Thirteen – The Film

Blog The Week, College

In my last blog post I confessed all the troubles I’d been having with my Final Major Project, and I left saying I was going to try making a film about the process. I’m not sure the film I made is a film about ‘this process of learning and working in a new medium’, but it’s definitely about me – and my process. I’ve been making a self portrait film, I didn’t know it at first, but I am.

People refer to ‘the language of film’ all the time, and I’ve used the analogy a lot in my writing – going so far as to parallel alliteration to match cutting – but I’d never really tried speaking this language. With this film I decided to do that, and I let each stage of the process speak as it wished; I wrote things, I filmed things, I recorded things, I editing things, then I graded things, and with each stage I just said something about myself in the language of film. It was only a self portrait because I needed something to say, but really it was just trying to speak – kind of like the Spanish lessons I did as a kid, we started by learning how to introduce ourselves.

A good summery of how I felt about the film was probably it’s title, I Have Nothing to Show After Two Years of This. Which, while it’s not altogether true, does encapsulate a lot of the fears I had starting this project. Going into this project, I only really had one aim: I wanted to have something to show people when they asked what I was doing with my life. And, though I failed to achieve that with The Willows, and I don’t have something to show them to prove I’m doing something meaningful, I do have an answer to their question: I have nothing to show, but I can use the language I’ve been learning to tell them that, and show them. Perhaps it’s just childish arrogance, or maybe it’s some new flavour denial, but I really think this film was the film I needed to make right now, more than I needed to make The Willows, or any other piece of work. I feel like I did something right.

The film ended up blurring the line between what was real – like my conversation with my mother and sister – and what was hyperbolised, or even metaphorical, which proved to be incredibly freeing, especially after following such a strict structure in a lot of my other work – like my interpretation of The Willows. Also unlike many of my other projects, there are a lot of scenes that didn’t make it into the film, which again was freeing – this time in the editing process – as I could craft the ‘story’ without feeling like I was throwing away weeks of work, and damaging my carefully considered narrative. Similarly, with no script to adhere to, I was able to feel something in the edit, and just go out a make it – if the film need some respite from intensity, I could go film some flowers, or something like that. This whole sense of freedom allowed me to experiment with all sorts of new techniques, and to quickly replicate techniques I’d used in previous projects, just to say something I had no words for.

All this lead me to putting a lot of different things into this film, and I’m going to try to break down how I did some of them before I move on from this film, so I’ll probably be blogging about making two versions of myself appear on a VHS tape quite soon.

Thanks for reading all this.

PS. The film isn’t pretentious, it might be arrogant, or clique (without me realising), or narrow-minded, and it is self-conscious and self-mocking and self-indulgent, but if it is all those things it’s because – at this point in time – I’m all those things too, so I needn’t adopt a pretence to be them.

Twelve – Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

Blog The Week, College

To decide to learn an entirely new medium in which to express a narrative you’re yet to completely understand is quite a task – and putting a time limit on that doesn’t make it much easier. There is only one thing I find harder than pushing through once I begin to realise I might not make it through this learning process within my intended time frame, and that’s giving up on the original idea. Sometimes you’re faced with a choice; you can either give up on your original idea, and create something – perhaps wonderful – from the scraps you’ve mustered thus far, or you can cling to the idea and let that drag you down. I hate making this choice. I hate making this choice because it’s never that simple.

Well, this is what I did when I was faced with that choice. Firstly, I decided to avoid working on the project, by finding other ‘productive’ things to do (check out my electric guitar build blog when that’s finished). Secondly, I spent days polishing what I already had, obsessively over-working myself to fix that which was unfixable or unbroken. Thirdly, I got ill, really horribly ill, I managed to time some kind of viral infection with a series of panic attacks and stress induced stomach pains. This took a good two weeks to get over. By this point I was already nostalgically attached to my perfect unfinished experiments, and I couldn’t possibly bring myself to work on them in any way, and definitely couldn’t upcycle them into anything new. Fourthly: I realised my deadline was too close to manage to create anything new from what I had already made, then I gave up on trying to give up.

Now here I am, two weeks from my deadline, with no idea of what I should do, or where I should take my project. And I have no real reason to care about how this project turns out, quite frankly I don’t have any reason to do well now, say for my own satisfaction, and perhaps my education. Going into this project I had one key goal, I wanted to create something that would be a complete, standalone piece of work, which people could observe and say, “Ben’s done something over the last two years, and this shows that.” I don’t think I’m going to manage that. Nevertheless, I have learned a lot in the last couple of months, and I know if I was to start over with a fresh idea and use this medium to express that idea I’d be much more capable of achieving that in the given time – which is an amazing thing to be able to say at this point.

One of the things I have learned is to be conscious when choosing a medium in which to work on a story you hold close to your heart, a story you’ve had floating around in your head for months and have been trying to work out how to bring to life – be that an original story or an adaptation. While not having the skills needed to use a medium to express a story shouldn’t put you off using that medium, it might be a good idea to try creating a few projects within this medium before giving the narrative to this form – as you’re unlikely to get it back, especially if you have a deadline looming for the piece. In my current project, I have spent a large amount of time learning my new medium, and despite the excitement of discovering new techniques often igniting my inspiration, I have spent a lot of time exhausting the drive I had for the project while learning. This might not always happen, in fact I’m sure doesn’t, but it’s been a losing battle for me. By the time I felt confident in expressing my idea in my chosen medium, my drive for the idea was diminishing; it’s like working with blunt tools, then spending all your energy sharpening them before you can get to doing the project, by which time you’re tired and sweaty and fed up, and working while feeling like that can kill a project – as least, your inspiration for the project.

Moving on? So far this project has been a fascinating process from me, and a process I’d like the share. I have some pieces of work I’m incredibly happy with, and I’ve learned a lot – as I keep saying. But I want to get up and start something new. I want to step back from my current project and create something exciting and fresh. But how do I do that while making progress on my Final Major Project (FMP)? I’ve decided to spend these last two weeks creating a reflective short film about this process of learning and working in a new medium. I may be using bits and pieces from the piece I’ve been working on, but I will not be working on the project directly. Hopefully this will be the fresh start I’ve been looking for. And I’ll keep this blog up to date with the work I’m doing on the new project.

Thanks for reading it.

Eleven – Camping and Recording

Blog The Week, College

This weekend I ending up going on an unexpected camping trip, which was great! Other than being a great time, I managed to record the entire process of putting up a tent, as well as many sounds of nature and some reading of The Willows in the tent.

This post is just going to be a few photos from the trip and a couple of things I learned recording with the Zoom H4N in the middle of nowhere.

Bringing loads of batteries was a good idea, recording at 96khz and 24bit was stupid – don’t do that if you’ve only got a 4gb card. Probably use a deadcat, but a jumper will do. Bring a clamp, you can use anything as a mic stand that way. Oh, and bring loads of water, it might just be sunny.


Thanks for reading.

Ten – On Rhythm and Timing in Soundscape Composition

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As I’ve stated in previous blog posts, I believe the primary literary device used (for suspense and tension) in The Willows is pacing. The use of simple devices, like alliteration and repetition, build pace throughout the text, and the periodic mention of the river along with the reoccurrence of other sonic events create expectations, which can later be broken or adhered to in order to shock or terrify the audience.

Pacing and rhythm, to me, are two descriptions of different levels of the same thing: timing. Though pacing tends to be seen as the timing of an entire piece, and rhythm being timing within a line of text or a single shot – a shorter segment of the piece – they are fundamentally the same thing. This is much the same as the relationship between pitch and timing – though less extreme – in music; pitch is simply a pulsation that happens at a speed fast enough to be perceived as a solid tone.

For me, this way of looking at time has been incredibly useful when considering ways in which to use rhythm in my sonic piece. As I am going to be truncating the narrative (or rather, ’emotional arc’ or ‘atmosphere over time’) of The Willows, I have attempted to recreate the pacing – which is so powerful – using rhythm. For a simple example: we could take the opening of the narrative, the river building in intensity, and use a rhythmic musical device to replicate that building pace that launches us into the story – we could even use a drum increasing in tempo for this opening. By changing this opening from its role in pacing the story to establishing a rhythm, in the sonic version, we are able to take what would’ve taken about ten minutes to read, and pack that same narrative/emotional/atmospheric information into perhaps a ten second build in tempo. Of course, this is a very rudimentary example, and there are obvious flaw in diminishing this build in tension to such a short piece of sound – it probably doesn’t create such suspense, the listener could simply miss it, or it could set an unwanted pace in the sonic piece that doesn’t leave space to represent faster events with any contrast – but thinking about time like this can be very practical when translating what is usually a two to three hour reading experience to a short (under half an hour) sonic composition.

That’s all I was thinking. Thanks for reading.

Nine – Inspiration or Adaptation?

Blog The Week, College

This blog post is just my thoughts on adaptation and inspiration, and why I’ve chosen to create a work inspired by The Willows, instead of an adaptation. I have also included my first audio blog (below), which is just a few minutes of my morning – perhaps try listening and reading at the same time, it’ll be less boring.

As I have tried to make clear from the beginning of this project, my piece is not an ‘adaptation’ of a story (The Willows) it is a piece inspired by the story. For me to truly understand and accept this has proved difficult; the most common question I find myself asking is, ‘What is the difference between an adaptation and an inspiration?’ Now, to define that might sound easy: an inspiration is a personal link to a piece of work, an idea that comes to you when or after experiencing the work, it’s more immediate than an adaptation and there isn’t necessarily a perceptible link between your final piece and the original; to counter that, an adaptation is – or should be – carefully considered, your final piece is a different version of the original story, and time is taken to ensure there is a direct link between the two. Furthermore, an adaptation has a certain responsibility to stay ‘true’ to the original work; as opposed to the inspiration’s responsibility to be independent from the original – if only to avoid claims of plagiarism. However, it’s not always that simple, and almost all compositional adaptations are examples in which a clear narrative link to the original work is only perceptible after a level of analysis that would – most likely – reveal any inspirations the composer had during the process of creating the piece. Which is why so many concept albums fall into the ‘loosely based on’ category; for example, Pink Floyd’s Animals is ‘loosely based on’ George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and saying it’s an adaptation would be inaccurate – although it’s conceptually similar, and the connection between the two works is clearly perceptible when listening to the album, there is a certain freedom Roger Waters exercises beyond that commonly accepted when adapting a work.

For me the choice was easy, I wasn’t going to restrict myself to adapting the story – partly because I knew it’d be so difficult to do so. This choice was made a little easier by the age of the story; legally I have the right to plagiarise it as much as I like, as it’s in the public domain – which is actually one of the reasons I am such an advocate for less strict copywrite law, it removes the element of fear when working with existing material, which for me at least allows for a more creative workflow. Having decided to just let my inspiration flow, after reading and studying the story, I’ve been able to take incredibly abstract things from the text – for instance the river intensity graph mentioned in blog ‘Eight‘.

Despite choosing such a loose way of representing and appreciating The Willows within my piece, it’s been difficult to know what is reasonable to lift from the story, and what is practical. All I wanted to capture from the story was the feeling of sublime horror I experienced reading it, and this meant I had to isolate that and lift that from the text. In attempting to do this I have experimented with isolating each part I can see: I’ve taken words from the text, thinking perhaps its essence might lie in its linguistic techniques; I’ve tried replicating its pacing, but I’ve get to create enough material to do so properly; I’ve tried using the series of events, but doing so is clearly lacking the essence I’m trying to reuse. I’m yet to find a way of isolating the feeling, and perhaps I need to go about it differently, maybe achieving the same feeling the text elicits – using sound – requires coming at it from a different perspective.

I’m yet to find a solution, but I’m just going to keep making things and thinking about how to say the things I want to say – maybe it’ll all click. Thanks for reading.