I recently gave a talk on presentation on incorporating an audio interview as a writing assignment into my first-year writing classroom. I’ve decided to make a bunch of the resources available to anyone who might not have attended, but are still interested. Below, I’m including a video of the talk, audio of the talk, the slideshow itself, a description of the assignment, and a few embedded student examples. Please feel free to comment or email me if you have any questions. Thanks. (Aaargh! The video doesn’t actually start until 32 seconds in. Waaay too much work to re-export the file. Sorry.)
As far as the audio file goes, before the presentation, we had a discussion of Cindy Selfe’s “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing.” The more formal presentation picks up at about the 20:45 mark of the audio.
For this assignment, you will interview another student in class about the work he or she does. That student will then interview you right back. Prior to the interviews, you’ll work together to negotiate some questions, so you know which questions you’ll be asking, and what questions you’ll be asked. There will also be some parameters that I will assign. Once you agree on the questions, you’ll conduct at least one practice interview. Then you’ll record your interview with the other person, you’ll edit their responses into a single piece, add a scripted and recorded introduction and upload the file to a social networking site. You’ll also write a short reflection on some of the choices you made along the way. The final audio text will be 7-9 minutes long*, and your written reflection will be at least 300 words.
The raw, unedited recording for this assignment will be due before midnight, April 2nd. This file will be a recording of your partner talking about her/his work (not you talking about it). You will upload this file to Soundcloud.com, and you’ll title it: “[Your Parnter's Name] Raw Interview.” Then you will embed this Soundcloud text into a new post titled: “[Your Parnter's Name] Raw Interview.” (no written reflection due on 10/30).
The final edited file and written reflection will be due before 11:59 pm, Thursday, April 16th. This file will be a “Remixing” and “Presentation” of your partner’s work. For this stage of the assignment, you’ll take your partner’s answers to his/her questions and you’ll edit them into a 7-9 minute audio text. The first part of the audio text will be your voice introducing us (your listening audience) to the person we will hear for the rest of the recording (your partner). After you introduce your partner, you’ll give us a preview of some of the things we will soon be hearing. You need to offer more than just the topic. Something more than just “You’re about to listen to Steve talk about what it’s like to be a house painter.” That might be a great place to start with your introduction, but you need to give us more than that. Just a brief preview. But try to present it in a way that stirs our interest. Remember to generate some sort of curiosity about Steve. For instance, what does Steve like most about being a house painter? If it’s something that we might not expect or something that needs more explanation, that would be a good place to start. Whatever you tell us we’re about to hear, just make sure it doesn’t sound boring. You might hint at something that we should want to know about house painters. You might suggest that we’re about to learn something about Steve or house painters that we wouldn’t have expected. After your introduction, we should hear your partner speaking… most likely her/his response to one of the interview questions. But remember, we won’t ever hear you asking the question. Just her/him talking about it. Then you move on to your partner’s next question. You might consider how you plan to convey that one question is done and the next one is beginning. Maybe a second or two of silence between questions. Maybe a litlte music. Maybe a sound effect or some appropriate noises. You’ll continue to do this until you have a piece that is 7-9 minutes long. Your piece will have to have some music and/or sound effects to open and close the piece (that is, before your introduction begins and after your partner says his/her final words.
To submit this assignment, you’ll upload it to your Soundcloud account. Then you’ll embed it as a new post on your blog. In both places, you should title it: “[Partner's Name] talking about [his/her work] — An Interview by [Your name]”
The last part of this assignment (also due before 11:59 pm, Friday, April 18th), will be to post a reflection on this assignment on your blog. Minimum 300 words (total) responding to the following three questions: What did you find most satisfying about creating an audio text? What did you find most challenging about creating an audio text? If you could conduct your interview over again, how would you handle it differently? For each of these questions, of course, you’ll want to explain your answer.
NOTES and TIPS
The 7-9 minutes is a hard limit. The idea is that you’re shooting for 8 minutes, but you’ll have sixty seconds of leeway, either way. You’ll lose points for submitting something that is less than 7 minutes or more than 9 minutes.
(I’ll be providing more notes as they seem relevant to our class discussions.)
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m starting to experiment a bit with tech reviews of hardware and software appealing to novice and more experienced digital scholars and digital storytellers. I’ll be writing most of the reviews for the Center for Digital Storytelling blog, and those will later be posted here with a month lag-time. I’ll also write a few just for this site, if they aren’t all that relevant for digital storytellers. That said, I’m trying to find ways of being more productive, focused, and efficient when it comes to my professional work. One of the things I’m going to work on is putting together checklists for tasks which require not only creative/critical thinking, but which also require a relatively automated and complicated workflow. So I thought I could work out this process workflow and checklist here in a public post. Here’s what I’ve got so far…
Test the hardware or software with micro texts. For audio products, make short audio recordings. These tests should be very short. Provide logical comparisons. If you’re reviewing a microphone, keep the recording set up the same, but switch to a different microphone.
Make an actual text with the hardware or software. This will force you to use the product in a variety of situations, and it will offer a more comprehensive understanding of its function throughout the entire production process. For the sake of conserving your creative energy, you might consider reproducing a previous text in some way, rather than producing new content.
Produce quality photos and/or video for use in a written review. Luckily, it’s possible to produce quality images with something as ubiquitous as a smart phone, but an entry level DSLR with a kit lens can produce impressive results for both still images and the video you might shoot. Here, lighting is key. If you can get your work surface near daylight, you won’t have to worry about getting the lighting right. Otherwise, it might be a good idea to invest in some portable lighting. This might or might not apply if you’re producing a video review, but in some cases you might want to produce some discrete pieces which can be embedded within a written review.
Use your own photos/videos/audio to add authenticity of the review. DIY audio/visual elements imply or demonstrate that you actually used the product, and they strengthen your ethos as a reviewer. They also allow you to frame shots in ways that better convey what you’re after. For instance if you’re trying to illustrate a design flaw or a software bug, you will almost certain need to produce your own image to show it. There are also copyright advantages, but more on that below.
Post the video, photos, and audio elements to public sharing spaces. Use a Creative Commons license. You might want to consider platforms like Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo, or Soundcloud. There are lots of reasons for this advice. You might think about the shared resources like breadcrumbs leading back to your review. If someone runs across one of your resources on Flickr or Soundcloud, they might follow the link you provide back to your review.
Embed the posted raw elements in your written review. You can embed the materials, rather than hosting them yourself. This benefit is especially handy if you’re writing a review for a site other than your own. It allows them more user-friendly access to incorporating them into your written text on their own site. Embedding from sharing services also reduces the amount of material you have to host and traffic from your own server. Hosting some of the raw elements of your review on other sites allows readers to reuse them. That is they might borrow one of you images for their own review, or repost it to a more generic social network like Facebook or Twitter.
License your content with a Creative Commons license. Most sharing sites now have some sort of licensing choices built into the uploading process. Creating your own images offers you rights-control of the images in the review. It also protects you from breaking copyright by using someone else’s images or sounds. Using a Creative Commons license will encourage others to share, reuse, or remix your resources, again supporting the circulation of the work.
Produce multiple reviews in across more than one medium and/or for a variety of audiences. In my last post, I covered a lot of ideas about what sorts of information might be most useful/productive in a tech review for digital scholars or storytellers. I also offered some ideas about strategies for structuring that information. So for that sort of content, I encourage you to check out the previous post. Just make sure you’re thoughtful about how you’re appealing to each audience and that you’re choosing the right venue, platform, and media for than audience. YouTube is starting to become the Powerpoint of product reviews, in that it is now the overwhelming default choice for reviewers, regardless of whether or not the review might work better in Soundcloud or as a written piece.
Post the reviews to Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other social networks you use frequently. This one is a no-brainer, but it’s also the most important. It’s the core of getting your review seen.
Shop the review to other appropriate venues. This strategy won’t likely pay much if any money, but it should help with circulation. This strategy can be especially useful if you’re writing the review as an opportunity to market something else.
I’m trying to experiment with a new genre: the Tech Review. Not because I love them. Most of them are just not very good.(exceptions) Low production values. Poorly structured. Or just plain dull. I’m currently working on a series of tech reviews for the Center for Digital Storytelling. Mostly I’ll be covering recording hardware and software for digital storytellers. But their blog is really very good–The writing is generally strong, if not outright beautiful–and I’d prefer not to muck it up with typical blunders of a tech reviewer. So I have some new ideas that I’m going to try out during this series. I guess I’m trying to think of this as an exercise in working out a set of best practices for the type of review I’m after. In no particular order…
As an example, I’ve included below an interactive ThingLink image I’ll be included in the Center for Digital Storytelling review to be published on April 3rd.
This is just an audio version of a review of the Focusrite iTrack that I produced for the Center for Digital Storytelling. I’m just getting started with these tech reviews. I want to make sure to give a big shout-out to my good friend HARLEY FERRIS for producing the soundbeds at the beginning and end of the show!
Production Notes… Microphone: Rode Procaster, via XLR into a Focusrite iTrack Solo, via datalink cable into a 3rd-gen iPad. Audio editing in Hindenburg Journalist application on a Macbook Pro.
Let me know if you’ve got any tips. Thanks.
I first encountered the idea of “transmedia storytelling” in Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture. Using the phenomenon that was The Matrix trilogy of movies, he suggests that the film was marketed in a groundbreaking and particularly effective way:
A transmedia story unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole. In the ideal form of transmedia storytelling, each medium does what it does best–so that a story might be introduced in a film, expanded through television, novels, and comics; its world might be explored through game play or experienced as an amusement park attraction. Each franchise entry needs to be self-contained so you don’t need to have seen the film to enjoy the game, and vice versa. Any given product is a point of entry into the franchise as a whole. Reading across the media sustains a depth of experience that motivates more consumption. [...] A good transmedia franchise works to attract multiple constituencies by pitching the content somewhat differently in the different media. (95-96) [Apologies for the long quotation.]
I think Jenkins uses “media platforms” to refer to a variety of technologies or strategies, rather than thinking about media as materials. This isn’t a criticism, but the distinction is important. I agree with his observations about marketing and finding new ways to engage an audience. But the scope of his argument covers more ground than my own interests. His formulation of “media” doesn’t quite foresee the crossover and mixing between television (network and cable), newspapers, radio, and the Internet. In Jenkins’ model, the distinctions are still clear. But with the encroachment of Netflix and other avenues for streaming media, what used to look like a variety of media now looks more like a soup. But that soup, as amorphous and mutable as it might be, still manifests some distinctions between media. They just diverge from the model Jenkins offers. Instead of television and toys and websites, the model now looks a lot more like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, tablet apps, cinema, television, Hulu, Netflix, etc.
What makes Jenkins’ argument increasingly dated is that it formulates media as a set of distinct targets at which marketers or storytellers are taking aim. At the time of his analysis, I think he couldn’t be more insightful and clear. But now there’s a growing trend toward spreadability (not sure who coined that term, and I don’t like it much, but it’ll do for now). Sure, I’m referring to viral videos and caption memes, but those are really just the tall peaks on a landscape of engagement. What interests me most are two relatively new phenomenon: sharing and embedding. Sharing has to do with the buttons you’ll often see floating around the edges of a news article, blog post, or almost any other discrete piece of content on the internet. These buttons allow users/readers/viewers to “share” the content somewhere else like Facebook or Twitter. This usually means that the user will post a link in her/his social network or venue of choice. The link takes a reader back to the original content. Embedding is similar, but it’s a bit more involved. Instead of posting a link pointing back to an original location, embedded content is accessible on-the-spot in the actual location where it has been posted. Whereas in Jenkins’ model readers/viewers are primarily consumers, in this new model, readers/viewers are also distributors. In other words, the goal is no longer only to get people to watch/listen/read, but it also to get them to distribute or spread the content.
So this is a slight adjustment to Jenkins’ model. If the engagement goal switches from a consumption-across-media model to a sharing-across-platforms model, how does that affect Jenkins’ notion of “contribution to the whole”? I don’t think it changes it significantly–at least not in practice. I think that with Jenkins’ model, once a user/viewer became invested in a particular story, regardless of his/her point-of-entry, he/she would seek out additional avenues of consumption. But now, I think there’s less seeking out, and more sharing. And it follows that with more sharing, comes more receiving. And thus continues the spreading.
In series of new posts, I’ll be reflecting a bit more on some of the roots of transmedia storytelling. We’ll start by considering some of the marketing around the 1951 Superman movie with George Reeves. Then we’ll jump to the era of the original Star Wars trilogy (late seventies; early eighties), focusing especially on action figures. Then, I hope to revisit Jenkins’ arguments in the context of those two examples. From there, We’ll take a look at Lawrence Lessig’s arguments about transitioning between a “read-only” culture and a “read-write” culture. Eventually I’ll touch on Donald Norman’s working definition of “affordances,” as well as Jenkins/Ford/Green’s concept of “spreadability” (Yeah, it’ll be here where I admit that Jenkins is obviously well aware of the contemporary partial obsolescence of “transmedia storytelling,” and that his updated thinking is still innovative and clear.) But the ultimate goal of this series of posts is to explore how the concepts of transmedia storytelling and spreadability might demand that we reconsider contemporary approaches to scholarship and “making meaning” in the worlds of Computers and Writing, Digital Humanities, and Rhet/Comp.
(This review was originally published on Feb 13th on the Center for Digital Storytelling’s blog.)
Between our voices and our digital stories, there is a microphone. It’s important to get it right. If you are someone just getting your bearings as a digital storyteller, or someone who needs to buy several mics for a group of storytellers, you’ll certainly want to consider the Audio-Technica ATR2100. Not only does it sound great, but it’s also inexpensive, durable, and easy to use.
In order to properly record your voice narration, you’ll need a few essential components: a computer, a way to get sound into that computer, and some way to edit that sound. It would be easy to spend hundreds of dollars on digital audio equipment and audio editing software, and if you you know how to use them, they’ll sound great. But if you’re working on a small budget or need to stretch it to purchase multiple mics, I highly recommend you choose a dynamic microphone with a USB connection. (See the note at the end of this post for more info about different microphone and connection types.) At less than $60, the best value at the entry level for microphones that fit those two requirements is the ATR2100.
Most importantly, the ATR2100 sounds great. Here’s a sound comparison. Below, you’ll find two versions me reading a beautiful selection from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. The first is recorded with the on-board microphone from a Macbook Pro. The second is recorded by the ATR2100 connected to the same Macbook Pro via USB connection. Here they are…
You might notice that there’s very little background noise with the ATR2100. That quietness is due partly to the fact that dynamic microphones in general tend to be less sensitive than condensers. As a result, you get a little less sensitivity and subtlety, but you also get rid of most of that background noise. However, there’s another drawback to this microphone: the recordings tend to be very quiet. You will usually have to crank up the gain (sensitivity setting or input volume) on your computer. And if you or the storyteller you’re recording have a soft voice, it might be difficult to always get usable recordings. The loudness of most recordings can be easily raised in post-production extremely, but the background noise usually rises, too, which isn’t always preferable.
To be honest, the comparison isn’t at all scientific, and it’s not that fair either. Almost anything sounds better than the on-board mics from most laptops. But I wanted to embed it to let you hear just how clean the ATR2100 can sound. For a better comparison, you might want to play some YouTube videos of varying quality to see where the ATR2100 stacks up.
The base of the mic features three ports: mini usb, headphones, and an XLR connector. Although I recommend using the microphone primarily with the USB connection, the XLR connector does increase the versatility of the mic. It makes it more compatible with more audio interfaces, and it allows the microphone to be used with a PA system, too. The headphone jack, though, is a great addition. When using the microphone, I prefer to have my headphones plugged into the jack at the base of the microphone rather than the headphone input on my computer. Generally, the headphone jacks on the computer are very low quality. When the mic is plugged in via the USB port, you can route all your sound output to the microphone and listen via headphones. It’s a simple setting in your preferences or dashboard. You’ll get a much better sense for the sound you’re recording if you listen directly through the headphone jack.
These microphones are also quite durable. The body is made from heavy-duty die-cast aluminum and the capsule inside is protected by an internal windscreen and steel mesh cover. Because of the lower recording levels, many people will have to get very close to the microphone. I highly recommend adding an additional foam cover to go over the external steel mesh cover. You can pick them up for very little on ebay or at your local music shop.
The biggest reason I can confidently recommend this microphone, though, is how well it works for the students in my writing classes. They use the ATR2100 for recording podcasts and the audio components of digital stories. The mics are “plug-n-play” for Macs and most Windows operating systems after XP. There are no drivers to install and the microphone will work with almost any software. They just need to be plugged in so that the machine can recognize them.
The only part of the ATR2100 that I really don’t like very much is the stand that ships with it. Although the top part, the microphone clip, is strong and secure, the tripod it screws into is a bit flimsy. We haven’t had one break yet, but I think it’s only a matter of time. Also, the mic stand is very low, which is frustrating because most people have to lean down in order to get close enough to the mic to record.
Some other notes worth mentioning:
All-in-all, this is a excellent, no-nonsense, inexpensive microphone. If I lost all of my equipment today and I had to start over acquiring equipment, this is the first microphone I would buy. Also, if I had to buy another 10 microphones for my classroom, I’d get a bunch of ATR2100’s. This mic is just perfect for beginners or those on a strict budget.
(And if you’re not yet convinced about the ATR2100, you might also consider the Shure SM58/x2u combo, or the Blue Yeti Pro. Both options have XLR/USB options. The Shure is dynamic, while the Blue is a condenser. Each of them have their merits, but you’ll notice by the prices that they’re not nearly the value of the ATR2100.)
Three general notes about microphones for voice recording:
If you’re looking for an example of a clear and direct documentary-style argument, watch this video. Hopefully, you’ll be a little more forgiving about Apple’s skeumorphism, and a little less patient with their current design scheme. Regardless, I think you’ll be impressed:
A rare moment of humorous commentary on the functional design differences between print and digital texts:
Another demonstration that transmedia textuality ain’t easy.
I listen to a lot of audio texts. On the train on my way into work. On one of my dog’s three 20-minute walks everyday. While I’m folding my laundry. While I’m cooking. On long drives. Every once in a while, I’ll commit to a nice long audio book (Dr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was great!). But most often, I turn to podcasts. There is so much quality audio material out there that I just have to share some of it with you. Obviously, this list isn’t definitive. I myself subscribe to more than a dozen podcasts, and I’m listening to other stuff I find on the web all the time. In no particular order, I offer you five resources for absolutely great listening and/or thinking about audio production…
The show’s homepage describes itself as “a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” What I like most about the show is how inventive and experimental it is. The way the producers manipulate and weave together sound effects, conversations, metaphor, science, and commentary is truly stunning. I have to say that there’s really nothing else out there quite like it. The show’s hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, strike a perfect balance between curiosity, fun, discovery, and storytelling. Given the show’s overt commitment to educating fascinating its listeners, it would be easy for the show to bear some resemblance to PBS or children’s programming. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The subject matter and the complexity of the exploration firmly establish that this is a show for adults (and smart, supervised kids, too). Here’s an episode to get you started: “23 Weeks 6 Days.”
The show’s site describes itself like so: “There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. There’s lots more to the show, but it’s sort of hard to describe.” It is hard to describe. Mostly everyday people. Sometimes with ordinary stories. Sometime extraordinary. But there is no audio program in the country that demonstrates the power of storytelling. The use of theme across stories and an obvious attention to narrative skills are the main reasons why this is most popular podcast in the United States. Here’s an episode to get you started: “Harper High School, Part One.”
PRX.org describes itself as “an online marketplace for distribution, review, and licensing of public radio programming. PRX is also a growing social network and community of listeners, producers, and stations collaborating to reshape public radio.” More simply, it’s a repository for some of the best audio content available. From single sort texts to longer documentary texts to ongoing audio shows, PRX probably has more absolutely stunning content than any other source. What it lacks in cohesiveness, it more than makes up for in its variety, accessibility, and the wonder of stumbling onto something you never heard coming. If you have a habit of losing hours at a time down the rabbit hole that it YouTube, you might want to be careful with PRX. Or bring a friend to keep your head about you. The experience can be overwhelming. Here’s a page for one of PRX’s more popular series to get you started: “The Moth Radio Hour.”
These last two sites have a bit more to do with production than with consumption. How Sound’s tagline is: “The Backstory to Great Radio Storytelling.” The format is pretty consistent. Rob Rosenthal, the show’s regular host, usually begins by introducing a topic relevant to producing audio documentaries. They he offers and example of a text that has addressed the topic in a successful or innovative way. Often he manages to track down the original producer of the text he’s introduced, and interviews them about producing the text. The show is manages to remain understated and unassuming, despite the fact that it is essentially a showcase series. The analysis and behind the scenes explanation for production challenges and innovation are always fascinating and instructive. Here an episode to get you started: “The Loneliest Creature On Earth”
The show’s website offers its mission: “Transom.org channels new work and voices to public radio through the Internet, and discusses that work, and encourages more. Transom is a performance space, an open editorial session, an audition stage, a library, and a hangout. Our purpose is to pass the baton of mission and good practice in public media.” This site is rich with all sorts of different resources. Like “HowSound” mentioned above, the site offers several engaging and high-quality texts. But I think the most valuable resources that Transom offers are the process reflections of audio heavy hitters like Catherine Burns (The Moth Radio Hour), Sam Greenspan (99% Invisible), Andrea Seabrook (Decoding DC), and way too many others to mention. I also find Transom’s reviews of microphones, portable recorders, and editing software particularly helpful, as the reviews are always focused on Electronic News Gathering practices (interviews, etc.) instead of the recording and producing music. I’ve learned more about audio production from Transom than from any other sources. Here’s a re-issued classic text from Jay Allison called “The Basics.”
So that’s it. I’m running across great resources all the time, so I know there must be plenty more out there. Please feel free to respond to these or add your own. Use the comments below, respond to this link in FB, tweet it to your followers, or whatever it is you do when you’ve got something to say. Just don’t be shy about letting me know you responded somewhere. I’d love to see what other resources people know about out there