Before you start making media, it’s worth practicing how “read” audio and video content, to get better at understanding the subtleties of great audio/video stories that are often so well integrated that we do not even notice them.
This week we will introduce concepts of layering in media, and practice tuning into them more closely via listening to audio from a set of podcast/radio shows. We will also look at, of all things, TV commercials as miniature stories, and practice analyzing them in detail. Finally, as part of your growing blog skills, you are expected to start commenting on each other’s sites.
Inspiration: How to Truly Listen
In her TED Talk Evelyn Glennie teaches us that listening is much more than sitting passively and letting sounds hit our ears (note you can turn on subtitles in this video).
Understanding Layers in Media
Much of our first experience in media creation are what is known as “destructive”… that’s not an aesthetic comment! A simple Paint program affords us one canvas, and if we brush over something else, or put down something we really would like to change, there is little recourse beyond a ingle “Undo”.
When you start using a more advanced program like PhotoShop, GIMP, even the web-based pixlr, you are able to create and edit in layers, like the clear acetate method of traditional cartoon animations. We are able to separate out backgrounds, elements that might move “in front”, and stack them in a way that creates a sense of depth to a scene– but also, by separating out key elements, we can edit one without destroying the rest.
See this video2brain tutorial for a more detailed explanation of layering with graphic editing software; while the methods shown are specific to Adobe Photoshop, the principles apply to any image editing program.
More resources on layer editing for images:
In audio and video editing, layering also helps us fine tune editing of ambient sound (the chirp of crickets in a rural scene, automobile sounds for a setting of an urban park), sound effects such as closing doors or footsteps to emphasize action, adding a soft “bed” of background music, and smoother editing of dialogue that overlaps.
Until you start listening closely to well produced audio, you may not be aware of the complexity in audio editing. Listen (and take notes) on this “audio dissection” from Howsound, the radio show that takes you behind the scenes to understand how these shows are produced- Dissecting Joanne Rosser, Papermaker. Note the idea of “paragraphs” in a story.
As another example, I edited out specific elements of an hour long episode of RadioLab, a 2007 show called Detective Stories, and uploaded a shorter version to Soundcloud, where the comments indicate how some of these effects are used in the show. Radio Lab uses a rather fast paced narrative structure of quick edits and layered sounds in their shows.
See if you can tune your ears to these methods in the example below; you will be asked to listen for them in other audio you listen to this unit. Hover over my dog icons in the bottom timeline to read the comments:
Another technique that is counter-intuitive, is when sound is left out. Listen to this annotated clip, an intro to an episode of the TED Radio Hour, for what happens near the 3 minute mark when the background music suddenly stops:
Note how that matches the key, unexpected turn in Sherrie Turkle’s dialogue, it went in a different direction than what we may have anticipated.
We do not always think of removing dialogue as a means of expressing a key part of a story. One of the classic examples of leaving out dialogue is the dinner table scene in “Jaws”– note the use of music and sound effects like clinking glasses.
We will return to these principles in more detail in future weeks when you do your own editing in graphic, audio, and video tools. To great the most effective types of these media, you should be thinking about the affordances of layers.
Learning by Listening to Radio Shows
One of the best ways to understand how audio can be used to create stories is to listen to some great examples or audio journalism and drama. I’ve assembled a list of audio stories for you to explore.
Overall, how effective do you think audio was for telling the story(ies)? What types of audio techniques did the producers use — sound effects, layering of sounds, music, etc. — to convey their story? While I am interested in reading what you thought of the story being told — but I am more interested in your reflection about HOW the story was told. Try and step back from the story itself, and reflect upon the technique that the storytelling/producers used. What choices did they make that impacted your understanding of and feelings about the story? What are the techniques from the references above that you may not have noticed before?
Pay very close attention to not only the stories told but how they are constructed in audio format. Take the time to focus on listening, not just in the background of being on your computer. Put the phone down, turn off the TV, hide the smart phone, ask the family to leave you alone. Just listen. Closely
You should use a listening approach to stop the story at a key moment, write down some notes, and the time on the story in which it occurs.
- This American Life “There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always.” (Pick one to listen to)
- Radio Lab “Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” (Pick one to listen to)
Commercials as Short Film Stories
In week 1 we compared two commercials where one had a more “story” focus (see the TouchCast on Design Storytelling if you want a refresher). Now we will look more closely at some commercials as 60 second (or less) film stories.
See how director Ridley Scott talks about the classic 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial as a short film:
In addition, review The Story Code Behind Van Damme’s Viral Splits where author Jeffrey Davis breaks down almost to every few seconds, a Volvo commercial featuring a stunt by Jean-Claude Van Damme that went viral in social media. Pay attention to how Davis identifies elements of Mystery, Empathy, Surprise, Revelation, Admiration, Astonishment, Contagious Awe, and Mastery. Plus he compares this commercial to earlier ones and notes what elevates it from just commercials that are quirky to get attention:
Content creators and creative directors, pay attention: Quirky ads, content, films that elicit humor do get attention. But not at the same level as do content and ads that elicit awe.
First choose a commercial from this YouTube search. Find the one that most suggests to you of following a story approach. And to be different, go a few videos beyond the first result.
Watch the video once all the way through to distill what you can from it’s shape (see last week’s discussion of story shape).
Next, re-watch the video and stop it every every 5 seconds (0:00 – 0:05, 0:06 – 0:10, 0:11 – 0:15, etc) to take notes on each section. Describe the action, the setting, the visuals, the changes in camera angles you note. Also see what you can map to the story spine or themes identified in Davis’s analysis of the Van Damme splits video. Where is the element of surprise introduced.
Watch it a third time, start to finish, and see if anything new emerges from having dissected it into the smaller bits.
As one model, see one student’s analysis of the NIke “Splash” commercial .
Your blog post should include the video itself. Now it is easy to link to a video, but it’s better to embed the video in your blog post. WordPress makes this easy- all you need to do is put the URL on a blank line as plain text, like:
which if you do it right, should produce this as an embedded video
If it appears as a link, you might need to try switching removing the hyperlink in your editor; it may be easier to switch from the visual mode to text (top right corner in the WordPress editor). For more options in embedding media see the DS106 Handbook.
Giving/Receiving Peer Feedback
You may still be getting comfortable with writing in your blog space, but it is time to broaden your scope of class participation by giving feedback to each other. You have gotten comments and will get more from your instructor, but it’s important as a community to comment on your classmates work, incorporate, and reflect on that feedback.
Because reading all of the other blogs is a lot to ask, GMU students will be put into smaller groups of 3-4 students, so you have a reasonable number of blogs to review this week. These are the comment groups that span sections 1 and 2, completely meaningless group names made from the Random Team Name Generator:
One way to see what is new on the blogs in your group is to “follow” them in wordpress.cpm= add the URLs for blogs you wish to stay updated with to http://wordpress.com/following/edit/ — when you are logged in to wordpress.com the newest posts from blogs you follow will be listed right there.
You can find the most recent posts on the ds106 site for GMU Section 1 and for GMU section 2. Open participants are invited to comment on GMU student posts or to find ones from other open participants.
What is a constructive comment? It should be more than “Nice work” or “I agree”. It should be a few sentences, and ought to include useful feedback or ideas for improvement. You can explain why you like what was written or agree. Or explain why you disagree. Or offer additional resources or links that might benefit the writer. For every bit of opinion, think of including and “and…” statement.
One approach to giving criticism is to put it inside a sandwich- open with aspects you praise or agree with, offer critical statements, and close with a positive. Maybe the best advice is to comment in the style and mood that you would like to receive. For some more advice, see:
- How to be a Good Commenter (John Scalzo, Whatever blog)
- How to Write a Great Comment (Grammar Girl, Quick and Dirty Tips blog)
And when you get comments, reply on your site, if it merits a response. Think of this as a conversation; one side conversations are not interesting, right?
Your credit for this week is not based on counting the number of comments you made – but how you are able to summarize your comment activity and what you gained. Include in your weekly summary:
- A summary of what you saw interesting or maybe influential in the blogs you looked at. Did you get ideas you could use by looking at someone else’s post? How did your work compare or differ from theirs?
- A summary of the feedback you got – what was useful? Would it change your thinking? What was helpful?
As new comments come into your blog, you will sometimes need to Approve them in order for them to show up on your site. You should be getting emails whenever a new comment is submitted and/or needs approval. Please be sure to moderate these comments! The conversation can’t happen if it is never published! If you’re not sure if you have comments awaiting approval, you can always check by going to the “Comments” item in your WordPress dashboard.
Keep Looking: Storified and Non Storified Content
What? This was last week’s assignment!
Get used to it, as you are asked to do this every week. The goal is not just to write up something for points, but to practice and practice looking for ideas that might work for your final project. When it comes time to do that, you will have at least 6 different ones that you questioned, rather than scrambling to find one at the end. Creating is a much a process of deleting ideas as making them again.
So again, you are asked to keep an eye out for media or practices in your regular activities– door handles, articles, how to manuals, online content– start asking yourself if you are seeing a storified approach (which may not always be called for). Look for things that do not seem to be explained well, or that do not kind much interest for you to become engaged with it.
Do not worry if you cannot find a great example, just continue the process of thinking about it, and observing the world around you. This also needs to be something that others can see on the web, or for which you can post a photo/video to your blog, so for GMU students you should look for things outside the scope of your job.
My first attempt likely is one I will not use, but is based on some signs I saw in a train station. If you are having trouble with this, get some ideas from the other ideas people in your class are looking at
Checklist for Weekly Summary
Below are items that GMU students will be graded upon (and should match to the items highlighted in blue message boxes in the sections above). Your Weekly summary post should provide a brief summary of what you did, a hyperlink to it, and further reflection on what you learned or struggled with this week– how would you grade yourself? How is your blog writing evolving?
- Learning by Listening to Radio Shows: A blog post with observations on the radio show/podcast you listened to. How many audio elements are you able to identify? What did they add (or subtract) from the listening experience? What was useful for capturing your attention from the start, or to sustain it through the show? What were the elements that added to surprise, or an unexpected reveal? Can you identify elements that are part of the narrative (the series of events) and what are part of the larger lesson or meaning, the “So What?”
Your post should at a minimum link to the original show so a reader can listen along. If the audio is on a site like SoundCloud, you may try to embed the audio directly into your blog post (see the DS106 Handbooklearn more about embedding audio). See also how to use a WordPress.com shortcode to embed a link to an audio file that is one another site.
- Commercials as Short Film Stories: A blog post of your detailed analysis in 5 second intervals of a commercial and summary of storytelling elements. Make sure you are able to embed the youtube video in your blog post as a reference.
- Giving/Receiving Peer Feedback: I am not looking as much for how many comments you made, but what you gained from reviewing other student’s blogs and what kind of constructive feedback you received. How does this change, if any, your approach to publishing in an open blog?
- The Search for Content in Need of Storifying Find another possible candidate to add to the list of poetential topics. You may want to create a category for this on your blog to organize them, or use your Final Project category.