How to get a head in the world

“There’s two kinds of people in this world, my friend: Those who work for a living, and those who own things for a living.” is the way I usually paraphrase Tuco. But today’s Daily Create challenge was to make something, so I had to think differently about it. I’ve been making miniature mutant skulls for a while, inspired by the work of Brother O’Mara, so I wondered if I could work with that. There are a lot of different way I could pair them up, but a caption wasn’t jumping to mind. Of course, the duality in the statement isn’t true, so I thought I would counter it. So I grabbed a handful of skulls and arranged them on Grandma’s little folding table and took a picture. Since we’re heading into Design Week in ds106, I added a hairline border and set the type in Comic Sans (inspired by the knowledge and wisdom of George Siemens)

 

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“One Step Ahead of the Spider”

A few people referenced audiobooks with regards to the Anansi Boys dramatization. Some of us found this interesting since there are very distinct differences between audiobooks and radio plays, or audio dramatizations. An audiobook has a narrator reading the text of a book. In some cases, the reader will provide vocal characterizations. I’ve heard a few that use multiple narrators to good effect, when different chapters come from different character’s viewpoints. But that is typically the extent of their use of sound. Radio plays, going back to the early part of the 20th century, use sound effects and music to tell stories, as well as dialogue.

In hindsight, the confusion shouldn’t be surprising. Over the past few decades, I suspect that audiobooks, books on tape or CD, have been much more popular than audio dramatizations. We seen some resurgence of audio drama in podcasts, but news, opinion, documentary and talk show type podcasts seem more common than drama. So audio stories get associated with audiobooks, and audio drama is more of a niche thing.

But in listening to the show, people had some great insights

Sound creates setting:

I thought it was amazing that you could distinguish the location the characters where in, be it a bar, work, outside, etc. just based on background noises like chatter, wind, or rain.
http://ds106.jessicaspranger.com/ds106/live-tweeting-with-the-anansi-boys/

Sound signifying transition:

The scenes were able to be differentiated through the use of the music changing. They also used sound effects which helped lead to the setting.
http://eahumw.com/assignments/live-tweeting-anansi-boys/

We may not be conscious of it, but we know things by their sounds:

Have you ever thought about beeps in movies/television/radio shows? I hadn’t, but now I can’t stop! Hospitals, airports, intercoms, various machines. Do you have any that you can think of? There are so many unique ones!
http://ds106.richelleholnick.com/blog/assignment-bank/tweet-along/

From listening, we can see the potential for what we can do with sound:

I can’t wait to play around with our assignments in audio this week!!
http://karads106.com/uncategorized/live-tweet-along/

All are the kinds of things I like to hear. By listening and analyzing, we get ideas on how we can use the medium for our own creativity.

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The art of listening to art

We’ve had some great turnouts for our #ds106radio tweet-alongs this week, and some great insights as well.

Is listening a lost art? In the days before television, back in my parents’ and grandparents’ days, listening to radio shows was a family activity. And the point of listening was to listen. Now, listen to audio is more of an individual activity, and it’s often done as a secondary activity – listening while driving/walking/running, or doing something else. So maybe we’re not practiced at focusing, or maybe we are practiced at giving our ears limited attention.

Part of it is also the idea of critical attention. When we take photographs or look at photographs, as many people pointed out last week, we think about the content of the images. We typically don’t stop to consider the formal aspects and principles of photography. It’s the same with reading, or watching video – we look for the story, and generally don’t stop to think about how it’s being told. But that’s exactly what we’re trying to do in this class. We looked at video stills last week for examples of principles of photography. We should think about how things like contrast or balance in an image contribute to the story. How do they create or affect meaning?

A few people commented on the vocal characterizations in the Anansi Boys broadcast. In some ways, they made conversations a little difficult to understand. They also placed the majority of the story in the UK. I think the variety of voices creates a kind of texture that draws our interest. Inasmuch as listening is hard, the texture makes it easier. But I think that variety also does something for the meaning of the story. We hear Caribbean accents, British accents, and an American accent – and they’re all in the same family. Anansi is a storyteller, and his stories are not confined to one place, but run throughout humanity. I think that’s part of what is being told through the variety of voices.

But the main thing we’re looking for, or rather listening for in these broadcasts, is how sound is used to convey information and meaning. We can hear not only what is being said, but what is going on and where it is happening. If we pay attention and think about it, we can hear how sounds are accomplishing that. There was a neat trick that they did a few times during the broadcast, where you could hear the perspective of a scene switch from one end of a phone call to the other. You hear one voice present, with you, and the other as if it is coming through a phone. And that’s something we could do ourselves, using Audacity and looking for a little how-to. We can add a little background sound and make a scene at night (crickets) or morning (birds chirping). Little clues that convey a lot of meaning. When we engage in that kind of analysis, we uncover the language of the medium, and we can see how to use it for our own purposes.

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Happy little screams

As a long time fan of Bob Ross, I was naturally drawn to Kim Beom’s Yellow Scream:

Kim Beom “Yellow Scream” from Варвара Воробьев on Vimeo.

I’m very impressed with his ability to keep a straight face. But I wondered what would happen if I set the audio to music. It think it was the contrast between his calm speaking and varied screams that gave me the idea.

I downloaded the video and imported it into Audacity to capture the audio. Then I needed some music. I went to CC Search and looked for a happy instrumental on SoundCloud. There were several options. Beatjunkie Rato – Homecoming (Happy Guitar Piano Rap Beat Hip Hop Instrumental) from YourRapBeatsTV caught my interest, so I downloaded that and imported it into Audacity as well. From there, I cut off a chunk of the talking at the beginning – the talking and the screaming are easy to distinguish visually by the shape of the waveforms. Then I went through it and edited out pieces of flat line (silence) here and there so words and screams more or less aligned with beats here and there. You can sort of pick out beats by looking at the spikes in the wave form. When the music ran out, I just deleted the rest of the video soundtrack. I ended up with a screen like this:

image of Audacity audio editing screen

I exported that as an MP3 and put it up on SoundCloud:

It’s pretty painful to listen to. It might have worked better if I took more time to select the right music and edited the video’s sound so that they work together. As it is, anything that works in it is a happy accident, like Bob says:

We don't make mistakes, just happy little accidents. Quote from Bob Ross

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of stories and skulls

It is interesting to read people’s analyses of stories, both for the variety and the insights. It’s also interesting that no one tried to draw the shape of their stories. It wasn’t a requirement or anything, but it is a simple exercise in visual analysis. I thought about this yesterday when I stumbled across an article on learning through drawing. Most of us feel we can’t draw because we can’t draw as well as people who have been working at it for years/decades.

We don’t need to draw well to draw a story shape, but if we don’t think we can draw, then drawing becomes something we don’t do. Thing is, assuming average physical ability, we can all draw, and we could all draw well if we wanted to put in the practice. Our first attempts might not work out well, but we can reflect on what worked well and what went wrong and learn from that process. (Note that the process of practice and reflection was detailed in the Week Two reading on writing assignment posts. That reading should be kept in mind for each assignment, every week.) As an example, I was inspired by the work of Brother O’Mara to try to make miniature skulls of my own. They’re all crude and crappy, but it’s a start, and eventually I’ll develop some control over the medium and be able to refine detail and proportion.

The point of all this is a) that we shouldn’t be embarrassed to put our efforts on display and b) we should blog reflections on our processes and outcomes. We may go through a “man in the hole” storyline, but we know we’l come out better in the end.

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The new sound, the now sound

Auguste Rodin - Orpheus et Eurydice

A post on one of my go-to sites led me to 10 Brilliant Retellings of Classical Myths by Female Writers. A convenient coincidence. Henstra’s introductory paragraph makes a couple of great points – one about how myths are multilayered, revealing new meaning upon re-reading, and another about their primal nature: “myths hit us somewhere below the brain, at some irrational, dreamlike level that somehow feels truer than ordinary stories.” If I had time I’d like to look into some of the books she lists, but as it is I just looked into the one recording, Hadestown, conveniently available on Youtube. Concept albums and musicals are iffy to me, but this holds together well. There is a timelessness to the sound, on one hand sounding like old-time vaudeville in form yet thoroughly modern in production. It was largely written in 2006 and finally recorded in 2010, but some themes speak to our current moment. That’s the strength, or one strength of these stories – the flexibility and adaptability means they can function across time and place, and through various media.

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The emerald letter

I want to muse on how A Study in Emerald fits in with our theme. I think of superheroes as a kind of modern mythology, with the tales of adventure and triumph and good vs. evil all mapping to ancient hero myths. While not quite explicitly stated, Gaiman’s story is a tale of Sherlock Holmes, who qualifies as a proto-superhero and a spiritual father to the Batman. The story also brings in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, making a second connection. It may not be true legend or myth, but we’re not being academic about it. It also ties in Frankenstein, Dracula, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with those little advertisements interspersed throughout the text.

But there’s that neat switch towards the end of the story, when we realize that we’re not dealing with Sherlock as the hero, but rather the killer. Or maybe, since the story is in some kind of upside-down where the green-blooded Old Ones rule humanity, he is a hero as part of the resistance, and Moriarty is a villain for collaborating with their rule.

I also think it fits the course well due to the way it’s been reformatted. As I understand it, it was originally published as traditional text, then reformatted in a newspaper style for the web. This serves as an example of design in storytelling. The typography and ornamentation give it a sense of age that complements the text. I especially like the way the ads were done. Gaiman also put this out as audio, where the ads are presented in a style reminiscent of radio sponsor announcements. The story has also been done as a graphic novel, I’ve just found out. I’m not sure if it helps to have it visualized – the Old Ones are more mysterious in the imagination than in images – but I might need to give it a look.

What the story does is remix and mashup modern myths to make something new, interesting in itself, but the richness of the story comes from its connections, how it is situated among other familiar tales. That’s a way we can use myth and legend – as a foundation to build on, as something to allude to, to give color and deeper meaning.

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like a moth to a flame…

One of my favorite Tumblrs was the Godzilla Haiku, which I haven’t seen in a long time. So when I saw this assignment, I had to try it. I decided to use the Mothman, a West Virginia legend and the namesake of a movie that creeped me out many years ago.

My haiku is pretty lame, especially by Godzilla standards, so I stuck it on an image to give it some character. I found the image through CC Search, which is a good way to find material that’s licensed for adaptation and reuse. The image credit is: By Tim Bertelink – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46584699

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Old Blue Eyes

I was inspired to do this because Emily did one. I had forgotten all about this assignment. The cat lives up the street. I don’t know his name, so I call him Frank, after Sinatra, who was nicknamed “Old Blue Eyes.” He only acts friendly when my wife is with me, so I think he has trust issues. I googled for Shakespeare quotes about eyes, and found this one fitting. I put the type in Garamond, an old style typeface, and used Photoshop’s eyedropper tool to pick up the color from the cat’s fur. I probably should have done some cropping to make the photo look more composed and less like a snapshot. Maybe next time…

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Sledgehammers at ten paces

Since we’re looking at the idea of myth and legend this time around in ds106, I watched Walter Hill’s 1984 commercial flop Streets of Fire. The subtitle, “A Rock n Roll Fable,” is what caught my attention. It’s your typical psycho biker kidnaps rock star and her drifter ex saves the day story, which I guess isn’t that typical but has common elements with many a Western. One of the things that struck me in watching it is how it feels out of time and out of place. The music is very much 80s – the closing number was an MTV hit back then – but the cars are before my time, 50s I suppose. A couple of characters are back from the war, but we don’t know which war. The place is urban and gritty, with scenes that look like NYC and scenes that look like Chicago, but it’s never named. Places are only addressed by neighborhood names – the Battery, the Richmond – as if it could be any decaying big city. It all works because it’s all very intentional, by design and in the design.

As screenwriter Larry Gross said, “It’s not New York. It’s not Chicago.” It’s not the 80s. It’s not the 50s. It is its own mythical time and place. The cinematography and design create a heightened sense of reality, so it makes sense that motorcycles would explode when shot, that people would have a duel with sledgehammers, and that Bill Paxton’s hair would stand taller than Rick Moranis’s. It’s a fable with the archetypal hero, villain, and damsel in distress.  The movie serves as a good example of what can be done with myth and legend. You’re only limited by your imagination.

Not your typical damsel in distress

The hero being heroic

The villain being villainous

Rick Moranis did a bunch of movies in the 80s, but for some reason I always associate him with The Wild Life, where he had a hairdo similar to Bill Paxton in the picture above.

Stop. Hammer time.

The villain being expressive.

My GIFfing process comes from the ds106 Handbook, although I use Photoshop rather than the GIMP, which saves some steps. There are simpler tools for capturing clips, but this method gives more options for manipulation. Not that I exercised them much here.

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