What you are about to see is the product of a semester's worth of study, not just of literary texts, but of various media, technologies, and ways of looking at those texts. I did not know this going into the course. I only knew the professor and knew that this class would take a different approach than "traditional" English courses.
English studies, to me, are about substantial analysis of texts. This isn't a limited term. I believed, going in, that films and music had the potential -- among other media -- to be analyzed and treated as texts, as long as the analysis had substance. I also believe, and still do, that it's crucial that they do. Pop culture, as well as "literary" culture -- and the two aren't as different as they sometimes appear or pretend to be - both churn out thousands of pieces of writing and video and audio by the month. Much of this is simply consumed, as is, without any sort of analysis. In this course, I feel I picked up many methods to not only do this, but to provoke further substantial discussion.
More than learning these methods, though, I learned more generalized skills -- primary among these, how to adapt different technologies to analytic projects. This is important. Most of the programs I used in this course will probably be quite obsolete in ten years. What matters is the ability to learn how to use any tool.
My choices of texts reflect my personal interests, my idiosyncrasies, and my preferences. This is, of course, a natural result of free choice. I tried to pick works, however, that stood up to analysis and to thought. They come from all media - music, film, and writing. This may turn out to be the case in the future, or it might turn out that writing is still the most prominent. What still matters, though, is the analysis. I'd read most of the works (with the exception of No Country For Old Men) before, but had not analyzed them in this way. That's where these projects come in, and this course. I firmly believe that any method that can squeeze just a bit more insight out of a text has merit. This course has taught me several.
The projects I'll discuss incorporated two equal elements -- the content side, or the actual arguments being made -- and the technical side, or the manipulations of the particular media to make them. I'll discuss them separately.
This playlist started with a single song - namely, "Lead" by Emily Bezar. I'd associated it with "A Doll's House" ever since I first heard it a few years ago. Although I considered a few other works for this playlist, I ended up spinning the assignment around this one song.
As far as assignments go, this project is a character analysis in a different format. Characterization, of course, is one of the key points of any work of fiction. Connecting Nora's character to songs, however, was a new way to approach it, even if the idea of connecting writing to music isn't new. (Plenty of texts, going centuries back, make passing references to works of music.)
I know Nora a lot better at the end of this project than I did at the beginning. The chronological structure forced me to re-read the text, then re-read it again, several times, until I could get a sense of her character at all points in the text. An actress would do this, of course, but this is another way to get to the same place.
All the songs in this playlist are by female artists, with the exception of "Green Finch and Linnet Bird," by Stephen Sondheim -- but even then, it's sung by and from the perspective of a female character.
They are arranged in chronological order, beginning with Nora at the start of the play and ending at her once she leaves Torvald. As she is a dynamic character, she requires different songs at every stage of the play. I chose songs from my library to represent her each step of the way, setting each off with a relevant quotation from the text to ground it in this chronology.
Tonally, the songs progress from nervous, if generally calm -- how Nora appears at the beginning -- to more and more frantic as her situation worsens. At the end of the play, however, she's reached an inner resolution, and the tone of the songs becomes resolved as well.
I knew basic HTML going in, but was somewhat out of practice. This assignment provided me with an opportunity to use the skills I did have and experiment with a few new things.
The HTML in this playlist includes the basics -- images, links and formatted text -- as well as links to individual sections, embedded audio and video files, and embedded block quotes. Since the music files are hosted on several different sites, in most cases I was a bit of a slave to their particular embedding quirks. I tried to make everything else as consistent as possible, though.
I posted two revisions of this playlist. The largest change was the addition of another song, "All My Sins" by Mandalay. In addition, I added a link to the Project Gutenberg e-text of the play, and further organized the playlist by adding Act 1 and Act 2 headings and links to the individual songs. This accomplished two things: making it easier to navigate, and making the chronological structure more clear.
The second revision added another song, "Now I'm Gone" by Juliana Hatfield, and performed minor touch-ups elsewhere.
If the goal of this project is to prove that music can be just as "literary" as writing, I can't think of a better "test subject" than Christine Fellows' "Nevertheless." It's packed full of literary and artistic references. They're not shoehorned in or pretentious, but perfectly natural. And they accompany an album of the utmost craft. I chose it as my best of 2007 for a reason.
This was one of the more difficult projects, mainly because I'm uncomfortable with my voice, both spoken and recorded. I have a voice made for print, you could say. The first time around, it took me over twenty takes just to get an initial clip I was comfortable with. On the revision, though, I felt like I had a more natural speaking style.
There are very few recorded interviews of Christine Fellows, sadly. The only one I found was actually a radio session, with Christine speaking briefly with the DJ in between songs. I could get one quote from it, however, and used it in the beginning.
I wrote the script for this podcast as I would an essay or paper. Only the medium of delivery was different. I had my thesis -- the album aims to let "spinsters" speak for themselves and delves into their complex lives -- and examples to back it up. They're broken up into two types: character sketches and emotional snapshots.
Thinking about the podcast this way helped my revision, in particular, to become more concise. My first version was a bit scattershot, discussing songs in a drive-by fashion, with the thesis a bit shoehorned in. Organizing this way improved it a lot, I think, and also made it correspond a lot more to the process of writing a paper.
I couldn't include every song due to time constraints, but for the songs I did include, I analyzed both the lyrics and music, and how they fit the overarching themes of the album as a whole. For "quotes," I provided relevant clips from the songs, or from the interviews. (In addition, there was some incidental music at the beginning at the end to "set the scene.")
The quote by William Butler Yeats was not part of the album, incidentally.
Technical: I was most familiar with Audacity of all the tools we used in any of the projects, having done some online radio as a hobby, and dabbling with a few remixes of songs -- also as a hobby. I'd done this recently as well, so technically I didn't have many problems. I'm still learning, of course, and this project definitely helped me improve through practice.
To produce the podcast, I recorded each spoken section individually using the same microphone setup (actually a webcam, pointed away from me as not to hurt the sound levels when I said things with plosives.) Before every clip, there'd be a loud sound where the microphone started working. In my original podcast, I had simply made these quiet. Here, I got rid of them entirely.
After recording, I ran noise removal on the clip in Audacity, then manually went through and made any noticeable "spikes" in the audio less loud. Doing this allowed Audacity's "Normalize" function to bring it to an audible level (what it does, roughly, is work with the sound levels so that the highest dB level is 3.0 from the maximum.) After this, I manually went through again, making some sections louder and others quieter. I did this process for each clip.
Revisions: There's actually more content in the revision than the original, even though it's about a minute shorter. I saved time primarily by tightening the focus. There are two main parts to my argument now: the character portraits and the emotional snapshots. Each is discussed with relevant clips (I did a lot more interweaving of clips and speech; no more long music-free stretches of talking!) Instead of quoting lyrics, where possible, I tried to play the part of the song which contained them.
Illustrations are nothing new. Books have included them almost since they've existed. The media to produce them have changed, of course, but the idea remains the same: using pictures, often juxtaposed, to illuminate text (or, possibly, music or video.) I wouldn't say I'm anything near an illustrator, but I understand more about the illustration process.
I first read "A Rose For Emily" during high school. It's one of my favorite short stories by one of my favorite authors, and thus a natural choice for this project.
The collage was a major learning experience for me since I'd never used Photoshop, GIMP, or similar programs before. I still feel like I have a long way to go until I master the program, but a lot of the mystique is gone. I know the basics of layering and of the basic tools. Although I'm not as visually-oriented as some, I do feel like I've acquired a new medium to work with -- and certainly one that's less cumbersome than "literal" cutting and pasting with paper collages!
The theme of this collage is voyeurism. The story's told in the first person collective, drawing the reader in. In reading "A Rose for Emily," the speaker and the reader both try to discover Emily's true nature, jumping through time and space to do so. And although there's the gruesome revelation at the end, the story is as much about the searching, the watching, the figuring-out, as it is the final discovery.
I tried to convey this by choosing an image which naturally draws the eye into the picture, and by incorporating literal eyes on the periphery of the scene. The woman herself is blurry and half-hidden by a door. There's a rose tint to the doorway, both evoking a quotation from the short story and providing a sense of warmth. I feel like I got the right sense of mystery, at least.
This is also why I didn't include any words. First of all, there's no good place in the image to put them; second of all, Emily's life is very much one of solitude and of silence.
Although I couldn't get the picture to look exactly perfect, it's a lot better than what I ever thought myself capable of. Photoshop (or GIMP), before now, was this big, scary program with too many functions and too much twitchy work. I feel like I'm starting to get more of a handle on it now.
The background image is a slight crop of the doorway image from Flickr. There was a man in the original image. I erased him with the paintbrush tool and pasted an image of a woman in his place. I used a mask to remove the background around her. Above her, I pasted the translucent door, with the color altered. Finally, with the colorizing tool, I gave the doorway a rose tint.
In the floor, I pasted cut-outs of all three eyes with the paintbrush tool, with colors altered to roughly match the doorway. At first, they were a bit jagged, so I copied bits of the floor and pasted over the jagged edges to blur the eyes a bit into the floor.
I posted two revisions of this. The original image, as you can see, had no eyes at all and did not contain the rose tint; furthermore, the door was more transparent.
The second revision was a very slight technical revision, adding a third eye in the eaves of the ceiling (as not to give the impression that they were all the same person's eyes) and to blend the eyes in the floor better with the surroundings -- the edges were too jagged before.
This was, by far, the most enjoyable and rewarding of the four projects. Film is a major medium nowadays, but it's almost impossible to talk about video without actually showing video. The problem with this, however, was that I had no idea how to edit or work with video at all. For the only project I'd done that was remotely like this, I was just in charge of finding music. I had the vague sense that you had to rip clips, but going about this was impossible. Not anymore. I feel pretty confident, at least with the programs I've used, and of my four projects, this is the one I am proudest of.
I had, going in, a cursory familiarity with trailer recuts, such as this recut of The Shining. Most of them were comedic, not intended to push any kind of thesis. I'd still argue that their existence does, however. It shows just how much video and images rely on context. Just a simple change of music and order can completely change their meaning.
I had the idea to combine either a sophomoric comedy or a happy-go-lucky film with a "dystopian" soundtrack. For the first, I was limited to what I had readily available; fortunately, I was able to temporarily borrow the film. And as for the latter, I had that on my computer. Most of Lakuna's songs (although there aren't many) are already quite theatrical as it is; "The Veil" was both frantic and sinister enough for this project.
"Hairspray" is one of the most aggressively cheerfully marketed films of the past decade. It does touch, however, on serious social issues: racism, changing values, and unkindness of all sorts. I didn't focus as much on humor -- although juxtaposing this with the original film's jarring, at least -- as this contrast.
The storyline suggested here is, of course, completely different from that of the original film. The original film is about Tracy Turnblad achieving her dreams as a dancer on the Corny Collins Show and, in the progress, integrating the show. Her mother, Edna, comes out of her shell -- and out of her house as well, since she was a mild agoraphobic. All of this is framed by candy colors and "High School Musical"-esque songs.
This trailer centers around the dissolution of a family -- a troubled couple and their fighting's effect on their child, who ends up running away. The police get involved. Everyone is working at cross-purposes. It's about as far as you can get from a sunny, post-'50s world of singing and dancing.
The anti-racism elements of the original film are in this trailer, of course -- removing it would have astoundingly bad implications on my part. You can see it most clearly in the newspaper headline.
To assemble this video, I deliberately selected scenes from the film with darker lighting and more realistic costuming. This meant leaving out most of the scenes of the Corny Collins Show; even if they were relevant to my "plot," they'd be stylistically off.
My original attempt at this project was a dismal failure; my laptop, it turns out, does not have the technical capabilities to record video in any kind of quality. Fortunately, I was able to do that portion on a different computer. Camtasia, although it lagged at times, did end up working on my laptop.
Since "The Veil" was a great deal longer than trailer-length, so I cut it into the current form, as well as I could, using Audacity.
For the video, I recorded several clips of the original film using Snapz Pro X for Mac, with no audio. Once I had the clips, I converted them from .mov to .avi then arranged them in Camtasia Studio. Since I was using a separate audio track, the built-in transitions did not work -- they interrupted the audio. I instead made a simple, all-black image in MS Paint to cut to when necessary.
Whenever possible, I used the original cuts from the film - for instance, the scene with the toyshop and with Tracy walking towards the police both incorporate original cuts. I did my best to sync them with the soundtrack.
Entries, Comments, Etc.
Thank you for reading my portfolio! I hope you enjoyed reading, watching, and listening to these projects as much as I did assembling them.