I’m extremely honoured to report that a student animation I was asked to do some voice-acting / narration for was recently selected as both the Top Animation, as well as Top Film, at this year’s Reel Stars Student Film Festival in Coqtuilam last week.
With Travis & his Reel Stars award (on the phone w/ his mom).
Directed by Travis Anderson, Exileserves as a trailer to a longer story of a scientist who has been exiled to ‘a place between time,’ and takes viewers on an engrossing and terrifying journey that I was fortunate to be invited along for as the voice of the main character. With Travis expert direction and comprehensive understanding of his own vision, we were able to record all of the voice parts in one sitting, mostly in the first ‘takes.’ As my first turn in this sort of collaboration, all the credit for the project’s success rests squarely with Travis and his exceptional abilities as an artist, director, and storyteller.
Take a few minutes and bask in the world of Exile, and join me in congratulating Travis on a job very well done!
Last week, the TALONS classes presented audio documentaries their small groups had been preparing out of individual threads of personal inquiry into the history of the Canadian Northwest (if you’re just joining us, here is a brief introduction to the project). Personal explorations became reflective and highly professional collaborative radio documentaries that were broadcast – via #ds106radio‘s younger sister station 105 the Hive – from the Math Department’s tutorial office back to the classroom, but also onto the wider web. TALONS alumni Jonathan and Andrew played hosts over the course of two days’ radio listening, providing introductions and banter between shows and asking the reporters and producers a few questions after each episode.
Introduction: a dramatization of the trial of Louis Riel is played, with Christina narrating from the present.
Act I: Justann finishes the introduction and brings us into Act I, which addresses the reasons why Riel left the United States following his exile.
Act II: Natalie then explains why Riel stayed in Canada after certain death, which features audio from an interview with Jean Teillet, Louis Riel’s great grand niece, from CBC’s Ideas.
Act III: After Louis Riel’s execution, Carlin asks whether the execution of Louis Riel would be considered a triumph or mistake and Christina follows up with explaining why Louis Riel’s death came at the right time.
17th century Canada, bold and bountiful, awaits the exploration and exploitation of those nestled inside the Manifest Destiny. Every valley, forest, and plain awaits a man with a gun in one hand and a bible in the other, ready to “civilize” his new found nation.
“To rid the world of red, and fill it with white”
Somewhere along the way, a people neither European nor Native formed: the Metis. The Metis balanced between two worlds. Like First Nations and Inuit, this nation possessed a distinct culture, with trappers and traders. Again, like First Nations and Inuit, the Metis endured years of oppression from the European settlers. But the theft of land, wealth, and family could not compare to the loss of a culture, spirit, and identity.
Our lovely host Isaac M. will bring up some small talk and a current event (The Boston Marathon Bombings: Brothers arrested) like usual, and will then steer the show into the question of the day: “With the original treaties signed (between the Natives and Canada), what do both sides think they have “honoured” and what do they think the other side has failed at?”
So much of my musical inspiration has been drawn from Josh in the last few years, in fact, that when I played one of the first songs I wrote for my sister, she exclaimed that she didn’t know Ritter had written a song about so many of the places we’d been spending our summer vacations. To boot, the afternoon I spent in the Commodore with Josh, in addition to enjoying the show that night (despite it being already the third time seeing him in concert) provided a profound shift in my thinking about writing and performing music.
I was struck not only by the reaction the show brought out in myself – jubilation, revelry, and an unending grin that followed me home and into work the rest of the week – but also the appreciation I was gaining for just what it was I saw Josh doing from the stage: breathing life into the room and connecting to people through the sheer force of his love for what he had forged with his own imagination and enthusiasm.
It was a glimpse of what I would later hear Bruce Springsteen describe as music’s ability to allow for the creation of “a transformative self.“
By sharing what he loved to do with others. Could it be that easy?
Well… not entirely. But imagine my appreciation to find Josh’s series of blog posts laying bare his path to the Commodore stage that night. Here are a series of posts from 2010 wherein he offers advice for Making a Life in Music, from buying yourself a notebook, to sharing a tour bus with Joan Baez.
To strain a metaphor to breaking, Death is the enigma and Art is the engine we build to decipher it. Each of us makes Art as a way to understand human problems (Love, War, God, Death, Sandwiches) of great complexity. While we go about our day-to-day lives we are constantly feeding information into the engines we create for ourselves, gaining insight and slowly solving the enigma. Art is one such engine.
Goals are very different birdies. Even the words sound different. Aspiration, that airy puff of breath, is such a suave word, soaring high above its stolid, plunkier cousin, goal. You can even tell, by the sound of the two words, which one gets the work done. A lot of people want, for some reason, a tour bus. They dream about it and never sit down to figure out, actually, how they are going to get that tour bus. Aspirations are good, nice things to have, don’t get me wrong, but they’re the pie in the sky, and if you want pie, you’re gonna need goals.
Open mics are fun, but treat them professionally and you will learn about how to be a professional. Make them your second job. Attend them diligently, meet people, keep your instrument in tune, and in the words of a famous open mic superstar, learn your song well before you start singing. Pay attention to what the crowd needs, always have a mailing list with you, and if you have recordings, bring them along. It may take a few years and more than a few late nights before you’re ready to progress on from open mics, but you’re starting at the bottom and these will be some of the most memorable, beautiful, challenging times that you’ll have in your entire career, and I guarantee you’ll never forget them.
[Artists] should look for someone who thinks about their art as much as they do. Someone who sends them TOO MANY emails / texts / ideas about their music. They should look for the person in their life who’s pushing them. Someone who’s a good listener but who isn’t a tool or a yes-man. There’s someone in their life who’s curious. Someone who’s a little bit competitive. Someone they can talk music with and someone who is ready to work hard.
Artists are empathetic people. They have a great capacity to feel the emotions of others. As such, they are easily able to imagine, rightly or wrongly, what it must be like to be someone else; someone more popular, more good-looking, funnier, wealthier. It is this ability to imagine that gives us the power to do create, but empathy is (again alas) threaded through with strong streaks of jealousy. A little imagination can go a long way towards envisioning what our life would be like if only such-and-such happened to us instead of to the other guy. We imagine ourselves in his place, and those grapes he is eating no doubt taste far better than these sour ones we ended up with. Well, imagining yourself in his place isn’t bad as long as you do something constructive with it.
If the open mic is where you first learn to play your songs in front of people, the opening set is where you’ll start to learn your place in the music business ecosystem. Here is where you’ll really be tested and where you’ll find out your capacity to make the best of demanding situations. The benefits of being on the bill are great, but the demands are also great, and your ability to conduct yourself professionally (and optimistically) is equal to the opportunity you’re being given.
The best stuff about living a life in music is the stuff that comes to you unexpectedly. Nothing about your life can be planned so well that the best stuff won’t find its way in and change everything. The sound system will break and you’ll be forced to play without amplification. There will be a storm and you’ll have no electricity. You’ll mess up your place in the song and a whole new way to play it will suddenly come to you. Something in your life will change and you’ll realize just how important the other parts are.
I’ve written here before about being a ‘notebook guy,’ someone who cut my creative teeth with pen and paper and has yet to find the same intimacy in digital space that I have had with notebooks and journals going back to my teen years. This isn’t to say that I don’t do some creative thinking on my computer, or my phone – recording brief demos of songs, or typing up lyrics in a Google Doc instead of writing them by hand, for instance – but much of my thinking begins in these books that I still keep with me at (nearly) all times, even if I have never truly put my finger on just what it is this brand of note-taking is facilitating.
Luckily, GNA Garcia came upon this Lifehacker article that pulls from a few different sources to put some of the necessity of notebooks into better context than I’ve been able to. The first of these sources is author Stephen Johnson, whose book Where Good Ideas Come Fromhas been showing up consistently in my Twitter feed, Pro-D sessions and casual discussions for a few years now.
Johnson’s The Spark File talks about how he uses his notebooks to ‘catch’ the hunches and inklings that may (or may not) become one of those Good Ideas:
…most good ideas (whether they’re ideas for narrative structure, a particular twist in the argument, or a broader topic) come into our minds as hunches: small fragments of a larger idea, hints and intimations. Many of these ideas sit around for months or years before they coalesce into something useful, often by colliding with another hunch.
The problem with hunches is that it’s incredibly easy to forget them, precisely because they’re not fully-baked ideas. You’re reading an article, and a little spark of an idea pops into your head, but by the time you’ve finished the article, you’re checking your email, or responding to some urgent request from your colleague, and the next thing you know, you’ve forgotten the hunch for good. And even the ones that you do manage to retain often don’t turn out to be useful to you for months or years, which gives you countless opportunities to lose track of them.
This is why for the past eight years or so I’ve been maintaining a single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for articles, speeches, software features, startups, ways of framing a chapter I know I’m going to write, even whole books. I now keep it as a Google document so I can update it from wherever I happen to be. There’s no organizing principle to it, no taxonomy – just a chronological list of semi-random ideas that I’ve managed to capture before I forgot them. I call it the spark file.
… note-taking works primarily because I have learned to separate my putative spark file from my task list. If I feel the impulse to make a note to myself about something that needs to be done, I put it somewhere else — my actual to-do list or a list of potential projects.
In Scott Belsky’s book, Making Ideas Happen (also recommended, especially if you manage people in a creative industry), he distinguishes between ideas and “action steps” — separating your notes, sketches, etc., from things that need to be done.
This may not be true of everyone, but I find that I’m the most creatively fruitful when I approach pure creative work and execution separately. If I start with the execution, I’m much more limited in how I think about what I want to accomplish. I won’t pursue a story idea further because I think it’s going to take more time than I have. I won’t explore an article topic because I don’t have all the research at hand. I don’t want potential action steps to make pursuing a new idea seem too intimidating or insurmountable. So I keep separate files for those — mostly task lists associated with specific projects and a master list for overall prioritization.
I’ve kept each of these sorts of books over the years – ideas books, and task-oriented books – but of late have been much freer in veering between the two purposes. The book I’ve been working with this school year is a mix of all of the following: calendars, lists, concept maps, essay and blog post drafts, ideas, songs, sketches and other brainstorms. All of them are necessary parts of my creative workflow, catching, sorting, and implementing the various hunches, inklings and schemes that make up anything I’ve ever thought of as a ‘good’ idea.
What about you? Where do your good ideas come from?
Something that I haven’t given as much blog attention here as I would have liked so far this semester is the vibrant community that has sprung up around our school’s Introduction to Guitar class. Having had students post their work regularly to a wiki site in past years, I wanted to incorporate some of the design lessons I learned in #Philosophy12 and create a site that could function as a hub of creation, collaboration, and community that would serve not only our school’s face-to-face guitar students, but also offer wayfinding musicians on the open web a place to play, learn, and offer their own expertise to one another.
…it is not a class that teaches guitar but one where you can learn guitar.
And while I think the course has always functioned this way as a ‘closed’ system (even though we have shared our exploits on Youtube, #ds106radio, and other places), the energy and inspiration that our open online participants have so far brought to the class has increased the creative combustibility of the group by several orders of magnitude. There are folks in Japan, Ontario, Australia, Singapore, and even Ontario-azona strumming along with #IntroGuitar lessons and assignments, sharing stories of their instruments, their struggles (and triumphs) of playing music, and making meaningful musical connections with the face-to-face students who meet daily in our school’s choir room through videos, blog comments, and listening to performances in class.
One such connection that has been working its way through the course community began as a poem shared by a student of Jabiz Raisdana, in Singapore.
Having made some trans-oceanic songs written with Jabiz over the years, I opened up a Google Document and began sanding the poems edges and syllables with some chords and a basic melody. I recorded this so that folks could follow up with what I had made out of Michelle’s orginal poem, and posted the works on Twitter and the #IntroGuitar blog.
Over the weekend, Nathan John Moes continued to work with the chords and Michelle’s lyrics and added this version of the song that has been stuck in my head since Sunday night.
Which all would have been amazing, right? A poem gets posted late at night (I might be adding that piece to the narrative…) on a student blog in Singapore, and a week later it’s spawned a song that has been amended, added to, and recorded by a few teachers in British Columbia.
Of his work putting the song and the recording together, Colin said:
...this is totally uncharted territory for me.
Totally uncharted territory, for a guy who isn’t even getting a grade or credit for the course and – beyond that – has been playing guitar for more than ten years.
And yet still, the ball bounces, and rolls. This morning Leslie joined the party all the way from Lima, Peru, Camrose, Alberta, offering the fifth (!) incarnation of the poem accompanied by her ukelele.
But this is likely not the end of this particular story, with chapters, verses and tomes yet to be discovered.
Without taking away from the stellar work that the other two groups in Philosophy 12 contributed to our Ethics’ unit endeavour to create teaching/learning materials for a younger audience (middle school on downwards), I wanted to share a recording I made of Iris, Megan, Greg, Zoe and Toren’s group’s presentation in a grade one classroom on Friday afternoon (the file is too big to post anywhere other than here on my site).
You can listen to the participatory magic the group brought to life in the way of a story, a singalong, and even some Christmas cookies if you like, by clicking the link below (sorry, I couldn’t manage to hyperlink the cookies).
Max’s Christmas Story by Megan (story), Iris (song), Greg (song), Zoe (illustrations), Toren (editing/photoshop/cookies).
It might seem hyperbole to claim, as many Wagnerites do, that The Ring Cycle is “The Greatest Work of Art Ever.” But the grandeur and power of this monumental work have permeated our culture from Star Wars to Bugs Bunny to J.R.R. Tolkien.
WNYC’s “The Ring and I: The Passion, The Myth, The Mania” asks what many of the uninitiated must wonder: “What’s the big deal?” This journey, intended for both devoted fans and newcomers alike, visits with a diverse cast of characters who weigh in with their answers to this complex question…
Having been able to meet a few of the people, and see the inner workings of tonight’s performance – even getting a chance to stand on the Queen Elizabeth Theater stage – and just what it takes to put together a single performance of an Opera, we glimpsed the inner working of the staggering achievement of a veritable town of committed individuals working at the top of their games.
Wagner’s Ring Cycle, or at least the picture of it painted here,is a sprawling attempt to document the heights of the period’s musical themes along with the richness of Germanic mythology that pervades the English language, as well as forms the foundation and archetypes for almost all of western civilization’s history and storytelling. In strives to attain epic in its every breath.
I’ll admit, when I came across the episode billing something I had scarcely heard of as The Greatest Work of Art Ever, I was skeptical. But Jad & Robert help introduce one of the most daring composers who ever worked in one of the world’s most grandiose art forms, and it’s difficult to argue with the scope of the Ring’s influence.
Think about it: Star Wars, Bugs Bunny, JRR Tolkien.
This week, we have been beginning our study of Canadian geography and our reading of the Golden Spruce by reflecting on what we might find as the Essence of British Columbia. In setting out to learn a few other TALONS skills – image manipulation, journal writing and a few technicalities of posting different items to our blogs – each of the classes have been selecting pictures from the TALONS archives of Flickr photos and adding text from different reflections on place to make the image come to life in a more personal and powerful fashion.
Which got me to thinking this morning that I and we have friends, colleagues and classmates out there in the world beyond B.C. There are our friends in the Idea Hive, and across Canada’s north and east through my connections in recent Unplug’d conferences. There are Jabiz’ classes, and Keri-Lee’s, and Mary’s students learning in Asia, and Europe. And while it gives me a personal charge to see our own provincial home characterized in so many memorable photos and personal reflections, it makes me curious to see others’ homes brought to life in a similar manner.
In a few weeks, we will be looking at Canadian Geography in the larger sense, and it would be excellent to see some of our co-learners from across the country attempt a similar remixing of their own or their class’ pictures. But also those of you in our international ranks: this question of place is made more tangible with diverse responses to it, and we would love to see what you think of where you call home, and what you think it means.
Having turned the corner here in metro-Vancouver toward fall and winter, I thought I would post the video of a very warm afternoon (the last official day of summer 2012) and a writing prompt that travelled a long way to get there.
Special props are due to Liam, who rose to the occasion and supplied the harmonica solo.
I would love to see these words transformed, re-thought and remixed into some kind of art project. I know there are some amazing musicians, writers and artists amongst you; do these words inspire you to draw, sing, create? This post is like Caine’s Arcade, in that I hope it moves you in some way to create. Consider it another seed that I have planted. I will wait patiently and hope that perhaps a few trees may grow.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Hesse quote made a perfect union with some of the pictures I took while the TALONS were journaling on our three day jaunt through the British Columbian woods, where Jabiz’ own words had actually served as a meditating and writing prompt on Thursday afternoon. Before sending the group on a solo walk around the back half of Hicks Lake, I played the TALONS the first half of a song I wrote out of one of Jabiz’ poems and told them to “immerse oneself in the blossoming awareness of the moment,” and that we would meet up on the opposite shore where I would play them the second verse and we would settle ourselves to do a little writing (where I snapped the above pic).
That he would have a follow up quotation for us on Monday morning is unsurprising, of course, because this is the sort of thing I’ve come to expect from my online colleagues, these folks – some of whom, like Jabiz, I’ve never met face-to-face – who are here in our classroom from time to time whether on these blogs or in the local woods: teachers, students, learners, friends.