Learning by listening

Well, this one is kind of right up my alley. As a musician, listening is arguably the most important skill I possess. Layering is a recording technique I use all the time when I record my music–I’ve played guitar for almost 20 years and I use three specific types of layering when I record my songs. First, I’ll layer the guitar tracks over each other to achieve a “heavier” sound. Then, I’ll add rhythm guitar parts to add some different dynamics to the song. Lastly (and most importantly as a lead guitarist!), I have to add a guitar solo over the rhythm layer. A song I wrote and recorded with one of my former bands is a good example of all three–check it out here.

So with this in mind, I started listening to the Radiolab “Talking to Machines” podcast. Within the first two minutes, I noticed similarities to my song. Specifically, at about the 1:36 mark, the background music became louder and there was a horn burst when the guy was making a joke about talking to people who were “willing to talk to [him]” during his online dating adventure. In my song, I used cymbal hits to accent certain important moments in the song, and I found it interesting that you can use similar techniques in both music and the spoken word. Sound can both convey and support emotion, so while interesting, it is not totally surprising to hear something so similar in two things that are so vastly different.

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Whew, what a week!

Well, that was certainly a roller coaster of a week–not expecting that! This has been a TOTALLY different experience, and I’m loving it. On a personal level, I can’t remember the last time I truly wrote down my thoughts. I’ve never really blogged before, and it has been liberating; almost as if writing in a journal. Aside from the freeing experience, I also think I’ve been able to learn a little bit as well along the way:

1) I created my first blog! Here is a little bit about what it was like for the first time. Totally cool experience and I’m looking forward to building it and improvign on it throughout the semester.

2) I managed to work South Park into my coursework within the first week of class! I brought it up to discuss the shape of the story, which was a concept we learned about from Kurt Vonnegut. Check it out here.

3) I came up with the simplest definition of a story I possibly could. I tried to think about it as if I were explaining the concept to a child. I even talked about how the word “digital” adds a new dynamic to storytelling. Check it out here.

4) Lastly, I talked about a possible candidate for “storifying” – the most confusing road signs I’ve ever seen. This might not be the long term solution, but I think it’s at least a good starting point. Check it out here.

Overall, I think this week was a huge learning experience. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and I think my blogging can definitely improve. I also think I need to manage my time a little better, as this is not something that can wait until the last minute. When you put yourself out there for the whole internet to see, you need to make sure you are not simply “going through the motions.” This course is totally different than anything I’ve ever experienced, and I can’t wait to see where we land by the time the semester ends!

Storified and non-storified content

When I was taking my driving test as a young 16 year old, I almost failed. I had heard from more than one person that the Massachusetts state police officers try to trick you into going down a one way road the wrong way. With this in mind, I set out on my test with the “statie” sitting shotgun. While out on the road, he told me to take a left turn. To my right was a one way street, and I instantly thought of the warnings I had received. I told him I couldn’t make the turn. What I didn’t realize was that only the right street was a one way; the street he wanted me to turn onto was perfectly capable of handling two way traffic.

When I started thinking about topics, I thought about my driving test and I immediately thought of a picture someone sent me a while back. It has to be the most confusing image I’ve ever seen, but there’s no explanation of it anywhere. I don’t know if this will ultimately work for the final project, but I think it’s a pretty good start…

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Hmm, what is a story?

Hmm, what is a story? I think at the very baseline, a story is a sequence of events culminating in a conclusion. I tend to default to humor in all aspects of my life, and when I think about stories, I can’t help but start laughing. I think of everything that has happened to me in my life (the events), and the conclusion to each of those events. Therefore, it is also fair to say that memories are the same as stories.

When I think about “digital storytelling,” I don’t think the baseline definition of a story changes. A digital story is still a sequence of events culminating in a conclusion. However, the difference is simply that the story is told online or using some other digital medium like an audio or video recording. I think digital storytelling has been around for a lot longer than most people think it has. As a musician, each song I write tells a story. I would consider any recorded song from the dawn of audio recording a digital story.

Shapes of Stories

As I watched Kurt Vonnegut talking about the shapes of stories, all I could think of was my favorite TV series of all time: South Park. Almost all South Park episodes are broken up into three separate acts and/or plots; all of which converging at the end to create a comedic masterpiece. While it is literally impossible for me to pick my favorite South Park episode, the first one I thought of was “Hell On Earth 2006.” In this the first act of this episode, Satan wants to throw himself a “super sweet sixteen”-style Halloween party. He is super excited about it so at the beginning of the episode, everything is great. He wants to surprise everyone with a Ferrari-shaped cake, and enlists the help of Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy to go retrieve it from the baker. This, however, is where everything starts to go downhill. The three serial killers are portrayed as parodies of the Three Stooges, messing up left and right, and end up not getting the cake. As a result, Satan is stuck with an Acura cake, rather than a Ferrari cake. In the second act, Satan has said he will not invite members of the Church clergy so the Church tries to think of ways to either get in to the party or to sabotage it. In the final act, the kids of South Park accidentally summon Biggie Smalls in an homage to Beetlejuice (saying his name three times in a row). In the chart below, you can see the progression of the story. It starts off great, since Satan is excited about the party. Then, however, everything goes downhill. The squiggly lines at the bottom show all three storylines struggling, but by the end of the episode, Satan realizes he is being too childish and lets everyone in to the party. Thus, the story ends happily.

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As far as one of the rules Pixar uses, I think number 13 always applies to South Park. The rule states:

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

In “Hell On Earth 2006,” Satan is really good at being a diva. He has an opinion on literally everything, and when things don’t go his way, he freaks out like a teenager. Similarly, all other main characters have strong opinions.

When it comes to a story spine, South Park also fits in nicely. For example:

Once upon a time, Satan wanted to throw an enormous Halloween party.

Every day, he thought of more and more ideas for the party, enlististing three serial killers to help him gather supplies.

But one day, Satan realized the three serial killers were incompetent and could not complete their assigned tasks.

Because of that, he became upset and turned into a diva teenager.

Because of that, he disinvited members of the churge clergy from the party.

Because of that, members of the church clergy plotted to sabotage the party.

Until finally, Satan realized that his party should be open to all people.

And ever since then, he was loved by all threw the best Halloween party ever.

Welcome to Me!

Wow–for a site that claims to be a breeze to set up, that sure is a lot of tweaking! Although tedious at times, I think this is a good representation of storytelling. Good storytelling (as far as I can tell), is all in the details. You would be bored listenting to a story where all the details have been left out, so it is important to make sure just the right amount of detail is included.

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A blog by a cool guy writing about cool things.