I began work on my project with a concept in mind; I wanted to explore the idea of home. Home is something that plays a role to varying degrees in all our lives. As we grow from childhood into adolescence and into adulthood, many of our choices and habits form based on efforts to feel safe, secure, or accepted. These feelings of safety, security, and acceptance are all typically part of the construction of the nebulous concept of home that, in my belief, most of us spend a good portion of our lives seeking after. I wanted my composition to address this common craving for a feeling of home and then explore the real complexity behind the idea, investigating alternative definitions for and understandings of what home is. My goal specifically is to prompt the viewer to analyze their own life and assess the role of home in their day-to-day. I would hope that the composition would encourage the audience to take stock of people, places, identities, or emotions that are meeting their need for security and comfort. Alternatively, in the case of an individual who is feeling a lack of a home, I would like to encourage them to face any unsatisfied cravings in that regard and begin to explore their surroundings in an effort to meet and satisfy their longings.
The choices I have made in my composition are all in an effort to achieve “the translation of a theoretical concept” of home “into a visual unity and message” (Andrews 42). I attempted to accomplish this by incorporating visuals, audio, and text, most of which rely on Marguerite Helmers’ definition of “intertextuality” in one way or another, into my composition. “Intertextuality, the recognition and referencing of images from one scene to another,” relies on the pre-existing experiences that the viewer has with representations outside of the ones I use in my composition (Helmers 5). The still and moving images I employ are intended to reference viewers’ experiences and memories that are already associated with images of cribs, embraces, and family time. I am assuming that, to some degree, these images will carry certain pre-existing connotations in the viewers’ minds, helping me present my concept in way that is personal and individual while remaining clear. Helmer’s understanding of the function of intertextuality can also be used to understand audiences’ responses to audible compositions. Many of the sounds used in my composition rely on the audience’s prior experience with similar sounds. The song I have chosen attempts to refer the listener to music from a past era. The voice in which the recording is done is recorded in a way that is intended to remind the audience of their own inner monologues. I am hoping that the viewers recognize these images, sounds, and words in a way that references their own past experiences and ideas in regard to the concept of home, personalizing and enriching the viewing experience for them.
After brainstorming and expanding on the concept I hoped to explore, my first step in composing this assignment was to choose a song to set the piece to. Despite my limited experience with sound composition, I decided that the audio piece I chose would be the only piece of the composition that would extend consistently from beginning to end of the assignment. The other media, photos, text, and recordings, would be spliced in at different points in the composition. The song, however, would play from beginning to end. I made this decision in order to create a sense of coherency and unity to the piece. I anticipated that employing disparate images and texts from varied sources in order to serve a single purpose would be difficult; my intent for the song was to smooth the transitions between these different media and tie them to one another to create a “seamless integration of multimodal elements into one communicative event” (McKee 338).
In choosing the song to use, I essentially asked what Kyle Stedman encourages I ask myself; “What kinds of seeds am I planting for my listeners by choosing these specific tracks?” I used only the first minute from the approximate 6 minutes of the song “Profondo Blu – Forever Blue (March Rosetta re-imagined version)” by Fabrizio Paterlini. Many of the factors that went into my song choice relied on a somewhat “intuitive … sense of how to use sound” referred to in McKee’s article (337). I loved the song for this composition because, approximately every 20 seconds, the song notably changed tempo, tone, and intensity. This lent itself well to the shifts in thought process that I wanted to encourage in my composition. I wanted to plant seeds of analysis and changing perspectives at particular points in my composition; I was hoping to encourage the viewer to challenge their thought process and shift their thinking to different viewpoints. The song’s changing moods allowed me to time corresponding images and quotes in order to cue the viewer to shift trains of thought. The song also includes many features of old-time folk music, with simple piano chords, a steady drumbeat, and a sound effect reminiscent of a mandolin. These instruments suggest nostalgia and comfort to me; I am relying somewhat on the assumption that my audience shares my cultural and generational experience with music and would also experience a similar intertextual relationship between this song and more vintage musical pieces.
After choosing the musical piece for the composition, I began to assemble different quotes positioned over a variety of still images. I selected each image/text pair intentionally, using the text to anchor “the meaning of the image” and to “advance the action or scene appearing in the image” (Andrews 51). The form of anchorage used in my composition is intended to fix meaning, operating “on the denotative level and limit[ing] the denotative meaning of an image” (51). For example, the first image in my composition following the title and authorship slides is one of a child’s nursery accompanied by a quote from T.S. Eliot which reads, “Home is where one starts.” The image of a child’s nursery is fairly clear in its representation of the beginning of a child’s life; since the composition is titled “Home,” it is reasonable to assume that the viewer will consider this representation in light of the selected concept. However, the quote serves to fix the meaning and clearly indicate that we are considering the definition of home to be the place in which your life began and your childhood took place. The messages created by the image/text pairs like the one described above are used throughout the composition to guide the viewer through the thought process I was hoping to encourage.
Out of the several quotes selected to accent the train of thought I was attempting to create, I chose to record my own voice reading one of the quotes in my composition. I chose to record myself reading the quote in which I introduce the possibility that our traditional understanding of home is incomplete, hoping that the change in mode of quote presentation would prepare viewers for the change in thought process I was introducing. I positioned this vocal recording at a point in which the mood of the background song shifts as well, further indicating a change in thought process in the overall composition. When recording, I made an effort to consider Theo Van Leeuwen’s “dimensions of voice quality and timbre” (129). The quote I am reading is intended to be an almost absentminded reflection; I was hoping to record it in a vocal quality that was reminiscent of an internal thought. I attempted to keep my voice relaxed and without tension in order to avoid creating emotions of aggression, anxiety, or excitement. I tried to speak softly in order to evoke intimacy and confidentiality, suggesting a very personal and quiet thought. I made an effort to avoid using too high of a pitch, which might convey agitation, or too low of a pitch, which might convey assertiveness. My pitch remains in the relatively neutral zone of a low-stakes reflection. There is no vibrato or emotional trembling in my voice; my voice is steady. My effort at targeting this vocal timbre in the recorded quote was intended to encourage the overall feel of nostalgia, reflection, and introspection.
The recorded quote in my composition is the only time that moving images are used; any other image used in the composition is stationary. I made the decision to record the quote vocally at this point partially in order to avoid too high a density of elements in one space. The film clip along with a layered text over that moving image clip in the limited time the audience has to view it would have made “it feel ‘heavy’ and cluttered,” compromising communication in that moment (Jones). Recording myself reading the quote over the film clip allowed me to forgo using text and keep the viewer’s visual attention focused on the video. Additionally, the introduction of the film clip marks the point at which my composition begins asking the viewer to consider rethinking their understanding of home. This change from still image to moving image is accompanied by a shift in tempo, tone, and intensity of the music as well as the first time my voice is heard, all of which suggest to the viewer that my composition is going to begin a new phase in its investigation of home as a concept.
The exploration into the concept of home in this composition relies on the interplay of the different, individual pieces used in the composition. My goal for the different modalities in this piece was to achieve “an integrated semiosis, one that would recognize the interdependence of the different variables in a communicative event” (McKee 338). The audible, visual, and textual signs all had to work together in order to contribute to the overall message communication. The layering of modalities as well as the sequence in which the different signs are used was selected in order to create “one cohesive communicative event” (338). This required paying close attention to “the interrelationships among the elements themselves as they combine[d] to form larger meaningful units” (Andrews 48). In my composition, this meant relying upon the messages being sent by the song playing in the background, the text appearing with the still photographs, the moving picture footage, and the recording of my voice. My goal was to have all of these working to refer the viewer back to his or her own memories, ideas, or experiences with home. Ideally, the composition functions like an ad in which “the viewer becomes created by the ad, in a process called appellation, incorporating the viewer into its signifying world by hailing us” (Andrews 54). I would like for the viewer to feel as though the composition is hailing him or her and inviting participation and interaction in a process that could create a deeper, meaningful reflection on the role of home in his or her life.
Andrews, Marc. Social Campaigns: Art of Visual Persuasion, Its psychology, its semiotics, its rhetoric. MA Thesis. MaKHU I Graduate School of Visual Art and Design, 2008. Web. 03 March 2015.
Helmers, Marguerite, and Charles Hill. Defining Visual Rhetorics. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004. Web. 03March2015.
Jones, Brandon. “Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design.” Web Design Theory. Tuts+, 28 Sep. 2011. Web. 03 March 2015.
McKee, Heidi. “Sound matters: Notes toward the analysis and design of sound in multimodal webtexts.” Computers and Composition 23.3 (2006): 335-354. Web. 03 March 2015.
Stedman, Kyle D. “Track 1: Growing Meanings.” Making Meaning in Musical Mixes. N.p. 2013. Web. 03 March 2015.
Van Leeuwen, Theo. Speech, Music, Sound. London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1999. Print.