My Father’s Sweater

Image from Mike + The Mechanics’ “The Living Years” (1988) music video.

This time, I chose to do the assignment “Old Poem Same Feeling” submitted by Lauren Wootten. The description is as follows: “For this assignment [sic] you must first pick a poem. Once you find this poem you mash it up (or sing it if you choose.) with the instrumental [sic] of a song. For my version I mashed up a beautiful instrumental of Wiz Khalifa’s See You Again with my attempt to sing Shakespeare’s [sic] sonnet 104 about an old friend. ” Which I wish I could find! It sounds very neat. For my assignment, I read Li-Young Lee’s 1986 poem “Mnemonic” to Mike + the Mechanics’ 1988 song “The Living Years”.

Above is a draft since I had a lot of difficulty with this one, and I want to show my process. First, however, I will explain my poetry and song choices. The poem I selected was called “Mnemonic,” though I could not quite figure out why. I do not see any mnemonic devices, though perhaps it is symbolic that smaller things can represent things larger and more complex. It is about a person who inherited a sweater that their father gave to them as a child, their feelings about their father, and how life has changed since their childhood. Please read it here.

The song I chose fits in very well with the poem: it is about someone who wishes that they could have told their father how they felt about him in “The Living Years.” In both works, the father is dead. Lee begins with fond memories, then bittersweet, and ends with the repeated line: “Once I was cold. So my father took off his blue sweater.” The Mechanics similarly ends with ambiguity, saying that “it’s too late when we die / to admit we don’t see eye to eye.” I am fortunate to have a great relationship with my father, but there was something that resonated with me regarding both works.

I know that I’m a prisoner
To all my Father held so dear
I know that I’m a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Mike + The Mechanics, “The Living Years” (1988)

Next, I found the instrumental version: which of course, does not carry the same meaning as the song with lyrics. I recorded the poem in the HCC Vocal Booth and cleaned up the vocals before pitching them down slightly. I found that different parts of the song carried different verses of the poem. “It won’t last. Memory is sweet. / Even when it’s painful, memory is sweet” goes well with the more ‘hopeful’ and sentimental chorus. My favorite part is the introduction, for it sounds like one is entering a dream. The corresponding verse is as follows:

I was tired. So I lay down.
My lids grew heavy. So I slept.
Slender memory, stay with me.

Li-Young Lee, “Mnemonic” (1986)

When I spaced out the verses throughout the song, I found the poem difficult to follow and it read awkwardly. I tried to cut parts of the song so that I could bring the words closer together, but something about it was still off. I decided to edit it again. This time, I put most of it in the beginning of the song and just cropped out another part of the music that I knew I could match up with the previous section. I decided to keep what I did with the ending, which was cut off at a drumbeat. I added an echo with a delay time of 0.2 seconds and a decay factor of 0.5. The final version is below:

Ultimately, this was a good assignment that can be interpreted in many ways. I would be interested to see what other people try to do with it, and perhaps even write my own poem to be integrated into a specific song.

You Are Likely to be Eaten by a Grue.

Hello again! I’m back with a commercial that I intend to use in my radio show. For my product, I decided to highlight the Zork games: a series of text adventure games developed by Infocom, a part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I’ve expressed my interest in interactive fiction here and here, and I thought this was the perfect place to display it. The assignment is called 80’S Product Radio Commercial and was submitted by Kollin Carter. The description is as follows: “Create a 30-45 second radio commercial for a product from the 80’s. Add in some background music and/or sound effects to make it sound like a real radio commercial.”

You can see that I broke the time limit, though I felt as if the amount of time I took was best to carry my message. We can sit through back-to-back ads on YouTube, so I’m sure a somewhat-interesting minute-long advertisement is survivable. About the product: Zork I was released in 1980, and the final piece of the trilogy was released in 1982. One can type in commands such as ‘examine ___,’ ‘west,’ or ‘open ___’. Instead of choosing from a list of options, the player has to think of what to do next. There is a help option, but I find it neat how autonomous and ‘free’ one can be with their adventure. I like playing it in text, for it leaves a lot to the imagination. (Want to check it out? Play it here.)

About the company: Infocom and its interactive fiction stories were truly a part of the 80s, for it was started in 1979 and then was bought out by Activision in 1989. I couldn’t find a slogan or a jingle of theirs, so I ended up making a little tagline: “Come and embark on your own epic adventure and together, we’ll write your story.” I did a little bit more research and found that “all ten of its games were on the Softsel top 40 list of best-selling computer games for the week of December 12, 1983, with Zork in first place and two others in the top ten” (Wikipedia). I felt that was a perfect point to use in my script. The introduction of my script is a snippet of the game itself, and I found it through this really neat embroidery of Zork by Glenda Adams:

I recorded my vocals at the HCC Vocal Booth. Then, I cleaned them up before pitching them down. The narrative part was pitched down by around 15% and response voices by about 10%. I did my best to use a slightly-nasal voice for the advertisement part so that it sounded a little more normal when pitched as opposed to my usual inflections. I’m aware that I’m no Morgan Freeman, but the morning rasp served me well (when my voice didn’t crack). I made sure to amplify the bass as well as add echo and reverb to the narration to make it sound like a Dungeon Master (DnD anyone?).

Next, came the music. I wanted to make it sound like one was playing an 80s dungeon crawler, so I chose a 8-bit composition by Erang Dungeon Synth. This channel is totally worth the listen, check out the original work below. Doesn’t it give you a sense of dread and curiosity?

The other song I chose was the instrumental version of Tears for Fears’ song “Shout” (1985). Without the words, it completely gives me ‘dungeon’ and adventure vibes. Do you agree with me? It’s almost uncanny.

I couldn’t decide between the two, so I ended up using both. The only modifications I did to the songs was amplify the ‘click’ you hear in Erang’s music to emphasize the change in the narrative. It goes well with the idea of being trapped and in imminent danger. I also faded “Shout” in and out so that I could highlight this aforementioned ‘click’ (coupled with a bass drop that sounds like a video game dying noise). I made sure to time it so that the original melody comes in when the narrative ends, also removing the 8-bit music from the upbeat advertisement part. Other effects I used included a hall door closing to show the trapdoor slamming and the player being barred in. I also used a clip from the 2015 hit-indie video game Undertale by Toby Fox for the laughing sound effect. A little bit like Zork, one can end up on a different path from what they intended. The retro-themed music and art resembled my mental image of text adventure games.

Overall, I had a great time with this assignment: it was probably my favorite one this week. It could be cleaned up and transitioned into a bit better, though I’m certainly not upset with how this turned out. If I do end up editing it, I will likely focus on making the “Shout” and “The Dark Dungeon” instrumentals flow together better. Currently, they clash a little bit though I can’t bring myself to nix either. I’m adamant about the long crescendo of “Shout,” though perhaps that will change after a day. I hope this piqued your curiosity! (Play Zork!)

Beautiful Dreamer, Awake Unto Me

Hello! Hope you’re well. This week, I decided to do an assignment I’d been eyeing for a while: Humming Away. Started by Elizabeth Byrd, the description is as follows: “I always have songs stuck in my head at the worst times and giving the song a little hum is always a good way to get it out of your head (or sometimes make it even more stuck!) For this assignment record yourself humming a song that is stuck in your head and upload it! For example I did FloRida’s Apple Bottom Jeans song because its been stuck in my head all week!” Do I have this song stuck in my head? Absolutely.

The song I chose to hum was “Beautiful Dreamer,” a parlor song created by Stephen Foster. Far from the 80s, it was released posthumously in 1864 (eighteen hundreds… still the ‘eighties’?). Since then, it has become a lullaby for children and has been covered by many popular artists like Sheryl Crowe. I was watching SyFy’s The Magicians – based on the book series by Lev Grossman – and the cast sang this song. I tend to get calmer songs stuck in my head since I’m often trying to reduce stress.

The cover that really drew me into this song, though, was Marty Robbins’ cover (which was also released posthumously in 1984). I ultimately modeled my ‘cover’ after his version. His is very somnolent and classic. I tried to replicate the timeless quality of his voice since I ended up singing part of the song. For me, when I idly voice a melody, I often shift between song and humming. It is done subconsciously because I’m not that good at remembering lyrics even though I hear them in my head. (Anyone else?) This song also sounds a lot like the covers by my grandfather in the Philippines. We have CDs of him that we put on the radio; I believe he still sings in airports.

Rest in peace, Marty Robbins

This assignment was originally supposed to be B-flat, where one pitches the vocals a half-step down so that they are slightly off-key. I wanted to transpose Robbins’ version into a minor key and add creepy sound effects instead, but transposing seems very time-consuming, and would require that I use a program I am less familiar with (it has been a while since I tuned things on Melodyne). To record the Humming Away assignment, I reserved the HCC Vocal Booth. To be honest, I had originally planned on either singing or humming it: not both. No matter how much I tried, however, I found myself being unable to hit certain notes or my voice cracked.

It didn’t have to be perfect, so I just took the better parts of both and found it reflective as I had mentioned before. I used a part of my range that isn’t as comfortable physically, but works better mentally with my identity. One might be able to tell that after I cleaned up my vocals in Audacity with my Noise Reduction > Equalize (+ Bass Boost) > Compress > Normalize process, I changed the pitch of my vocals to make them lower. I find lower voices to often be slightly more soothing. To do this while staying in-tune with Fingerstyle Ukulele Uke Channel’s instrumental, I pitched it up by about 10%, therefore going up by one key. I recorded it that way before pitching my vocals and the track back down 10%. Lastly, I added a slight echo and reverb to amplify the quality.

I was also an inch away from adding ocean wave sounds to this track, though that might have defeated the simplistic purpose of this assignment. Regardless, this was a fulfilling experience. I certainly deviated from the original assignment – which was likely less stressful – though I wanted to show the subconscious processes that go into humming. When we sing, we hear music, and when we start to hum it’s like we’re still singing. Nothing has changed other than the fact that we’ve materialized the melodies in our minds. Humming is often a sign of contentment, and I believe that “Beautiful Dreamer” and my intentionally-imperfect recording displays what it means to make sound.

Beautiful dreamer,
Wake unto me
Starlight and dewdrops
Are awaiting thee.
Sounds of the rude world
Heard in the day
Led by the moonlight
Have all passed away.
Beautiful dreamer,
Queen of my song
List’ while I woo thee
With soft melody.
Gone are the cares of
Life’s busy throng
Beautiful dreamer
Awake unto me
Beautiful dreamer,
Awake unto me.

Stephen Foster

“There Is But One Family”

Hello! Welcome back to another audio assignment. This assignment is called Quote With A New Feeling, submitted by Christopher Vasquez. The description is as follows: “Most people have a favorite quote or saying that they know, use that and record yourself speaking it using programs like (audacity, garage band, etc..). After that mash up your audio recording with a sounds, song, or instrumental in the background too better explain the feeling that this quote or saying has on you.”

I chose the following quote from an interview with Bruce Lee. This one in particular resonates with my experience as a Eurasian martial artist who wants to appear on screen. In American media, we make a big deal about racial identity when in the end, we’re all just human –

Interviewer: “You ever think of yourself as Chinese or do you think of yourself as North American?”

Lee: “You know what, I want to think of myself as a human being. Because, I mean, I don’t want to sound like you know, ‘as Confucius say.’ But under the sky, under the heavens man, there is but one family. It just so happens, man, that people are different.”

I then combined it to some music from one of my favorite TV shows, Avatar: the Last Airbender. To see these Asian influences growing up and to see something so different than standard cartoons was amazing. This show teaches major life lessons for all ages. I chose this soundtrack for this quote not only because it blends the ‘East’ and the ‘West,’ but it is called the “Avatar’s Love.” As people, we need to love each other and not mind our differences. In the show, four nations, each representing an element, are at war. The orchestration shifts from something tender into something strong: the unification of humanity.

I also incorporated a heartbeat sound effect to represent this unity. We all have a heartbeat; we are all human. Editing was minimal, for I only changed the volume of each clip, split the quote into two parts so I could separate the last statement, and increased the reverb of the interview. Please listen:

Good lord I love Bruce Lee! I have so many Bruce Lee books. This is how my friends decorated my framed posters for my birthday:

The Whispering Sea But You’re In Another Room…

… and It’s Raining Outside and Your Siblings Are Playing In It and Your Parents Are Making Dinner and You’re Playing Video Games. That’s the title. (Cover art by Matt Rockefeller!) Inspiration taken from the following (anyone else have a Minecraft phase?):

For this assignment, I decided to kind of combine two into one: the Sound Effect Story as well as the Played From Another Room assignment. For the Sound Effect Story (by Martha and Jim Groom), one is supposed to tell a “story using nothing but sound effects. There can be no verbal communication, only sound effects. Use at least five different sounds that you find online. The story can be no longer than 90 seconds.” As one can tell below, I have kind of broken the rule by implementing vocals, but I feel like I used enough sound effects simply accompanied by music to tell this story: I added rain, footsteps, sliding door sounds, button clicking, video game controller mashing, kitchen noises, pots/pans clinging, and some voice acting (from yours truly). I recommend you listen to the whole thing and read the following description since there are some surprises –

Honolulu, HI (August 1988) – You watch your dad come out at the sound of rain, his dark hair tousled with fatigue from working all day. It had been oddly dry recently for Hawaii, though Tropical Storm Gilma had finally arrived and had suddenly unleashed the heaviest of rains. Your two younger siblings cheered, jumping up from their NES controllers and hopping over to the glass window. Ian decided to run back and squeeze in one last punch, almost finishing off your character while you were distracted. “Hey!” you exclaim with a voice crack, though he was already off at the window. Your father told them that he would call them in for dinner and they ran outside, baring themselves to the elements. You turn back to your video game, a familiar hand ruffling your hair before Dad went to join your Mom – your Ina – in the kitchen. Listen to fill in the blanks of what happens next:

Before I go into the technicalities, I will include the description of Played From Another Room: “This media assignment has two parts. First, edit a song to sound like it is playing from another room. The audio should sound muffled and the bass should be prominent… The second part of this assignment is to write a weirdly specific description of your song.” I assume the narrative I wrote could be considered a weirdly specific description. This story was inspired by love since it is Valentine’s Day. I don’t really know what it’s like to be with family like that, but this is what I imagine it is like. Something comforting, surrounded by noise and family, yet also having enough space to be alone. Having a mom and dad and siblings – laughter and light – all at once.

Cough. ANYWAYS, I talked about this song a couple of weeks ago and the nostalgia it gives me. My first step was actually to find the cover art, which took a while since I had originally planned to just find a picture of someone using a laptop in bed with a light on in the hallway. I stumbled on this picture by Matt Rockefeller and used what I saw to choose which sounds went into this mix. I converted all the clips I wanted using a YouTube to MP3 converter and combined the auxiliary/one-time sound effects into one track. The music, rain, button-pushing, and other constant noises had their own tracks. I wrote a little script and recorded the lines with Audacity in the Vocal Booth at my university to have the best quality. After that, I cleaned them up with the Noise-Equalize-Normalize process in my last post, though I targeted more bass for the man’s voice and treble for the woman’s.

After that, it was a matter of timing the sounds and balancing them. I had to quiet the kitchen noises when the parents started speaking and increase the volume of the rain for when the sliding door opened. To make each sound distant, I lowered their ‘gain’ before increasing the reverb so they echo throughout their spaces (thus showing distance). Then, I made the sounds more muffled by applying a Low Limit Filter at about 600 Hz to shorten the frequencies and indicate that there is some kind of wall between you and your parents. I used a ‘Studio Fade Out’ (which sounds much fancier than the ‘Fade Out’ tool) to isolate the ambient sounds at the end. That way people can enjoy a brief moment of reflection and lose themselves to this new setting. I wanted to add more sounds like a cat purring and the kids cheering, but it was starting to get rather complex and could take away from the music. I hope you enjoyed it and let your imagination wander!

Radio Blah Blah

(Title a reference to a song… can you guess it? Enjoy a selfie of me in the Vocal Booth!)

Greetings! This is Sterling, and I am back with some more content. This week is audio-focused. We were tasked to create a ‘radio bumper’ between 15-30 seconds to go onto the DS106 radio. I will write about the experience below, as well as the tweet-along to the DS106 broadcast.

For my bumper, I was inspired by the radio stations at home that normally use a glitch-type effect in theirs. Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” has a nice, catchy intro and I used their more-percussive instrumental version to spice it up a little:

I actually used Audacity a whole lot as a teen since I thought I wanted to do voice acting and music, so it was second nature to go through my amateur editing regimen. I reserved UMW’s Vocal Booth for a couple hours so I could have a good quality recording. It took a few tries to get the ‘right’ intonation (aka level of enthusiasm) without sounding too cheesy like they do on the radios. Then, I used the Noise Removal tool to get a profile of the white noise to remove it from the recording. After that, I used the Equalize tool to make the soundwave more level with a subtle Bass Boost. The Normalize tool came in handy to make it peak less and maintain a normal volume.

Following my clean-up of the vocals, I used a YouTube to MP3 converter website to download the instrumental. I then timed it the way I wanted before using the Equalizer again with the ‘Telephone’ and ‘Radio’ effects. Then, a Google Search suggested that I use the High Limit Filter to create the muffled ‘radio’ effect better; not 100% sure what this one does other than potentially expanding some of the lower frequencies, but it did the trick! Duplicating the word “to” in my audio clip helped make the ‘glitch’ effect. I thought Soundcloud would copyright my clip, but it looks like it passed.

Next, I wanted to discuss the DS106 radio tweet-along. Unfortunately, I was in-and-out and had to miss quite a bit of the last part. I’m participating in my school’s musical backstage and it’s a little hard to pay attention with one thing in one ear and something else in the other. We also performed during all of the times the radio was on this week – I should have emailed about it, but I didn’t notice that I would have this problem until Wednesday. However, I’ll share what I thought and observed about it!

This is when the concept of escape was introduced. To be honest, I didn’t expect this to be so much like a documentary (though I suppose it is). However, it was a good preface to the tale of the Vanishing Lady. It reminded me of an English paper in that regard.

Here are more ramblings; I wish I could’ve caught all of the context since this post is a bit disjointed. Though I like how the story explained these concepts early on, planting the seeds of observation in mind so that the listener can potentially figure out a mystery.

Just the general play on innocence reminded me of A Streetcar Named Desire and how they spoke in the Marlon Brando movie. And, of course, Hitchcock movies. I’m not the greatest at French, though I’ve been taking classes for 8 years and it was quite a blatant mispronunciation (which is OK).

Hey – I got a response! Learned something new. And to answer it, wouldn’t be too surprised.

… Yep. I’m a Theatre major.

That’s where I had to stop because the show was wrapping up, but it was really neat to be able to visualize what was being spoken about. I liked how it went from explanation to story, though it felt like the story took a while to actually begin. This method of storytelling was also nice because I could do things with my hands while I listened. I’ve never really tried audiobooks, but I certainly understand the appeal now. Until next time!