When the Woodcarver Came to Town

Elton2014

Respect.

Persistence.

Responsibility.

Creativity.

Focus.

As local woodcarver Elton Braithwaite began working with our sixth graders on what has become an annual woodcarving project, he spends less time at the start talking about carving and more time talking about life itself, and how one needs to carry oneself as an artist at all times. I love this part of Elton’s visit, because has a fine way of connecting the themes we discuss all year into a meaningful art project that requires students to do all of the above.

Of course, safety with sharp tools is in there, too, but Elton, who grew up poor in Jamaica before staking out his name as an artist in this country, has many stories to tell of struggle and opportunity, and I am always grateful that our suburban kids get a chance to hang out for extended time with him, learning about making wood sculptures, yes, and also learning more about themselves and the possibilities of their lives ahead of them.

Plus, they make beautiful art.

Peace (in the carving),
Kevin

Parsing Data at the Museum of Science

link station
We took our students on a field trip to the Boston Museum of Science yesterday (long day!), which is a wonderful space of interactive displays and special exhibits (The Grossology Exhibit, in particular, was a huge hit with a certain kind of kid).

I was particularly interested in a special exhibit around math that had all sorts of interactive engineering technology activities (design a skyscraper, build a song, determine probability of a huge flipping coin, etc.) and something known as the Hall of Human Life.

In the hall, you had the option of collecting a wristband, and as you did a series of activities, it showed you your data in relation to 200 other museum visitors. There were activities around nutrition, calories burned with each step, how light affects your sleep and depth perception, focus and attention, flu symptoms, balance and more. I suspect that many of these “activities” are really research projects for some grad students in the Boston area. The results shown are often broken down into categories, such as age and sex and other factors (which you put into the computer when you pick up your wristband).

hall of human life data

What is cool is that you can come home, and check out your data from the online site, too (anonymous, as we are only a wristband number – no name was ever asked), and the chart above shows one of the data pools from a set of questions around social networks. I found it intriguing that the museum found a way to engage us in a series of interesting activities, probably as a anonymous research subjects, and the spit the data out for us to examine as part of a larger collection.

We had a blast at the Museum of Science, and this was just one small piece of the day that stuck with me as I looked at my own data this morning via the website portal (I am the red dot).

Peace (in science),
Kevin

Writing About Songs: Gravitational Pull


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp.)

I’d be remiss not to mention that one of my guitar-playing friends, John Graiff, has also been one of my songwriting partners. He often supplies the riffs, and I then work with those riffs to add lyrics, and then together, we convene, argue and hammer out songs that whatever band we’re in then works on. Gravitational Pull is one of those songs that we wrote together.

Here, the music is almost entirely John. It’s based on a blues pattern, but he has an off-kilter rhythm to it that the drummer latched onto and drove home. I’m not sure where the idea for the song came from but the phrase of “gravitational pull” came early and I realized I could use a science theme to write about romance, as if the person is an object of such admiration and beauty that you just fall into their gravitational force field, whether you are ready or not. You know, love.

This one was always a blast to play live because it has a frantic pace to it. I’m not so sure we (Sofa Kings) nailed this song in the studio as best as we would have liked. It doesn’t always click right to me, as I listen years later. But you can’t help but feel the fun here.

Peace (in the pull),
Kevin

Making Fun with Comics (again)

I’m checking out a comic creator app called Rosie Comic Maker, which I want to use this summer for periodic looks at the Making Learning Connected MOOC. Rosie, the app, costs two bucks (I think), and there are limitations around poses and expressions. But I think there might be enough for me to play with. (I suspect Rosie has some other connections to television or something but I am out of the loop. I just like the cartoony feel to the comic maker)

Here are my first three comics:

Clmooc comic 1

Clmooc comic 2

Magic Box of Stuff

Peace (in frames),
Kevin

 

Writing About Songs: Katrina Blows In


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp. In these posts, I am trying to shine a light on the writing of the songs – where inspiration comes from and how it manifests itself in music.)

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I realized that I needed to try to express my anguish (at the devastation) and anger (at political incompetence) through song and out of those mixed feelings emerged Katrina Blows In, which became a standard song for my band, Sofa Kings, for a number of years. My attempt was to catch a feel of New Orleans with the sound and tell a story of survival from someone in the midst of the approaching storm.

There’s also the political element — of how the system failed people in the time of their greatest need, and how we need to rely on each other as much as possible.

“If we all pull together
we might find a way to weather the storm …”

I really like how my bandmates brought their own ideas to this song, shaping it into a full-blown track instead of the dirge-like demo that I had in mind. There’s life in here, just as there was still life in those who made their way out of Katrina, even though their world would never be the same. I was hoping to honor those people as best as I could, from my perch in the Northeast.

In live shows, the opening riff would often bring people to the dance floor, although I am not so sure they were listening to the lyrics. I think they were moved by the beat and the mandolin. I’m playing guitar on this one, and singing the lead. It’s one of those songs that I can listen to, and nod my head, and know that we pulled this one off pretty well.

Peace (in the storm),
Kevin

Trigger Warnings: An Animated Poem

trigger warnings poem
You could not escape the phrase “trigger warnings” last week, as colleges and universities grappled with the idea of warning students about text before reading, and the battle over censorship and the protective society. I say, let young adults read without warnings, and if disturbed, so much the better for the discussions and experiences that follow.

Anyway, those news reports inspired me to write a poem that warns the reader about the poem, and recommends they take a chance anyway. I used Webmaker’s Thimble for this one.

Check out Trigger Warnings

Peace (in the text),
Kevin

Writing About Songs: Send Me Out a Sign


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp.)

Of all the songs on this album, Send Me out a Sign packs the most emotional punch for me. I wrote it during the heady days of courting my (now) wife. This was a songwriting phase where I was often writing three to four songs every single week, and using a little Tascam recorder to record demos. I first brought Send Me out a Sign to a friend, who played bass, and we did a version of the song. Later, I brought it to a new band I was in — Big Daddy Kiljoy — and when I played it for the band, you could see that everyone recognized it for a good song that we could work with. This version, recorded in a real studio, does a fair job of capturing our version, with a powerful harp solo and a nice easy groove.

There’s a certain feeling you get when you share a song that is close to your heart. On one hand, you don’t want to let it go. It’s so personal that it feels like a child that needs protecting. On the other hand, some songs come out nearly perfect (or so it seems) and the only way to breathe real life into it is to share it. I’ve been fortunate to be in bands where I can bring in songs that we will at least try (and we abandon as many as keep, it seems).

Send Me out a Sign is about waiting for that special person to know that the next stage of a relationship is ready and waiting, and that you are too. There’s a real uncertainty about where a relationship will go, and the song is positive and yet, there is a yearning to it, too. The Romeo/Juliet metaphor of standing under the window, waiting for a sign … that’s universal, right? This song reminds me of the strength of my marriage, and is a musical testament (sap alert) to love.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

Writing About Songs: Using Bandcamp


Some of you know that I play and write music as a hobby. Over the years, with various bands and friends, I have recorded music here and there, and many of the tracks have sat electronically for years. Time to set them free and see if anyone likes them. Over the coming days and weeks, I am going to be reflecting and writing about the songs that I have recorded and sharing them out. I decided to use Bandcamp as a place to host and share, and maybe sell a few songs here and there. I have no expectations of striking it rich or anything, and any proceeds will get divided up with friends who helped make the music.

I’m playing an assortment of instruments here — some rhythm guitar, saxophones and even keyboards on some of the tracks.

You don’t need to buy the music to listen to the music. You can listen right from Bandcamp. If you like a track and buy it, I offer you deep appreciation. I chose songs from our recordings that I wrote, co-wrote and mostly sang lead on. A few songs have other bandmates singing, and I have noted that in the liner notes (such as they are).

Today, I want to share the entire album (see above) and in the days ahead, I will break it down track by track as best as I can remember about the writing and recording. As a sort of bonus sharing today, I also dug up an old video from my band, Sofa Kings, as we went into the studio. The sound is awful because it is a first generation Flip Camera (remember them?) and the microphone was tinny. But it captures some of what we were doing in the studio and a few of those tracks are in the Bandcamp collection.

Sofa Kings: in the studio from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Thanks for listening.
Peace (in the songs),
Kevin

 

Graphic Novel Review: Steve Jobs (Co-Founder of Apple)

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

Story Summary: Not to be confused with the recent bestselling biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, this comic book version of the Life of Jobs by Bluewater Comics is like a whirlwind overview of the innovator’s highs (with some token nods to the lows). STEVE JOBS aims to present Steve Jobs’s life in an accessible format, and give this comic book’s length, there is a lot about Jobs that is not told. Mostly, STEVE JOBS celebrates Steve Jobs. We don’t get much of the ways in which he treated his employees and the people around him, but we do get a good sense of the ways that Jobs changed the way we look at and interact with technology. You get the impression that Bluewater rushed this comic biography into production to ride on the coattails of Isaacson’s book, and Jobs’s passing. (I found a few proofreading errors)

Art Review: There’s nothing special about the art here, to be honest. It’s fair, but not innovative. I suppose, as a reviewer, one would hope that a comic about someone obsessed with design would be more beautiful to read. It isn’t. I did like the layered text and images behind the main scenes, particularly towards the end when we encounter a sort of “highlights reel” of his life. The art there gave the book a bit of a mash-up feel.

In the Classroom: I am sure there are plenty of students in our classrooms who want to know more about Steve Jobs and who would be put off by Isaacson’s definitive biography, given its hefty size. There are other biographies floating around, too, and this comic by Bluewater might be a nice companion piece for students interested in the ways that Jobs and Apple have transformed personal computing.

More Information:

Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Bluewater Productions (January 10, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1450756727
ISBN-13: 978-1450756723

My Recommendation: I would recommend STEVE JOBS: CO-FOUNDER OF APPLE for its use in current events and biography of the moment, but not necessarily for the art of the comic. The writing could be stronger, and the illustrations, more interesting. But I suspect students with an interest in “all things Apple” won’t really care about those points.

Peace (in innovation),
Kevin

Emoji Movie Poster: Screenface III

Screen face #tdc873
Yesterday’s Daily Create was to create an emoji movie poster. I suppose this could have gone a few ways: we could have made a poster for a movie told entirely in emoji (which I don’t think anyone did) or we could made a poster for an emoji movie (which is what I did). There are probably other options, too, but that’s the beauty of the Daily Create.

I went into Webmaker Thimble, using a Movie Poster template that walks you through all of the steps, and remixed it for a fake movie: Screenface III. What’s funny is that the emoji I used got blown up (not literally) so large that you can only see the top of its head, with odd eyes on the horizon of the page. I tried to fix it and then realized: it works better this way. Or  maybe I just got lazy and realized: good enough.

Peace (in the theater),
Kevin