Stealing/Borrowing/Remixing Music

I spent part of the other morning re-reading a comic book from Duke University that resonates with my own interests around music, composition and remix.

Entitled Theft: A History of Music, the book explores copyright law and music composition through the ages. If that sounds boring, it isn’t. The book weaves in lots of humor and visual creativity as it shows the path of “borrowing” other people’s music for remix over time.

What’s great is the book is free for download, or for reading online. You can also purchase a copy, but the intent of the university’s Center for the Study of Public Domain is to educate the public, so the book is free for educational purposes.

What becomes clear pretty quickly is how much we always have borrowed from each other, and how legal codes over time have moved to protect the original artists even as those codes tried to balance the possibilities of moving art in new directions. This is the conundrum of the current musical scene, where hip hop artists build new songs out of samples of old songs. Or used to. Now, it costs a lot of money to do that, with lawyers jumping all over the samples.

This is not necessarily a bad thing — it is forcing rappers and others to hire musicians who can play instruments (listen to Kendrick Lamar) or learning themselves how to play (listen to D’Angelo) so that they are making all of the music. But that has changed the nature of hip-hop, too. It’s all very intriguing, I think.

I appreciated this history lessons here and I need to come back to Theft for a second, deeper read. I think I need to get it into my Kindle for a better reading experience, though.

The book may not be good for my classroom — the vocabulary and concepts are beyond the sixth grade — but I can see pulling out some pages for times when we talk about digital writing and remix in the classroom, and how the current music scene is just a glimpse of the debate that has been raging since Plato’s time (he argued against remix).

Peace (in frames),
Kevin

 

Teaching Attribution

This “card” will be helpful for my students to have in from of them when I get into my lessons around digital media and attribution principles, with a focus on how to search for Creative Commons for projects and how to use what other people have made in our own work.

This tutorial image comes from a useful post over at KQED called “Pause Before Downloading” and that article also includes a helpful list of places to look for Creative Common images.

And I don’t want to forget that Alan Levine’s handy attribution tool for images is something to install as a bookmarklet on our school laptop browsers. Alan has created a simple way to make sure you have the language of attribution down. Just drag the bookmarklet into your browser and whenever you find a Creative Commons image, just click on it and it will give you options for attribution. I use it all the time at home. Simple. Powerful. Handy.

Peace (link it),
Kevin

 

Book Review: A Lowcountry Heart (Reflections on a Writing Life)

It’s an odd thing, to read a book about writing by a writer you’ve never read. Oh, I’ve heard of Pat Conroy before — with The Great Santini and My Losing Season and The Prince of Tides — but I never picked up one of his books and read it. Not even once.

So why pick up A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life?

I suppose my interest in writers writing about writing has me poking around the stacks at the library and there it was, a cute cover and a wondering about the thinking process of this writer I’ve never read. Conroy is part of the Southern tribe of writers, and apparently, used his own personal life as inspiration for his novels about living in and living beyond the American South.

This collection of small essays, curated by his wife after Conroy’s death, is a curious tome of voice. Conroy’s engaging and funny observations of people, and himself, come through loud and clear, as does his obsession with the Citidel, tradition, and Southern Culture — all of which he seems to both cherish and ridicule in equal measure as he takes stock of the world around him.

via Washington Post

via Washington Post

 

In some ways, this is less about the art of writing and more about Conroy’s view of the world as a novelist, mostly told through the lens of the tapestry of people who were woven in and out of his life over time, and whose quirks and friendships and falling outs made their way into his fiction. As his wife explains, Conroy was a collector of stories — and he was apt to steal and adapt any story you told to him, and apparently, he was a master at getting you to talk.

I believe it. His writing is very personal and inviting, and you feel as if you sitting around the sitting room, sipping iced tea on a hot Southern day, as he tells the stories he writes about here. There are great moments of Humanity here — I am thinking of his friendship with a gay Southern man who died from complications of AIDS and how Conroy moved to San Francisco to take care of his friend, and to understand the disease better so that he could help others.

I’m still not sure that his writing style is my reading style — it all feels a bit too John Irving for me, and I find I am not in a John Irving mood these past few years, although I read Irving at one time — but I admire what Conroy does here. He’s working to peel back the layers of a writer, to show how life is the biggest point of inspiration, and how it takes courage and insight to bring fiction into a light that seems true and worth writing about.

And any insights into what makes a writer click .. that’s always worth a read.

Peace (writing it about),
Kevin

Live! From the High School Editing Room

 

My middle son, a high school senior, and his friend are having tons of fun (and working long hours) producing a weekly segment for their high school television/media class’s online television show, called The Transcript. This second segment — Moth vs Bear — of the school year became a “bonus” last week because it didn’t fit the serious theme of the rest of the show. I got a kick out of it.

Today is Friday, which means this week’s episode

Peace (give me moths, not bears),
Kevin

Newspaper/Podcast: Sparking A Love of Independent Reading

Gazette Chalk Talk

A column that I wrote for our local newspaper through an ongoing monthly publishing partnership via the Western Massachusetts Writing Project to feature WMWP teacher-writers ran yesterday morning. In it, I explored how the book Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst has me wondering what else I can do to get my sixth graders deeper into independent reading. The stats they provide, and my own classroom observations, indicate a decline in “books in hand” and I find that alarming. I decided to do a podcast version of the piece.

Peace (listening in),
Kevin

The History of Stories through the Eyes of Book

This is the second year I have used the creative nonfiction text — Book: My Autobiography by John Agard (illustrations by Neil Packer)– as an opening novel with my sixth graders. I read it aloud (and we do some various activities with it, including some sketch-noting) so we can talk about where stories come from, and where books and texts have evolved from.

This short book (which we humorously refer to as Book book in class), with lots of woodcut drawings, does a nice job of giving Book (a collective voice of every book ever written) a role as personable and wise narrator as we move through the timeline of history, from oral storytelling to papyrus to paper to illuminated texts to printing presses to libraries to ebooks and more.

In using the Book book, I laying the historical foundation for why we write and why and how we read stories, and how stories change who we are in powerful ways. I wish I could spend a few more weeks doing more activities — long ago, I did a printmaking activity for a newspaper unit — but I need to keep moving along.

We do make time for activity in which they design a book, or story delivery system, for a time 100 years into the future. I wonder what they will be making this week …

My students mostly enjoy Book book, although the chapter where we learn about book burning and the ways dictators often target writing and writers as symbols of dissent is a little unnerving. (It gives me a chance to chat about banned books, too).

I also do love how the book itself is scattered about with poems and proverbs and excerpts from writers from all over the world, from many cultures.

And of course, the storyline of Book book is another entry into how literacy has shaped the world, particularly during moments when an innovation opened up the possibilities of reading and writing to those who would not otherwise have had access, leading to eras like the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Walk Around the Block

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I took our dog, Duke, for a leisurely walk around the neighborhood yesterday. It was a warm end-of-summer day.

Duke, cartooned

Here’s what Duke and I saw:

  • Two puppies and one elder dog, and Wally the cat. Wally, a female, loves dogs, and loves Duke, so she rolled on the pavement as Duke investigated, touching noses before moving on.
  • A dead squirrel. Duke wanted to get closer. I did not want Duke to get closer. I won that tug of war.
  • Three young sisters on some sort of electric scooter/bike that their handyman dad cobbled together. They zoomed past us, huddled together on the contraption, giggling, “Hi Duke.”
  • A hummingbird at the flower patch by the mailbox. Duke didn’t seem to notice or pay attention but I did. I never get tired of seeing hummingbirds and their ability to seemingly float in midair.
  • Three people who mentioned my New York Giants shirt (we live in New England Patriots country), with a mix of humor and friendly derision. I still had some hope for my team last night. Wasn’t enough.
  • A neighbor out raking, the first leaf raker I have seen this season. She stopped, leaning on her rake, and we chatted, and when she said, “I can’t believe I am doing this already,” I playfully suggested she “leap into the huge pile of leaves” she had raked. She declined. I kept walking.
  • Five possums in a possum parade, crossing the street from a small dingle to a small drainage culvert. One saw Duke and leaped back to hide. The other four hustled across the street. They are funny-looking things, sort of creepy with wobbly bodies and short legs.
  • The next-door house that has seemed too empty in recent days. One of our elderly neighbors was taken to the hospital a few days by ambulance, and we think he’s still there, and his wife is no doubt spending time there. Duke looked to the house. He always had treats in his pocket for Duke.

Peace (through the days),
Kevin

 

Making Music: Heaven (Where I Want To Be)

Song lyrics (Heaven)

Sometimes, I get obsessed with a song I am writing. It follows me everywhere. At night, I’ll wake up, hearing the chord changes and then I’ll be tweaking the lyrics as I try to fall back asleep. Someone will be talking to me during the day, and I’ll realize I was somewhere else in my head, lost in the song’s architecture. I’ll juggle words, phrases, verses. Add a bridge, then remove it.

I can’t quite explain it, except when I go through periods where it doesn’t happen, when I don’t write a song for a long stretch (sometimes months), I forget about how intense the artistic process can be. And then it happens again (I have faith during those fallow periods that I will write songs again.)

I’m not suggesting I am writing musical classics, or that anyone other than me will like the music I am engaged in. I know my limits and limitations. But there is something in the creative endeavor of merging music and words and message together in a song that exerts an awfully powerful pull on me. If you listen and get something out of it, I am happy.

The other day, I started to write this new song — Heaven (Where I Want To Be) — and I could not shake it loose. In fact, I had the chorus nearly immediately, almost as soon as I started strumming, yet the lyrics to the verses were frustrating me. I worked and reworked them, over and over. I almost tossed the whole thing out a few times. It kept pulling me back to the guitar.

The song is inspired by two things. First, an elderly couple in our neighborhood suffered a recent loss when one of them passed away. Another elderly couple nearby might be nearing that situation, too. An ambulance was at the door this week. These are neighbors who were married for decades. I started thinking of what happens when you lose someone after so long.

Second, I’ve been listening a lot to this Jason Isbell song — If We Were Vampires —  which is about that same theme, about the realization that one of the two of lovers in life will someday leave this place first, and the other lover will have to find a way to forge ahead, alone.

The narrator in my Heaven song is in that situation, too, remembering the traces of a lifetime together and skirting the boundaries between reality and remembering, of ghosts and love. What is real, anyway?

Peace (rest),
Kevin

Making Music: Street Feet Beat

I’ve been listening to LCD Soundsystem and paying attention to how James Murphy builds songs off hooks and synths. The other week, I jumped into one of my favorite music programs (Soundtrap) and began building a song, imagining people walking down a city street with all the hustle and bustle, and destinations in mind. The pauses are moments of waiting for the street lights to change for crossing.

I called it Move Your Feet to the Beat of the Street.

Peace (in the groove),
Kevin

Circle the Story/ Make the Dot

Dot Day Circle Stories 2017

Yesterday, my sixth graders took park in International Dot Day (which celebrates artistic and creative spirit) by writing Circle Stories (short stories with either a circular object or a circular theme) and using the words to paint the stories into circles (or dots).

Dot Day Circle Stories 2017

We then added them to a Padlet canvas as part of the sharing out with the millions of people who were also participating in Dot Day around the world. If you look at the #dotday hashtag stream on Twitter, you can see some incredible and amazing Dot Day activities going on. It’s all pretty inspiring, and dots are simple and flexible for all ages.

Made with Padlet

Peace (dots everywhere),
Kevin