For all of November, I took part in something called NoiseVember over on Mastodon — creating small soundtracks of music. Some of my pieces were intentionally noisy. Some were not. I experimented across a variety of different platforms to make the music — from Soundtrap, to WolframTones, to Garageband, to Thumbjam, to Google’s Music Lab, and more.
In my head, I had a vague, loose idea of what connected the tracks, a slow threading over the month. I could glimpse the music telling the story of a walk through a place — woods, or forests, or something. But it was only at the end of the month, as I listened again to the entire batch together, all of them unfolding, and finally gave discrete titles to each of the tracks that I began to “see” the story as a whole through the “listening.”
Maybe next up is the writing of the story itself …
It’s possible only I can “read” this story this way because I composed the music and that no one else can envision it. That’s OK, too. But all the tracks are up in Bandcamp, free for download or for listening, and if you are interested, I invite you to wander over. You could even write the story, too.
I am just wrapping up (but not rapping up) a fourth round of a inspiring collaborative song project called A Whale’s Lantern, which has roots in the Mastodon federated networking space. In each round, participants are randomly partnered with others, and all pairings are given an overall theme to work with as a connector thread, and then, the partners have extended periods of time (usually a few months) to get creating something.
I have been fortunate in each of my pairings to connect with collaborators who have been easy to work with (maybe this is an inherent quality of those who volunteer for the project and reach the ending point). Although each partnership has had a distinct and different feel to it, and my role has been different each time, each round has really pushed my abilities as a songwriter and musician. In the latest collaboration — the music tracks will be released in a few weeks after they get mastered and gathered and posted at Bandcamp — the overarching theme was “portraits.”
My partner, Bobbus, is someone who I had interacted sporadically with on Mastodon, and I know he is a talented and thoughtful musician. We hit it right off the bat in our emails, both of us expressing gratitude for the chance to try to make music in a different format than we are used to and both of us expressing an openness to try any idea the other pitched, and both of us open to a starting point.
With this mind, I sent forward a song to him that I had started on acoustic guitar after thinking a bit on the theme of “portraits.” The proposed song — Photobooth — captured a pining by the narrator of an old photo album of a relationship that is long since gone to dust. The “portrait” might be a picture taken in one of those box photo booths, where you put coins in and an image pops out.
Bobbus thought the song could work for us (although we were both open to starting over if it didn’t), and the chart/map/graphic at the top of the post here shows some of the ways the song was woven over a few months time, particularly as he used his skills as a sound engineer and solo guitarist to create the song’s sonic landscape, adding unexpected (to me) chord changes and suggesting other parts to break up what began as a pretty traditional pop song of verse/chorus.
On a technical note, we used PCloud storage as a way to share many audio files back forth. I would send him raw music that I was making and he would do rough mixing, and share it back, asking for comments and feedback, and so the revisions would flow. We also used a writing app called Turtl for sharing written notes, lyrics, chord changes and more. I was not familiar with either of those platforms, so it was interesting to try to collaborate with different technology tools. Both worked just fine for us.
My challenge with the recording process, as it is always, was with the vocals, and he did as much he could with effects to make my voice work for the song, although there are points where .. well… I’m not sure I hit the notes I wanted to hit. I did like the way he created the ending section, where I recorded three saxophone parts that he mixed under his guitar … there’s a sense of the world kind of coming apart that works well with the song’s theme itself.
I am grateful and appreciative of Bobbus as a musical partner and collaborator, and for the chance to make more interesting collaborative music and art with the Whale’s Lantern community.
Anytime anyone has the opportunity to make something out of nothing — to pluck melody and harmony and rhythm out of thin air and transform it into something that someone else might hear and maybe even appreciate — particularly when this magic is done with someone from somewhere else in the world connected only by a federated space, is a cause for celebration, and experiences like A Whale’s Lantern provide a powerful counterpoint to so much of the failure of other networking spaces to live up to the promise of a world made better by connections.
I’ve been part of the SmallStories gathering over at Mastodon for some time (often with CLMOOC friends), first drawn there by Tanya and Kate and others, and now find myself a regular SmallStories writer. SmallStories is the idea of small moments, shared in the open. They are typically short bursts of writing, often hinting at something larger. Sort of like Slice of Life, if you are a Slicer with Two Writing Teachers.
I’m enjoying watching Laura share the ideas of the writing (including work that Geoff has done with the Young Writers Project in Vermont) at a conference considering the possibilities of open networking. She begins by contrasting the push towards bigger, bigger, bigger networking spaces with small corners of writing, sharing, connecting like the #smallstories hashtag. (oops, then the sound goes out when she moves to chat about Mastodon. Read her lips!)
Kate then explores the difference between flash fiction (short creative fiction) and small stories (mostly non-fiction of a single event).
“This little thing happened, how weird was that?” is how Kate explains how our days, all of us, are filled with small stories. “Noticing is something you need to learn to do.”
It’s in that noticing that we bring forth the story, however.
Kate defines small stories as:
being composed of the details we notice
having something to teach us about ourselves or the world
notice our values in action, made visible
Thanks to my friends for gathering this together and sharing it out.
(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.)
Maybe I am a bit lazy this morning. Maybe I just want to close the gap between the writing I do in one space with the writing I do in another space. Maybe I want to create a reminder to myself — this blog is how I curate my writing life, after all — that I have pretty consistently taking the concept of Slice of Life (the small moments, made larger through reflective writing) into pieces I create for Small Stories over on Mastodon, on a pretty regular basis.
I didn’t create the Small Stories ideas there on Mastodon. That was the idea of some networked friends who wanted to explore rich stories of connectedness and kindness. But I have been pretty consistent, using it as a place to wander with ideas and voice. Like Twitter, a character limit on Mastodon is a forced invitation to edit, to narrow, to find the exact word that means what you want to say and delete the extraneous.
Here are the last seven Small Stories I wrote over the past week:
Not remembering to check the forecast before sleep, as I am apt to do in these wintry days of New England, I was hit hard in the face this morning with a wallop of cold, biting wind. It made my eyes tear and then the tears froze on my cheek. I bent my head, kept trudging. The dog stopped with every howl of wind, as if listening to some ancient call of warning. Trees groaned but held their own against the violent sway. Some days just start wild and all you can do is forge ahead.
Who do you imagine in your mind as you write? Sometimes, an audience of one. You. Me. Sometimes, the sphere expands. Co-centric circles of Them. Yesterday, I found myself with an imaginary writer in my mind, watching her write. It was clear she was all paper/pen, not keyboard/screen. Something about font/ink brought her to life. Gave her form. From there, I had something underway before I knew it, as if she had written the song about herself through me. I can hardly explain it.
I was at a stop sign when I noticed a father and a son, maybe 7 years old, on the sidewalk. At their feet was something silver. Tin foil. A huge, massive piece of tin foil. The father was pointing at it and the boy offered up a questioning look. The father nodded. The boy leaped into the air, landing two feet on the tin foil. Then the boy began a puddle dance on top of the tin foil, a look of pure ecstasy on his young face. I couldn’t hear or feel the foil, but one can imagine.
My wife and I wandered downtown for “Arts Night Out.” An impromptu Bluegrass jam session took place in one store. In another, the son of the late saxophonist/composer Charles Neville was tucked in a corner, improving full jazz compositions to a small audience. We watched with wonder at Khalif Neville’s long fingers dancing over the keyboard, never hesitating on a note or melody, as songs flowed from his mind to our ears. We sipped wine, listened with appreciation.
We were walking out of the concert hall with our son, congratulating him on the concert band performance.
“We did OK,” he said, “but in the second song, the kid next to me let rip a huge burp.”
He stopped and looked at us.
“Did you hear it?”
Now, there were hundreds of people in the audience and nearly 100 musicians on stage.
“Nope,” my wife laughed. “We didn’t hear that.”
“Now, if he had farted …” I added, but my son quickly cut me off.
“Your fart jokes are the worst, dad.”
My son’s band director lost her mother this week. Yet there she was, in the lights, directing the middle school jazz and concert bands before a packed audience. She referenced her mother more than once from the stage, a presence in her musical life as performer and teacher. At the end of the night, a parent took the mic, expressed our collective support for this amazing teacher of our children. She truly is. The entire auditorium, hundreds of us, rose in an act of community love.
The box says “free” yet there’s nothing in the box. I pass by it two different days in my car but don’t have time to stop. So I am stopping now in story to consider the Box of Free. For, is it the Box itself that is free? It’s a nice box. Looks solid. Or is it whatever was in the Box that was free? Whatever it was is now long gone. Still, the Box remains. Perhaps it is this: the story of the Box is freely given and taken, and here I am, passing the Box along to you. Use it wisely.
(My wife brought home this book turkey she made with an old textbook and I love the way a book was remixed into art.)
Dear friends in many spaces,
Thank you. Thank you for, first, for even being here at my blog at all. I know fewer and fewer people read blogs, preferring sound bite analysis and catchy headlines on social media. I do that, too, at times. As such, I am always appreciative when anyone takes the time to jump from a tweet or a shared link or maybe even RSS reader to come and spend a few minutes with my writing or my songs, and maybe even write a comment. Thank you for your conversations in the comment bin, when you have time and inclination to do so.
I am also deeply appreciative of the fact that while I read about and know about the thorny, messy elements of the Web — the way trolls play out on Twitter, the way algorithmic bots target us on Facebook (well, not me, but maybe you), the way we are the product for marketing, the way dark corners of the Net are home to anger and conspiracy and such — I have mostly avoided those elements. I know others have not been so lucky, targeted because they speak out and have strong views.
I think my positive bubble — which is not the kind of bubble that walls me off from the world and not the kind that stops me from expressing my own strong opinions nor engaging in debates — has been mostly due to you.
You have helped me stay positive and engaged in thinking forward. I ask you questions, and you answer. I remix your resources, and honor your work. You do the same, with mine. I write in your margins, to better understand. I write my way forward. Sometimes, I read what you share and let it sink in, letting time follow me until I realize that what you shared with me is now the thing I need right now. You knew that all along.
This is not, alas, unbridled optimism without worry, of course, worries about the many obstacles still there when it comes to learning and teaching and writing and sharing and connecting, and the myriad of troubles that come with this digital world. For sure, there are unsettling problems, made worse by our digital connections with the world. I find myself agreeing with the analysis by many that the promise of the Web, as we know it today, is not what we thought it might be.
Still, it might yet still become something else altogether, something better.
We collectively push forward by pushing forward, we do by doing, we make by making, and we can do this together. No one person can be on this journey alone. We make this path, together.
Whenever I think, this is a perfect opportunity for a collaboration and let’s get an invite out into the networks, that impulse to work with others in technology and writing and making is based on hope in the possible. It’s why I remain part of CLMOOC, and why offshoots of connected communities intrigue me. It’s why others in the National Writing Project seem like friends, even when we only just meet. It’s why I found a new-ish home on Mastodon, settling into small stories and small poems and small sharing. This is why regular activities like Slice of Life remain a draw for me. It’s why I don’t worry too much about leaving one place to go to another, to meet new people, to learn from others. I dip my toes, for a reason. There are more people out there who want the same than we realize. It’s sometimes just a matter of finding us.
I am thankful there are such opportunities. Thank you.
For the past year or so, I have been involved in three rounds of a music project called A Whale’s Lantern. Folks in the Mastodon networking space are randomly paired with other volunteers, and then they have an extended period of time to write and record a song on a theme. The most recent theme was along the lines of school.
The third iteration — entitled Field Trip — just dropped yesterday on Bandcamp, and my contribution was a garage-rocker called Outcast Kid. My partner was a keyboardist/artist (whose artwork is the cover of the album) and our song’s lyrics are about finding a mentor in a mixed up world and feeling less on the fringe because of your interests as a result. I’m on guitar and bass and vocals.
Take a listen:
If you are interested, here are links to all three rounds. Each time, my contribution and partner and resulting song has been very different from the other, and that variety is intriguing.
A friendly email arrived, with a request. Might I be willing to write a poem?
A musical collaborator, Luka, was working on another project and he was looking for a poem that could become part of the cover of the CD project. He sent along a few tracks, asked me to listen, and get inspired. (Luka and I wrote and recorded Alchemist Dream for A Whale’s Lantern music project, a remote collaboration taking place off the Mastodon social network. We’re now into the third iteration of the music-making partnerships.)
Oh, and there was a fast turn-around deadline. I’d have to get the poem out the door within just a few days. The theme of the project was Entropy, and so as I put on headphones and listened to the tracks that Luka provided (interesting stuff, as always from him), I read up on Entropy, trying to wrap my head around the concept and how it might translate into poetry, and music.
Then, I wrote … just letting the words flow as I listened to the beats and musical landscape of the tracks. It was one of those times when I only thought about what I was writing later, in revision. First, I let the music guide me into discovering the possibilities of a poem.
Fast forward a few months, and I saw Luka promoting the CD, with a limited series artistic cover available, so I ordered it, and the resulting project (airmailed from Luka from Slovenia, with a very kind note from him) is just beautiful. My poem is splayed out in the center, but the way the cover folds in and around itself, and the use of art to explore music (and vice versa), and … well … the whole dang thing is just pretty cool to have in my hands.
I’m glad I had some words to contribute. (And Luka, in return, has lent me some of his original music to use in a video project I am working on for a summer learning experience.)
The second iteration of Networked Narratives has been over for at least a few weeks now, and I’ve had a version of this reflection sort of sitting here in my blog draft bin.
I’ve watched Alan Levine, one of the instructors, post his reflection yesterday from a teacher perspective (which was insightful to peruse). I’ve read through and enjoyed Wendy Taleo‘s reflection and presentation she gave about a project in Networked Narratives that we launched. I’ve skimmed through some of the final posts by the university students who took NetNarr for credit at their university.
What I continue to find intriguing is the open invitation by Alan and Mia Zamora for anyone to follow NetNarr and participate, and so I and some others (like Wendy and Sarah Honeychurch) have done so. We’ve come and gone, as we pleased. Added to conversations. Commented on blogs. Disappeared from time to time. Re-appeared suddenly. Engaged. Created. Made. Remixed.
Being out here in the Wild Open, as I often refer to it, has its advantages (we can engage where our curiosity is piqued and ignore the rest) and disadvantages (we aren’t always part of the larger conversation that comes from being in the class at the university, and seem to be invisible at times).
Here, in this NetNarr reflection, I want to share out a few projects that I took on that formed my framework of interaction, or at least, the hope for interaction. One of the three was more successful in this than the other two, but the other two were meaningful to me anyway.
First, when Mia and Alan announced this second round of Networked Narratives with the theme of Digital Life, I was interested. I had had fun with the first round of NetNarr a year ago, and figured, I’ll just see what they’re up to this time. I decided to bring a comic strip character out of hiding, and wanted to weave a story about Arganee –the fictional world of the first NetNarr — and digital alchemy, a theme of inquiry for NetNarr.
So, I wrote a story about Horse, the companion to The Internet Kid, and left the Kid at home. I remember being obsessed with telling this story in comics, and working very diligently on the storyline. I released the comic story, one comic at time, into the NetNarr hashtag, and then bundled the entire thing up into a graphic story adventure.
I really enjoyed this Horse with No Name comic project, but I got almost no response from the NetNarr students or participants (Wendy and I did a little exchange now and then), and I wonder if those students even knew that the Horse story was always part of NetNarr. Or if they just thought some weirdo was releasing comics into their midst.
Again, there was very little reaction to any of the poems, although I did them mostly for myself, and the challenge of writing small pieces on an angle from a prompt.
Third, there is the Digital Alchemy Lab project, an adventure that began with a desire to weave the concept of transmedia storytelling (which didn’t really take root the way I envisioned, mainly because I could not envision how it would take root), collaboration with other Wild Open participants (and university students), and the theme of “every object tells a story.”
Over the course of weeks, a group of us planned out how to invite collaborators to use media to tell stories of assigned objects, which were then woven into the Alchemy Lab — an immersive 360 degree art project using ThingLink. This project took the most time and coordination, and the result is something magical — a collaborative art piece that weaves story and media together in a fun way, showcasing how people can come together to create and make and learn. I wrote three long reflective pieces just about the Alchemy Lab endeavor.
This project continues, in a way, as we share out individual pieces each, with an invite into the lab. Yes, you are invited, too. Come on in. The narrative is networked.
Finally, I want to share a project that had on the surface seemingly nothing to do with Networked Narratives, and yet … it did, in my mind at least. It is a music collaboration project called A Whale’s Lantern, in which online music collaborators from all over the world work on writing and producing a song, which then becomes part of a larger “album” of music.
The reason I include this here in the NetNarr reflection is that I saw/see A Whale’s Lantern project as part of the larger aims of Networked Narratives — of finding ways to connect people from around the world with media creation (in this case, music) as connector points for collaboration, using the Internet as a way to publish and interact in a meaningful, authentic way. It didn’t matter that this took place off Mastodon as opposed to Twitter, or that I was the only one making the NetNarr connections (although Wendy may have seen that connection, too, as she dipped her toes into the music collaboration).
The point is that the very things that we all looked at in NetNarr around the positive elements of our Digital Lives — of following your passions and engaging in virtual strangers with similar passions to create something unique, together, with technology and media — played out beautifully here, overlapping at the same time I was engaged in NetNarr.
We weave the threads.
And, to make the connection even clearer, the lyrics I wrote for my collaboration with my partner, Luka, was inspired by Networked Narratives itself and the idea of digital alchemy. The song is called Alchemist Dream, and you can find the lyrics here. How’s that for synergy?
Thank you, Mia and Alan, for at least trying to find way to fuse classroom experiences at the university level with the open learning networks beyond the classroom walls. I still wish there were more ways to interact among the two groups — the Wild Open and the classroom — but realize the logistics would be difficult to navigate and the demands of running a university course are different from facilitating an open learning adventure.
Luka and I created a song called Alchemist Dream, based on some earlier interactions with Networked Narratives on the theme of “digital alchemy.” The theme of A Whale’s Lantern was “the elements,” so I worked those two strands — alchemy and elements — together in the initial demo I sent Luka, who then transformed the music with his own magical abilities.
Here are the lyrics to the song, in case you are curious:
The Alchemist Dream (Sleep Deep)
If I could take this fire
stoke these embers of desire for you
I’d burn it up higher
Won’t you catch me, I’m a flier for you
I can catch the water
turn the buckets into bottles of wine
Let it run us on over
let the water flow deep inside
Hold your hands together
let the sand be the trace of time
Let the earth shape and move us
the universe is tuned to rhyme
But only when we sleep, deep,
in Alchemist Dreams
They can only find us there –
digging in the world
I’m breathing in poems
the words as light as air
Telling all the stories
‘cause the songs are everywhere
But only when we sleep, deep,
in Alchemist Dreams
They can only find us there –
breathing in the world
The second round of music by collaboration — known by the project title A Whale’s Lantern — has now been released, and the theme of the musical pieces was The Elements. The album is located for listening, and for downloading, at Bandcamp. The whole project is built on collaboration — from the songwriting, to the recording, to the production. Each song represents a different collaborative partnership.
I was paired up with Luka, an amazing engineer and musician from Eastern Europe, and we worked together on a song called Alchemist Dream.
I wrote the lyrics, inspired in part by the Alchemy theme of Networked Narratives, and Luka wrote the music, and then we worked via email and other means to merge the two pieces together. I sing the song, and added some sax at the end, but Luka has done everything else. The back and forth we had was intriguing in many ways, and I am pretty happy with how our track ended up. Luka deserves much of the credit for the production value, as he spent hours working on it.
If you are wondering how this all works, a call went out from our friend Mascha in the Mastodon networking space (this is the second round; the first round is entitled Flight into the Nebula, and I worked with Laura on a song I wrote called I Fall Apart).
Participants are given rather random partners, and an extended period of time to work together. Some partnerships don’t get the finish line for all sorts of reasons. This second round had more completed tracks than the first.
The songs are then pulled together (by Mascha, who is the heart and soul of this project) on Bandcamp for sharing, and for purchase, with some proceeds going back into supporting the Mastodon network.
Read the oral history project from the first Whale’s Lantern album: