Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pythagorean podcast

A section of a Pierre Schaeffer article I read recently on acousmatics has inspired me to create a podcast about Pythagoras. That philosopher lectured to his students from behind a curtain, so they would focus only on the words he spoke, not the person making the words.

My effort to retell that anecdote is posted here

In essence, the podcast is about the undervalued strengths of sound as a medium.

I originally intended to do more of a standard lecture about podcasts and their places in the new world media. But I wanted to push my abilities as a podcast creator, and fiction producer, and I wanted to try to create something using sound effects and an original script and something that was written in present tense. This all led to Pythagoras, who just happen to be featured in an article I was reading at the time about this topic. It was a spur of the moment decision, that led me down a lot of interesting paths.

The script is based on history but obviously embellished and in some ways campy yeah, that's intentional, uh-huh ,really).

I created the piece on Audacity
, which only crashed a few times during the process (save often!).

The sound effects primarily are from, my favorite Foley source. But I also took some from Creative Commons and a little snippet of a fanfare from Stefan Hagel's fascinating site on ancient Greek music and instruments.

I read a lot about Pythagoras in preparation for creating this script. Not much was really known about him, though, since he didn't write anything down and made his followers vow to never do that either. Nevertheless, I tried to jam in as many of the quirky historical references as I could (hence the camp), just to give the content some of the texture of the research. Listening to it critically afterward, I hear influences ranging from Donny Osmond in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" to Harold Hill in "The Music Man" to the owl in "Bambi" to the Geoffrey Chaucer character in "The Knights Tale," a modern Hollywood version of ""The Canterbury Tales."

This has been a relatively quick project, so please forgive any historical goofs. And the voice talent, or lack of talent, is all me. So you will really need to be kind about that part of the performance. It's bad enough to listen to yourself on a recording, but imagine trying to generate more than a half dozen distinct characters with an untrained voice. Trust me, as an arts critic for more than a decade, it's more painful for me to listen to this than you.

That said, I'm content with many aspects of the final product. I think much of the sound mixing turned out pretty much how I imagined it. The script has some strong sections (and some weak ones, too). The historical anecdote is abstract enough to be interesting from a lot of different angles. I hope I conveyed that. This is the longest fiction piece I've created to date, and with the most sound layers. So I'm stretching my skills. Fiction is so much more difficult than nonfiction for me, with my training as a journalist. I've learned over many years what to listen for from a source, and to get that into my story. I can detach from the foibles of the speaker, because that is what makes the voice feel authentic.

The freedom of fiction also is a burden in the sense that all flaws lead directly back to me, as the author, and if they aren't intentional ... Oy! Anyway, I hope you find something interesting in this production. It was fun to create, and I'm definitely going to be working on more material like this in the future. Please give me feedback, and I'll try my best to get better and better at it.

- Brett

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Looking at homepages

My class at Texas Tech right now, Online Publishing, has been studying the art of homepages, particularly focused on portfolios and academic needs. We've been asked to give a couple of comments on each. So here they are:

Chris Andrews
An opportunity for improvement: The thematic colors feel drab to me. Maybe it's the grainy post-industrial feel desired, and it certainly is different than most sites, but it also tires my eyes fairly quickly.
My favorite aspect so far: There are many parts of this page and site that I think are engaging. Definitely feels experimentational and edgy, with the unusual color choices and abstract entry point. I don't know why, maybe because it was something that caught me by surprise, but I spent way too much time trying to figure out how the arm worked on the "current research and projects" page.

Jessica Badger

An opportunity for improvement: A "before" and "after" flash animation would be an interesting way to hook people on the site.
My favorite aspect so far: The personal story, yet universal story, told clearly, is fantastic asset.

Sharba Chowdhury
An opportunity for improvement: When reading about Calcutta, and India, it would be helpful to see some of the places being described. This area is so far removed from my experiences that I really need help imagining it.
My favorite aspect so far: The site design is efficient and straightforward. Easy to navigate and explore.

Dominic Evans

An opportunity for improvement: Some movement, animation or video, could bring even more life to this site. How about a mouseover that opens the front door?
My favorite aspect so far: The colors on that opening page just grabbed me, like a vibrantly decorated sandwich board, and made me want to go inside the site. Thematically, once in there, it did feel like a cool clubhouse.

Shawna Hayden
An opportunity for improvement: Who is the intended audience for this page? Is it simply informational? Or, if the goal is to get potential clients to make contact, could some of the text snippets be written more with that in mind?
My favorite aspect so far: The falling colorful blocks that serve as portal entries are very cheerful and inviting. Easy to navigate.

Adrian Jackson

An opportunity for improvement: Site consistency. For example, not sure why different sets of buttons are in separate places.
My favorite aspect so far: The fly-in text and pulsating flower give a touch of action. The animation of the buttons, too, makes the page lively.

Carie Lambert
An opportunity for improvement: Color theme is virtually monochromatic. Without action or much contrast, either, this makes the site flat visually.
My favorite aspect so far: Easy to navigate and get to the information promised, which is delivered.

Ashley Owen
An opportunity for improvement: More pizazz could help, to separate this page from the pack. Maybe something that personalizes it.
My favorite aspect so far: Clean layout, with well-defined portals into the content.

Melody Wainscott
An opportunity for improvement: More content would give visitors additional reasons to stay longer and look around.
My favorite aspect so far: The mouseover-and-click option on a part of a photo (in this case a person) is really effective at getting a visitor to explore an image.

Rebecca Widder

An opportunity for improvement: Wallpaper overwhelms the rest of the content.
My favorite aspect so far: A professional window into a person's career and life but with some personal touches.

Monica Wesley
An opportunity for improvement: The original artwork seems underplayed. This kind of illustrative talent should be center stage, not buried in a button, creating entry points for the rest of the unique skills.
My favorite aspect so far: Elegant and nuanced in color and style combined with easy navigation.

And here is the work I've done in redesigning my homepage, which primarily has just been focused so far on the opening interface. I have a plan now that I think will carry through to all of the pages and any expansion I want for the foreseeable future. So look for more changes in the next few weeks and months, especially on the portfolio pages. Let me know what you think of my efforts, or if you visit any of the other pages in the class mentioned here, I'm sure they would all appreciate the feedback as well. Any tips from you out there?