#DigiWriMo Book Review: The Concise Guide to Hip-Hop Music

 

This book — The Concise Guide to Hip-Hop Music (A Fresh Look at the Art of Hip-Hop, from Old-School Beats to Freestyle Rap) by Paul Edwards — is wonderful mix of research, insights by Edwards, and voices of oral histories by many rappers and artists on the Hip-Hop scene, talking about influences and origins of the music and culture.

The history of rap angle didn’t uncover much new for me (but I still enjoyed it), as I am interested in the music as an art form. I did appreciate all the elements of the research that Edwards has done into how the music is made (and was made, as things have changed over time with the emergence of technology). Many of the musicians here talk about the past production of hip-hop, of scouring records for beats and bass and then finding ways to isolate sounds, pulling them together to form the backbeats.

In particular, the use of Flow Diagrams by rap songwriters was something I had not come across before. Some rappers use Flow Diagrams (of various sorts) create columns for rhymes, and move across the columns as they rap. This allows for intentional internal, double-word and other kind of rhyme patterns. In the book, some rappers talk about setting up these kinds of charts as ways to use rhyme for rhythmic elements — words as beats and off-beats. I love when the process of writing is exposed like that.

(This flow diagram comes from a Genius page about a Pharcyde song. The annotated page is from Edwards.)

Interestingly, much of the discovery of how to use samples from other tracks was often accidental. A rapper/DJ/producer tries to do this, only to discover that. They were smart enough to have their ears open at all times for opportunities, and when mistakes happened that sounded good, they took that and ran it with. The early days, it was not about the money (as it seems to be today), but about pushing the art-form into new terrain, and impressing others on the scene.

Of course, litigation for using unlicensed sounds made the old-school way of remixing sounds nearly impossible, so the collage-like, layered production work that went into albums like Paul’s Boutique by The Beastie Boys (and the Dust Brothers production team) or landmark tracks by Run-DMC, NWA and Eric B & Rakim might never be replicated now (without huge financial support from a company on the licensing side).

But I figure this … there are still plenty of people making tracks and creating new sounds on their own, and it is likely that those tracks are finding paths to listeners. Like so many businesses, the music industry is being upended, or has been upended, by technology and social media. While that may have diminished the field of music listening to some degree (it’s a time when all radio stations seem to be owned by corporate interests, and radio DJs have no say over what is being played, the landscape becomes rather hum-drum .. radio that I listen to here is nearly identical to radio that you listened to there), it has also opened up doors for more intimate connections to more niche bands and musicians in ways that were not possible just a few years ago.

I also wondered about the connections to what we think of as Digital Writing, and now remix and a new lexicon of song/writing construction might fit under that umbrella. It raises the question: when is writing a song a form of Digital Writing? Is it? It seems to me that Flow Diagrams and borrowing snippets seems to have interesting ramifications about language.

Edwards, whose book bio calls him “the Aristotle of Hip-Hop Poetics,” does a fine job here of exploring the historical perspectives of hip-hop music but he seems to conclude that its best days of innovation are far behind it, now that hip-hop is the touchstone of pop culture and a cash cow. I don’t quite agree, or maybe, I have faith that innovation is happening — even if many of us don’t see it. I just hope we can eventually hear it.

Peace (sing it),
Kevin

It’s a Good Day to Slow Down: Ok Go’s The One Moment

Take time today to slow down and savor your friends and family on this holiday (in America).

Check out this new video from the band OK GO that does just that. It also connected to a campaign called Walk Her Walk, sponsored by the Morton Salt company, which seeks to make a difference in the world through support of advocacy and community-based work. Well. OK. Sort of odd to have band connected to that but the five groups the company is already supporting seems to be doing good work in the world.

And the video is awfully cool.

And the band writes about the song, which is the soundtrack to the company campaign:

The song “The One Moment” is a celebration of (and a prayer for) those moments in life when we are most alive. Humans are not equipped to understand our own temporariness; It will never stop being deeply beautiful, deeply confusing, and deeply sad that our lives and our world are so fleeting. We have only these few moments.”

And here are the notes on making the video, which I always enjoy reading about.

Peace (in slowmo),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: Sculpting Stories with Sound

Making Sound Stories

My sixth graders are in the midst of creating Sound Stories — small stories that are built for audio, with sound effects being the driving force behind the writing and then learning how to use Garageband as the tool for sculpting stories. I wrote about this last year, too, for my column at Middleweb.

The basics: They have a list of known sound effects that I have pulled from the Garageband loop library. They choose five to seven of those sounds on the list and write a small story, with those sounds embedded or embellishing their story. They record their story on Garageband, and edit in the sound effects.

There’s a lot of excitement in the air this short week before Thanksgiving. They do enjoy using Garageband and using what are called Foley Sounds (side note: check out this cool site where a professional Foley Sound expert challenges us to figure out the sound), even though I purposefully give them only limited instructions. I want to see if they can persevere and figure things out, and turn to each other for help. Mostly, they are fine, but you can almost visually see the lines between those students with learned helplessness (they ask for help before even trying to figure out how to solve a problem) and those who just need a push forward, and space to figure it out, into resilience.

I’ll try to see if I can post a few of their sound stories another time. Here is the one that I made last year, which I shared with them as a mentor text.

Peace (sounds like this),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: Dreams May Come (but perhaps not sleep)

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments of our day. You are invited to write, too.)

You still have no idea why … but Sunday night turned into Monday morning … and there was no sleep to be had. You drifted in and out of that strange stasis – not quite dreaming and not quite awake. You were somewhere in the middle of the real world and the imaginary world, and your mind would not easily shake free from one or the other. It was stasis.

You didn’t worry at 11 p.m. There was time. At midnight, you still thought: sleep will come. At 1 a.m., you wondered if something is nagging you (it’s not the election anymore .. that’s your daytime worry now), and you come up short with an explanation for the sleeplessness. Thinking only worsened the sense that you were awake instead of in slumber.

Staring into darkness at 3 a.m., you realize how much you really, really miss the depths of REM sleep, and how long the day before you is likely going to be …. a day back with classrooms full of kids gearing up for the holidays, after three days off the following week for a teaching conference, and there is just no way you are calling in sick today … and then, your mind drifted a bit.

You closed your eyes, hopeful.

You fool, you.

And yet, somewhere between 4 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., you did disappear for a time. Or you thought you had. At that point, your tired brain was no longer sure of anything. It’s possible you just couldn’t remember what happened the minute before this one, and it felt like sleep. You didn’t wake up refreshed. How could you? But you were thankful that there was some lost memory respite from the foggy shadows of the long night, where all you were doing was wondering.

Peace (the next day),
Kevin

PS — Last night, you were fine.

Book Review: Lincoln’s Spymaster (Allan Pinkerton, America’s First Private Eye)

So, I realized the only way I really knew the Pinkerton name was through visuals of the Pinkerton ‘goons’ busting up labor riots with force and violence in the late 1880s and early 1900s. That’s part of the Pinkerton story, of course, but the origin of Allan Pinkerton as the first “spymaster” for the federal government during the Civil War is fascinating.

Samantha Seiple explores Allan Pinkerton and the origins of his detective company in Lincoln’s Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America’s First Private Eye, using plenty of rich primary sources to bring to light how undercover operations helped Lincoln’s efforts in the Civil War, not to mention Pinkerton’s thwarting of at least one or two assassination attempts on Lincoln’s life before John Wilkes Booth did the awful deed after Pinkerton left the government.

Seiple brings us right into the cloak and dagger operations, as well as showing how Pinkerton built up a business of spies that eventually led to the formation of the Secret Service and then the FBI. The use of primary images really helps show the reader the time and place of the stories woven here.

Plenty of rough characters come into play, too, from Rebel Rose Greenhow, during the Civil War, to Jesse James and his gang of bank robbers in the era after the war. Pinkerton is shown here as smart, tough, stubborn and dedicated to his job, at all costs. His own sons took over the company and helped steward it into a large investigative firm that is still around even today.

I suspect this non-fiction book will appeal to some of my students, and the storytelling is solid and informed. Pinkerton’s techniques of “tailing a suspect,” going “undercover,” and placing informants into enemy terrain are the stuff of spy stories, and most of these were first used in real life by Pinkerton and his detectives.

Peace (no longer undercover),
Kevin

 

Remixing Hope from the Heart

Greg Stone quote

There’s a new permanent sculpture on the front lawn of our county courthouse, right at the very heart of the downtown of my small Western Massachusetts city. Artist Greg Stone finished the piece in the days before passing away, and his piece — showing a young woman caring for a dove — is beautiful and powerful.

I felt the need to not just photograph it yesterday but also to remix the images of Stone’s piece. It’s yet another way for me to kindle the fire of Hope in myself and in my world. I tried to find a way to bring it all together, to tie the images into a larger digital composition. I could’t find a way to do that which satisfied me, so it’s pieces of the whole here instead of a whole with pieces.

Here is the original, from one angle:

Greg Stone's Hope

I then began using an app called Fused, remixing the image (a second image is also from the courthouse — colored lights in the form of a peace symbol).

Greg Stone's Hope Statue

Greg Stone's Hope Statue

Greg Stone's Hope Statue

Working with the images gave rise to a poem.

Greg Stone's Hope Statue

I tinkered with the poem’s look, too.

Greg Stone's Hope Statue

Greg Stone's Hope Statue

I also followed my friend Carol V’s lead to tried out a 3D Cube tool, which is nifty but not practical for images with words, I found.

And then I did a podcast of the poem, using some recent guitar open tuning that I was messing around with as the underlying melody, which I thought meshed nicely with the poetry.

And that led to … Zeega … where I sought to combine the image and poem and media … this is closest to what I was thinking …

I still may yet do something more with all of these pieces. For now, I am happy just to have been deep with Hope.

Peace (beyond Hope),
Kevin

Random Notes from a Convergence

Normally, I am more organized with my thinking at conferences, but I didn’t bring a laptop to this past week’s Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project in Atlanta, and my notes and media are all over the place. So, this is a bit of this and a bit of that. I am sure I am leaving out something I wanted to say …

First, this: Sticky Notes for Literacy.

The NWP AM sessions that I attended reflected an underlying theme of the conference: how does an organization like our local Western Massachusetts Writing Project energize teachers and provide avenues (the buzzword is Pathways, which is the name for a multi-year venture by NWP to support local sites) for them to emerge as leaders now and into the future?

WMWP sketch note

In one session, a group of NWP teachers shared a beta version of a website resource they have been building, which curates articles and documents and other media files from across the many NWP websites as a way to provide information for new leaders. So, if someone who went through a Summer Institute (0r some version of it) wanted to learn more about how to start a Writing Retreat for teachers, or a book study group, they could tap into the website and easily find what others have written about on the topic. I think, once it is done, the online site will have a lot of potential.

In another session, related to Connected Learning, there was talk of how to move Connected Learning ideals into the university classrooms, particularly with an aim at pre-service educators. In the small group discussions, I joined in an intriguing look at the potential intersections of Civic Engagement (or, as Mia Zamora put it, Civic Imagination) and Connected Learning. Mia is planning an interesting project early next year, on this topic, that will be open to anyone, and it sounds intriguing.

WMWP at NWP 2016

I also helped my site director, Bruce Penniman, make a “pitch” to the NWP and a room full of spectators on the merits of a project that we are developing that provides a “pathway” for new leaders from content areas at our site. We want to create a Civics Literacy Leadership Institute, for social studies teachers, that is modeled on a Science Literacy Institute now underway. The idea is to merge literacy practices into content-area instructions. NWP folks are considering funding a number of projects, and we hope we are in the mix. It was as gentle a “Shark Tank” as you can imagine.

In the Plenary Session, we NWP teachers were encouraged to stay true to the ideals of teaching and advocacy and the writing project (teachers teaching teachers — teachers as writers) in this uncertain age. NWP Executive Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl and NWP Director of National Programs Tanya Baker brought inspirational, and much appreciated, words to the room about staying engaged in the national conversations and doing meaningful work in our classrooms and in our regional networks.

WMWP at NWP 2016

Both Elyse and Tanya infused powerful poetry into their talks, and were separated by two powerful student poets who shared their stories of the power of writing and a few poems that brought us teachers to a resounding applause. We are always a good audience for young writers.

And when Tanya asked us to write to end the Plenary, I did, with her words in my ear.

She asked us to write ...

Finally, I met many friends here and there and everywhere, some of whom I only interact with on Twitter. So, chatting in person with Jennifer Orr, Michelle Haseltine and Karen LaBonte, among others, were a great joys of connection. And hanging out and catching up with my good friend Bonnie Kaplan at the Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site was a perfect way to spend part of my Friday.

Wait … I can’t forget the NCTE Hackjam, where Andrea Zellner, Chris Butz and other new and old friends hacked the conference space with blackout poetry and human coding and schwag remix on the floor, and escalator, of the conference hall. I only came to NCTE for the Hackjam (now in its xxx year .. I don’t think we really remember), and it was worth it!

Peace (back home),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Diary of Wimpy Kid (Double Down)

Eleven books into the Wimpy Kid series and Jeff Kinney still has the ability to make my inner middle school spirit laugh. Interest in the series has significantly dropped with my sixth grade students. Only one student ordered the book via our Scholastic account (two, if you count me, ordering one for my sixth grade son). Years ago, I could count a dozen orders or so.

But with Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down, Kinney continues to be funny and insightful to the inner lives of a middle school boy, and all sorts of pop references dot the story. It opens with a reference to The Truman Show movie with Jim Carrey, and a character who slowly becomes aware that others are viewing/reading their lives. Greg wonders if anyone is watching him life unfold.

Yes, Greg, we are.

I chuckled at the ways in which Greg finds a cool place in the Speech/Language pull-out class (because that was me in elementary school — working on my S sounds), and the taking up of French Horn to join the school band (in order to get invited to a party). Lots of sight gags and funny moments are in Double Down.

Look, it’s no literary work of art. It’s entertainment. My son read the entire book in one short session on the couch. I read it in an afternoon between doing dishes and the clothes wash. We were both entertained, and I see now that my son has dug out his collection of Wimpy Kid books to re-read (again). He reads deeper and much more complex stories than Wimpy Kid, but he still finds pleasure in the world of Greg Heffley, as imagined by Jeff Kinney.

Books are like that.

Peace (in the kid),
Kevin

Inspired to Spoof: My Son’s Video Project

My son often makes videos. He has written and shot three longer movies with a group of neighborhood friends (all by the age of 11), had one of the movies showcased in our city’s Youth Film Festival and has done a variety of smaller films, too. Long ago, I showed him what I knew about iMovie (and he took part in a free Apple camp at the Apple Store to learn about video), and turned him loose.

He recently finished this short video (he is now 12). My only role was to hold the camera so that he and his friend could be the actors in it. They first researched the ideas from a site called Dude Perfect, which I was only vaguely aware of. But they loved some video that spoofed baseball players, so they, eh, remixed the Dude Perfect ideas into their own spoof video of baseball players (both kids are baseball nuts).

What struck me is this.

Rally Cap Kids

They sat down, together, with a pad of paper and pencils, and watched Dude Perfect videos, and made detailed notes about different “stereotypes of baseball players,” knowing they were going to riff off those movies for their video. They brought the notes to the baseball field, and talked through each scene, before instructing me to shoot the video. I tried to keep as quiet as I could. I was only the camera man.

I love seeing the development of a craft here, and I hope he keeps doing it. When he does a longer movie, it takes a lot longer to shoot and edit. These smaller projects are more manageable, and I think he has a talent (says his dad) in making videos. I know he has fun with being creative this way.

Peace (frame it, capture it),
Kevin

Heading to my Teaching Home: National Writing Project

Create Something

If ever I needed a chance to connect with other educators, now is the time. This morning, I head south to Atlanta for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, and I am grateful to be part of a teaching community like NWP. It’s a place of spirit and invention and sharing and caring. I’ll soak in that spirit as best as I can, and find some (if only temporary) rejuvenation with my fellow writing project colleagues.

I’ll be attending a few sessions tomorrow, including the main plenary session, and taking part in pitching a new leadership project for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site in one of the afternoon sessions for NWP’s Pathways project. We’re hoping to fund a Civics Leadership Course, which — let’s face it — is more necessary now than ever.

Peace (in flight),
Kevin