#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

#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

 

 

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

#DigiWriMo: How I Failed Visual Notetaking 101

Notes from WMWP

Yesterday, I spent nearly the entire day at a Leadership Retreat for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. It was productive, as always, and yet, I did find my mind wandering from time to time. I decided to try my hand at Visual Notetaking to keep focused.

I tried at Visual Notetaking, but I failed. I began with notes on paper during the meeting and then later, after the retreat, I used the Paper app to draw the visual with my stylus.

Notes from WMWP

Well,  first of all, too many words. Too much text. But that’s who I am: a word man. And I wasn’t patient enough, either, for thinking through the visual design element. I sort of jumped in, started and then worked around my starting point. I’m not sure either of these really captures much beyond a pretty note.

Check out Sylvia Duckworth and her art. It really is inspiring how she listens, processes, and then captures the movement of ideas in her artwork. All of it seems logical and designed with an eye towards cohesiveness of the reader/viewer.


flickr photo shared by sylviaduckworth under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

I’m not giving up on the idea of Visual Notetaking, but I understand that free-hand drawing is not my strength and never has been. It doesn’t help that I have a fat stylus for the Ipad, making detailed drawings more difficult than it probably should be. I am more apt to be creative when I have the art done for me, which has its drawbacks and limitations, and I can work on the writing and design piece. I need a partner!

Still, this opportunity allowed me to dive in and try the process, and I did find some good resources to put into my Diigo bookmarking for later perusal. I like the simplicity of this overview, for example.

Have you tried Visual Notetaking? Have you done better than me?

Peace (in the draw),
Kevin

 

#DigiWriMo: Home Poem

The Young Writer’s Project in Vermont (an amazing organization supporting student writers) is taking on the unofficial hosting of some themes for what used to be and still is #DigiWriMo as way to help its writers keep writing in a digital way. Each week, they will offer up a theme. This week’s idea is: Home.

I went into MapStack and created a few versions of my neighborhood with its coloring layering tools and then pulled those images into Adobe Spark on my iPad, writing a poem as the narration, and ended up with a digital poem.

I like how the map layout doesn’t change, but the layered effects does, and the words are inspired by each image, to some degree.  In other words, the writing of the poem came AFTER I had created various versions of the maps, not the other way around.

I also used the Fused app, which does double exposures of images, to pull maps together to make something slightly different. By keeping the layout exactly the same, the blends gave a slight twist to the originals. Subtle, even.

Peace (at home and beyond),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: That Moment Before Shipwreck

Fordham Friday

I did #WhitmanWednesday and #ThoreauThursday — two white guy poets of much acclaim — and I wanted to find a poem with the alliterative “F” for Friday that moved away from gender and race of the other two dudes.

So I wandered about, used a Search Engine as a compass for navigation, and sailed into Mary Weston Fordham.

The Poetry Foundation says:

Little is known about the life of poet Mary Weston Fordham. A free person of color from a relatively affluent family, she bravely ran her own school during the Civil War and was hired in 1865 as a teacher by the American Missionary Association. She taught during Reconstruction at the Saxon School in Charleston, South Carolina. Her poetry contains references to family and to the deaths of several children in infancy.

A single volume of her work, Magnolia Leaves (1897), containing 66 poems, was published by a South Carolina press with an introduction by Booker T. Washington. Her poems display an ease with meter and rhyme in lyrical explorations of historical, spiritual, and domestic themes.

I read and then tinkered around with her poems, which have a certain grace to them that I liked. I settled on “Shipwreck” for its theme and imagery of language, but also I was hooked on the last lines of the last stanza.

So, I took the last stanza of Fordham’s Shipwreck into the Visual Poetry and painted with her words for #FordhamFriday. Is that hashtag a thing? It is now. 

Fordham Friday

I also took her poem, The Pen, and did some blackout work on it, recreating the words into something slightly new.

Blackout Poem - The Pen

Want to play along? Here is a link to various Mary Weston Fordham poems.

Peace (as remix),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: Thoreau on Writing

It’s #ThoreauThursday, and in an intersection with the concept of Digital Writing Month, I gathered up a bunch of Henry David Thoreau quotes and layered his ideas about writing into a Zeega media mix. The soundtrack? A song called Walden Pond.

The digital piece works best if you use the Full Screen option, in my opinion. Never used Zeega? The reader advances the slides as the soundtrack plays underneath. The writer puts the pieces together, but it is the reader with the agency on the pacing of the piece.

What about you? What are you making today?

Peace (ripples on the pond),
Kevin

 

#DigiWriMo: Words from Walt, Audio-Collaged

Walt on Writing

Wednesdays are #WhitmanWednesday, and so in a convergence with #DigiWriMo, I found a quote from Walt Whitman about writing and used it as an audio file, adding in sound effects and an underlying string melody. I like the heartbeat, although the heartbeat sounds a lot better with headphones than on my computer’s tiny speakers.

What about you? What can you do with Whitman’s words and poems today?

Peace (sounds like),
Kevin

DigiWriMo is Dead/Long Live DigiWriMo


flickr photo shared by AndyArmstrong under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

This has been the year of plugs, nearly pulled.

First, the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) almost didn’t happen. Now, Digital Writing Month is here for November but it is not really here at all. In both cases, those who envisioned online learning adventures and those who nurtured those spaces over years decided time had run out. For CLMOOC, it was my friends at the National Writing Project. For DigiWriMo, it is the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy/Digital Pedagogy.

I think there are valid reasons for founders to say, we’re moving on to other things. Things do run their course. NWP has been deep into Letters to the Next President (worth checking out … thousands of letters of all media shapes and sizes from high school students). Digital Pedagogy people may be shifting its focus to other ways to support digital writing and thinking about digital writing (and thinking about the teaching of digital writing.) Both organizations do wonderful projects, with vision.

I guess I have a hard time letting go, though.

I was part of the crowd-sourced CLMOOC this past summer (where the collective parts led the activities, and it was fantastic). Now I am part of CLMOOC folks working to plan some Pop-Up Make Cycle activities later this month for Not-DigiWriMo.

It always feels strange when the founders say, this is no more, and the folks who in the midst say, let’s do more. There is the possibility of tension there (I can hear the voice: “Hey, I thought we said this was over!”). I don’t revel in that tension, but if we all believe in the potential of dispersed ownership of Connected Learning and the open value of hashtags and social media spaces, then it makes sense that if the participants don’t want something to be over, there is no reason why it needs to be over. We’re following our passions. (Reality Check: in some cases, though, the brand of an online learning space might be legally attached to an organization, so there’s that … here, both organizations know something continued/is continuing onward.)

Where I am going with all of this? Well, DigiWriMo is officially “retired,” as the pioneering folks at Hybrid Pedagogy noted on Twitter this week. Digi Duck is no doubt kicking back on a beach chair, drink in hand, dreaming of bread crumbs.

But you can make your own paths, and there are folks from all over the world out there to play along with you. See the Vermont-based Young Writers Project for weekly themes for their version of Digital Writing Month. Pay attention to the CLMOOC website for Pop-Up Make Cycles with a DigiWriMo theme. Take part in DS106’s Daily Create for inspiration.

But hey, don’t wait for us. Get writing, digitally. Make a poem. Write a video. Experiment. Tinker. Create. Many folks are still using the #digiwrimo hashtag on Twitter. Share. Inspire others. Get inspired.

Peace (in the code),
Kevin

DigiLitSunday: Exploring Adjacent Possibilities

Adjacent Possibilities

My good friend and creative partner on many an online writing adventure, Terry Elliott, has been using the term “Adjacent Possibilities” for some time now. The term first originated by scientist Stuart Kauffman, I believe, but Kauffman’s insight was centered on scientific inquiry and discovery. Terry has been mulling over Kauffman’s ideas in other realms beyond science, such as writing and creating. (And Steven Johnson has written extensively about it, too).

As I understand it, the idea of the Adjacent Possible is that one kind of creative idea spills over into another kind of creative ideas, and that spills over into another creative idea. And so on, so that what happens when you explore something new is that your ending point (if there ever is one) is a few, or many, steps away from where you started, and perhaps miles away from where you thought you were going in the first place. It’s sort of like Six Degrees of Separation, but with ideas and not with people.

Terry brought the term up again the other night during the Q/A session of my keynote presentation for the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing as he took the mic, and then later, in a private message, he expanded the notion even further.

What he hopes — what I hope, what many of us hope — is that the attendees of the conference and the keynote session do not replicate the kinds of Digital Writing that I shared out. Instead, they will be inspired to make their own kinds of writing. The Adjacent Possible is the notion that we don’t just replicate what we see. Instead, we riff off our discoveries and shift into something new.

Adjacent Possibilities

I’ve written about this from another angle, too. It has to do with bringing in Mentor Digital Texts to my sixth graders, and then noticing how many of them just clone what they saw me share out. Of course, they do. We all start there. Hopefully, then we branch out. For example, I began playing guitar and then shifted into writing songs by ripping off the chords and melodies from bands I loved. Eventually, I began to make my own moves, and left those recognizable chord structures behind. I found my own muse.

Helping my students as writers find and then make their own moves, to discover what is not yet visible, is part of why I got into teaching, and why I still love being in the classroom with 11 year old writers.

Adjacent Possible

And I tangled with this tension of the adjacent possible the other day, when I wrote about how so many of them are afraid to take chances with their writing. I was frustrated by their confusion over an open-ended writing prompt, but hopeful in what happened. I believe in my heart that I can help my students discover what they can’t yet see. That belief of possibility is the ballast in this age of frustration with the tightening educational systems around us.

In the notion of the Adjacent Possible, it seems to me, the skill we need to nurture above all is Flexibility. We need to discover the wiggle room between one idea and the next, and then dive into that gap with possibilities — both that something will be unearthed and that our path may become a dead end (so, start over and try again). Being here is not enough. Being there is where we need to be.

A flexible view of the world — not just in writing but in everything — opens up the unknown, and in that unknown, we may find something new about ourselves, about others, about the world. I know this sounds like gobblygook but it rings important to me. It underlies why we write, and why we teach, and why we learn.

Peace (in the possibility),
Kevin