Mixed methods

In suggesting these three approaches to composing with sound—literal illustrations of songs, associative applications, and background enhancements—we are describing a continuum of strategies in which the song moves from central, guiding role in a video to background actor. These are by no means hard and fast categories.  Within each category, we describe a range of approaches, from Chris Ellefson's quite literal illustration of lyrics like "In a stormy haze" with images of storms and the word "haze," to Amanda Houkom's more evocative, yet still literal, "You're My Little Girl."  Brooke Jameson's video starts out as a literal illustration of the first verse of Jo Dee Messina's "Fire," but the video evolves into an associative application, as Jameson continued to work with the theme of "Fire," but added her own significant content.  Videos that primarily employ music as a background enhancement range from a single 30-second loop playing multiple times in order to re-enforce a theme, as in Krista Gullickson's "Free Falling," to Erich Wilkerson's multi-spliced "History of the World."  The one video in our gallery we have not discussed elsewhere illustrates just how mixed and porous these categories can be.  Note, all PowerPoint video shows must be downloaded rather than clicking on the following links.

We initially labeled Nathan Kroh's "American Idiot" as a "literal music video" (i.e., his is one of the 11 we counted as literal in Table 1) because the process he described in his interview made it sound like his approach to the assignment was a literal illustrations of lyrics.  He explained that he worked largely from memory of song lyrics: "I didn't pick songs I had a deep love for, I just picked lyrics that I could work with and act out literally.  I was just going for funny."  Kroh said that he knew Queen's lyrics, "I want to ride my bicycle," so he decided to use that song and illustrate it with pictures of himself on a motorcycle, which in-and-of itself is not a very faithful literal interpretation, but seems to have been close enough for his purpose.  "Literal," for Kroh, can be interpreted loosely.

What we see in Kroh's work is all three of the identified strategies we have been describing. The video starts with Green Day's "American Idiot" to establish a theme and set the tone for his video—background enhancements—although "American Idiot" might also be a badge of honor that Nathan is associatively applying to himself. He uses Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" to support pictures of him doing chores, and he uses The Bare Naked Ladies "It's all Been Done" to show us the chores done, although the lyrics to that song are about the challenges of artistic creativity.  Both of these applications are what we call background applications, much like Krista Gullickson's use of "Free Falling" to support her sky diving video.  The lyrics make a point relevant to the student video, but that point is considerably different than the lyrical intent of the whole song.  Nathan's use of the Beastie Boys' "Girls," however, is a much closer match—a literal illustration of the song's lyrics "all I really want are girls," with both the song and Nathan's videos expressing this desire with a whimsical tone.  The video unfolds with a mix of narration, music, and personal photos—some edited, some composed, some from his family collection.  Unlike Beky Morgan's trip video, Kroh did not have any particular trip, event, or story to tell. Instead, he constructed a story, he presented a humorous video that is ostensibly about his life: self-proclaimed average American teenager, which happens to correspond with "American Idiot."

Kroh's video shows us that a project does not need to work with a single strategy, and his comment that "I was going for funny," reminds us that the purpose, not the method of composing with sound, should give the project its sense of direction. Our first set of questions to students with this and other multimodal compositions should be "What do you want your video to do? What do you want it to say? How do you want your audience to respond?" and then we can suggest methods of achieving that goal or purpose while composing with sound, including the use of mixed methods.