Advanced Projects in Audio, Multimedia, and Documentary Arts
Documentary Studies 351C
Office Hours (Harder 130) Tues 2:15-3:30
Or, by appointment: adamtinkle.youcanbook.me
I will also plan to hold several “hackathons” on Friday afternoons in the audio suite in Media Services, where, guided partially by student interest, we will do hands-on work with more technical topics and skills.
Required Texts are all on Google Drive.
Required Technologies you must purchase/own:
--At least one SD card of at least 2GB (4 GB recommended).
--A USB external thumb drive of at least 8GB, formatted for Mac OSX (You probably need to purchase a new one, since ProTools requires that you re-format these thumb drives from their factory default; MS-DOS is the default format for all external drives)
--Spare AA batteries for audio recorders and microphones
--A pair of over-the-ear headphones, e.g. Sony MDR-7502 or MDR-7506
· Students will advance their technical, aesthetic and conceptual facility with the creative use of audio.
· Students will explore documentary and other models of artistic research, incorporating strategies from existing models into their own work
· Students will engage in verbal and written critique and analysis of their own and their classmates’ work.
· Students will gain comfort working with sound across a range of display and exhibition contexts, gaining sensitivity to the emplacement of sounds into a variety of social and spatial sites.
In this class, we will extend our command of the basic toolkit of audio/radio documentary (field recording, interviewing, narration, music), and introduce ourselves to the affordances and applications of a range of experimental multimedia approaches, including: multichannel sound (i.e. sound that comes out of more than 2 speakers), locative media (i.e. media played through mobile devices and triggered by apps that are location-aware), gallery installation, sound design for moving images (and other ways of thinking about “audio-vision”), the live performance and control capabilities of software like Ableton, Max and PureData, and the sorts of interactivity and miniaturization enabled by microcontrollers such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino. While, in 14 sessions, we will not attain anything like mastery of all of these tools, we will hopefully get conversant enough with these strategies to at least be able to see why one might choose to further pursue them.
With web-based streaming media as our foil (representing the “normal” way we now experience most sound and images), we will be more concerned in this course with the possibility of alternative and experimental ways of presenting and exhibiting sound and audio-centric multimedia, paying particular attention to user experience, to the body, to sites, spaces and contexts of display.
Insofar as there is a canon of such work, it comes not from the world of radio or audio documentary, but rather from experimental music and (what the artworld calls) “sound art.” Thus, this class will necessarily be an experiment in trying to figure out what meaningful common ground we can articulate between these experimental sound practices and the world of evidence-based creative practice (“documentary”).
We will read articles about and discuss projects by a range of artists active in this realm, but the overwhelming focus of the course will be on making our own pieces, often in a highly collaborative modality. In the first unit, we will all contribute to one project, while in the sound-for-picture unit, you will each envision an audiocentric film by creating soundtracks that will get animated by students in a different class. In the other two units (sound installation and live multimedia), because we are sharing limited gear and can all learn from one another, you are invited to propose how you might collaborate with your classmates.
The course requires production of 4 major audio projects, each of which will be publically shown in a mid-semester exhibition opening (10/20) or a performance/screening at the end of the semester (12/13-14)
1. Collaboratively created “sound map” of the Skidmore North Woods. 1st drafts of audio files due 9/26. 2nd drafts due 10/17.
2. Sound Installation. Proposal/sketch due 10/10, begin install 10/17.
3. Sound & script for animated documentary. First draft due in class 11/7. Turn over good draft to animators 11/14. Final draft (revised in collaboration with animators) due 12/12.
4. Final project: live performance, interactive project, or multimedia installation. Proposal/sketch due 11/28, crit 12/12. Present 12/13 or 12/14
The course also requires three in-class presentations on 9/26, 11/7, and EITHER 10/17 or 12/5 (half of the class on each of these dates) as well as two short pieces of writing, both due during finals (12/23). One will be a 500-1500 word artist statement, describing the trajectory, process, reasoning, and/or interests that have guided some or all of your work in this class. For the other piece of writing, I will assign you to write on one of your classmates, and will ask you to write a 500-750 word description and review/analysis of one or more of their works for the class. I will then grant the right of use of those essays to their subjects; having someone else write about your work is not only an honor and a trip, it’s also a great addition to your portfolio.
What will your projects be about?
This is of course for you to decide. However, I want to urge you to decide soon and to pursue an inquiry (whether that be a documentary story, an archive, a conceptual investigation, or otherwise) that interests you deeply, for the following reason:
The focus of this class is not on storyfinding, nor on conventions of storytelling, nor on reporting, nor on doing documentary work with archives—some of you who have taken my classes may already be prepared and comfortable to dive into these forms of creative research. Instead, this class will be concerned first and foremost with exploring questions of medium, exhibition context or experiential structure for your projects. A repeating theme will be: there are many modalities and media in which an audio experience may be expressed—the 2-channel, fixed-media audio document we all know from radio, podcasts, and the music recording industry might be the most widespread and convenient format, but it’s far from the sole option.
So, while we take the first 3 weeks of the term to work together on the North Woods project for which I have already generated an archive, I want to urge you to begin gathering ideas and material to work on for the rest of the term, ASAP.
My hope, though this isn’t a requirement of the class per se, is that, in generating multiple projects out of a single passionate and deep-dive inquiry, you will not only be able to better focus on the particular issues that may arise in relation to your project, but your multiple projects on the same theme might bring to light unique facets of that theme through the process of translating to installation, animated film, and in the final project, some sort of live performance, installation, or interactive experience. So, towards the end of September, I will ask you to update me on your sound collection/creation/research. You will benefit enormously and avoid crunches of various sorts if you frontload these efforts early in the semester.
About LIB113, Media Services and technology
LIB113 is the home of MDOCS and Project VIS. It is staffed by student workers who specialize in various media applications and technologies, and is open to the full campus during their scheduled hours. Upon enrolling in this class, you have also been given swipe card access to LIB113, which will permit you to work whenever the library is open. Please be conscientious about keeping LIB113 clean and secure at all times: close the door behind you when you leave; keep food and drinks away from the computers; don’t leave equipment sitting around; contact me immediately if anything seems out of place, missing, or broken.
LI113 consists of 3 interlinked spaces, and we need your help to maintain the simultaneous usability of all of them as much as possible. While working in the big room/lab area, use headphones at all times and keep noise and conversation to a minimum. The seminar area is for classes and other meetings. Please don’t use it for personal meetings outside those times so that the third, smallest space, our miniature recording booth, is usable as much as possible. Please be mindful of other users and contact Jesse Wakeman (jwakeman@skidmore) when you know you will definitely be in the space for a certain time.
Perhaps even better, the audio suites in Media Services have been improved slightly over the summer; they are now a decent place to mix. You can reserve either of these two rooms using the EMS web scheduler: http://calendar.skidmore.edu/VirtualEMS/Login.aspx
The main instruments we will be using in the course, portable audio recorders and microphones, are being provided to you by MDOCS on a check-out basis. You may borrow any of the recorders kept in Media Services for 3 days at a stretch, plus a 3 day call-in renewal. There are some special items kept in LIB113 that you can borrow from me before or after class or office hours, including speakers, audio interfaces, higher-end recorders and mics.
Media Management and Storage
Media management is the science of where you put your audio files and project files, and how you keep track of them. Most bang-your-head-on-a-wall, ruin-your-week sorts of frustrations in the life of the digital media maker arise from scattered, thoughtless media (mis)management.
In this course, I will ask you to work always and exclusively from a single drive. Never save anything on the internal drives of LIB113 machines or your own computer. ALWAYS save everything on your USB drive. It’s best to back-up everything at the same time that you offload your files to your USB drive, and before you wipe your recorder/SD card, and again at the end of every day that you put in a lot of work on a project. Just like in the real world, the “My hard drive/computer/other piece of technology died” excuse will earn no sympathy in this class.
Make a sensible file structure: a folder for every assignment of this course, raw media folders within each project, and sensible, evocative titles for audio files. Give every project a sensible name, save your project every half-hour (AT LEAST!), and “save as” whenever you make a momentous change. When you open your project on a subsequent work day, “save as” with that date as a new file, and leave yesterday’s project unaltered.
A Note on Group Critiques
Group critique is a valuable skill for anyone engaged in artmaking/media creation/production. They are also (potentially) one of the most sensitive situations in which you will ever encounter classmates—listening to, and making constructive suggestions about – unfinished creative work in an experimental mode. This class will work best if we can all cultivate a climate of the utmost respect, support, and caring. We should view one another as potential collaborators, people who would offer and accept aid from any other member of the group. Despite all our best efforts to be kind and helpful in this (and all) parts of this course/life, it is inevitable that some of us will feel, during critique, that we are being adjudicated/criticized, and, for some of us, this aspect of the course may be hard. However, group critiques are, at their best, one of the most profound and positive learning experiences in existence. Thus, we will be vigilant about creating a culture of collaborative and constructive criticism.
Because of the potential precariousness of a classroom culture that balances comfort and criticality, I have a high bar for your respectful treatment of one another. Please refrain from ANY and ALL phone-touching and web-surfing during seminar discussions and critiques. I hope you will find that, as you forge and deepen mutual relationships critical and creative engagement with your peers, giving your attention to group critique is its own reward.
Production Ethics and Permissions
Documentary work (and all public-facing media production) comes with a unique set of ethical concerns beyond those in other sorts of classes. When we take others’ voices and craft our own pieces from them, we need to balance the rights of the participant (e.g. by having honest and forthright communications with them about what we intend to do with the material) with our own needs as producers (e.g. to feel confident that the subject will not attempt to deny you the right to use the interviews you collect).
Most reporters and writers do not obtain signed interview releases because they presume that by giving the interview, the subject has consented to the interview and, therefore, cannot claim invasion of privacy.
It is common for an interview subject to ask to read or edit the interview or to have some comments removed or kept “off the record.” Any agreement that is made with the interview subject (including an agreement for anonymity) should be documented. (AT: e.g. by email or recorded into your audio interview)
If the interview subject is willing to proceed with the interview but does not want to sign a release, ask if he or she will make an oral consent on audio- or videotape.
Recording in public spaces is generally regarded as fair game, however doing the right thing may not always coincide with what you can get away with. With few hard and fast rules to guide you, your best bet is to initiate friendly, respectful, informative contact with anyone and everyone with whom your investigations place you in proximity.
MDOCS is committed to instilling exemplary ethics in media production. Thus, students in this and other MDOCS production course will be required to attend an “Ethics Bowl” event where we’ll delve deeper into law- and ethics-related issues on Tuesday September 27, 7-9pm, Emerson Auditorium.
The following scale will be used to determine course grades:
Contributions to collective North Woods project: 15%
Film Sound Design Draft 10%
Film Sound Design Final 10%
Final Project/Performance 20%
In-class presentations 5%
Final writing assignments 10%
Participation 15% (incl. attendance, and active engagement in crit process online and in person)
Note that, while I will provide extensive written and/or oral narrative critiques of your work (along with participating alongside your classmates in group critique), there is a way that you can be spared the rather silly exercise of having those critiques turned into a numerical grade: the S/U grading option is available and is recommend very strongly for this course (especially since it counts for no one’s major!). The inherent subjectivity involved in the numerical adjudication of artistic work is only one of the many reasons that such adjudication can feel painful, petty, and stupid. So, you might ask yourself: would the withdrawal of the dark cloud of letter grades permit you to focus on process, taking bold risks, and experimenting? If so, this class might prove to be a more beneficial and transformative experience than it might otherwise. No one ever breaks new ground in creative endeavors without some failures, yet few Skidmore students will risk failing when the consequence is a bad grade. Consider taking the educational experiment into your own hands and liberate yourself from this tyranny -- talk to me about changing your grading option.
A+ 98-100 B+ 88-89 C+ 78-79 D+ 68-69 F 0-59
A 93-97 B 83-87 C 73-77 D 63-67
A- 90-92 B- 80-82 C- 70-72 D- 60-62
Absences and Lateness:
Because we meet just once per week, we will advance substantially and irreplaceably towards project and learning goals during every single class. Thus, it will be extraordinarily difficult for you to succeed in this course if you are absent. If you need to be absent, please notify me in advance. More than 1 absence over the course of the semester will result in a grade reduction. Habitual (i.e. more than 3x) or severe (i.e. more than 15 mins) lateness will similarly result in final course grade reductions.
Please, don’t cheat or plagiarize. If you have any questions about what this means, consult the Academic Handbook. If at any point, you have a question about whether your work is giving due credit to sources, see Skidmore’s policies on documentation and plagiarism. Plagiarism on any assignment constitutes a violation of the Honor Code, and all violations of the Honor Code must be reported to the Dean.
Skidmore College seeks to provide an environment that is free of bias, discrimination, and harassment. If you have been the victim of sexual harassment, misconduct, or assault, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, age, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, I encourage you to report it. If you tell any faculty or staff member about such an incident, he or she is required to notify Skidmore's Deputy Title IX Coordinator about the basic facts of the incident: Mariel Martin, Case Center 2nd floor, ext. 8212, email@example.com.
Students requiring accommodations should formally request accommodation from the Office of Student Academic Services. Meg Hegener is our Coordinator of Students with Disabilities. She can be found in Starbuck Center, or called at x8150.
A disability or accommodation should be discussed with the coordinator so we can work together to ensure students’ needs are met. Students who wish to have an accommodation for disability are responsible for contacting me as soon as possible. The coordinator for students with disabilities verifies the need for accommodations and assists in the development of accommodation strategies.
***I reserve the right to alter this schedule. It is your responsibility to check the digital version of this syllabus early and often.
Sound, space, environment, listening
Sound in/as motion
Review NW transcripts
dialogue recording session
Listen/crit North Woods 1st drafts
1st draft NW clips
7-9PM, Emerson Aud, required
Sound and site-specificity
Working with audio
transducers/soldering contact mics
Soundmarks and sound effects
tuning feedback systems
Available for drop-in consultation on any work, or to do hands-on electronics,
Test/crit installation sketches
NW final & installation materials ready to go
Install in Schick
Installation post-mortem conversation
Ideas/proposals for your own films!
Present/crit soundtrack drafts
1st draft sound designs due!!
Signal flow and audio fx sandbox
Artist visit TBD
Good sound design draft, turn over to animators
Artist visit: Joe Mariglio
Come prepared to float rough ideas about your piece.
present work & crit
In class pres on a multimedia or live+mediated performance (5 mins MAX each including media, should be something very relevant to your own piece)
Your presentation on your own work should contain some draft media that will be included in your piece. It should contain a sketch of a stage plot (i.e. what will be on stage, where, with what mics, devices, cables, etc needed?) It should be clear what you are trying to communicate to your audience, and why
Projects should be complete enough to perform in their entirety, stops and starts and technical questions OK
12/13 & 12/14
MDOCS final showings
Our live pieces will follow the Davis programs at 7:30/8pm
Animated Docs screening
4:30, meet at Saisselin
(attendance not required)
North woods final audio is due. So is your writing about your own pieces and a classmate’s piece
Around 4 minutes of polished voice-centric audio, including subtle sound design. Return to my comments from earlier in the semester re: revisions. Submit BOTH an mp3 AND a protools file with all source files