The ONE time it’s okay to keep pausing the movie.

A few years ago I took an international film class at UMW. We talked about film techniques, movements, themes, all that stuff.  It was just a summer class, but I thought I was so smart because I got to watch and analyze a buttload of classic movies. What I didn’t realize was that I didn’t actually have a more refined cinematic palate. I had just turned into Statler and Waldorf.

Reading Roger Ebert’s “How to Read a Movie” brought back some of that shame for me. Oops! It was, however, a nice refresher for the things I learned in that film class. For example, in Ebert’s explanation of scene composition, he notes that diagonal tilts or lines imply a world out of balance. One of the first films we watched in the class was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which used strange and extreme angles in its set design to impart a sense of unrest, chaos, or insanity. Below are two stills of street scenes from the film. They look like M.C. Escher pieces!

What struck me the most was Ebert’s technique for reading films along with other people. Instead of standing at the front of the room and directing a conversation, he joins the audience. When someone says to pause the film at a particular moment, he pauses it so they can talk about it. For people who want to pick apart a movie and see how every piece works together, I think this is a really great idea. (If someone is there because they just want to watch a movie, they’d probably lose their mind after pausing every few minutes to talk about framing or sound bridges or whatever.) This “democracy in the dark” sounds to me like one of the best ways to teach people how to analyze and think about film. It’s not just “this is why it’s done this way, it says so in the book,” but more of a socratic discussion where more than one person can provide insight.

Regarding intrinsic weighting, it did frustrate me to read that Ebert had “never heard of a director or cinematographer who ever consciously applied [the “laws” of visual space].” It makes filmmaking sound innate and very exclusive, like if you don’t get it, you won’t get it. Maybe I could be able to read a film well enough, but could I ever compose one with an aesthetic that was on par with a Kubrick, a Tarantino, a Hitchcock or an Anderson without working to the point where my brain turns to soup? I’d have to be thinking about all the techniques that Ebert describes these directors as doing by what seems like second nature. What a pain.

It reminds me of the joke you hear about high school english classes, where the teacher asks you what the author was trying to communicate when they said the curtains were blue. Maybe the main character is depressed. They couldn’t go on with their life. The blue of the curtains represented the turmoil within them. “No,” you imagine the author saying, “I meant the curtains were freaking blue.” But according to Ebert, if this were film… could the director unconsciously choose blue for the curtains of a depressed character? I want to be in the secret club of born filmmakers, darnit.

The video that I thought was hilarious was the one where Hitchcock is explaining the Kuleshov effect. It seems like such a simple way to influence how the viewer feels about a certain character or event, and it’s all in how the individual pieces are stitched together. With editing, you could make anyone look good or bad – Hitchcock even shows us that you can make a person look kind or you can make them look like a “dirty old man.” I wouldn’t be surprised if they used this technique in reality TV to up the drama factor by 1000.

The match cut (also present in this video as a “form cut” and here as “cut”) is a really cool way to connect two separate shots. In 2001, Kubrick uses the similar shapes and movements of the bone and the space station and has them act as a kind of bridge between the two scenes. The scenes are distinct from each other – they aren’t sequential in time, but they are connected. The bone is thrown upward, and as it begins to fall back to earth, the shot cuts to a space station that looks like it’s following the same downward trajectory.

The most informative video by far was the video on Camera Angles and Techniques. I knew how to do the “climb up the side of the building” illusion already, but I would have totally skipped over providing establishing shots. I probably would have made one continuous unedited shot and called it a day. For the climb scene to be effective, there needs to be more of a visual narrative – a shot of the tension in the rope, additional angles, and shots of things that dangle to provide a sense of gravity.  Pictures like this…

work because they’re pictures. It’s a single shot that doesn’t need a whole lot more work. If it were a scene in a movie though, they’d need to edit in some more stuff to establish the sideways world they’re in. Maybe a shoe falls and goes flying into the window. Maybe a shot of a bunch of locker doors falling open. Lots of possibilities!

The daily anxiety

Today’s daily create: “I am nervous.” Me: a shivering chihuahua. A decorative sunken ship at the bottom of a fish tank with “nervous wreck” painted on the hull. Both things I thought of AFTER replying to the Daily Create. Facepalming myself into oblivion right now.

Week 3: Audio… fun but frustrating

Assignment links:

I had a lot of fun with this week’s assignments. I did however have to cram them all into the weekend because I got caught up with the DELUGE OF POLITICAL NEWS! Not only American, but oh boy, that UK snap election. I’m glad that I’m seeing other people admit to C-SPAN addictions too, because I’ve been setting my alarm to wake up for those early morning intelligence and judiciary committee hearings since March. Release. the. peepee. tape.

 

Lmao. As if that’s the worst thing they’ve got.

Anyway! Onto this week’s actual stuff. Like I said, I had a lot of fun making the audio clips that I did. I made everything with Audacity, but even though I used the same program each time, that’s not to say I didn’t struggle. I can tell from some of the comments I’ve gotten that I have a volume problem. Some sounds were too quiet, some were too loud. I’m not really surprised about that, but I am disappointed that my volume problem was that obvious. I spent a lot of extra time trying to tweak the volume of each individual track so that nothing sounded too loud or too quiet to my own ears (through earbuds), but something still went wrong on my end!

Working with volume was one of my biggest issues this week. I don’t know if that’s important on a grander scale because hearing is not an objective experience – some people have super-hearing, others might be partially deaf. So my task as a person who creates audio is to make something where all of the sounds can be heard, but if you have to turn the volume up to hear the overall recording, there isn’t a single particular noise that ends up hurting your ear. So complicated.

Looking at other blogs this week, I noticed that everyone else gives a description of the assignment that they chose, as well as a star rating. I’ve just been linking to it like a total moron. I’ve written about why I chose the assignment, but I don’t think I described the requirements and star rating of the assignment itself. Additionally, a lot of people are being really clear about what program they’re using to make the things that they make. I don’t know why, but I keep assuming that the reader will just know. I have screenshots of my process, which include the program I used, but that obviously doesn’t count as much as “I USED AUDACITY!”

It’s tough to give comments that are more than just perfunctory “good job! I love it!” I have a real problem with giving constructive criticism. This week I only managed 4 comments. They were in response to Jenna’s Dear Jolene…, De’s One Last Breath Before She Goes., Mila’s Hearing Double, and K’s On The Radio.

My overall feel for the week: I thought it would be easy to do audio stuff. I was wrong. I’ve eaten my words 100 times over. At least it was fun. Additionally, the WordPress update made my blog’s text enormous again after 1 week of normal sized text. I don’t know what to do with my life anymore.

Shoutout to De for her kickass Weekly Summary style – I thought I’d try her format this week 🙂

The greatest speech never given

Right off the bat, Moon Graffiti forces you into panic mode alongside the engineers at mission control. It begins with a reenactment of the worst case scenario – a “moon disaster.” There is a rapid beeping, signalling critical error, and the static message from the astronaut giving mission control a program code that they aren’t familiar with – “What’s a 12-02?” “I don’t know.” and that’s only within the first 25 seconds of the recording. As landing draws near, things begin to sound like they’re looking up. The alarm goes away and communications are clear. But then static grows louder and the alarm returns. The astronaut never sends another transmission. Mission control panics – and you hear a metallic crash, then silence. You know something terrible had just happened. It culminates with a snippet of Nixon’s prepared speech, In Event of Moon Disaster, being read over droning, echoing tones. You can feel the dread.

The audio switched once between narration and reenactment, but one thing that was constant in the first half of the clip was the droning, dread-inducing background music. At times, like around 5 minutes 10 seconds when the astronauts were looking around at the surface of the moon, the music would build. “Magnificent desolation,” Aldrin described it as the music droned and echoed, reflecting the hopelessness of the situation and the loneliness of the moon.

In the story, Aldrin kicked the surface of the moon twice, resulting in a rippling effect, something like water. There was a muffled echo noise that played after the actor indicated that Aldrin had kicked the moon dust and it really did “look” like a ripple in my mind’s eye. It was a really neat effect I think!

There was a point when Aldrin told Armstrong that he “had to see this” (the fuel cell) and the music changed to a higher tempo and the notes started to ascend. Something was building, but what? When the music dropped out as the two astronauts realized they would be stuck on the moon, I could almost feel my heart sink into my stomach.

The rest of their time on the moon is spent in silence. No music. The only sound effects were the attempt at planting the flag. I think if they had added that dreary music from the first half back in, the sense of hopelessness would be lost. They truly were alone, hundreds of thousands of miles from any other person, and they would die alone. The sense of loneliness, vastness, emptiness – can only really be expressed by silence.

When Aldrin begins have an issue with breathing while listening to Armstrong’s story, a series of sound effects play. The ticking of a clock (a reminder that they only had 2 hours of air left), a constantly rising tone (signalling that something is coming), and Armstrong’s story starts echoing as Aldrin’s breathing accelerates. I’d interpret it as a panic attack. When Aldrin shakes him out of it, the effects stop suddenly.

The delivery of the Moon Disaster speech was incredible. (I’ll admit that it always kinda makes me tear up when I read it). It comes after a few moments of silence from the astronauts, who had accepted their fate, and was accompanied by a single droning tone. The speech concludes, and a simple stringed tune plays in minor key, followed by the credits.

The use (and non-use) of background music in this clip was what really set the tone for the story, I think. Like I mentioned above, the music chosen in the first half was dead on for instilling a feeling of dread, like “oh god, we’re screwed, we’ve crashed on the moon and our stuff’s all borked and this is the moon.” As the listener and already knowing Aldrin and Armstrong’s fates in this story, the background music gives another sense of “I already know that you will die here, but you don’t know yet, and I don’t want to be here when you find out.” It’s scary and it’s uncomfortable.

We DO have to be there when they find out that they will die on the moon, and the revelation is presented by having the background music completely drop out when they realize that there is no hope for a return trip, and that the radio is dead. The overall silence, with only the two astronauts communicating through staticky transmissions to each other, creates a sense of isolation on the grandest scale.

The complete silence before Nixon’s full speech is tough to hear. At the end of the Moon Disaster document, there is a small list of protocols that should be followed, and one includes NASA ceasing communications with the doomed astronauts and having a clergyman say a prayer. The clip’s moments of silence between the two astronauts after an existential conversation reminds me of that final protocol.

Logical fallacies – but maybe the hat really is cool.

This week’s final Daily Create is all about logical fallacies. I jumped on “bandwagon” (har har har) and chose to use critically endangered animals as the subjects. It’s hard to say “everyone is doing it” when there aren’t a lot of people in the first place. Also, that’s just not a good reason to explain why something is popular. But to be fair, I’d totally wear the melon hat.

The hat may very well be cool, but saying “all the orangs are wearing it” is not a good argument, little dude.

Dream job: complaining about parking to a captive audience

Commuter Carmen has the cushiest job in radio. She gets to complain, and she gets to do it twice a week! Of course, she has to say something nice about the place she’s complaining about before she starts going off. Sometimes I wonder how she can come up with the nice things to say. It is, after all, an advertisement (in the loosest sense). It must be tough, but I’m sure that getting to tell the world about crappy parking in the same breath makes it easier. Her ads are like mini-shows, airing several times a week directly after talk radio segments or blocks of totally 100% commercial free!!! music on channels that get… not very many listeners. She doesn’t have the biggest following – her ads are less than a minute long, but she’s a kindred, bad parking-hating spirit to me.

This week, one of the two schools she reviewed was our very own University of Mary Washington. I should have hung around the parking garage or the Pizza Hut (my preferred parking areas) to try and get her autograph, but that would have been creepy. Here’s her ad!

I knew as soon as I saw the Cheesy Radio Ad assignment that I wanted to do it – it was just a matter of coming up with a character and script. At first I thought I would do something like “do YOU like (x thing)? do YOU like (y thing)? You’ll LOVE UMW!” But that seemed a little bland. Also, I wanted to complain about the commuter parking situation. I’ve literally only been able to park directly on College Ave. in the summer, and even then finding a spot is still exciting. Then there’s the issue of SNOW! In winter, the plow piles snow up into valuable spaces in lots that commuters have to share with residents. And I can tell you haven’t moved your car. It’s got 8 inches of snow on it. I’M WATCHING YOU. Then having to be terrified of sliding down Alvey Drive to my untimely doom… I just… want… a good parking spot…

Something I tried to do in this recording is use a lot of alliteration. A lot of words I chose start with or have a hard “C” sound. Commuter Carmen, considerable commuter counts, close-knit community, etc. I’m not sure what effect it had on the overall recording, but I gave it a shot. I did stumble over my words a few times. You can hear it when I try to say “historic downtown Fredericksburg, VA” – it sounds more like “issoric downtown Frerricksburg.” Yikes. I think you can also tell I’ve been having trouble with volume levels. My previous projects had some volume issues too.

Anyway, I started this project off with a script and recorded it in the Voice Memos app on my iPhone. I was able to email it to myself, but then there were some problems with the filetype! Voice Memos records audio as a .m4a, and Audacity just is not into opening .m4a files. Below is a gallery of my struggles. And HERE is a link to the FFmpeg plugin that you need for Audacity to open .m4a files. The link directs you to the LAME encoder section of the page, but just scroll down to the next section. I followed the directions on the Audacity Wiki to download it – the instructions on the wiki say to save the .exe file, which is different from the instructions on the FFmpeg download page itself. I think the Wiki’s instructions were simpler.

That process was a lot easier than I thought it would be! It only took a few minutes (it installs quickly, but I was double-checking a lot to make sure I was doing everything right). Now it was time for the actual project. The sounds I used are all from freesound.org and include highwayunderpass, Fairyland_120, Car start, and  car engine revving up to 7000 rpm (Rover 216 GSi).

You guys sound a little off

I mentioned in my about me page that I like cartoons… and one of the cartoons that I’m crazy about (like a lot of other people right now) is Steven Universe. I can’t help it. I love the songs, the gems, the fusions, and the neverending possibilities for conspiracy theories. One question gets answered and three more pop up, like a mystery hydra. It’s infuriating.

In the latest episodes, we haven’t seen much of the Crystal Gems – the three magical ladies in the intro song. “The tall one, the purple one, the hot one,” according to Mayor Dewey. I’m going to assume they’ve been sick, because that’s the only acceptable reason for not seeing them around at least sometimes. And since Steven’s gotten home, he’s caught whatever cold they have too. Or is it a magical gem disease? Whatever it is, it’s making them sound really weird.

I thought the B-Flat assignment would be a really fun one to do, especially after looking at some of the posts that former students had made. This one in particular cracked me up!! It’s so well done and it had some great pointers on how to get started on my own. It turned out to be tougher than I was expecting.  The video I used for this project was Steven Universe – Intro 2 (“Official” Instrumental and Acapella). This video was a lifesaver. In my first attempt, I had collected two individual videos (one instrumental and one isolated vocals) but when I imported them both into Audacity, the audio never lined up. I think one of the tracks was ever so slightly faster than the other. This video has both an instrumental AND an isolated vocal track in the same location… thank god. The site I used to convert the video to mp3 is onlinevideoconverter.com, and HERE is a link to the LAME plugin, which lets me export as an mp3 with no hassle!!! Below is a gallery of my final (and successful) attempt at B-flatting the Steven Universe theme.

Peace on a small scale

Today’s daily create asks for us to contribute to a peace playlist. I tried to think of peace songs that hadn’t been submitted already, but came up short. Then I realized that I had lots of ideas for songs that were narrations of moments of personal peace – something I think is just as important. Vashti Bunyan‘s music and vocals are so dreamy in the first place, and the song itself is the story of a man coming home to a home and family that he’s missed dearly. I love it.

Rumor has it, if you slow the song down…

If you slow the song down by 800%, you’ll hear a secret message. Oddly enough, the song is Icelandic pop sensation BABBA’s Disc– I mean, Swedish supergroup ABBA’s Dancing Queen. I’ve always been a big fan of hidden messages. When I was a kid, I remember finding out about backmasking: playing records backward. Hearing Stairway to Heaven backwards for the first time scared the heck out of me. How’d they do that? Was it on purpose? Did someone just come up with those words and make me believe it? Or how about the Beatles – is Paul dead or what? He’s obviously been replaced. The songs say so when you play them backwards. It’s cold. hard. fact. Yup.

Then there are ghost voices… voices that come through when you don’t expect them, or when you ask them to. It’s even scarier to think that you could be filming a video, recording a speech or a song, and inadvertently capture someone else on the tape. It’s not you putting in a hidden message, but someone who is still hidden, and trying to come through. And you never know where you might find it. So, about that ABBA song… what did I find at 1 minute, 45 seconds into the classic refrain?

These are the steps I took to find the hidden message within.

It was kinda spooky, right?

 

Shifting fully out of the story (I had a hard time deciding whether to include a mini-walkthrough in the story itself… as you can see I went for it), here is some more info on how I made the clip and why I made the changes that I did. I used this website to convert the video itself to mp3 for download. The additional sounds I used for this clip are Glitch 08, static noise, and Hello?. All are from freesound.org.

As for the extra audio that I inserted – when I slowed the song down and listened to about half of it, I thought to myself… “this is kind of boring.” I have listened to a handful of other super-slowed-down songs before and enjoyed them as background music or if I was in the mood for some ambient stuff. But I didn’t think there was much I could build around it other than “here’s a song I slowed down for the assignment.” Putting in extra audio and making it a sort of ghost story made it seem a little more fun, to me at least.

Finally, here’s a gallery of how I edited in the extra audio.

What’s the scariest part about camping?

It’d been a long day full of fun outdoorsiness. We set up camp by the river, as we usually do. It was a long walk from the park’s welcome center, carrying all our gear and swatting mosquitos away for what felt like 600 years, but we finally made it to our favorite site in the late afternoon. I dipped my feet in the cool river as my best friend fished downstream. She had chided me for sitting downstream of her before, saying “I’m going to hook your foot, you idiot.” So I moved up.

We made a fire, cooked our dinner, and made s’mores. The day had caught up with us though, and we decided it was time to turn in. Our tent was, for lack of a better word, kickass. Nice and roomy, cool, and no bugs ever got in. When it rained, it never leaked. It might sound like I have low standards, but I’ve been burned (or bitten/soaked) before. Crawling into the tent, we zipped up, muffling the noise of the crickets and katydids screaming for attention. Out of habit, I swept my sleeping bag til it was totally wrinkle-free, until I was unceremoniously shushed.

Someone was out there.

 

As I’ve mentioned before, I loooove scary stories. And I don’t know many things that are more terrifying than being out of your element, in the dark, with only a tent between you and who-knows-what. A person? A bear? A mountain lion? BIGFOOT??? I wouldn’t be prepared for it. I’m not even outdoorsy, and I haven’t camped since I was a kid. That makes these kinds of stories extra scary to me – I have no idea what the heck to do, and I’d probably be running at 20% scared the entire time even when the sun was out. You never know if there’s gonna be a spider in your shoe. Or a snake. Or a daytime murderer.

The clips I used for this all come from Freesound.org. They include Zipper Unzip 3 (Slow), Canvas Tent 3, turning on lamp, sounds of the forest night, and footsteps, dry leaves.

The Sound Effects Story assignment turned out to be a really tough, but rewarding one I think. I remember listening to Scottlo’s radio clips and hearing him say that audio editing is really time consuming, and thinking to myself “pshh…” but oh my god. Why didn’t I listen? This is only a 50 second clip and it took me almost 2 hours to make. Plus, I forgot to document my steps, so what I did was basically remake the clip a second time so I could lay out how I made it! BLARG

I’ll link to some of the tutorials I used before I  embed my gallery of steps:
1. How to Muffle Audio in Audacity (it’s easiest to just read the top comment since the guy in the video goes on and on for 3 minutes and there are only 3 steps)
2.  Saving as an mp3 in Audacity (my mortal foe)

I had some serious issues with LAME at first, but I think it was human error. When I downloaded the zipped file, I think I exported the unzipped folders to some other location and that may have messed things up. I like to keep my programs (like Audacity, Paint.net, Gimp, etc) all in one folder, so when I sent it there it may have garbled something. I ended up going back to the website and choosing the .exe download option, then following the instructions in the tutorial that I linked above the gallery. After that it really was smooth sailing.