Going Blind & Catching Up with ANDREA YU:
An Interview with STEVE BASKIS
June 4, 2021
A year after the start of a global pandemic, Andrea Yu, who is a student with City Access New York interning with A Closer Look Inc., spearheaded a series of interviews with characters from Going Blind (2010) to find out how they fared through a year of COVID-19 lockdown and where they are now in their sight-loss journeys.
This week, Andrea spoke with Steve Baskis about his life since the film premiered, hearing about his global travels and recently begun education in sound engineering.
To listen to the interview, use the audio player below. A transcript of the interview follows.
To view the film, Going Blind, click here.
ANDREA YU: Hi, Andrea Yu here, host of Going Blind & Catching Up.
This week, we get an update on Steve Baskis, who if you might remember from the film, lost his sight after being hit by a roadside bomb while serving in the army. Since Going Blind premiered in 2010, he’s adjusted to sight loss, traveling around the world and climbing literal mountains. He’s also taking classes at Berklee College of Music at Boston and learning how to utilize audio programs like ProTools.
Hi Steve. How have you been during this pandemic?
STEVE BASKIS: Well I was traveling quite a bit, right up until March of last year in 2020 when the pandemic kind of shut down the United States. I was actually in Dublin when the President closed all travel to Europe – at that point, around March 13th or 14th. But before that, I had been in a few other countries – to Argentina – I was climbing down in the Andes in South America. I was doing a bunch of other kinds of things.
I was in Hawaii and Switzerland, too. I was just traveling quite a bit. And so, that came to an absolute screeching halt. I was in New Jersey with my girlfriend from March till July. I live in Western Colorado, so I flew home early July. But that whole time, and still till now, I’ve just turned to focusing on studies and going to school.
I’m pursuing to be an audio engineer, a music producer. And so I’m going to Berklee College of Music out of Boston online. I’m just taking classes related to acoustics, audio, and working with that kind of stuff – mainly could be for film or just music or sound design. But I’m going to school for that and that’s what I’ve been concentrating on. It’s kept me sane. I mean, it’s been tough. A lot of things that I normally do have been shut down or closed, but I’ve had a good time going to school.
AY: Oh wow, that’s great, and with all these online classes, you don’t have to worry too much about navigating to many places.
SB: Yeah, especially now I’ve already got my first vaccine shot not too long ago at the beginning of this month. It’s nice to go online. Things are more accessible. I’ve been blind for 13 years now. In May, it will be 13 years. It’s changed a lot just in a decade, so quite a bit of things related to accessibility on the web, software programs, and other things, too. It’s been amazing. Like I said, I’m not worried too much about everything. I’ve just been focused on school, so it’s kept me busy, kept me focused on something, and I’m just developing a skill set.
I’m studying ProTools, really. Primarily the software program that’s used in a lot of recording studios all over the country – all over the world. It’s a digital audio workstation. Today, I was working on a whole band, a song, just mixing and doing all the processing for the song, for class. But yeah, that’s all what I’ve been up to really. Staying fit. I exercise a lot, you know, and I just go to school. It’s pretty much what I do.
AY: So, what kind of music do you work with exactly?
SB: I work with everything. I’ve been playing more now with orchestral library stuff, like Hans Zimmer or some of these famous orchestral maestros, and music producers. I use the fancy libraries that allow me to mimic a full orchestra. But I also do rock, hip hop, and just anything. I’m interested in all of it, but right now my classes are focused on specific things. This song that I’m working on is kind of a psychedelic, rock song, but I’m really open to a lot of things. Electronic, dance, music, techno to rock to rap. I really like anything, but I don’t have a big focus right now. I’m still learning a lot of technical things, you know.
AY: Yeah, just dabble in everything. That sounds really exciting.
SB: Yeah, it is. It’ll help me do stuff like, Joe. You know, make documentaries.
AY: Right. So you explore a lot in the music industry and you also explored a lot around the world. How has your vision affected your travels?
SB: I have to be more prepared. I’ve been traveling all over the world the last 13 years and I do a lot of outdoor activities. Like extreme mountaineering, climbing, ice climbing, kayaking, whitewater kayaking. I Alpine ski, cross-country ski. So that’s normally my lifestyle and I speak about it. I give motivational speeches. I have a foundation that kind of operates in a way where we take people who have a disability, a visual disability and give them the ability to experience an outdoor activity.
So I live in an interesting corner of Western Colorado near a bunch of 14,000-foot mountains. Ever since I lost my sight, I have been very motivated to regain abilities and go even further, because I was 22 years old. I mean personally, traveling blind, it can be frustrating and there can be a lot of anxiety, but technology and stuff allows for so much in a sense of being prepared and having access to, you know, different types of public transportation. I mean, some countries in the world just don’t do a good job in a sense of disability. The U.S. has its problems in different areas, you know, but for the most part, there’s the ADA – The American Disability Act – which helps quite a bit in a sense of standardization to some degree. But yeah, I find my way. I figure it out. I just explore with a cane. I don’t have a dog. I could get a dog, but I feel like the dog’s gonna, you know, it requires more work and other things, so.
AY: Right. How would you say the other places you’ve traveled to have accommodated you?
SB: It’s been, I mean. I’ve been to really run-down parts of countries, you know. Poor countries like outside of Europe: Armenia; Moshi, Tanzania; or Baghdad, Iraq when I was sighted. You know, Kathmandu, Nepal. These locations don’t really cater at all to you. They don’t have anything, maybe in very specific buildings, or government buildings or something. They don’t even have traffic lights in some places, or anything, you know. But then there are other parts of the world, major cities and I guess first-world countries or whatever you want to call them. They tend to have more laws and regulation and of course, education and informed citizens. It’s very diverse, but I love diversity. The world is not perfect, and so blindness teaches you to be patient and be resourceful. if you choose to work things out and develop systems and techniques, procedures for doing stuff. So the military has kept me disciplined in that way. You know, my background in the military. In blindness, you have to be organized to some degree. ‘Cause you’ll lose things, you’ll break things, or you’ll get lost, so you have to be prepared.
AY: Yeah, so be a survivor.
SB: I guess, yeah.
AY: That’s a good mindset.
SB: Everybody needs to try to survive.
AY: True. So then what would you say have been your most memorable experiences?
SB: In the past year?
SB: You know, going back to school is important to me. I tried to go back to school like three years after losing my sight and it was very difficult. ‘Cause I, you know, was still adjusting, I’m still adjusting now, but I’m way further along, I guess, in this journey, you know. What I’m accomplishing right now in school with learning a very technical software program becoming very proficient in using it to capture audio. You know, like to record a whole band to do multitrack recording sessions to record a guitarist’s, or a drum, or so on to work with them, communicate with them, take the equipment and dial in their correct settings, and bring it into the digital realm or computer, and then edit it and produce it and spit it back out. I’m very proud of that. It’s going to be a very memorable thing in a sense of remembering the year of 2020.
It is a bad year, to me. it’s been hard as well in other, you know, just separation from people. But I just really enjoyed my studies and it’s hard, because with my travel, all the things I have been doing. I don’t know if I would have settled down like this and worked as hard as I have the past year, so, it’s kind of a blessing or whatever you want to call it. The pandemic made me focus, so it’s good and bad.
AY: Yeah, I suppose. So since you’re working with these people remotely though, what is it like? You said there are more accommodations.
SB: Yeah, I mean, I’m trying to become skilled so that I can work. I’m not really working too much with a lot of people right now. I do have a friend in the area that comes over. He’s a guitarist and I’ve practiced with him. I’m a drummer as well. I am a musician too. We record our recording sessions. He helps me practice, ‘cause I need a musician. But yeah, it is hard not to be close and around people. I would love to go and have some mentoring in a recording studio. And that’s what I’m hoping for this year, maybe in the coming years. But I’m just doing schoolwork right now. There are a few people that send me things and I work on it ‘cause a lot of people get their stuff recorded somewhere else. It’s a remote job a lot of the time anyway to some degree, so unless you have work in a full-on studio. My home is more or less my studio. I have a home recording studio, so.
AY: Wow, you’re able to navigate around with no problem since you’re at home.
SB: It’s nice. Home is a familiar place, so yeah, it’s easy to navigate. If you saw all the buttons and controls on my control surfaces and stuff, you’d be like “how do you memorize all the buttons?”
SB: That’s going to be more difficult to navigate sometimes.
AY: So how did you try to get to know those controls?
SB: I’m part of a very small community of professional audio engineers that are blind and visually impaired, and again, technology is providing that opportunity. It’s a WhatsApp group. It’s just a group where there’s probably 80 people from all over the world. I work with people from Columbia, Brazil, Peru, UK, Australia, Japan, China. I mean, they’re all over the place.
They’re just individuals theatre blind and we share how you work with the software and talk about the equipment and so that’s been a lifeline in a sense of. There is no good information on the web or any kind of formal school. There’s one school that’s run by a blind person in the world that I know of. It’s called I See Music, it’s in the Chicago area. It’s the only formal thing you’ll find if you search on the internet. Really, like an institution or a place you could go to that teaches a lot of what I’m trying to learn. I’m just going to a traditional college along with sighted people. I’m one of four people in this college. I think there’s 3 that’re blind. Maybe there’s 5, I don’t know. It’s very very few. So yeah, this group on the internet. This international group of individuals is where I get a lot of help and answers and recommendations. So that’s how I’ve learned the controls and then just exploring it myself.
AY: Oh, that’s really helpful. Overall it just sounds like it’s been eventful for you, very eventful.
SB: Yeah, I mean, I’ve just been inside my home all year long. Pretty much, you know. But mostly, nothing looks any different. I’m blind, so wherever I go, it’s the same. But yeah, I’m looking forward to things, you know, kinda moving back to normal. Life must go on.
AY: Right. We’re all hoping for that.
SB: I mean, I served in the combat zone where I was being shot at and literally, you know. I mean, someone’s trying to kill me the day that I lost my sight. They killed my friend next to me, so I have a different mentality about the virus and stuff. But it’s not that it’s not important to heed warnings and be safe. But I went into a war zone and lost my sight, so it’s an interesting feeling I have about it all. Even in a warzone, families and people have to get through. Life continues. It has to. So, we got to find a way to keep going.
AY: Exactly, and thank you for serving for us, by the way, like at the cost of your vision, too.
SB: No, thank you for your kind words.
AY: So after meeting Joe though, how did that bring more awareness to your own vision?
SB: Well, Joe came to me right after I lost my sight. The same year – within months – and I was going to blind rehab. That’s covered, you know, in the documentary. Well, I was learning a lot from rehab in the location I was in, but the film has allowed people to ask me questions, ‘cause a lot of people have seen the film. Or I’d run into people that have seen the film and then they recognize me ‘cause they either work in blind rehab or something. So it’s been good.
It’s great that it’s informative and creates awareness ‘cause that’s really important. The more awareness there is about any kind of disease or disorder – visual disorder – it allows for accessibility and more things to be created. So, I think it’s wonderful what Joe’s done with the film and how it got pushed around on different networks. I think PBS primarily. But yeah, I love documentaries too and that kind of stuff. It’s a good thing.
AY: Oh, yeah that’s great. So it was good hearing that you’ve done well since the film. Thank you for doing this interview with me.