‘What you don’t know won’t hurt you’ – process notes for a video remix

This process went much like the one for the ‘Sandburg & Photograph’ remix I worked on recently. I found the footage of a miniature house being drowned by a flooding ‘river’ in the 35mm stock footage section at Archive.org.

I found the clip oddly haunting to watch. And like the rearview mirror clip, it struck me as metaphorically powerful and complete in itself. All I had to do was find the right poem in the Storehouse collection to match with it, and it didn’t take me long to decide on Anne Higgins’ incantatory poem in terzanelle (?I’m hopeless with form) format. A slow build-up of the consequences of neglect, ending in tragedy – I thought the metaphorical match was perfect and all the more so for the simplicity of the footage. Poet and film-maker Sara Mithra left a kind comment on the video at the Vimeo site, which I thought nailed it exactly:

“Gorgeous single-cut (continuous) film… What I like is that immediately, the image contradicts the title of the poem, as the viewer knows that the “river” beyond the levy will flood the house and sweep it away. Moving inevitably towards the destruction builds a beautiful tension with the woman moving, tumor-like, towards her own destruction.”

Thanks once again to Anne for contributing her work to The Poetry Storehouse. As always, we warmly encourage other remixers to visit the Storehouse and get creative with its contents.

Visit the Poetry Storehouse Vimeo page to see all Storehouse-based video remixes.

Read ‘Helen in Egypt’ aloud, all the way through – check

In April 2013, I decided to try and read H.D.’s Helen in Egypt aloud, all the way through, and started uploading readings over at Voice Project: ‘Helen In Egypt’. Today, just shy of a year later, I uploaded the last reading and accomplished my objective. I read it in segments, over many months, and while I tried to keep recording conditions and delivery consistent throughout, there are inevitable variations in both at various points, which I hope any listeners the project may attract will forgive. The book may be listened to or downloaded in individual segments – by its three large sections, by individual books in those sections, or by individual parts in those books.

I was inspired to undertake the reading by this post at the Poetry Foundation, in which the author talks about how voicing, recording, and listening to poems he really wanted to get to know took the experience of ‘knowing’ a poem to a whole new level for him. Which sounds exactly right, and there is no question that I have had an entirely different engagement with and experience of Helen in Egypt through reading it aloud in so deliberate a fashion.

My warm thanks to the folks at New Directions Publishing Corporation, agents for the Schaffner Family Foundation, for blessing the project.

‘Love in the Age of the EU’ – process notes for a video remix

Continuing the emphasis on creating voice mosaics, a wonderful opportunity. The Zebra Poetry Film Festival has chosen this German poem as a feature in its contest this year, inviting entries of poetry films based on the German original, or on one of the various translations provided on the site. The challenge caught my attention after Marc Neys put together a wonderful video using the German reading by the poet from the Lyrikline website.

Right away, I knew I wanted to try and create a multi-lingual voice mosaic. Excited, I emailed a few contacts overseas, thinking that it would be great to create a soundtrack blending the voices of a Spanish-speaker, a French-speaker, and a German-speaker. Unfortunately, someone was on travel, someone had a cold, and someone else didn’t feel they could do the project justice, and I came up empty.

Disappointed but not disheartened, I decided to read the poem in French and Spanish myself. Certainly, I would be inflicting a patently foreign accent on those versions, but the foreigner/alien theme was inherent in the poem, and at least I would get an even technical quality of recording across all three versions, and could work with the material without worrying about how a contributor might feel about the final product.

So I recorded each of the three versions separately, as I normally make such recordings – making couple of versions of each and then editing down to a single version in Audacity.

Then came the fun part. I was clear about the format of the soundtrack from the beginning – the intro would be a Tower of Babel-ish sound mosaic, with all three soundtracks fading in simultaneously at equal volume levels. Then the simultaneous three-part rendering would start again, but this time with one language aurally highlighted for each of the poem’s three stanzas.

I was happy with the result, in large part from the joy of introducing variables and possibilities of combination and recombination into the voice element of the video, which usually gets fairly one-dimensional treatment and consideration.

The video element came together quickly once the voice element was complete, and the images were driven by what seemed to me the rather bleak and pessimistic feel of the poem itself. Again, no people, but images from my collection of random downloads from various video clip websites. I tend to revisit and re-purpose video clips that resonate with me and have used both the Pluto landscape and the angel statue in previous projects, although the marvelous clip of a spider packaging a fly for consumption is new.

Previous post on voice mosaics here.

‘This Long Winter’ – process notes for a video remix

‘This Long Winter’ is based on a poem submitted to The Poetry Storehouse by Kristin LaTour.

This continues my interest in multi-voiced projects. Like poem-making, videopoetry-making is a binding/weaving process, a deliberate or serendipitous blending of disparate things (words, images, sound) that were not linked before. Since voice is for me a hugely prominent element of the process, I continue to look for ways to create voice duets, voice dialogues, voice mosaics. In this previous project, for example, I used my middle-school son’s voice along with mine; in this one, I joined a recording made by Dick Jones with one of mine; while in this one, I mixed the voices of four readers from the wonderful non-profit LibriVox site. The challenges with the multi-voice process are two-fold: 1) identifying recordings that speak to the poem in a way that works for me and 2) credibly blending recordings of differing technical quality.

I thought Kristin’s touching ‘he said / she said’ poem lent itself well to dialogue format and since I liked Jonathan Lu’s Storehouse reading, I made a separate recording of my own, then blended the two. I sent my first take (in which our voices alternated couplets until the last one was split between us) to Jonathan for comment, and he suggested what became the final arrangement, in which we alternated the first four couplets, then split the last few between us.

Once the hybrid voice track was complete, I looked for appropriate imagery and it didn’t take me long to decide on the rather sad rainy day clip series I had found at OrangeHD.com (a site that offers very random free clips for download). Going for a lonely, melancholy feel, I slowed the clips down slightly and added a ‘Sci-Fi’ video effect to the clips in iMovie, which gave them a pale green flattishness that I liked. I quickly decided on the jazz track, which again felt melancholy to me and helpfully full of wistful connotations that I thought rounded off the experience nicely.

Thanks once again to Kristin for contributing her work to The Poetry Storehouse, and to Jonathan for the reading. As always, we warmly encourage other remixers to visit the Storehouse and get creative with its contents.

Visit the Poetry Storehouse Vimeo page to see all Storehouse-based video remixes produced to date.

‘Sandburg and Photograph’ – process notes for a video remix

‘Sandburg and Photograph’ is based on a poem submitted to The Poetry Storehouse by Lennart Lundh. For this one, I started with the footage and then searched for the poem.

One of the challenges for a videopoem maker not yet handy with his or her own camera (that would be me) is finding video footage that a) works and b) is copyright-free and c) is either free or inexpensive. There are a few sites (eg Motion Elements or OrangeHD) that put up video clips for free use, and I trawl them regularly, downloading and saving footage against future need. The clip subjects are super-odd and almost comically random and nearly always fall in the ‘you never know’ category.

In this case, I found a series of shots taken of and through the side rear view mirror of a car. They struck me as metaphorically powerful and I went back through the Storehouse poems, deliberately looking for one which would match the metaphor. Lennart’s elegantly tragic simple/complicated piece, with its telescoping rearward/forward depiction of time and space jumped out at me very quickly.

I had to slow down the clip a little to make it long enough, but that only helped with the atmosphere, I thought. I also reversed the clip (wonder if anyone noticed!) to add even more body to the shifting space-time metaphor. The ‘alien’ soundscape I used had one of my favorite aural themes (monk-chant!) and I felt it effectively added to the overall otherworldly time-travel feeling.

This was a simple project, with no image layering and using only one clip, but I was not tempted to add anything else, especially given the complexity already offered by this deceptively simple poem.

Thanks once again to Lennart for contributing his work to The Poetry Storehouse. As always, we warmly encourage other remixers to visit the Storehouse and get creative with its contents.

Visit the Poetry Storehouse Vimeo page to see all Storehouse-based video remixes.

‘Francine Learns’ – process notes for a video remix

Francine Learns How to Open His Heart with Her Teeth‘ is based on a poem submitted to the Storehouse by Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick. This remix didn’t work for everyone, but I continue to be fond of it.

To me, Shannon’s poem was a sad and vulnerable piece that still managed to carry a steely hint of future menace. It gave me a sense of waiting, of preparation, of trapped potential and latent emotional power amidst current pain. It took me a while to decide what sort of images I might use with it.

I rarely use footage of actual people in my video work, and prefer, for example, to use clips that focus on a hand, an eye, or on feet, rather than footage that depicts a whole identifiable person. Why? Not sure yet – it’s a question I continue to consider. But I definitely like to use stylized representations of people (the robotic alien figure in this piece was a terrific find, for example), so I was excited to find the robot lady on Equiloud’s free clips site. I liked her immobility combined with the elements orbiting steadily around her, which gave me a sense of something purposefully ‘cooking’ underneath.

Along with robot lady, I wanted something gritty and earthy as a second, grounding element, and went with a US National Park Service B-roll clip of a rocky mountain ridge – high, rarefied, barren, but with latent potential and a purposeful arc of movement towards a dangerous-looking cliff edge. I chose three images (a pulsing red heart-chamber lookalike thingy, a fomenting space-ball cascade, a barbed wire silhouette) to layer behind the two grounding elements, then brought those two main elements together at the end with another weird and wonderful Equiloud confection – bright, metallic, morphing – and another purposeful robot lady image.

For the voice, I used my own reading as I tend to do, since reading and recording a poem is where the ‘making’ process really starts for me. Initially, I added reverb to the voice using the Garageband reverberation tool, but edited that out subsequently as a bit much. For general aural background I used a favorite soundtrack – a wild keening/ululating solo voice that for me hit that ‘trapped potential’ theme again.

Overall, a fairly complex endeavor for me with many moving parts, and I had to cut and lengthen and shift clips and sound in many iterations to get it all quite where I wanted it. But the work was lots of fun, as always!

Thanks once again to Shannon for contributing her work to The Poetry Storehouse. As always, we warmly encourage other remixers to visit the Storehouse and get creative with its contents.

Visit the Poetry Storehouse Vimeo page to see all Storehouse-based video remixes.

important imposing interesting beautiful

Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful.

So said Gertrude Stein and I keep coming back to this line as to the border of a new country, as to a world inside a grain of sand.

It’s so easy to undervalue almost any activity with that creeping, unspoken but pervasive belief that one should always be somewhere else, doing something else.

As I get older though it’s becoming easier – and how sweet and relieving it is – to really believe that the most important thing in the world is what I have chosen to do now, right now.