Monday, June 24, 2013

The Art of Telling Stories: Ryan Holmes

The Art of Telling Stories is a series of posts designed to take a deeper look at what it means to tell a story. Writers tell stories constantly, but many other people in many other vocations tell their stories as well, but in other, often more subtle, ways. Today's guest is Ryan Holmes, the bass player for the Connecticut-based band Echo and Drake. You can check out their music and upcoming events at their website, on Facebook, or click here to download some free songs!

Tell us a little bit about you and what it is you do.

I'm Ryan, a lifelong student of music and songwriting, but more specifically, the electric bass guitar. I write and perform music like its my job (ha!) and primarily with my band 'Echo & Drake'.

How would you define a storyteller?

This is such a broad concept, but to me a storyteller is someone who works within their chosen art form to get their message across. Their message could involve simply conveying some facts, or persuading a room full of thousands of people. That could mean using their spoken language, music, paintings, writings, or a delicious combination of any possibility. Its hard to define because a storyteller can mean so many things!

Do you consider yourself a storyteller? Why or why not?
I consider myself a storyteller before the music. I've always been told I have a knack for telling a great story and tying all the ropes together before I ultimately drop the punchline. I've taken pride in it! Some have said "Cut to the chase!", but I've always maintained that I'm simply building an environment for the listener to revel in for a while.

As a musician, what are the different elements you might use to tell a story? How do those elements work together?

As a musician, I feel like my whole existence is a story. Being in music, like any other walk of life, your message will begin to become a wash if you're perceived as someone who doesn't truly live inside that world you've created. You have to prove yourself to any prospective listener before they even consider your music and your lyrics. As humans we can become unsure about our actions before we even commit to them. An audience member at a comedy club may stifle his own laughter at a particularly outlandish joke for fear that the gentleman down the row will give him a dirty look. A group of concert goers may decide not to dance to the opening act (even though they may want to) because they're not endorsed by the whole crowd yet. A person will jump to read the newest novel by a known NY Times Bestseller, but a newly published upcoming author might go under-noticed for a while as they build this trust with their "audience". Sitting among friends at a restaurant you may subconsciously begin tuning out a particular person who has a track record of droning on about things you have no interest in. To me, its because that person has built no credibility with you as a storyteller. As a musician you don't need to be a master of your chosen instrument or a master of your spoken language, you simply have to prove that the notes you play and the words you've chosen have meaning. You have to deliver them with conviction.      

How do you approach the thought process of writing a song? What is it about that process that really appeals to you?

Songwriting has become one of my greatest passions. After really delving into it I've discovered that its something that makes me truly happy. With that said, there are about a million ways to approach songwriting - and my best piece of insight would be to not approach it at all. By that I mean the best ideas aren't forced; they tend to come to you. Sometimes it can be a melody that seems to appear in your thoughts, or a great phrase you think up at random in a passing conversation. Usually the idea starts with something small, and then you're able to sit down with this idea behind a piano, or holding a guitar and begin developing. "Maybe the bass line could start on the 5th of the chord played on the guitar... Nope, that doesn't sound great, maybe that line would sound great an octave higher." In other words, I think really great ideas appear from some sort of higher musical power within you and only then can you take that idea to the workshop and start your adjustments, your layering, your additions, etc. They tell any new songwriter to "write everyday." Some go as far as to say "You should write an entire song every day." I don't think it has to mean that per se, but I think working at it as consistently as possible is the best course of action. As I said, its nearly impossible to force a good idea, but if you force yourself to sit down and be continually thinking musically (making sure to notate and/or record ideas you may have for future reference) those ideas could resurface and be great supplements to your spur-of-the-moment breakthroughs.

Imagine you're playing/writing a song without words. How do you make that song tell a story? How do you make it resonate with your audience?

"Dynamics! Dynamics!" But seriously, music stems from the human vocal chords. So, like it or not, to really move the listener, that has to be considered at all times. While performing instrumental works, often times it helps to consider how those lines would be sung, how the voice would portray them. This could come in any form of variation in dynamics, accents, lack of accents, note attacks, note endings, anything. I think one of the reasons so many are up in arms about the current state of popular music is due to its lack of originality. People go to see live a live show to be wowed by a performance that wouldn't otherwise have been heard on a recording. This has to be realized before you're able to open yourself up to the possibility of an actual moving performance.

What is your favourite part of being a musician? Why? 

The best part of being a musician is developing that trust I mentioned with listeners. Of course, there's a lot of personal validation in being able to perform at a high level - but none of it really would matter if there were no others to share it with. Being able to carefully articulate your message, deliver it with intent, and see it resonating with another person is the absolute best feeling.

If you had to pick a favourite instrument (besides the bass!) to listen to, what would it be and why? 

At the risk of sounding unoriginal - the piano. "All music comes from the Piano" - this idea isn't off base. The instrument is so equipped to aid the musician in telling their story, so to speak. It can sound so dark and dreary on one hand and so light and relaxed on the other (quite literally!). Its such an inherently dynamic instrument (as all instruments are, of course!) But in general, I find it pleasing to listen to just about any instrument that is performed well and with meaning. If you can pull great sounds out of a crinkled up piece of paper and a broken rubber band - then let's hear it!

How do you approach the concept of telling a story as a team (as in, you have to work with the other members of your band to all tell the same story at the same time, but in different ways)? 

Musically, the entire process is close teamwork. You need to be a great listener in order to effectively fit your piece into the puzzle. You have to consider your relationship with other voices, your relationship with space, and how it all relates to one another. In terms of lyric, I find it more difficult to piece together a story as a group. Particularly with songwriting, being that it can be difficult sometimes to convey your own deepest inner thoughts - it can be increasingly harder to tap into another individual's. 

Is there anything else you would like to share? 
"I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, and on the slitted sheet I sit." Just sayin'.

Don't forget to check Ryan out on Facebook and on his Echo and Drake website. In addition, stay tuned for some music by Ryan under a different name (TBD)!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Orange Fur: Life Lessons from Goblin, part 2

If a window opens, check out what's on the other side.

If you killed it, you won. 

If they make you look silly, glare at them until they BURN.

If you can't grow a mustache, try whiskers instead.

Keep your eyes on the sky. It's where the birds hide.

Don't blink. Blink and you're dead. Don't turn your back. 
Don't look away. And don't blink.
Good luck.

Get it before it gets you.

Once you've captured the feather, don't let go.

Always keep your head up. It shows off your fabulous neck.

If the TARDIS lands in your yard, run. 
(Towards it, preferably).

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Casual Gallifreyan

Gallifreyan "language" (more of a code for us Earthicans) can be a bit of a challenge, especially to design the more beautiful words, sentences, phrases, and paragraphs we see wandering around the internet. These are lovely, but also difficult to do, especially when working by hand. Take this one for example. It's my name:

It took me about twenty minutes to get a good circle, put in the right letters, and erase the extra lines. It's my name. I know how to write my name, so very little of the time is spent thinking - it's spent making it look pretty. It's a bit like learning cursive in second grade, or learning calligraphy as an adult.
So it seems like the Time Lords must have had some type of shorthand, right? A short hand which allowed them to scribble notes to each other without spending hours desperately sand-blasting their message into the floor of some great hall. 

See image here.
Suppose some Time Lord had to desperately get the above message (I'm a little teapot, short and stout; here is my handle, here is my spout, etc., etc.) to another Time Lord and couldn't go back in time to cross her own timeline... Time Lord problems. You know.

So anyway, casual Gallifreyan - that's where I'm going with this. I started experimenting with a handwriting version of this, and while not as pretty, it's a heck of a lot easier. Unless Time Lords were born with the innate and unbelievable ability to draw perfect circles every time, then scribbly handwriting would probably be written in ovals. On the left are the three words in my name (Ariele Joy Sieling). On the right are the same characters written in ovals.

And no I didn't just take a picture of the page from a weird angle.

But then I began to consider the elements that might make one Time Lord's handwriting different from another's. The little dots, for example - some might just do them as dots, others might have the size change, and they can be placed differently as well - mine tend to be in the middle of the letter, but they could be on either edge. It's just like some people cross their t's low or high, some people dot their i's with circles or hearts, and some write in tiny or big letters.

Here is my name written in four slightly different styles. I'm the only one making the words, so the strokes all look the same, but the dots, tidiness, lines, and shapes are slightly different. With other people writing similar words, it would look completely different: 

I intend to keep experimenting with writing quickly, because I think that is really how handwriting is formulated - practice! Here is vaguely what I think my Gallifreyan signature should look like - a 3/4 moon having a seizure: 

For more practice, I wrote "Doctor" repeatedly: 

And of course, as any good Doctor Who fan would do, I tried to invent a signature for the Doctor using the word "Doctor," since we're not allowed to know what his real name is. Of course it should be as messy as a medical doctor's:

I would really like some nerd at the BBC to teach each of the doctors how to write "doctor" in Gallifreyan - then we could see how his handwriting changes, in addition to his face, outfits, and tardis!

Anyway, I intend to keep working on this - practicing my writing, getting faster and better at full sentences (not just words), and figuring out what shortcuts make it easier to write but not confuse the meaning. Stay tuned.

And send me any of your scribblings and I'll include them in my next post!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Art of Telling Stories: Aurora Gordon

The Art of Telling Stories is a series of posts designed to take a deeper look at what it means to tell a story. Writers tell stories constantly, but many other people in many other vocations tell their stories as well, but in other, often more subtle, ways.

Today's guest is Aurora Gordon, a dailies colorist for television, a video producer, and a brilliant artist. You can check out her newest trailer about the Daily Ocean as well as several of her other projects on her website or on Vimeo. In addition, the image to the right is one in a series of nine that will be available to benefit the Red Cross of Oklahoma with the recent tornado damage.

Aurora, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I'm a dailies colorist for television - and that means I'm the one applying a look to the footage
immediately after it was shot (so I work the graveyard shift, yikes!). We do this so that the footage will look as close to the final intention as possible for the rough cuts before the footage goes to a final color session for polishing, and eventually broadcasting on TV. In ideal situations I talk to the DP beforehand, and we discuss what sort of look he's going for.  Then it's up to me to come up with the right "cocktail" of dial pushes to recreate that everyday.  I go through all the footage and make sure if more than one camera is used that both cameras have the same color balance.  So, if B Camera looks too blue compared to A Camera, I'll either add yellow to B Camera, or add blue to A Camera.

What that means in reality: I stare at monitors overnight and turn knobs and roll track balls!

In my daytime I'm a video producer and lately I've been working on a documentary about a woman who goes to clean up the beach 20 minutes at a time.  I work mostly on personal documentary style projects but I've been known to take a commission or two. Especially if it means working with an awesome small business.

How would you define storytelling?

Wow, storytelling defined!  I'd say good storytelling is forgetting about your ego and relaying events in a generous, affordable, relatable way. Being a liaison to the world - even if it's a small story.

Would you consider yourself a storyteller? Why?

Definitely.  I used to get asked a lot, are you ever going to specialize and focus on just videos, or just color? And I think it's a lot of the same skill set.  To me it's almost the same job.  As a storyteller you have to get this idea in your head out to an audience - and as a colorist I have to get the idea in the DP's head out to the audience. But, there's still a lot of room for my interpretation.  For example if someone says to me "Make this scene warm!" my first image is a slightly yellowed cozy kitchen, probably with something being baked for hungry guests in the oven.  So I'll then grade the scene with my interpretation of warm - gold familiarity.  But another colorist might grade it like a warm body on a beach - almost red. I live in a land of subtlety and perhaps it's hard for a lot of people to understand nonverbal storytelling as the same as Storytelling with a capital S - but that's what I like to think I do best: subtly transfer feelings.

How do you decide what images tell the story and what ones don't?

When I'm cutting a documentary project, I'm just ruthless. I ask myself: what's the most important image here, and what am I really trying to say?  Does this other image inform and support that? No?  On the cutting room floor it goes then. Another good question to ask is: Would an alien get this image?  Hopefully it's powerful enough some creature from Mars would even understand.

What impact does colour have on the story being told?

Ah - this is a good question. Like I said before, it's a nonverbal art form. I think really great color can take a cold, steely scene from a movie like Skyfall, and make a lonely spy trapped in solitary confinement relatable to everybody's life. What's actually on screen might be a creepy dude with a bad attitude and a bionic jaw, but everybody has a time in their life that was blue and steely and lonely. Sometimes it's easier to say with a look than words.

Do you think you could tell a story with just colour? How?

I think there are color arcs like there are story arcs. I don't know if I could just pop colors on screen and say something a viewer could understand though. I do think oftentimes the color really confirms what you're seeing.  For example, oftentimes movies will end warmer than they started.  If it's a happy ending, it probably looks a little rosy too.  A filmmaker can dial in a look that says, "You might not feel this way, but here's how I want you to feel."  I think a stylized look can be a really honest tip of the hat to the fact the story is of course coming from a biased and subjective point of view.  For example, Wes Anderson always uses his yellowed, aged, signature look and I think that's a nice way to subtly say to the audience, "This is my fading memory and it may or may not be what's really occurring in the world."

But I also think there can be stories told with color in homes.  I'm fascinated with the way people choose to decorate and paint walls. I think there's a reason some people have dark walls and some people have light walls.

What is your favourite part of the work you do and why?

My favorite part is probably the moment before I dial it in.  (Do people know what that means?  We say a scene is "dialed in" when we've got the knobs literally dialed in to the right position. It's another way to say "nailed it.")

When I'm working on a challenging scene I might go back and forth with 10 different versions that are all minor, minor changes, but from version 1 all the way to version 10 is cumulatively a big change.  I like the challenging scenes because oftentimes the moment before it's dialed in is the moment I try something new and discover a new way to combine shadow, midtone, and highlight color values.

What is your favourite colour?

Green!  Our eyes are most sensitive to around 550 nm, which is about green. So I like green because it illuminates most things for humans.

Also, when my husband James first met me he insisted I have green eyes, even though my driver's license and everybody else in my life says I have blue eyes.  He sees me green instead and it makes me laugh.

Is there anything else you would like me to share?

Eat your vegetables! Play with animals! Don't buy things that sell you another version of yourself!

Don't forget to visit Rory's website to learn more about what she does and what she can do for you!