Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Art Of Collaboration - some thoughts

They say writing novels is a lonely pursuit. Well in an age of digital and self-publishing this is no longer true. There are a myriad of online writing communities, where you can get craft, publishing and technical advice or trial your work. With social media you get to converse with your readers before they buy your book, as they buy it (since they can just share the fat of their Amazon purchase with one click, while I've had people tweet a photo of my front cover), while they're reading it I've three people reading my short stories who are tweeting to me about them as they progress through the book) and finally of course when they've finished reading and want to continue the engagement either through a review or just talking to you about it. If like me you can't even draw stickmen, then you'll need to reach out to a designer to design your book cover for you. While if you want a bespoke website but have no coding skills, again like me, then you need to collaborate with a web designer.

So digital publishing is the age of interaction and collaboration. Earlier this year I collaborated with Pixel Pixie Design on a video reading of one of my flash fiction stories, seeking to tell a story in a different way. We're about to launch into our second collaborative project making a second video.

I've been used to collaborating, since I formerly wrote plays for the stage. There I had the privilege of attending all rehearsals, doing the warm up games with the actors, participating in the impro tasks as the director found ways for them to discover their characters, without laying down too many pre and pro-scriptions. It was a real skill to allow everyone to bring their own creativity to the production, rather than just impose one person's vision. There may well have been things I wanted to say about the interpretation of 'my' play, but I didn't interrupt the process. I would never bring them up directly with the actors and only rarely would I have a sidebar chat with the director to feed in my input. I may have written the script, but the actors had to bring it alive up on stage and I felt it best to trust to their abilities rather than impose my own views. Any playwright who feels precious about every word that they write, ought to bear in mind that an actor may trip up over a word or line and just never get it right, for no logical reason at all. Then the writer just has to let the line go. If that can happen to any line in the play, then you realise that nothing is so precious as to be ring-fenced from being cut. There may be no rhyme or reason to it, but that's just how things can shake out.

What my theatre experiences taught me was it's vital to allow every creative partner the space to bring their talents and vision to the project. That way you maximise the chances for full synergy, that is the finished piece being greater than the original conception and bigger than the sum of the different creative parts that came together to produce it. I may have written a text, Pixel Pixie may have animated design skills, but hopefully the synthesis of our skills forged a piece that became more than a short story and more than a kinetic typography video. The kinetic typography would hopefully bring out things in the story less accessible to being read in print. While the text would hopefully inform and reinforce just why kinetic typography was being used as the medium and make the letters on screen resonate with meaning.

But that creative space for each to pitch in is hard to define. Unless you're all sat round a table with a blank piece of paper at the beginning, (less and less likely in these days of virtual communication), the someone will probably initiate the process with the concept. I had written my story and had a vision of how it would look in kinetic typography. And it can be hard to relinquish 'ownership' and throw it completely open to your partners to do what they will with it. I'm sure that the whole spectrum of creative working relationships exists, from the person with the brief so detailed and the control freakery to prevent their partner from deviating from a single detail, through to the person with a grain of an idea who turns to their partner and asks them to go away and magically conjure the whole finished piece. Clearly the ideal is somewhere between those two stifling poles.

There exists a further issue, that of different creative artists not speaking the same language in order to communicate their take on things and their vision. I can't even draw convincing stickmen with pen and paper, let alone wield any design software programmes. And yet the process with Pixel Pixie was without hiccup. The initial brief was no more than 6 lines long, and then the full 275 word text itself. There was a process of initial emails where we were just feeling around to understand each other's approach and conception. And language. Pixel asked me about fonts and colours, but I was keen for her to bring her own ideas to that. We talked about a voiceover of the story, but I explained I felt that since the piece is about the breakdown of language and the ability to recall words (due to developing asphasia), we needed to show the actual breakdown of words and their transformation into other words visually. We talked about morphing and transitions as I gradually learned the concepts involved in Pixel's art and she learned about how the story worked conceptually beyond the words that she was to transform and animate. Finally we talked about imagining the viewing experience for an audience not greatly exposed to this relatively new way of telling a story. (Most kinetic typography videos are either infographics for a product or service, or use song lyrics or film dialogue that are well know already).

So after these initial getting to know your art stages, Pixel Pixie went away and created! It was the equivalent of a first draft of any author's manuscript, only way more realised and closer to the final version. The points we discussed on this first draft were already about details, rather than overall conception. We did talk about colour, agreeing that the basic colour scheme was correct, but that it could just be broken up a bit more in places with other colour effects. The fonts we left untouched. The exciting thing was not only had Pixie Pixel come up with the 'doodle' images in the piece, but that these sparked off suggestions from both of us of other ones we could add. The sparking off of a creative partner you just don't get working on your own. Some of these image suggestions were tried, but I always couched them with the caveat if they proved too difficult technically, or messed up the transition, then to drop them as ideas. My training from the actors corpsing in rehearsals standing me in good stead. Indeed there was one really nice image idea we tried but had to abandon as it just didn't work into feeding into the next frame.

A second draft required very few changes, the third draft was for the soundtrack and we didn't make a single change to that. The fourth and final draft was for the credits and in the space of 11 days the video was complete from its starting blank screen. Even when it was finished, the swapping of ideas didn't end there. I asked about how she went about finding and applying the 'doodle' images as such information will inform my side of things for the next kinetic typography project we will hopefully collaborate on later in the year.

Here's the fruitful result of my collaboration with Pixel Pixie Design:

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Music Colour Therapy - Songs about colours

Color Me Badd, as if there aren't a host of bands with a colour in their name, Black Sabbath, White Stripes, Green Day, Blue Oyster Cult, Simply Red, Maroon 5, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry...

But here are songs involving colours rather than just the band names. Good and bad!


1) "Paint It Black" - Rolling Stones
Beatles or Stones? I was never really either, but I preferred the Stones' edge over the Beatles, though didn't really dig many of their songs. This however is a classic and has a real menace.

Honourable mentions:
"Black Candy" - Beat Happening
"Black Betty" Ram Jam
"Blackheart Man" - Bunny Wailer
"Black Night" - Deep Purple
Black Dog - Led Zepplin

Dishonourable Mentions:
"Men In Black" - The Stranglers makes David Bowie's "Laughing Gnome" sound meaningful

2) "Curious Oranj" - The Fall
Orange, the word that has no rhyme and therefore unlikely to lend itself to lyricism. Unless you're Mark E Smith, who echoed a 60s avant garde film from Yugoslavia and composed a score for a modern ballet (performed by Michael Clark's dance company) based on the colour divide in Northern Ireland. Barmy but fun.

Honourable mentions:
"Orange Crush" - REM

3) "Purple Haze" - Jimi Hendrix
'Scuse me while I kiss this guy'... Simply definitive song by the master. It's about drugs ya know? I see purple landing smoke canisters for helicopters in Vietnam whenever I hear this song. Like I say, definitive...

Honourable mentions:
"Purple Rain" - Prince

4) "All Cats Are Grey" - The Cure
After their debut album of low-fi pop pun, that difficult follow-up album was the doomy gloomy "Seventeen Seconds" from which this track was taken. It was the prelude to Smith's ridiculous White Rabbit meets Goth phase which was cartoonish in its sentiment, but this track represents them when they actually meant their angst.

Honourable mentions:
"Fade To Grey" - Visage
"Grey Day" - Madness

5) "Green Light" - Sonic Youth
From when Sonic Youth were still good and making interesting, discordant music. Although this song musically references another of their own songs "Death Valley 69" which is a bit cheeky methinks. There are many honourable mentions for this colour, the colour must conjure up lots of things. Note, rap artists singing about 'green' as in money were not considered for this category

Honourable mentions:
"Everything's Gone Green" - New Order
"Pretty Green" - The Jam
"Green Green Grass Of Home" - Tom Jones
"Green Onions" - Booker T & The MGs

6) "Golden Brown" - The Stranglers
I remember this with its whimsical harpsichord vibe getting into the charts. And yes it's about drugs. Colours... drugs, seeing a theme develop here.

Honourable Mentions:
"Golden Years" - David Bowie
"Fools Gold" - Stone Roses
"Brown Sugar" - Rolling Stones
"Don't It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue" - Crystal Gale

Dishonourable Mentions:
"Brown Girl In The Ring" - Boney M
"Gold_ - Spandau Ballet - always hated this song, even before it became the theme or motif music of 1001 quiz and sports' shows

7) "Blue Monday" - New Order
The Blues, well this colour clearly would have the most entries, but this is the daddy of them all.

Honourable mentions:
"Mr Blue Sky" - ELO
"Preaching The Blues" - Gun Club
"Gravedigger Blues" - Beat Happening

Dishonourable mentions:
"Mr Blue Sky" - ELO - sometimes it's just too damn cheerful for my mood. Music can be like that you know!

8) "Pink Turns To Blue" - Husker Du
A band of heavy guitar punk/new wave playing really muscular music, all three members of this power trio eventually coming out as gay which gave a whole new insight into their love songs. Fabulous.

Honourable mention:
"Pink Cadillac" - Natalie Cole
"Pretty In Pink" - Psychedelic Furs

9) "Violet" - Hole
I know it's heresy, but I actually preferred Mrs Cobain's band to Kurt's mob. If you'll excuse the implicit sexism, she had more balls in her music and lyrics than hubby.

10. "White Lines" - Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
Has this been bettered as early hip-hop? I don't think so. White, symbol of purity (and purity of powdered drugs) seems to be a very popular colour of choice in song titles. White noise? Don't you believe it.

Honourable mentions:
"White Rabbit" - Jefferson Airplane
"White Riot" - The Clash
"White Punks On Dope" - The Tubes
"Whiter Shade Of Pale" - Procul Harum
"Knights in White Satin" - Moody Blues
"Ride A White Swan" - T-Rex

10) "Silver Machine" - Hawkwind
Hawkwind were a band that divided (I mean check out this video for bubbles, flutes and strange mute women in astral make-up as to why) but still the greasers stuck to their preferred choice of music. I happen to be a punk who really likes this song.

Honourable Mention:
"Silver Rocket" - Sonic Youth
"Silver" - Pixies

Dishonourable mention:
"Silver Lining" - Stiff Little Fingers - what punk mutated to when they ran out of rage

Dishonourable mention - The colour red.
Red, colour of passion and flame and yet a strange paucity of songs honouring the colour. All I could think of was "Red, Red Wine", a ska reggae version by Tony Tribe which is pretty neat, but then later covered by UB40 which should have been named "Red, Red Whine".