because I had a feeling I would enjoy producing my own show. I like to talk, I like to tell stories, I’m a musical person. I enjoy meeting people and talking to them about what they care about most. I also was going through a really disruptive change in my life, and I wanted to focus on something new that was all mine. Inspired by the art supplies I was learning about at work, excited to connect with materials and people, curious to use my voice to craft narratives, Material Feels emerged.


It’s not easy to set this project down.

Different parts of my brain are having different responses.

A moody teenager says, “Wow, guess it doesn’t matter anymore. Guess it never mattered that we ever did it, then!”

The tender injured parts of myself are pissed, indignant, butthurt. They say, “Why did we even do that at all? Why did we work so hard only to stop?” It feels like I’m breaking up with the best thing that ever happened to me. An unsure version of me asks, “Who even ARE we now without the show in our lives?”

I don’t know what your versions of those voices sound like, but, if you remember from the pigment episode last year, my go to aside from the teenager and the tender parts is a Gollum/Hermione combo that speaks up when I think may have done something ignorant or stupid, or when I drop one of the hundred things I’m holding on any given day, or, a more specific example, when I spill expensive, resource-intensive food. Listen back to pigment for more on “ The Cashew Incident.”

I find the best way to cope with these voices is to just let them say their piece, with plenty of witnesses, and HAH, we deflate their power by putting them on air! Instead of massive mantras clogging up my mind, they become manageable sentences on a page, a fraction of this script and a few dozen seconds of our time together.


So now that I’ve aired out my fear of failure, abandonment issues and collapsing sense of self, ON WITH THE SHOW!

Material Feels has given me so much to be grateful for, and I’d like to spend some time with that gratitude before sharing our final soundscape from Conversations with the Material World, the interactive installation Associate Producer Liz and I created this summer.

I am grateful to you, for being here with me, spending time with the material world.

I’m grateful that people have been able to connect with them selves, and one another through show. Another common thread of feedback – folks shared with me that they picked up an old hobby, or a new one, while they were listening, leaning into my encouragement to connect with a creative practice that feeds the soul.

I feel grateful for all the guests who shared time and space with me, who answered my questions and invited me into their homes, studios, shops and backyards. Material Feels guests not only shared intimate spaces with me, they shared intimate feelings, about their materials, their practices and their selves. I felt those moments of vulnerability acutely… usually around the 45 minute mark during our interviews… That moment where the rest of the world falls away, and the veil between their experience and mine is lifted. They let me in, and I am grateful that Material Feels was able to honor and document those moments of connection.

I’m grateful for my friends and family for repeatedly sending voice memos when I reached out with probing personal questions, like “If you were to loose your hearing, what sound would you want memorized?” Or you know light-hearted stuff like, “What are your values and is your current life path aligned with them?”

I’m grateful to my first listeners, who spent so much time with my voice, heart and mind, giving me honest, heartfelt feedback.

I’m grateful for all the support: asking me about production, listening to episodes when they dropped, donating to our Patreon, attending events and calling me or texting me to talk about them.

I’m grateful to our Associate Producer, Elizabeth de Lise, who gave so much guidance and support for this project. Liz became involved about a month before the pilot dropped in February of 2020.

Mr. Rabetz, the person who taught me to throw on the wheel, passed away as I was writing the pilot narration that fall.It was a big loss for everyone who knew him, and even though I hadn’t spoken to him since I left high school, his passing hit me hard. I had so wanted to send him the episode and thank him for everything. I hadn’t had a chance to tell him how he impacted the trajectory of my life. His classroom was where I really stepped into myself during a time I felt out of place and alone. When I began to process these feelings, I added them into the show.. and Material Feels became more of an emotional, philosophical project than a technical art education podcast.

I asked a musician friend of mine to create a song in Mr. Rabetz’s honor. Liz listened to the episode and learned about his artwork; he had published a book of photography documenting Bear Mountain Bridge along the Hudson River, using the lens of photography to reflect on dimming eyesight and his life journey. Liz’s song was inspired by his photography, the material of clay and the process of throwing on the wheel.

The process of creating a song inspired by a material and a person was intriguing to us, and we decided to continue collaborating. Liz produced eleven original songs for Material Feels (the EPs are on Spotify).

Collaborating with them on this project not only taught me so much about poetry, sound, music and texture, I also learned to be a better communicator and friend. Liz began to take on the role of audio engineer, and our tech guy for installations of Conversations with the Material World. They are an absolute badass and I’m so grateful to have a friend who believes in my vision so hard that they dedicated literal chunks of their life and brain to this project. I could not have done this without a creative partner and friend.

I’m grateful to myself, for carving out significant chunks of time: nights and weekends and day trips and residencies. Instead of treating the show like a hobby, passion project or creative outlet, I allowed myself to fully commit to something that made me feel so whole and so myself.

I said no to so many things to make space for it: making time for the show felt natural.

I put myself out there in so many ways I had never done before. I became a more direct communicator.

I became more of myself, shedding the acceptable, curated version of me and getting closer to the swearing, singing, crying theater kid I see in the mirror.


I think that’s where a lot of my grief lives right now, in that intersection between the show and my sense of self. I’m afraid that I am losing all that this practice gave me: the strong sense of self when I’m working on it, the feeling of being present and in love with life. I’m realizing that over the last few months as Material Feels has faded from my life, there is…more space than I realized there would be.

I feel restless. Listless.

What has filled that void, I’m realizing like actually RIGHT NOW, as I’m writing this, is a ridiculous amount of “work” on myself. I’m journaling and meditating every morning. Trying Tai Chi. I’m listening to an audio book about Highly Sensitive People in Love and another, a somatic / sex therapy book called Whole-Body Sex. I’m forty days into Sober Curious, a workbook for staying sober, and I read a little bit of Anger by Tich That Hanh every morning to be EXTRA aware of every feeling I’ve ever felt. I have a skincare routine now that is slowly expanding to be a like, five step process, (five steps is ALOT, by the way, once I went a whole month without bothering to wash my face, and by “once” I mean like, six weeks ago). And, listen, all that is great. Like, mm, pat on the back, I take an hour and half a day to look at myself really hard, literally and figuratively. Good for me. ….But is it good for me??? How long before I make like Narcissus and turn into a flower while rubbing a crystal on my face and listening to therapists talk about my attachment style!?

The gift that Material Feels gave me was that it filled me with purpose in connecting, not just with myself, but with other people, physics, history, possibility, and our place in it all.

The show was my material.

So as I set it down,

I turn back to the wisdom of the material world.


You need to embrace a change in plans.

This is the reclaim process.

Soak up as much as you need to come back to yourself.

The excess settles

Reach in

Break down

Work it with your hands until it is back again.

I hope my process from here on out feels as forgiving and welcoming as a bucket of freshly slaked clay. I hope I can let go of the bone dry bits, and give them time to slake. I hope I can recognize when the water settles and pour off the excess, to be brave and start again.

Now, I’d like to share the final soundscape with you, the piece Liz and I produced for clay. This work was originally created for Sound Scene, where we showed Conversations with the Material World at the Smithsonian’s Hirschhorn & Sculpture Museum. We showed the work again last month at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. This soundscape was created alongside six bisque fired altered wheel thrown forms, unglazed the raw clay is slightly rough to the touch. The installation also includes a bag of clay so people can feel the material in its wet state as they listen.

If you can get a hold of some clay to see with your fingers while you listen with your ears, wonderful.

But I know not a lot of people just have clay lying around.

So, hold your own body for this episode. Whatever feels good to touch while you listen. You can focus on your hands, feeling the flesh at the base of your thumb, your finger pads, the soft part between your thumb and four finger. You can use your forearms, your thighs, your belly, your neck.

Particles suspended in water, responsive and transforming – You are the material.


Catherine Monahon, Elizabeth de Lise; sound, voice, wet clay, mid-fire stoneware

Before you get to exploring the piece, because you may realize now, you’re allowed… actually, asked, to touch the art, 

Take a look at your hands. Stretch them, wiggle your fingers, shake them out. Then, really inspect them. Hold them in one another.

I don’t know what my hands would look like if I had never touched clay – I fold my fingers over my palms and sense wrinkles, warmth. The sides of my pointer fingers are cracked and dry, and I’ve got slightly swollen joints from working a little too much lately.

How are your hands feeling?

I love my hands in such a pure way. I feel emotional when I look at them… I want to protect them.

When I slammed my fingers in the garage door that leads to my studio recently, I panicked. It hurt, a lot, but my sobs were less about the pain and more about the worry that I had broken the part of me that makes me… me. The precious ends of me, the parts where an electrical charge jumps from synapse to synapse: my hands to the material.

My fingers ended up okay, just tender bones for a few days and a blackened fingernail. And I know that if it wasn’t okay, I’d adapt; the central location for touch would migrate to other edges of my body.

Take a moment though, to appreciate your hands. 

What surfaces do they frequent? What gestures are second nature? 

I imagine all the people and kinds of things you’ve ever touched in a room, with the most frequented huddled closest to you.

How does that feel? Are you happy there? 

Are there people, or materials, at the edge of that circle that you wish you engaged with more?

This is an invitation.

Pick up one of the pieces in front of you – whichever one speaks to you;

Have a seat in the chair, close your eyes and meet me in your body.

Our feet are flat on the floor, knees bent, arms resting securely on each leg, hands wet and pressed against a rotating mound of clay, fresh from the bag.

The clay is not in the center of the wheel yet, which is where we need it to be. It vibrates against us, and until we tune into the shape of it, it pushes us around.

This can feel unsettling.



To center the clay, we need to make our body still. This is not a passive act, but it’s not an overdone show of force, either.

As we learn to be with the clay,

Our muscles learn the resistance needed.

Our forearms brace. Our core steadies. Fingers become walls, our heads hover over the spinning clay,

As we press the clay up and down, from side to side, it begins to listen to us

And then, it’s rotating so smoothly under our palms, we melt into each other, barely perceivable but for the hum of the wheel.

Open your eyes, stand up, and place your chosen piece back on the pedestal with the rest. Take one of the chunks of wet clay out of the plastic bag. 

This clay may leave a little residue on your hands, but, FYI, it won’t stain anything and it will wash off. It can get on things, and isn’t usually allowed in museums, so that’s why we’ve got wet wipes for after this part…

Take a look at the chunk you chose.

How does it feel?

Right out of the bag, clay is cool to the touch, soft, slightly wet. Muscular.

Press the clay with your fingers. Fold it together, pull it apart and then smush it back together. Your hands change the temperature of it: you warm it up. The clay changes you, too, sneaking some moisture from your hands and leaving traces of earth that will dry to dust.

Grasp the clay inside a fist and press!

Now hold it gently, and trace over the ridges your pressure created. The clay might start to crack as you work with it more and more…

Place the clay back down in the plastic bag and cover it; clean your hands with the wipes.

Choose another piece to hold and explore while you listen.

Curve your fingers around the ridges, and, reaching inside, too, feel the varied thickness of the vessels. Your hands mirror mine.

It takes millions of years for clay to form. Water erodes granite until the particles are small enough that they slide over one another, fine enough that the water can sneak in between and create a malleable, moving material. The minerals are compressed over time, forming in riverbeds and lakeshores. 

The locus of life on earth bloomed in those first clay-rich beds of mud.

Clay was alive, and moving in tandem with it we make it alive again.

In its wet state, it is forgiving. It will respond to you,

But clay has boundaries. 

You cannot be too quick, too rough. You need to take time to understand it or it will fall apart, fold, cave in, tear.

Learning to care for a clay body, I learn to care for myself.

Clay that forms naturally in the ground is combined with ingredients like feldspar and silica to form different clay bodies used for pottery and ceramics.

There are clay bodies that are rough to the touch, whose structural integrity can receive pressure and force without falling apart.

There are clay bodies that are as smooth, as soft butter, that require a mix of confidence and patience: you take the time to make your gestures count, but you don’t overdo it. If you fuss, the clay falls apart.

And there are clay bodies that are in between, like the one you are holding.

Learning to care for a clay body, I learn to care for myself.

Clay is flexible in its wet state, and carvable in its leatherhard state. Once it dries out completely, we heat it up to a temperature that transforms the material into ceramic: brittle but insoluble. We heat it up again, usually with glaze on it; this time to an even higher temperature. The material vitrifies – becomes glass-like, strong, durable.

Learning to care for a clay body, I learn to care for myself.

Learning to care for a clay body, I learn to care for myself.

Have I had enough water?

Learning to care for a clay body, I learn to care for myself.

Learning to care for a clay body, I learn to care for myself.

Enough sunlight? Air, and warmth?

Have I had enough time?

Do I have enough space?

Learning to care for a clay body, I learn to care for myself.

Learning to care for a clay body, I learn to care for myself.

Learning to care for a clay body, I learn to care for myself.

Am I addressing the cracks, the pockets of air or the weak spots… for what they are?

Learning to care for a clay body, I learn to care for myself.

Am I handling myself with care?

Learning to care for a clay body, I learn to care for myself.

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