The sounds of dreams

For our Monday night #ds106radio tweet-along, we listened to Episode Nine: I Saw Myself Running of ESC: Sonic Adventure in the Anthropocene. The series is

a work of experimental audio-based scholarship combining sound studies, radio history, and environmental criticism. This unique project is a fully open access, fully digital suite of audiographic essays, presented as a ten-part podcast series, combining spoken commentary, clips from classic radio dramas, excerpts from films and television shows, news reports, and the work of contemporary sound artists.

I like it for many reasons, in particular for how it uses one story, and old-time radio show, to tell larger stories about culture and the environment. It also analyzes sound and its functions as it uses sound to tell its stories.

We had a pretty good turnout and a lot of great interaction with each other and the episode. Here are a few of the thoughts people shared:

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The Wright stuff

This conveniently showed up at the beginning of audio week in ds106. Old-time radio is great for insights into audio storytelling because they were good at it, with lots of experience, yet they did it simply and low-tech. Today, we can do more with sound, and get better sound, with everyday tools. But rather than get lost in all the technological possibilities we have, we can look to works from the past to see what works and how it works.

I took some time to listen to the Meet Frank Lloyd Wright: A biography in sound episode, because I’ve been a fan of Wright for most of my life. Wright was an architect, so the subject begs not only for visuals, but also a spatial experience. The best way to experience his work is to tour one of his buildings. At the time this show was produced, radio was one of the dominant forms of mass media, but it doesn’t allow for any kind of visuals.

The program is mostly voice, but it contains several voices arranged in juxtaposition and conversation with each other. The narrator is particularly effective in using his voice. Note how he uses rhythm and inflection to hold our interest. The story shifts the focus from Wright’s art to his life, and in particular the controversies around his life and work. To show the controversies, and Wright’s impact on other people, the show brings in people’s voices to personalize the story. While it doesn’t give a feel for the physical or aesthetic nature his work, we do that it was revolutionary by the impact it had on people.

This show is made available through the Internet Archive, which is a great resource for all kinds of digital media. There’s a bunch of sound effect recordings which could be put to good use:


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Whistler’s painting

For today’s Daily Create we had to put ourselves in a famous painting. Part of my story is that I used to try to be an artist/painter, so I wanted to play with a “painting within a painting” idea. I’m not sure if there’s a name for that. There is something called the Droste Effect, but that’s really about recursion, which is not the same thing. I was thinking more along the lines of Norman Rockwell’s self-portrait. Whistler’s Mother is another example, so I went with that. With the help of the GIMP, I took a picture of one of my old paintings and dropped it in the frame on the wall. I wanted to make it look more like it belonged there, so I reduced the lightness and the saturation. I probably should have gone further, since the lower right corner is still too bright. I could even have tried to get some of the texture from the wall into it, but I’m still trying to figure out GIMP so I left it alone.

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Gone to the dogs

I’ve been invited to do a presentation of Copyright the Card Game for another college. This came about as a result of a presentation Chris and Jane gave for Creative Commons’ 24 x Open Education Lightning Talks. Other people are so much better at promoting my work than I am.

This will be interesting because the game, as I have presented it in the past, is very much built around hands-on f2f small group interaction – every thing we can’t do now. So my plan is to use Zoom, breakout rooms, Google Docs and forms, extra helpers, and hopefully come up with a nice experience for all.

I was asked about promotional material for the workshop, and got the idea to do something with one of those dogs-playing-cards paintings. I could take A Friend in Need and substitute copyright cards for the ones the dogs are holding. I did some quick photoshoppery on the visible cards, and realized I didn’t really need to change the others. In reaching for a caption, I came up with a conversation about the image involving someone who thinks it’s a violation to use it. To make that work, I made a PowerPoint slide show, animating the text of the conversation coming in and out of the screen. I thought it could use a soundtrack as well, so I did a CC search for some ragtime music. I found Sometime Ragtime by nekonohige which was nice, short, and felt to me like it went with the painting. I added in my Fun and Games with Copyright animated GIF as a second slide and exported it as a movie, and voila!

I think it needs more work, but I like it because the painting is in the public domain, and the music has a Creative Commons license, so it embodies some of the copyright issues we will discuss. I suspect it fails in a way too, because without familiarity with the cards the meaning gets lost. But the dogs are funny.

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Funky Broadway Boogie Woogie

For today’s Daily Create we had give a picture a soundtrack. The first thing I thought of was Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. But I wanted to get GIF-fy with it, naturally, so I downloaded the image from Wikimedia and used the select-color range function in Photoshop to copy the different colors onto their own layers, then manipulated them by either inverting the colors or adjusting the hue/chroma/value. “Boogie Woogie” suggests a certain kind of music, but I went with the original version of Funky Broadway instead. I notice from Wikipedia that the song is not about the Broadway in NYC like the painting, but rather the one in Buffalo, which from Street View doesn’t look as funky as it have once been. I knew from previous experimentation that there was a way to put GIFs together with sound, so I gave that a shot. It’s a bit clunky in that you have to click through the PLAY GIF Sound button to get it to show up, but whatever.

The animation sort of lines up with the drum beat, purely by coincidence. I could have done better with the animation though, like maybe have the small squares appear to move horizontally and vertically like traffic. That would take some time though. Maybe if I feel motivated I’ll rework it.

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Reading Guernica


I wondered how the story analysis assignment might apply to an image, so I thought I’s give it a shot with Picasso’s Guernica. There are a few different stories here: the story the painting depicts, the story of Picasso making the painting, and we could even include the story of what the painting means to me. My grandfather was an artist and an art teacher, and I grew up with many of his old art books in my house. I was familiar with many famous painters at a very young age because these were the picture books I looked at. Picasso died when I was young as well, so he was in the news for a while. I didn’t get his work at that age, of course, but Guernica captured my attention because it is so visually striking. If I had to name a favorite painting at any point in my life, it would most often be this one.

There are a lot of stories about Picasso and the painting. I won’t go into any of that, except to say that my favorite anecdote is about a time when a Gestapo officer questioned him about it, “Did you do this?” Picasso responded, “No, you did this.”

What is the story the painting tells, and how might it fit with Vonnegut’s shapes theory? It doesn’t neatly align with any one shape, but I could see connections to From Bad to Worse and Which Way Is Up? in the adjacent chart. We see confusion and destruction, products of war. I think confusion connects to Which Way Is Up?, although there is no ambiguity about good and bad here. And although we don’t see the before and after, we do see a transition where things get worse. If we try to read it visually, the proportions cause us to scan from left to right. The bull’s tail right at the beginning looks like smoke, an ominous start. We’re immediately confronted with screaming, death and dismemberment, and the cubist distortions emphasize confusion and pain. There are lines cutting across everything, so we don’t move through the image easily, and much of the activity and angles work against us, leading right to left as if the image wants to push us back. It looks like there’s a door on the right edge, but it’s not a way out as much as a portal into darkness – bad to worse. It tells a story, but there’s no resolution or relief in sight. You can get a good closeup of the painting and more information at Rethinking Guernica.

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Look at the window

Down by Law (1986) Jarmusch.

For today’s Daily Create, we had to do an out-the-window shot, but make it creative. I took a photo of the window in the laundry closet, but wasn’t sure what I could do to make it creative. I loaded it into GIMP, and figured it could do with some cropping. I rotated it a bit to make the window more straight and cropped in on the lower window. I thought the glow from the sun made it look deceptively warm, so I used the polygon select tool the window area without the foreground objects, then reduced the saturation -63%. This has the effect of making everything grayish and colder, but it’s not too obvious because the only real color out there was the yellow glow. Maybe it’s too subtle and I should have pasted in an abominable snowman instead, but I kinda like the contrast. Below is the end result:

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Week one wrap up

Week one of ds106 went quite well, with just a few hiccups. A few people had issues with embedding Instagram, so I made a quick screen capture video of the process:

Embedding IG in WP

If a site gives you an embed code, you can copy that code and paste it into the code view of a blog post. You don’t really need to be able to understand the code, just copy and paste it.

Thinking further on the theme

There are a couple different ways of interpreting the expression my story. It could mean the story of me, my life and experiences. Or it could mean the story I have, the one I know and want to tell. The same goes for our story to an extent. Both interpretations are equally valid. A number of good thoughts on the theme came up this past week.

I like the idea of a “personal canon”. I think this could even be a ds106 assignment, if anyone wants to make it so, like, “What is your personal canon and what does it mean to you?” It extends the “my story” concept to include the stories that are important to each of us.

Star Wars is an interesting example. It’s a good story, especially if you’re into that sort of thing. But we could also consider why it resonates and has persisted for over 40 years and the whole Joe Campbell monomyth thing.

Quarantine stories certainly have possibilities. Some people did these back in the spring when the lockdown started. They could be cathartic, and that may very well be something many of us need at this point. I saw news of a larger Covid-19 story project, Leaving Our Fingerprints On History, earlier today. Stories are a way of connecting, and that can, hopefully, alleviate some of the isolation we’re experiencing. This could easily work into the “our story” half of the theme.

Pop culture, art, and fashion is another idea that came up. We’ve used pop culture and related themes in the past. There are many stories to be found there, ones that we’re familiar with, ones that we can build upon, and ones that we can connect to.

All of these ideas, and many that I didn’t mention, will work with the your story/our story theme. Something I think we should ask, particularly with personal and autobiographical stories, is what is the larger story? The idea of food as a theme came up, and that certainly has many possibilities. Many people will post pictures of their dinners. While that has meaning to the person about to eat it, the rest of us may well ask, “what is the story here?” But on the other hand, pursuit of reliable sources of food could be seen as the story of human civilization. While that story may be too big for what we’re trying to do, there’s a lot of middle ground, and that’s where we’ll find ways to make our stories compelling to others.


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Thoughts on a theme

story by shredded77

I thought I should think out loud a little more on the theme of “What’s (y)our story?” The duality in the question represents something that always happens in ds106. On one hand, we all create our own stories, and on the other a group narrative arises from our interactions and collaborations.

Typically one of the ds106 instructors picks the theme for the semester. We’ve used themes like the Western, the Twilight Zone, 80s pop culture and other in the past. I always tell the classes that they have very wide latitude in interpreting the themes, so they can really make whatever they want of them. The point is to give us some common ground for interacting and collaborating. The problem with the themes are that they come from me or one of the other instructors. Some students like them, others politely play along, and mostly everyone plays it safe and avoids pushing the boundaries of what the theme might be.

So what I’m trying to do this semester is involve the class more in determining what the theme means. “What’s your story?” could be almost anything. I’m not really interested in autobiography though, as much as what people are motivated by, interested in, and find meaningful in the world. As another ds106 master put it, “Everyone has something that they can geek out on.” So here are a few examples of geekery:

Maryam Tsegaye, Canada, Physics, Winner: 2020 Breakthrough Junior Challenge

Some people really get into physics, and some people don’t get it at all. This video bridges that gap with visual language, pacing, and loads of enthusiasm.

Lady Gaga’s MIXED METER Star Spangled Banner?!

This is a deep analysis, mostly over my head so I probably miss half the meaning. But still it feels accessible, like I don’t need to be a musicologist to get the drift.

Darwyn Cooke & The Punctuation of Comics | Strip Panel Naked

This analyzes comic book pages on a level I didn’t even know was possible. It exposes how the visual language and design actively work to convey meaning, something I might not see even though it was right in front of me.

In all these cases, the speakers’ love of what they’re talking about is infectious and draws the listener in. These topics may not matter to most of us, but the way the speakers present their stories makes them interesting and compelling.

At the same time, we have to find common ground, so we can develop our collective story, whatever that turns out to be. That’s not something we can plan in advance, but rather a narrative that should, hopefully, emerge from our interactions as we share ideas, feedback, and input, and build upon each others ideas. While we can’t plan it, we can facilitate it by offering each other inspiration and looking for ways to connect our stories. I think we can have a lot of fun with this your story/our story idea. It’s just up to all of us to make it work.

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