Capstone Project Reflections

What were your goals and purpose for the project? Did they change by the end?

I didn’t change the overall goals of my project, though I did have to narrow the scope.  It ended up being about composing and how much thought goes into it, and how much that process affects a listener.  I was surprised at how similar it is to writing. Before I began the project, I thought of creating music as mostly artistic expression– that a composer did it for their own benefit and other people’s enjoyment was a byproduct. After my initial research, I suspected that there might be more to it than that, and that became the focus of my project.  I wanted to see if the two composing processes were similar and if their goals regarding their audiences were alike.  As I researched and interviewed Joe, I found out that not only was that true, but that composing music takes a great deal of additional technical knowledge.  I thought this was so interesting that I ended up incorporating it into my project in addition to exploring my original topic.

What choices did you make for the audience in regards to medium, style, and content?

I thought a lot about the audience that I would be trying to reach with this audio project.  Joe makes a specific kind of music, and it isn’t to everyone’s taste (something made pretty clear in one or two of my interviews).  What I was really interested in is learning about the process, and I wanted to appeal to other people interested in the same.  To this end, I tried to focus on what Joe and others had to say about his work rather than focusing directly on his music.  Rather than spend lengths of my podcast playing Joe’s music, I opted to make the sound bed entirely from it.  The audience is constantly exposed to his music, but they only focus solely on it for a few seconds at a time.  I hoped that by doing this, the music would not turn off people who didn’t like it or distract people who were more interested in the content, but everyone listening would be able to experience Joe’s creations.

What process did you use to do the project? What went well? What was difficult?

Beginning this project was a little rocky, but once I figured out a system, it went pretty well.  I recorded all of my interviews using the Soundcloud app on the iPad. I tried recording one or two things on my phone, but that ended up being a disaster.  The quality of the recordings on the iPad turned out well, and the Soundcloud app made it ridiculously easy to access them later.  I simply recorded what I needed (Soundcloud lets you record and upload as much as you want) and then uploaded them to the site. I downloaded them to my laptop from there, and I used Adobe Audition to edit and finalize the podcast.  Joe gave me permission to use his music and he uses Soundcloud as well, so it was easy to download the tracks.  My Audition mix had three tracks, one for the interviews, one for the music and one of voiceover.  Once I chopped up the interviews and laid them over the sound the way I wanted, I went back and recorded the my voiceover and was done.  Piece of cake!

….Kidding. Audition (and the other sound editing programs we tried) had a pretty steep learning curve.  Fortunately, I got to practice with it a bit on the public event CTW and Tim’s workshops were a lifesaver.  Once I played around with the program a little, I was able to learn just enough to finish the project.

What strengths does your project have? What weaknesses?

I can’t really take credit for it, but I think the music in my project is really good.  I’m really pleased with the way everything ended up going together.  I think the music really ties the whole thing together.  I’m glad of that too, because I feel like the dialogue is kind of simple. I didn’t really want to play with sound effects and things like that too much because I wanted to highlight the music, since that is what the podcast was about.  I was worried that the voiceover and interviews would be too dry and boring, but I think the music helps to make it more dynamic.

How did you use that time to discuss your capstone project work? What changes did you make an audience, purpose, context, content, tone, style, “extras” (like visuals or Web text), arrangement, ethos, logos, pathos, rhetorical and technical software techniques? Examples, details, and explanations are good here.

I worked really ridiculously hard on the three minute section I prepared for my presentation. After talking with the class, I got a lot of great ideas and made a couple tweaks. My process involved cutting up the audio and laying it over the sound, but I found when I played it back that a lot of the different interviews could be mixed together, almost to create a new dialogue.  I played a lot with the arrangement to get the most out of the interviews in order to make my point and reach the goals of the project. I feel that paying special attention to how the words were put together and how they interact with the music made the project a lot stronger.

What is resonance? What is dissonance? How would you define each and what examples would you give now that you’ve completed this course?

I had to define these words for almost all of my interviewees.  It seemed to be difficult to pick out one section or element of a song that was either resonant or dissonant for them.  When they asked me, I told them that resonance, put simply, was whatever they really liked about the song.  Whatever stood out because it moved them to react in some positive way, whether that was bringing up a good memory or making them tap their feet.  Dissonance is more or less the opposite.  If there was something that caused them to have a bad reaction- maybe making a face, or experiencing a negative emotion- we called it dissonant.  I think being more specific, resonance and dissonance are more than what you like or don’t like about a particular thing.  I think they are both strongly connected to how you feel and your physical or emotional reactions.  I think some of the best examples of resonance and dissonance I can give we actually experienced in this class.  Sean’s comical negative reactions to almost every guitar sound played is a pretty good example of dissonance.  Cassandra had very positive feelings towards her Capoeira recordings.  Both of these examples were personal and specific to each person.

What else did you learn about sonic meaning? About how we listen? Were these new concepts for you? Do you see yourself using them elsewhere?

I learned to listen closer to the background. I think studying rhetoric and writing, I focus almost exclusively on words.  I really noticed that I had gained a new perspective on listening when I attended that country music concert on my birthday.  I’ve been to a lot of concerts, but I never really thought about them critically until I studying sonic rhetoric for this class.  I find it endlessly fascinating that you can break down a manufactured soundscape and discover what its engineer was trying to accomplish.  That’s why I chose the topic I did for my project.  Moving people with words is one thing, moving them without them is something even cooler. I think I’ll definitely keep these skills in mind and use them going forward.

What do you feel you learned the most from this project? Is there anything you wish to learn more of/about for the project?

I was really surprised at how similar creating music is to writing, given that their goals and products are so disimilar. I was also really amazed at everything I learned in my research. I wish that I had more time (and more skill) to create a really great podcast.  I would love to revisit this topic again for further study.


CTW Assignment 4- Respond to a Public Event

My sister and I attended Death From Below, billed as an Indi-Electro Dance Party, at The Music Room in Old Fourth Ward.  The music was pretty awesome, but unfortunately my HTC phone recordings did not do it justice.  Also unfortunate, the one recording my sister made on her new iPhone 5 I talked over the entire time complaining about the beer selection (but honestly, who really likes PBR?).  In other news, the iPhone is seriously awesome when it comes to making recordings in extremely loud places.

That knowledge in hand, my sister and I- and her fully charged phone- headed to Aaron’s Amphitheater for a country music concert.  I like all kinds of music, but if I had to rank them country would probably not be at the top of the list…or near the top of the list for that matter.  My sister, on the other hand, loves country music– and Southern rap…it’s a toss up, really.   Anyway, the following is a mix of a few concert highlights.  It features each of the bands and a lot of crowd response, and probably some off key singing courtesy of your favorite Hogues.

Since I am not a huge country fan, I approached this concert with some apprehension as to whether I’d have a good time.  Though I knew a few songs from some of the artists performing, I knew I wouldn’t know a majority of the songs played, and I like concerts better when I can sing along.  Still, I always like live music, so I knew I wouldn’t have a terrible time.  We had lawn seats, so we were a good distance from the stage, but that really didn’t matter once the bands started playing because the music was so loud.  At times, I could not understand what they were saying/singing, but the crowd seemed to have a positive reaction to these high energy performances, so I suppose all that volume was a good thing.

The first band to perform was Eden’s Edge. I had never heard of this band before seeing them on stage, and the crowd didn’t seem to know them well either.  They tried their best to get the crowd going, and our lack of enthusiasm did not hinder their performance.  I did not enjoy this band at all.  I like country music, but I don’t really like female country singers.  The lead singer’s voice was high and twangy and I could not get past how grating it was for me.  My sister tended to agree:

I was not a fan. Her voice was whiny and annoying. I was happy that they only played three songs because I don’t know how much more I could handle.  Her voice when she said ‘Straight to the grave’ is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard for me. The AAAAAAAAAA in Amen made me scrunch up my nose and turn away-ick.

The next band to perform was Eli Young Band.  This band was actually the reason we came to the concert in the first place.  This was our second time seeing them.  Their music has a touch of rock to it and I enjoy a departure from the country pop music that is so popular right now.  The crowd new this band well too, and there was a big difference in their reaction and interaction with Eli Young that the previous act.  The crowd was on its feet, singing and dancing along with the music.  Several times, the singer stopped to let the crowd sing along, which was interesting to observe.  This performance was clearly better received by the audience, a fact made obvious by their increased excitement and engagement.  As expected, my sister enjoyed this performance better as well:

The next band was the Eli Young Band, who I am a big fan of. I have seen them in concert once before and was happy to see them again. They have recently released a new song that I am REALLY a fan of, when they sang it I literally got goosebumps. I enjoyed their portion of the concert the most. Eli Young was more toned down and mellow, which I think is part of what I like about them. They aren’t whiny like the other two bands we saw with female lead singers. I like when he sings the chorus more because everyone knows it. I do not like when they talk because I came to listen to them sing not talk to me. It’s cool when they have the crowd sing along to the song with them because it makes us feel like we are involved in the show.

The third band to perform was Little Big Town.  I do not like this band. At all.  They have several songs on the radio and I do not like one of them. My sister loves them.  This was the last band to perform before Rascal Flatts, and the most popular (and successful) band to perform up to this point.  Their portion of the show was a big production compared to the two acts before them. The band also had a different format than the previous.  Where Eden’s Edge and Eli Young Band each had one lead singer, this band has four members and each one is featured on different songs.  I didn’t know that beforehand because I feel like I only ever hear the female singers on the radio.  There were two women in the group, one had a tolerable voice and the other made my skin crawl.  Sometimes I feel like country music singers are trying to convince us that we are country by singing as twangily (I’m making this a word) as possible.  One interesting thing they did during their performance was cover a Lady Gaga song.  They performed Born This Way with a country twist, which apparently means adding a lot of banjo- which I was okay with because I happen to love the banjo.  I thought it was really interesting how they could take a pop song (a decidedly pop song at that) and turn it country by changing the arrangement and adding a few instruments.  The crowd around us (mostly young people) seemed to react positively to this cover and I thought it was pretty cool myself.  The band played a few more of their hits including Pontoon which is a song that I cannot stand but was hugely popular over the summer. That said, the live performance was pretty good, and the crowd was definitely into it, which I can respect. This band seemed more focused on the production than the previous two, and I think that was evident in the sound.  They had more musicians and their songs seemed louder…a lot of times I felt like they were just yelling. All in all though, it wasn’t a terrible performance, and parts of it were pretty good.  My sister’s experience was pretty similar:

When Little Big Town came on I felt like they had too much going on with their show. There were a lot more lights and bass. When they started singing their first song I actually took a step back because it was so loud. The girls voices have such range, which is great, but with how they had their sound set up it was really overpowering. I really liked the Little Big Town cover of Born This Way. All the added banjo and upright bass is a really neat sound that I like. But I think that their mics/sound set up again was not right because they were too loud and did not sound like that good of quality. During Pontoon when the beat was really loud I could feel it in my chest.

Finally, Rascal Flatts came out to perform. Since this was the band everyone came to see, you could really feel the crowd’s excitement when the lights when down and their intro music began.  They started out playing some type of techno/electro song to accompany a light show while the band took their places.  This part of the show kind of reminded me of the music at The Music Room the night before.  Finally the lights came up and the band started singing right away.  The crowd freaked out.  They sang a few bars and then played some up beat music that really got the crowd going before launching into their latest popular song Banjo.  I was very excited because I love this song- again I love love the banjo.  The crowd sang loudly and was very riled up during this first song.  The lead singer did a good job of pumping up the crowd during this number as well.  Seems every time you yell “Atlanta” or “Georgia” through a microphone people lose their minds.  The cheering was incredibly loud.  It was interesting seeing the crowd’s reaction to the show and a ton of fun being a part of it.  My sister seemed to have a similar response:

They opened with a more techo beat than a country feel. I liked it in the context of the concert but I don’t think I would have it I had heard it in one of their songs on the radio. When Rascal Flatts came out and started singing the beginning of a song I didn’t know I was not happy, but when I recognized it as being Banjo I was really excited. I couldn’t help but dance and sing along.

My sister and I both enjoyed this concert.  I think the biggest difference between our two experiences all pertain to the actual bands’ performances.  We both love live music and attending concerts, so we are both happy any event like that, but obviously we have a better time if the music is in a genre we actively listen to, rather than merely appreciate.  I had a better time at the indie-electro dance party, and she had a better time at the country concert.  We had similar reactions to the twanginess (making up a new word again) of a few of the bands, and we also enjoyed the same parts.  If her experience was better than mine, it was merely due to her being more familiar with the content. I think those attending the concert all had a certain set of expectations in attending the concert, and since this concert met them, the majority of people in attendance had similar reactions.  I doubt many of them were analyzing the sonic rhetoric involved in the performances, but that was my only purpose for being their either.  Chiefly, my sister and I and everyone else went to have a good time, and the act put on by these bands certainly delivered, thanks in no small part to the rhetorical choices put into the music and the design of the show.

CTW Assignment 3- Respond to a Soundscape

This is definitely an urban soundscape. I recorded the sounds of the street outside my open window at 11:00 at night.  It was pretty windy, and I think at certain spots you might be able to hear the leaves of the four trees in front of my building rustle a bit, but by far the majority of the sounds heard are man made.  I was sitting by my window which I opened about ten seconds into the recording, and after that it’s nothing but about two and a half minutes of street sounds.  Several cars go by, the MARTA train pulls into the station across the street, a neighbor opens the gate to the building.  There is a constant electric hum-probably from all the lights outside.  You can hear my ceiling fan and the pages of the book I’m reading in the foreground.

These are sounds I constantly hear.  I guess I tune them out now, but I still know they are there.  The sound of the train tracks and the traffic are part of my personal soundscape, and far from bothering me, I find it unsettling when they are missing.  I do hate that gate though.  That clanging noise it makes is very jarring for me.

When I hear these sounds in my everyday life, I might be feeling any number of things.  They are constantly in the background, and, as I said before, I’m adjusted to the point where definitely notice if they are gone.  When I listed to them recorded and played back, however, I do not feel any particular connection to them, and, without context, I feel like this recording is kind of depressing.  It’s just traffic on a street.  It’s loud, there’s lots of banging and clanking and other generally dissonant sounds…there’s nothing inherently happy, peaceful, or inspiring about it (like you might experience with a natural soundscape).  Physically, when I listen to this soundscape, I feel a bit tense.  I think this is because there is no real pattern to it, so it is not possible to anticipate what the next sound will be.  I imagine that for someone who was listening to this for the first time, the window opening might startle them (I bet someone actually jumps).

I recognize everything in this soundscape, because I’ve lived in this apartment with these noises for nearly four years.  I love the train because it reminds me of the trains that run behind my grandmothers house and the house my family lived in when I was in high school.  The sound of trains is comforting to me because they’ve been around my entire life.  Words that this soundscape brings to mind: loud, urban, city, tumultuous, jarring, rhythmic, constant, ubiquitous.


CTW Assignment 2- Respond to a Podcast

In the This American Life episode titled Retraction, host Ira Glass shares with listeners that the story presented by guest Mike Daisey in a previous episode, Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory, was largely untrue and that the staff at TAL has decided to retract it completely.  In the beginning of the episode, Glass explains that this is the first retraction the show has ever had to do and that the entire show will explore the errors in Daisey’s story and his reasons behind his presentation.

I’ve listened to and discussed the content of this episode for another class, but I thought it would be interesting to analyze how sound plays a role in the delivery of Ira Glass and TAL‘s message.  First, some background.  Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory aired in January of 2012 and featured excerpts from Mike Daisey’s monologue, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.  Daisey visited Apple supplier Foxconn in China in 2010 and his monologue details the harsh working conditions he both witnessed and heard about from plant workers.  This was the most downloaded episode of This American Life ever, and was just one of many appearances by Daisey outside of a theater setting in which he asserted that the events recounted in his monologue (performed as a one man show) were true.

After this episode aired, many people familiar with Apple factory conditions in China noticed errors and brought them to the attention of This American Life, which led to a retraction episode in March.  In the episode, Rob Schmitz, a reporter in China, interviews Mike Daisey’s translator and reveals gross inconsistencies in their stories.  Ira Glass questions Mike Daisey about presenting his story as true when it isn’t, and later speaks with New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who collaborated on an investigative series on Apple working conditions, about just what those conditions are really like.

Clearly, each party involved in this episode has his own agenda, and each has his own way of trying to achieve that.  Since this is a radio show, sound plays a major role.

First, consider Ira Glass and the staff of This American LIfe.  The show is considered journalism, and Glass goes to great lengths to explain to the audience how much fact checking was done prior to Daisey’s appearance.  Having to air a retraction could jeopardize the show’s credibility, and this is the last thing Glass and his producers want.  To avoid this, they chose to do an entire episode recognizing and correcting their mistake, and are able to arrange it in a way that works most to their advantage.

The prologue begins with Ira Glass explaining the retraction.  There is no music, no sound effects, nothing but his clear, somber voice as he tells his audience about the mistake that he and This American Life have made.  He introduces Rob Schmitz’s interview with Daisey’s translator and then plays it.  Schmitz describes how he took issue with some of the items in Daisey’s story and then tells about finding Cathy, the translator, and getting her side of the story.  Schmitz’s commentary runs in and out of the interview with Cathy, and even samples some of Daisey’s own monologue. His tone is skeptical and even snarky at times, and he explains things slowly and evenly, allowing listeners to take in Cathy’s statements juxtaposed with Daisey’s story in order to see how untrue some of his claims are.  Schmitz’s piece includes a lot of sound behind his commentary.  Sometimes it is an urban soundscape- traffic on a busy street as he and Cathy visit the same Foxconn plant she took Daisey to- and sometimes it is conversation- he and Cathy talking while he summarizes in voiceover.  The extra sound lend credibility to what he is saying.  Listeners hear that he actually went to the Foxconn plant and talked to Cathy while there, although we still really only have his word that he did.  The contrast between the sounds of actually being at Foxconn versus Daisey giving his monologue with no sound behind it stresses the difference between journalism and performance.  To include this in the retraction episode functions to show the This American Life audience that the show knows the difference as well.

This episode only includes music twice.  Once before the break, and once at the end.  The music before the break comes at the end of the Schmitz interview, and underscores an especially telling excerpt from Daisey’s performance where he recalls how he told Cathy he was going to “lie to lots of people”.  Schmitz ends his interview by dramatically informing the listeners that “that, Cathy said, was true”.  Here the music picks up until Glass comes back in to give the outro to the break.  Glass’s prologue and Schmitz’s interview have built up such a case against Daisey that the when the music begins to play behind Daisey’s words, it gives them an almost sinister feel, not to mention that the tone which he uses, which was intended to make the statement humorous during the show, now gives it almost an air of malice.

After the break, Glass interviews Daisey about his show and calls him out on his errors.  Glass’s tone, rather than being really angry or upset, makes him seem bewildered and disappointed.  Listeners can empathize with Glass rather than blaming him for his oversight in airing the show.

Here, we can analyze the methods Daisey uses in attempt to achieve his own goals.  Daisey is a professional performer, and Glass is tearing down his most popular work, so he has come on the show to defend himself.  If you can ignore what he is actually saying,  Daisey does a good job of inviting sympathy through his use of sound, and sometimes his lack thereof.  Daisey’s voice shakes, he takes ragged breaths, overall he is pretty pitiable.  His responses are filled with such long pauses that a listener might wonder if there is something wrong with the volume.  His argument, that his monologue is true in a theatrical setting rather than a journalistic one, is given credence by the fact that he really seems to be struggling with the gravity of what he’s done.  As a performer, it is Daisey’s job to get an audience to connect with him and a large part of that is his voice, so it is no surprise that his appearance on this retraction episode would be a stirring performance.

Glass wraps up the show with a segment on the real working conditions in Apple factories and leaves listeners to make their own decisions.  The outro music is fittingly a song titled Convince Me, with lyrics like “It’s easy to blur and twist. Just tell it like it really is.”

Though this is a long podcast, I felt very involved in the story the first time I listened to it.  The content is presented in such a way that it is interesting and engrossing.  I kept listening because after the way Glass and Schmitz set the story up, I wanted to hear Mike Daisey apologize.  I could empathize with Glass, I was angry that Daisey had lied, and I felt like he owed it to Glass to make it right.  I also found it extremely entertaining to listen to a man whose job is performing, try to make an appealing case for himself on a show that was designed start to finish to take away his credibility and shore up This American Life‘s.  The biggest use of sound in this podcast was the way voices were manipulated in order to make a listener feel a certain way.  Music and sound were used sparingly, with good reason.  I think the lack of sound here was important too however.  In other episodes of TAL, there are lots of sound effects and music that help the show achieve its rhetorical goals.  I think leaving those out in this episode helped it stand further apart from the rest and cued listeners into the fact that this show was to be received differently.

CTW Assignment 1- Respond to a Song

Had a dream, you and me and the war at the end times…

By the end of the opening line, this song has me tapping my feet. It’s uptempo, it’s catchy, it’s fun- everything a good song should be, unless you’re actually listening to the lyrics that is. Despite its apocalyptic content, I still enjoy this song very much.  It may be its tongue-in-cheek treatment of the end of days or its persistent beat and peppy melody, but when I hear this song it always makes me smile.

My connection to this song definitely lies in the music rather than the lyrics.  I love the guitar and the driving beat that open the song and lead into the first verse- the only one I know all the words to.  The music of the song is just fun, it inspires a lot of head nodding and heel bouncing.  The singer’s voice also contributes to the song.  I only know maybe the first verse of the song, but I enjoy listening to the whole thing because the overall sound of the song is so interesting.  When I hear this song, I actually feel happier.  I almost always smile, and I will usually hum along–even though I don’t know the words, I really like the tune!  I usually end up laughing at myself too, because if I stop to consider the song’s content, it’s kind of a downer, and then I have to wonder why I like it so much. 

I first heard this song at the store where I work.  Normally, I don’t really notice the music playing as I am busy with other things, but over time, I realized that I always notice when this song is playing.  Even though work is sometimes stressful, I notice that hearing this song actually does lighten my mood.  Eventually, I started noticing when I heard it other places and then I actually looked it up.  Before I looked up the lyrics to this song, words I most associated with it were things like fun, happy, bouncy, and upbeat.  Once I really looked at the content, I had to add apocalypse, contradiction, and irony to the list.   

I’ve always been a person who actually listens to lyrics.  For me, to really consider a song, all parts must be included.  One of my favorite things about this song is that while the content is definitely not upbeat, the music certainly is.  This is a great example of how sound, in a song or elsewhere, can be used to enhance or underscore a meaning that words alone might not convey.  Take these lines:

And I believe/ California succumbed to the fault line./ We heaved relief/ as scores of innocents died.   

This is not at all a lighthearted topic to be singing about.  Yet people listening to this song will find themselves singing along.  Then, like me (hopefully), they’ll stop to think about what they’re singing and it will help them gain insight into themselves.  Why would we heave relief as scores of innocents died? Would we? Do we? How often do we make light of things that we really should probably care more about?  I think the fun melody of this song actually rooks people into thinking about issues such as tragedy and suffering in a deeper way, and therefore is a really interesting rhetorical strategy.