Final Portfolio - Alex
When I signed up for English 366, “Literature and the Other Arts,” my understanding of what the class might be like was based on a pretty literal interpretation of the course name. I don’t really remember reading the course description, but I assumed we would be looking at paintings and listening to music, in addition to reading different works of literature, perhaps thinking about how these different forms of art are alike and different in the ways they create meaning. And the funniest part about it is, I thought that a class like that would be interesting because it would be a big departure from what I’m used to – like, not just writing essays/papers about literature, but essays and papers about literature and paintings and music. Pretty radical change, right? So exciting! Haha – I had no idea what was actually in store for me. I mean talk about complete departure – playlists; podcasts; collages; mash-ups – this course has almost been paperless! And this is an English class!
Anyway, I think you understand that I was, surprised.
And I was excited. Not just about the prospective projects, but about the central problem we would be addressing: how do we save English studies? I know that for a class of mostly English majors, this was an important question, one that carries with it many implications. I felt that in many ways, if we could come up with some more answers and solutions to this problem, we could prove to ourselves that we haven’t wasted four years of education. Not that I think any of us actually feel that way about our chosen major, but I think that “saving” English studies will be important to prove to the “critics” out there (our parents, extended relatives, roommates who are business majors) that studying English is actually practical and relevant. So saving English studies is not just important to me in the sense that I want to preserve a space for future generations to come to know and love the intrinsic beauty of literature, but because I’d like to discover those new practical and relevant applications of my education.
But the projects have been really cool, too. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunities to get creative and to think about music and books, artists and authors that are particularly interesting to me . . .
So I think the playlist was a nice inaugural assignment for our class. Composing a playlist about a character’s development is quite similar to composing a written essay. The trick, obviously, is to find the right songs that go well with what you want to say in the essay, and it also requires a measure of musical analysis.
I felt pretty good about the songs that I chose in this playlist. My approach was sort of to think about what the soundtrack playing in Snowman’s head would sound like. Matching one song to one moment, feeling, or idea is a funny thing, however. I’m sure there are many songs that might have worked equally as well as the ones I chose, and it seems a bit like I picked out songs that I know well because I enjoy listening to them. I feel a little like that tendency to go with songs that you actually enjoy could be a bit problematic when putting together a playlist because you might end up leaving something out that could be really valuable or interesting. Of course, not everyone (least of all me) has a complete library of musical knowledge in their head to draw from, so I guess it does just come down to the interpretation.
With my final revision of the playlist, I inserted the Beatles’ “Across the Universe” in the place of “Revolution 9,” which was a part of my FIRST playlist. My principal motivation for this was the fact that, as an experiment in sound, “Revolution 9” is quite nearly unlistenable. I decided it would be best to include a more tolerable song for listeners. But I also felt that “Across the Universe” was a closer approximation of Snowman’s relationship with words. I realized that “Revolution 9” represented more of an utter incoherence and absence of meaning, whereas “Across the Universe” gets closer to what Snowman really experiences – words and their definitions slowly drifting off into space. Listen HERE
For me, this has probably been the most challenging project because I find working with audio, where basically your only visuals are histograms, to be tedious. But I did find myself wrapped up “in the zone” at times while working on this project and it is probably the project with which I have been the most pleased to this point. I really love listening to radio-essays like “The Story” on NPR, so this was a fun opportunity for me to do my best Dick Gordon impression. It was also easy for me to get excited about the subject of my podcast, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), because I love his music and really find the story about how he recorded his album compelling. I was also quite fortunate to find great interview material with Justin on YouTube, which helped me out immensely in terms of incorporating his own words into my podcast.
While I have zero previous experience in composing in html or creating images in Gimp, Audacity is a program I was introduced to in a freshman English class. Since then I have also worked with Audacity on my own, so I had a pretty good understanding of the basics of the program. I think this really helped because I didn’t have to deal with those initial frustrating stages of learning the fundamental tools and commands of a computer program. Still, layering together bits of audio with the appropriate levels of volume, the right timing, and smooth transitions was pretty tough, and it will require some polishing. But I am satisfied with the content of the podcast for the most part; with the story I try to tell and the point I try to make about instances of pure artistic expression. CHECK IT OUT
The collage has easily been the most frustrating project because I really struggled for a while to figure out how to use the photo-editing program, Gimp. Once I finally picked a subject on which to make my collage, I had a pretty clear idea in my head about what I wanted the image to look like. The problem was that I had no idea how to translate that on to the computer. I struggled for many hours and rounds of trial and error because I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to tell the program to do it.
Eventually I decided that I if I was going to get anywhere with this project, I would have to totally reverse my thinking. So I started working backwards. I began with just fooling around in Gimp, YouTube-ing quick lessons on composition, and building some fundamental skills. At that point, when I understood a few things that I would actually be capable of doing in Gimp, I tried to rethink how I wanted to put a picture together. This was really important, because thinking about an image in terms of how you know you can put it together is much different (and much less frustrating!) from just thinking about the final product. (Take a look at my initial attempt HERE)
That being said, the revision of my image wasn’t much less frustrating. Trying to compose an image that expresses something you would rather simply say or write about a novel or character is like trying to give directions on a street corner to someone who has no grasp of your language – all you can do is point, talk a little louder, and hope they end up in the right place. I wanted to incorporate three main images in my final collage – Tom Buchanan’s yellow car, New York City of the roaring-20’s, and the aristocratic culture of Long Island Sound – and to say something about how the car draws these two locales tragically together. My final image:
This project ran a close-second to the Podcast in terms of the technical challenge it presented. I decided to work with Apple’s iMovie program – the only problem was, I don’t own a Mac. Fortunately, I was able to download a copy of the program onto an external hard drive and thus take it with me to anywhere that I could find an available Apple computer on which to work. Because the media lab in the library was typically booked full with students, I spent quite a bit of time working on friends’ computers (special thanks to Scott).
Otherwise, learning to work with iMovie was a breeze, and I found that having visual cues while composing was generally much easier than composing using with only audio files, like with the Podcast. I made a mash-up trailer combining the un-edited audio from the trailer to The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, and video from The Tale of Despereaux. In all, I only had to take video from the trailer to Despereaux, as well as three other short clips that were available on YouTube. I was pretty amazed at how far just a few minutes of video could take me when composing coherent sequences over top of the LOTR audio. The beauty of working with an animated film for the visual cues in my mash-up (and a hint to future mash-up composers), is that dialogue easily matches with a character’s animated mouth, no matter what they were originally animated to say.
Ultimately, I was very pleased with how my video turned out. This project may have required the most production time – I would say that composing just 20-30 seconds of video required up to 4 hours – but it was also the most enjoyable. The hours I spent working on this video seemed much less like work than they did like play; working on the mash-up often seamlessly took the place of “down-time” during breaks in work for other courses. Enjoy:
Miscellaneous blog postings: