DJ Spooky Response – Remixing the Way We Use Technology

Something from the first week of class came to my mind as I read this week’s blog post prompt. The idea of the changing same really reminded me of the film we watched in the first few days of class, particularly the part where the filmmakers traced the roots of the Verve’s song “Bittersweet Symphony”. I remember listening to this song as a kid, and really liking it—I still do. But before viewing the film, I had never considered how completely recycled and in a way un-innovative its melody and beat is. I think the words say something unique, but the melody and beat don’t do anything different. They are essentially a slight variation on what’s already been done, or in other words, the changing same. What does differentiate this version of the song from other, past versions is its more electric reverberations and strong base. In other words how it was produced. It’s a long cry from EDM, but simply as a byproduct of the era in which it was made, it incorporates the sounds made possible by new technology and digital music production. In that way, this song demonstrates how technology is now part of music production at its core, just as it’s a part of everything in our society and culture.

This musical example is just one of many that relates to DJ Spooky’s point that future generations will “have technology as a core aspect of their existence” (16). The technology in the song is not tied to its meaning or a deliberate artistic choice. It is simply included because technology is fully indoctrinated as a core part of the music producing process. DJ Spooky proposes we will see similar inclusions of technology in all aspects of our lives. He compares technology to the food we eat, the air we breath, and the languages we speak. He discusses it not as an accessory to our lives, but as definitive of our cultural and social constructs.

I also really enjoyed when he got into speaking about “the machinery of culture as an organizing system”. I interpreted this to mean that the technologies and machinery we use are definitive of our culture. It’s an idea similar to “the medium is the message”—similarly, the technologies we use directly and absolutely dictate the way we operate within our society. DJ Spooky says this idea is not one that should be feared or resisted, but instead embraced. He conveys that we think about the possibilities allowed by new technologies in a stiff, restrictive way, writing “it’s not so much new ways of hearing that are needed, but new perceptions of what we can hear” (17). DJ Spooky sees the possibilities of technology, specifically tied to music production, as limitless. He asserts that we shouldn’t limit our utilization of technology to what we already know to be possible.

In terms of thinking about the archive, this reading got me thinking that our class archive might be mostly valuable because of the way we are documenting ourselves. The technologies and methods we are using say a lot about our generation and the era we live in. In our digital work, we talk about our lives and the lives of others, but future generations might see the methods by which we went about doing so as more indicative of what our lives were really like.

DJ Spooky’s avowal that we need to be utilizing the technology around us to their full potential got me thinking, how (if at all) do songs, books, poems, or any other creative work depreciate in value over time?

How To Balance Volumes in a Dynamic Introduction

There seems to be a few themes with audio documentaries. For one, they all include an intro. In order to make our audio documentaries seems professional and quality to listeners, it’s important that we create some sort of introductory sequence. An intro is like the credits of a film or the theme song of a sitcom. It offers up an introduction to the program about to commence, and gives composers an opportunity to introduce themselves by name as well as their podcast/audio show to listeners in a standard and familiar format. There are evidently many ways to go about composing your intro, but two elements that most intros seem to have are music and a scripted aural snippet performed by the host of the show.

We have already learned how to layer multiple tracks in audacity. You simply put two audio files on two different tracks and they will play over each other. To create an intro, this is the first step. Additionally, we have already learned how to manipulate output volume levels. When composing your audio documentary intro, you may want to lower the volume on the complementary music in order to make the words spoken by the host easily discernible. There’s only one problem. What if you want to make the music loud for the segments when it plays by itself? In other words, how can you make the music fade in volume specifically for when the host is introducing herself and the show, while keeping it at full volume in other points? That’s where my tip comes in.

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So there’s audacity. I’ve got my scripted intro on the top track and my introductory song on the bottom track. In order to manipulate the sound volume of the song at specific points I need to use the tool in the top middle row of tools, directly to the right of the record button. The icon is of two triangles with a horizontal line going between them. The “envelope” tool.

Hovering over the area in my music track where the gray area meets the white area, I make four “envelope” marks. Two close together right as the host (me) begins speaking, and two more close together right when I end speaking. This small audio section between each pair of dots marks exactly where the music will fade out and then fade back in. I can then drag the dots down, making the audio track visibly smaller, to manipulate the music’s volume for the entire enveloped section.

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From here you can play around with the fade times and volume switches until you get your audio documentary intro sounding exactly how you want it.

Using the envelope tool was a way I discovered to create seamless transitions between music and speaking, but it also has many other uses. It can be used to fade between two speakers, to fade sound effects, or to fade a long rambling dialogue to transition into a new section.

I hope you all find it useful!

ao

Superheroes on the Radio

In many ways, these audio documentaries reminded me of video documentaries I’ve seen, with the obvious major difference being that instead of being aural and visual they are just aural. The creators don’t let this lessen the richness of the stories they tell, but instead use it to their advantage. They play on the ingrained story-telling cues we have all learned and overlay and mix many different audio clips to tell one compelling and cohesive story. Many video documentaries begin with a quote. Similarly, Superheroes begins with one. I pictured a simple black screen with white text when the line “When we were weak we told ourselves that we were strong…” was being spoken, and then in came the music like the opening credits of a film. This was a good technique to whet our appetites to the topic and create intrigue. Also using music (notably music without words to avoid confusion) plays a big role in setting the tone for these audio documentaries.

The documentary began with an anecdote about an unathletic kid who dreamed of being a superhero, which really drew me in as a listener. However, when Chris was discussing how he thought he had developed the ability to withstand extreme heat, I was also thinking, “how is this going to go on for an hour?” and “how are they going to sustain my interest with this topic?”. I thought these things mostly because this is something I’m especially worried about with my own audio documentary. I have been spending time brainstorming what kind of story I can tell that will be unique and of broad interest to a listening audience. The audio documentaries we’ve listened to seem especially cognizant of audience and how to make their pieces interesting with just sound. The anecdote is accompanied by traditional “superhero music” and interweaved with a narrator summarizing information presumably learned during the interview with Chris. The music helps set the tone for how Chris feels about superheroes and felt about superpowers while growing up. The narrator helps condense his words—reserving poignant and interesting quotes for Chris’ voice while summarizing the less important background info. It’s also interesting to note that the background music doesn’t need to play consistently. It’s actually more interesting to hear it fade in and out throughout the piece.

After the anecdote completed, the piece altered its perspective. It recaptured my interest when it turned to real “people on the street” discussing which superpower they would want and how they would use it. Here, the piece became about more than one grade school outcast’s daydreams. It took on more of a philosophical tone and brought up some very deep human questions about selflessness. To create the “person on the street vibe” the documentary added rustling chairs, traffic, background chatter, and footsteps to their responses.

Music played such a key role in transitioning between the stories and sections of the piece. It served as a sort of page break that told us we were moving forward in time or changing perspectives. I also noticed these audio documentaries aren’t afraid of silence. A few seconds of silence is sort of like strategic white space on a web page, it creates an aural break and helps keep the soundtrack from sounding too rushed or overwhelming. Silence leaves us entirely to ourselves and our own reflections with nothing to look at—a unique affordance of audio that doesn’t really exist in other mediums. It is very conducive to promoting introspective thought in listeners. Another nice thing about radio is there is so many possibilities for remixing the raw recording without it being too jarring. You can mix audio taken from two completely different times and places seamlessly. Finally, the documentary really plays around with the fact that radio is primely a musical medium. We associate it with listening to music, at points it seems to linger on music for no other reason than to allow us as listeners to enjoy it.

As far as the role of the narrator I don’t think I ever consciously realized how rehearsed and scripted radio is before listing to these audio documentaries. It always seemed like a much more candid medium to me. However, the narrator’s words are very carefully chosen and narrators can take on any number of tones—across the stories the narrators were poetic speakers, humorous speakers, or somber and insightful. In Superheroes, the narrator was mostly conversational and slightly philosophical. It’s also very rare that the narrator is heard asking questions. We instead can glean what the questions he posed were from the answers and responses we hear. As a general rule, only information that adds to the interest level of the piece should be included in the final audio cut—i.e. only when the narrator’s question is an interesting audio clip should it be included.

I took note that the narrator also serves as our guide through the audio documentary, and quite explicitly informs us about the content of each section. For example, the Five Stages of Choosing Your Superhero is introduced as just that. I think in this medium being explicit is necessary in keeping listeners from getting lost. Radio is probably the easiest medium to get lost in since you cannot go back to remind yourself of what has already transpired (as in static mediums like writing or photography) nor do you have visual clues to keep you on track.

Another interesting allowance of audio is that it can get away with doing things that when translated to another medium might be cheesy or silly. For example, when an interview subject in Superheroes is describing himself as an invisible man sneaking around a house we hear music that sounds like “footsteps” and a creaking door mixed in. This helps create a visual in our head of this imagined situation.

The most interesting thing I gleaned from this analysis exercise was the interesting contradiction of radio. We’re directly being spoken to, and yet there is some wall of disconnect there—we feel that the speakers aren’t aware that we are listening until this disconnect is bridged. At points the documentary addresses us directly, such as asking us to think about what we would choose: the power of flight or invisibility. The narrator poses “don’t rush into it, think it over, which would you choose.” This is definitely something I want to play around with in my audio documentary. Along with this I realized how many layers of audio can be layered without creating confusion. In the Zora section, “Zora” talking is actually used as background noise playing softly in the background while Ira Glass gives us background on her story. When mixed properly, almost a limitless number of sounds can be layered seamlessly.

ao

Making a Beautiful Navigation Bar

Personalize Your Navigation Bar

We all know there’s nothing worse, and nothing more 90s than a simple, vertical, bullet-point navigation bar. In fact, people will probably leave your website immediately if they see this on your home page, especially if the links in that bulleted list are bright blue and turn red when clicked. *Mental cringe*. Today, it’s very simple to create a crisp, beautiful navigation bar that reflects your website’s content as well as your wonderful, competent, web-designing self.

The nav bar is of ultimate important (oh yes, we’re speaking in html slang now because we’re all experts right?—or at least we can pretend). It is the first thing visitors to your website see and it should appears on every page of your site. You want to be cognizant and conscious of your choices: choosing appropriate fonts, colors, and styles that are not only reflective of your personality but are also easy to see and use. I think, with nav bars and with all web design really, the key is to be subtle and simple. I designed my home page on my website with a simple navigation menu that utilized simple colors and animation. How did I do it you may ask? I’m not really quite sure, because it took me forever. This html stuff is tough, hence the lateness of this post. But I think we’re all starting to get it down.

I started with writing my html code, which I kept it pretty simple. I wanted to keep my home page as mostly minimalist to feature the home page banner I made in photoshop complete with Amelia Judith Ohm logo. I also like to keep everything in sections or containers or something to keep everything organized and keep the option open of adding a background color or alignment command to those separate sections. The nav bar html is something we went over in class so I won’t explain it too much. I’ll just say to make sure your links are linked to the write pages within your website. There’s nothing more frustrating for a user than to click on “Photo” and you end up on a personal blog. Here is my HTML:

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On to the CSS code. First, I wanted to make sure my nav bar was in the center of my screen with centered text in a horizontal line. To do this I first specified {text-align: center;} under ul to center my text. I then centered the entire container holding my nav bar by specifying {left:auto; width:100%;} this trick ensures that your entire nav bar will be centered on the screen. Next I specified {display:inline-block;} under li to get my navigation buttons in a horizontal line as opposed to a vertical list.

Next came the fun part. To get the nav bar to be interactive I utilized the pseudo classes of a (a:link hover active visited) to personalize how my links interact with visitors to my site. The first thing I did was have my links slightly scale up when hovered over and clicked. I kept this scale up very subtle so it didn’t look tacky. To do this I first specified that the links should start out at their normal size, and when interacted with the interaction should “ease-in” and take half a second to complete. Here’s the code:

a {

-webkit-transform: scale(1);

-webkit-transition-timing-function:ease-in;

-webkit-transition-duration: .5s;    }

I then made a pseudo class of a for when it is hovered over and active. Here is the code:

a:hover, a:active {

background-color:#9A9293;

-webkit-transform:scale(1.01,1.01);

-webkit-transition-timing-function:ease-out;

-webkit-transition-duration: .25s;
}

This code specifies that when hovered over or active the links should over the links should take on a new color (I chose a light gray) and should scale up by .01. When they are no longer being hovered over the links should “ease-out” back to their original appearance and this transformation should take one quarter of a second.

Here’s how my entire CSS for the nav bar ended up looking:

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I enjoyed working with this code because it was easy to write and tweak, making it a great skill for us beginning coders to have. I hope one or two of the tools I used can help make your nav bars beautiful and modern. Here are some shots of the code in action. I made the banner in photoshop as I mentioned. It seems to be struggling to work online–I’m still working out some bugs–but hopefully  my live website will look just like this representation very soon.

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Happy coding

ao

Analysis of Built By Buffalo

I love four things in a website—something that’s crisp, easy to navigate, multidimensional, and pretty. At least, those are the four things that stuck out to me as amazing on the website I decided to analyze for blog post #8. I found a website to write about (builtbybuffalo.com) through googling web design galleries per Dr. Campbell’s advice. The page is for a company of web designers, so it makes sense that their website showcases their best work. Everything about it, from the color scheme to the graphics and menu options is cohesive and aesthetically pleasing. I felt the designers also artfully crafted the website, mindfully keeping their company ethos in mind, so clients and other visitors to their site instantly get a feel for their staff and services.

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The colors are very simple—blue orange and gray. They are used tastefully and sparingly throughout the website. They also put a lot of white space on their site to keep it looking modern and clutter-free. The white space helped keep me from feeling overwhelmed by all the information contained throughout their site.

Their home page draws beautifully on our website literacy and familiarity with logos and image/text relationships to convey a lot with very few words. At the top the site says “Built by” and then a picture of a buffalo—the company logo. I instantly recognized this to mean the website was a company website called something along the lines of “Built by Buffalo”. Drawing on the buffalo analogy, a simple black headline reads “A Higher Plain”, metaphorically alluding to their superior talent and work. From the front page, I don’t know exactly what the company does, but I can see they are professional, modern, clever, and talented. I also do not feel frustrated by not knowing exactly what they do because a simple navigation menu at the top of the homepage makes it very easily for me to visit their “About”, “Work”, and “Contact” pages.

The navigation tools of the website really made it great for me. Instead of using cheap looking “next” navigation links, they use colorful circles, buttons that light up when you scroll over them, and disappearing text that reveals photos beneath to guide visitors through the site.

The site uses simple fonts and no chintzy stylization tricks (such as italics or bolding) to grab reader attention. They allow their stellar graphics and photos to do the communicating. This is what makes their website great—they allow its many elements to cohesively collide, so that none of them are overwhelming to us. They use a balanced mix of photos, text, and graphics to convey their messages.

The main message I took away from analyzing this website is that you cannot convince a visitor to your site how great your site or company is simply through words. A simple and artistic presentation of the contents of your website are the best way to convey your professionalism and credibility as a website creator. This also in turn makes your website easy to navigate and makes visitors want to continue clicking through your links. Before writing my code, I will decide on a simple color palette to use throughout my site. I also feel very motivated to create some graphics for my site in Photoshop after seeing the awesome graphics on Built by Buffalo. They bring such a creative and unique element to a website, that sets it apart. Their website also has a distinct persona, with writing of one single voice throughout the site. This is also something I will definitely keep in mind when making my website, making sure to use a voice that will appeal to my audience.

ao