Category Archives: Thoughts/Ideas

Tweet-Along: Gunsmoke and Frontier Gentleman

I participated in Wednesday’s tweet-along, during which we listened to Gunsmoke: Doc Holliday and Frontier Gentleman: Aces and Eights. Tweeting along with others made the podcasts fun and interesting, especially as we pointed out the different audio cues and uses of music.

In my opinion, Gunsmoke was a lot more fun to listen to than Frontier Gentleman. While the transition music felt a little overwhelming (and the dramatic cues every time someone mentioned murder were a bit much for today’s standards), the story was really engaging. I tweeted a lot more during this first show than during the second. And Doc Holliday was just a really cool guy in general. The audio cues, aside from the music, were minimal but well-placed, and most of the time the characters were in nearly noiseless scenes. Most of the sounds consisted of walking and doors opening and closing.

Frontier Gentleman used a lot more audio for background and ambiance, however the narration took away from the story itself a bit (although it does fit with the news reporter of a main character). Calamity Jane was my favorite character, who was also apparently a historical figure as well! She had a lot of spunk and the town respected her for it. The scenes, which took place in a saloon-type setting, had a lot of intricate, moving sounds, from drunken mumbling to cards and poker chips, and even a piano in the background. The detail in this show certainly surpasses Gunsmoke by quite a bit, but I struggled with feeling engaged in it; the main character was hardly more than a narrator, although I suppose that’s more or less the point of the show.

Tweeting along with my classmates on these two shows was a fun experience. I feel more inspired to apply what I’ve learned so far about audio in my own work. If I can make a show sound half as good as Frontier Gentleman, it will be an accomplishment in its own right. You can read the rest of my tweets here, if you like!

Thoughts on Developing a Radio Show

I would love to put together a sort of narrative story for the radio show, which would require voice acting and quite a bit of audio manipulation, but I think it would be a lot of fun!

Here’s some story ideas:

  • A solo individual trying to survive out in the wilderness, a Man vs. Nature kind of thing (it could be a sort of internal dialogue story with different voices for each idea/emotion, or maybe a journal-type thing with a new voice for each entry)
  • An Old Western Mystery! (ideas more fleshed out on Tierra’s blog)
  • A story pulled together based around our characters from class (the story line would be up in the air, depending on each character’s story/situation)

Let me know what y’all think!

Understanding Audio: Before Now

Sound in films and media is vital in our understanding of what is happening. A movie soundtrack makes or breaks a film. Sound effects and audio quality have similar importance; if the sound effects are too excessive or abrasive, or if the voice levels and quality differs from one person or scene to the next, people take note. Ensuring that the quality is consistently good is something that should take precedent in media. Music evokes emotion, and it only seems natural that a slow string orchestra should go with a suspenseful scene, or a swelling ensemble should accompany a moment of elation. Similarly, the sound of an actor’s voice has to fit the emotion of the scene or the character falls flat in vital moments. Someone shouldn’t sound bored when they reveal the secrets of the universe.

As far as podcasts and radio shows are concerned, people have nothing more than voices and sounds to understand what is happening. Good, cohesive audio and storytelling is absolutely vital in this case, and it takes a lot of practice to get sound to work well enough for an audience. One consistent error is enough to ruin a whole show for listeners. At the same time, just as Ira Glass explains, the storytelling has to be done well; perfect audio means nothing if the audience can’t make sense of what is happening.

I am a big fan of the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, a fictional, radio show-style podcast featuring a news reporter in a rather peculiar and supernatural town. (I’m woefully behind on the series, unfortunately, but I’ve heard that it’s only gotten better.) This podcast has become a massive success since its pilot episode three or four years ago, and the producers have already announced their creation of another show due to the positive reception from their first one. Thanks to my close following of this show for its first couple years, I am a little more aware of how a podcast goes than I might have been without it. The musical cues are spot-on, the fake commercials are deceitfully persuasive, and the voice acting – especially from the main character – is very impressive. Especially considering the whole show (aside from live performances) is free to the public and runs almost solely on donations and touring. While the audio performances are undoubtedly noteworthy, the story itself is also incredibly well-done. The listener is limited only to what the main character “broadcasts” from his news station, so when he isn’t there, or if something happens that pulls him away, the listener can only guess what is occurring through other sounds and subtle cues in words and voice inflections.

The podcast isn’t directly western-related (although it is based in a town somewhere in the Southwestern part of the United States), but I admire the way it uses audio to tell a story. In my midterm podcast, I would love to get a group together to do a storytelling round of our own. But I’ll continue that thought in another post.

Stagecoach: The Story of a Hat

The cinematography in Stagecoach was very interesting. As I was watching it, I mulled over how each scene induced emotion, how each moment of contrast and space indicated a differing move. Moreover, I couldn’t help but notice how Ringo’s hat changed according to the emotions he portrayed and the ones I felt.

Ladies

I thought the best way to go about the film was through a chronological format. Here we see three ladies talking. Each one has a banister neatly framing their heads, and they stand from shortest to tallest, wearing the darkest colors to the lightest. The women portray a deep sense of concern in the way they look from one to the other. This shot caught my eye because of how neat and orderly it is, just as the women themselves appear to be. I couldn’t help but feel the order and the concern in their expressions rather ironic against one another. They are in perfect composure outwardly, yet they appear to be otherwise internally.

RINGOOOO

Meet Ringo. He’s dirty, tired, and his hat is askew. Ringo’s hat is going to tell us the rest of our emotional cues for the remainder of the film. For now, the hat is tilted in a disheveled manner, as if Ringo hasn’t had time to fix it. Ringo himself looks very tired, and due to the minimalist background, you can’t help but look at all the dirt and the way his suspenders are pushed to one side.

Scenery

The scenery in this film is usually pointing to the Wild West, with its strange natural columns and vast deserts, when the scenes transition. This indicates the passage of time and movement without specifically marking the days. Once a scene like this appears, the viewer knows they’ll be getting to a different town soon.

Dat Hat

Here’s Ringo’s hat again. It’s here to tell us he’s in a good mood. It’s straighter, except now one side of it is flipped up. This particular scene leads into him slowly looking up and making eye contact with the woman of his fancy for the duration of this film. His hat is here to tell us that things are looking up for Ringo. Additionally, the hat takes up most of the frame in this shot until Ringo slowly reveals his face. This move builds a kind of suspense as Dallas (the woman Ringo fancies) watches him. Then they make eye contact, and Ringo looks just as cocky as his hat does. Dallas eventually looks away.

Lighting Contrast

The lighting in this scene lacks a great deal of contrast. Other than some faded lights over Ringo’s head, the only really visible parts are the two characters’ faces, the hat (which is mostly straight for this scene — very serious), and Dallas’ dress. The two characters contrast each other while they talk privately, putting forth the “opposites attract” move, in which the woman appears in lighter colors than the man.

So Sad

This scene is a very serious one. After a chase and some shooting, Ringo watches as one of their friends dies. His hat is mournfully tilted forward as he is framed by the coach’s doorway. He looks into the scene mournfully, the background moving behind him despite what’s happening within.

Overall, Stagecoach had a great deal of interesting movements and photographic choices. Ringo’s hat, especially, indicated emotion, while wide-open scenery over the caravan depicted the passage of time. Each move told a story in its own, giving the viewer a feeling of joy, suspense, wonder, and sorrow. The film itself worked as a great example of what our reading discussed earlier this week, and while I only used a few examples, I admit I had several more that I considered putting in. I had to stop myself from pausing the movie every few minutes to screenshot an image that really caught my eye.

Blitzin’ the Shots

Collage

This photoshoot was a lot of fun to complete. The Photoblitz challenge had a lot of interesting things to do and subjects to find. The most interesting one for me was the one that suggested you use a camera setting that you’ve never used before. I’ve tried everything on my actual camera (it doesn’t have many settings), so I hopped on my phone to complete that challenge, since I’ve only had it for a few months now. I discovered that it can take a photo and set different focuses to it. The photoset with the ring in it was what I used to test out the new setting. I’m not sure I like it, but it’s certainly a cool feature.

The individual pictures can be found on my flickr account alongside the prompts by which they were inspired.

Pictures from the Past

I very much enjoy taking photos, especially of the sky and animals that are around; half of my phone is filled with sunsets, the other with my dog. When I’m taking pictures of these two subjects, I generally try to get as much color and detail into them. So, while I set up a picture, I make sure that the focus is on the most vibrant colors or on the smallest details. An image of a sunset or a particularly blue sky cannot be washed out at all, and a picture of my dog needs to show the hairs on his face or the color of his eyes before I’m satisfied with it.

he's a little camera shy

When I’m taking pictures, my goal is mostly to imitate the feelings I have when I see that actual subject, such as the breathtaking beauty of the sky’s hues or the sweetness of my puppy’s sleeping face. Personally, I don’t believe you can really catch a gorgeous sky in a series of colored pixels, and sometimes after attempting a few pictures I will just sit and stare at the sky for a while instead. Some of the pictures I’ve taken look really pretty, but they never do justice to the actual scene.

blue skies over a little rocky harbor

I think timing, patience, and motion are definitely things on which I will try to improve as I continue to take photos. Usually when I see something that looks nice, I frantically try to take the picture immediately, and I snap shots until I think I’ve taken a good enough one. If I took the time to set up the photo and ensure that everything is sitting right, I wouldn’t need to take as many shots with the hopes of getting one decent scene out of it; instead, I could focus on getting just one or two much better images. Something else I need to try is taking photos of motion as opposed to still scenes. I love the sky and the trees, but if I could get better pictures of animals, people, and life in general, it would surely improve my photography skills entirely.

my sisters staring at something while standing in my shot

I went ahead and started compiling some photos I’ve already taken on my flickr account to both share and compare my progress from before this week to during and after it. I’ll be adding more as the week progresses. Feel free to take a look!

Drawing the Line

Vonnegut tells us that our favorite stories start at the lowest end of the Good-/Ill-Fortune scale and end in infinite happiness, just like Cinderella. Naturally, not all stories end like this. Not many of our western stories this week find such an appealing path in the remotest sense, for the West is a harsh place that challenges human nature in all kinds of fashions. The fortune of our chosen stories’ characters depend largely on the theme, ideology, and interpretation of the situation at hand. While Vonnegut’s graph does not necessarily give these variables much room for visualization, it is still a useful tool in showing our own interpretations of the narratives offered to us by their authors.

For this exercise, I chose to map out “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” by Stephen Crane. This story has a bit of a difficult narrative to plot, as the main character, Jack Potter, struggles between a happy moment and a deep anxiety that pervades the happiness. He marries a kind woman while away from his hometown, though he feels it is his town’s right to know who he has married due to his position as the marshal. He feels guilty for not having mentioned the marriage before coming back as a husband to a place in which he is deeply respected. However, he is happy with his new wife, who understands his anxiety and only offers him warm comments and nervous laughter during their trip home. Overall, their mutual company is not filled with as much stress as their minds might feel. In fact, before Potter’s fears surface they are very endearing toward one another. Thus, it may best suit the story to start just above the center of the G-I line, as their marriage alone is a happy one.

As Potter’s anxiety continues, however, he and his new wife are out of place on a Pullman train – something far above their social class. As they sit and speak — and even eat — the people who work on the train mock them as though the newlywed couple were little more than children. They are quietly ridiculed for their lackluster appearance and clear absence of money or prestige, and so their story line dips into the center.

Once they finally arrive in Potter’s town, Yellow Sky, they rush off to his estate in an attempt to avoid running into anyone who will recognize him and question the arrival of the woman. Despite their best efforts, the station-agent sees him and tries to approach them. They run off before getting any closer to the other man, however, which can’t be any better fortune for them.

Meanwhile, a drunken gunslinger is loose, aiming to pick a fight with anyone who will stand up to him. As he wanders the streets, he decides to find the marshal, Potter (although no one in town knows he has come back yet). This foreboding event is clearly wrought with potential misfortune, so as the drunken man, Scratchy Wilson, approaches Potter’s empty house, the latter’s line of fortune dips again.

As the story approaches its conclusion, the line’s motion is up for interpretation by the reader, for the ending is neither conclusively happy nor clearly tragic. Potter and his wife run right into Scratchy Wilson in the street. Scratchy pulls a gun out and challenges Potter to fight. Potter, defenseless and with a thoroughly shocked woman beside him, declares that he has no gun and cannot duel. He even offers Scratchy a free shot to prove it, essentially taunting him. Scratchy doesn’t believe him; he’s the marshal, after all, and therefore always has a gun. The story line has potential to drop as the situation escalates, however I would argue it remains steady up until Potter’s next words, when he is forced to admit that he has no gun because he just got back from San Antonio – with a wife.

With an old Western honor, Scratchy Wilson immediately backs off of the fight, knowing well by now that the marshal is completely defenseless. This relieving situation is clearly a stroke of good fortune, allowing the story line to finally rise to some degree. However, the last man who should have heard first is now the only one to know that Potter got married while away, and while he decides not to shoot, he clearly exhibits disappointment in a man who he and the town deeply respect. With this final expression of what could perhaps be considered failure on Potter’s end, the line takes another dip on the plot – not one so deep, I would argue, that it cancels out their good fortune of Scratchy Wilson not shooting, but certainly a dip that puts them on the lower end of the scale. One could only assume the rest of the town’s reaction once Scratchy Wilson sobers up and laments his encounter with their beloved marshal.

Crane Plot Line

This story does not end happily due to the nature by which Potter’s marriage was revealed. However, other interpretations could give them a neutral – if not better – ending. After all, the new couple did get to the town without open ridicule on the train, and despite their life-threatening encounter with Scratchy Wilson, they made it home without harm. Perhaps after the townspeople discovered Potter’s marriage, they came to accept his independence and opened up to his new wife; they certainly had no qualms with the stranger who hid from Scratchy Wilson in the saloon with them, and they were very forgiving of Scratchy’s behavior, knowing well that he was a good man when sober. Still, that potentially kind reception remains unspoken and unwritten, lying beyond the story’s end. I certainly hope that this sort of scenario is the case for Potter and his wife, but I will hold to the less-than-happy ending that I drew out for this story.

Such narratives are often left open for interpretation, having readers guess what comes before and after. While I don’t see a happy ending for “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”, someone else might have drawn out a completely different line. One could also interpret the story from another character’s perspective, maybe that of Mrs. Potter or Scratchy Wilson. Did their part of the story end well?

Vonnegut’s graph is a useful tool, but its simplicity is limiting according to how one uses it. Despite the large number of variables, its ability to map and easily interpret the stories it shows make the graph a good means of visually expressing how a reader saw the events and outcome of a story. Perhaps one tale will produce multiple graphs, each one being equally as correct, but the interpretations available only show the story’s ability to adapt to the reader’s perspective. So, while not every narrative an author serves is as clearly cut as Cinderella, it still functions as a thoughtful, well-developed story to its readers.

Power and Prejudice

Lawmen, drunks, women behind men, and bad guys – all of these are common tropes in the western genre. The two stories I chose to read, “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” and “Ice Man”, both had these tropes at the forefront. In the first one, written by Stephen Crane, a town marshal comes home with a bride to find a drunken menace roaming the streets, ready for a gun fight. The second, written by Elmore Leonard, also features a man of the law, only this one happens to be crooked and looking for a fight of his own.

These two stories worked well as alternates of one another, with similar themes but different perspectives and endings. Both had a man of the law coming into town to deal with drunken troublemakers and a woman at their side. However, Crane’s lawman was good and willing to negotiate with a genuine threat in order to prevent harm, whereas Leonard’s lawman only perceived men as drunks to be arrested. In the end, his woman addresses his blatant prejudice – he only arrests them for being Indian – and he willingly owns up to it without a moment of pause or guilt.

While Crane’s story clearly embodies the Old West idea of a late-19th / early 20th century Texas, Leonard’s offers a much more modern take on a similar storyline; the lawman, a federal agent, communicates with a cell phone and the main character’s prize for winning a rodeo consists of four thousand dollars. Despite these centuries of difference, both of the tales told offer the feel of a western, with similar settings and themes. The results are dramatically different, of course. Crane’s version deals with the prejudice of middle class modernity against a small-town, old-fashioned man of high importance within his own world. On the other hand, Leonard’s version deals with prejudice along the racial-ethnic lines, where people of Indian and Mexican background are consistently and knowingly targeted for the sole purpose of removing them from the public, regardless of their success or lawfulness. While the two kinds of prejudice are incredibly different on the surface, both run deep in the western genre.

Class and race/ethnicity are issues that westerns consistently aim to address, even as they are published today. The storytelling potential of this genre gives plenty of room to allow writers and directors to explore the deeper meanings of these social prejudices. The West as a setting is a blank slate, pale and unconcerned with the good guys and the bad guys. Once people come together in this unquestioning field, however, it really is a matter of human nature to determine what occurs next. Perhaps those in power, like the marshal in Crane’s story, are truly lawful and willing to go only as far as they must in order to maintain peace. Or perhaps the powerful come from somewhere more remote, with the harsh prejudice ingrained in their distant cultures, like Leonard’s lawman, only to stir up trouble and attack those who are otherwise accepted by the West.

Such social dynamics show how versatile the western genre truly is. Not every story mandates a cowboy and a gunfight, nor does it end with the good guy winning or walking off into the wilderness to be judged only by Nature itself. There are deeper themes to find in the depths of this narrative field, and once they are discovered they are well worth any amount of thoughtful consideration.

A Rocky Start

I admit, I don’t do much with digital media aside from consume and observe, and this is my first fully online course, so this week has been more or less of a rocky start.

I’ve been trying to keep up by researching, reading, and thinking, only to realize that today, Friday, I haven’t gotten around to really producing anything. I’ve taken some pictures here and there, tried to make my website look decent for starters, but I’m missing the all-important drive to put what I’ve done online right away. My presence does need to be more available to this class, especially in the starting days and weeks of adapting to a fully virtual environment. I hope to meet a lot of people here; honestly I can’t wait to see what everyone else does for their projects and works, simply because there is so much to do in digital media. Still, I need to start producing works myself.

So, why not start by doing what I do best and break the ice through writing? Here’s a little about myself:

My name is Lindsey. I’m a sophomore at UMW and an American Studies major. I hope to go into a Digital Studies minor soon, which is one of the reasons I’m in this class! I also chose to take this course because I have an affinity for digital works and I’ve always wanted to create online stories myself. Knowing how to create all kinds of different media will also help with my major and potentially my future career. My life goal is to educate through a digital presence so that ideas and perspectives are more readily available for those who may not have access to a quality education. I don’t know how far I will be able to go with that dream, but this class is certainly a first step for me.

I grew up out West, but I’m not very steeped in Westerns or the culture behind it (or, at least, I’m not fully aware of it). I still have family out there, though, as well as distinct memories of tumbleweeds, dust, and a couple rattlesnakes we had to actively avoid. Granted, I’ve only ridden a horse once and I’ve never lived near any dusty old saloons, but I’m excited to explore how we can see those images of the Old West digitally.

Like I’ve said before, I’m not very well versed in making digital stories of any kind. I have experience making a couple of websites for classes (Cup of Culture, Women of the Freedom Rides), but that is about as far as my background goes. I fully intend on expanding my horizons and venturing into whatever comes out of this class, regardless of my current knowledge.

Anyway, I hope that during this course we learn to create a great many things and that we strive toward the Ol’ West like the storytellers before! I’ll see you at Sundown.

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