Saturday, March 31, 2018

Using YouTube for comparison exercises (update)

I wrote here about the utility of YouTube for elementary comparison exercises that draw on audiovisual analysis. Students can practice some basic skills very early in semester (as they read Hearing the Movies, chapter 1) while isolating that work from the complex narrative contexts of feature films. The pedagogical goal—making students aware of their learned viewing habits—is crucial to studying film music and sound productively.

Alas, much has happened since 2011, when that post was made. Specifically, three of the post's five video clips have been deleted from YouTube. Because of this unpredictability, I have rewritten the 2011 post here in generic form.

Task: describe different visual tracks as they relate to a single audio track (different performances of the same musical composition).

Goals: Make students aware of their learned viewing habits and provide early practice in describing sound in relation to image.

Justification: The format aids practice of some basic skills while isolating that work from the complex narrative contexts of feature films. The limits of the musical text make the sound track act as a control, against which to compare different collections of images. Tempo remains a variable in the audio track as well.

Procedure: Begin by playing a recording of the composition without any video track. Point out or discuss simple formal articulations, so that markers will be available to aid detailed analysis and discussion of the video examples.

Version no. 1: the static image.
These are of course very easy to construct. A portrait of the composer, an image of an appropriate ensemble, or reproduction of an LP or CD cover will do, all preferably with some black space surrounding the image. It is also not difficult to find videos like this on YouTube, undoubtedly because they require the least effort on the part of the person wanting to post a dub of a recording. 
Show without warning the class about the static image, as the goal is for students to be placed in the position where they pay attention to their attention. Once they guess that the image is probably not going to change, attention shifts away from it to the music. A point of discussion could be to relate the starkness of the background to the audiovisual sparseness of a video clip that is only music.
Version no. 2: a slide show of images.
Questions to consider: How are changes to a new image timed to the music track? Are music and image completely, partly, or not synchronized? What is the effect of any lack of synchronization @ important form articulations in the music? (If images had changed at those moments, the images would suddenly have seemed relatively "important", leading to speculation about reasons for that importance. Something similar happens when a slide is onscreen noticeably longer than others.) What kind of narrative content (or expectation for narrative continuity) is provoked by the slide show? (It is not important to come up with answers -- what is important is to notice the fact of imposing—or trying to impose—narrative continuity on the images.)
Version 3: a different slide show of images for comparison.
Here students should be free to consider questions of both intention and design and to evaluate. Is the second version better done, more effective, than the first, and if so, how is that achieved? Does either version show signs of a rhetorical goal (point of view that is being pushed)?
These are three of the five options I presented in the 2011 post; I discuss the other two here: link. Of course, the different tasks can be mixed and matched or selected as the needs of a class dictate. The three presented here "flip" the commutation test from Hearing the Movies, chapter 1, by making the music the same but changing the video track. This is undoubtedly a more primitive exercise than our study of different musics for the “temptation” scene in Psycho (pp. 30-33), but the ability to think of a specific piece (or passage) of music as the benchmark against which to examine changes in the image track is a skill that is routinely called on in more sophisticated analysis, as well.