Part 2: Paro, Scottlo, radio

Wow, that was a lot of listening!!! I really enjoyed the Dissecting Joanne Rosser, Papermaker piece. The format of “here’s what to look for/here’s the story/here’s the analysis” was a HUGE help for me in understanding how audio shapes the way we understand stories. The way the sounds are edited in really help tell the story, and when it’s done right, it’s almost like you can’t tell how it’s been edited at all. I guess it’s like calling back to Vignelli, saying that when something is designed properly, the design disappears to the eyes of the reader (84). In this case, if I’m not being too bold, if a story is edited properly, the sounds seem to flow naturally and create a progression that goes alongside the anecdote.

In the TED Radio Hour clip, sound is used to great effect in leading the listener to a particular conclusion before yanking that rug out from under us! Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor who had believed that the virtual world could absolutely be used to better our lives in the “real” world, describes the moment she watched an old woman’s interactions with Paro, a robotic seal designed to act as a comforting companion for the elderly. A minute into the clip, as Sherry describes Paro’s purpose, gentle and uplifting music starts to play. Layered with the music, you can hear the woman interacting with the squeaking and chirping Paro. Sherry continues describing the scene. This is one of the three types of recordings that is described in the Joanne Rosser interview: active tape (the sound of someone doing something) with someone talking. The sounds of Paro with the old woman are combined with Sherry’s narration, then imposed over a steadily building musical score that seems to be leading to some kind of revelation. Sherry’s narration is interspersed with quick cuts to the host’s voice, then back to Sherry, then back to the host, then Sherry again. It creates a sensation of urgency, like something is definitely, surely, ABSOLUTELY about to happen.

The expected revelation never comes. Like I mentioned above, the rug is yanked out from under us, and the music abruptly stops to emphasize Sherry’s discontent with Paro. It is an extremely uncomfortable moment, in sharp contrast to the image that we’ve already created of Paro in our heads. When Sherry acknowledges that she has concerns about the implications of developments like this, the music changes again to something that sounds a little more sinister. It’s like a song that would play in a movie when they show you the workings of the bad guy’s secret lab. Poor Paro. Maybe he needs a comfort friend.

Scottlo’s clips were great – he often wondered if he was going on for too long, but I think the length was just right. I really liked how he played the Sound Effect Stories that other DS106ers had made and gave constructive criticism. It honestly made the whole idea of doing my own audio posts seem a lot less overwhelming to have someone show me another person’s work and give a quick breakdown of what they used (like freesound, findsounds, or any other resource we have at our fingertips). Before I saw how much was available to me, I was scared I’d have to come up with sound effects all on my own, which sounds kind of silly now.

He had a lot of suggestions for what programs to use as well – I downloaded Audacity in the first week of class, but for a different reason. I was actually using it to try and create a glitch image using this technique. I wasn’t able to get it to work, otherwise I’d be posting glitch art every darn day. In episode 13, he opens with a remixed version of the Twilight Zone theme that someone had made in Garageband! I thought that was really cool, but some googling revealed that Garageband is mac exclusive unless you’re willing to jump through some hoops. I might try it on my iphone though.

I think one of the big takeaways from Scottlo’s recordings is something that’s more implicit. It doesn’t really feel like he’s talking at us, but more like he’s talking to us. That’s what makes them so easy to listen to and what makes the information so easy to take in. If he had spoken like Corn-and-Sorghum era Ira Glass, that would be a whole other story!!! His tone is conversational and amiable. It’s just pleasant.

As an aside, I really loved hearing the kids playing in the park and shouting at each other over the bike in episode 11. Storytelling as it happens.