Dan Bailes

Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Snow Day – A Photo Ramble Around Capitol Hill

This morning the air is full of thick fluff. Giant flakes drift down… delicate blossoms   embracing frozen streets and silent walkways.

a few blocks from my house

In the storm’s grip time seems to pause… this century old neighborhood wavers between past and present. I grab my camera and set out to explore.

Stanton Park

I make my way to Stanton Park, where other days I’d walk my dog or watch kids play. Most mornings this place bustles with running feet and shrieks of excitement. Today it stands hushed and lonesome…

Stanton Park’s playground

guarded by the statue of Nathanael Greene, war hero and most trusted of George Washington’s generals. There he sits astride his horse, ready to seek his destiny.

Across the way, a school for children, honoring long forgotten philanthropist George Peabody.

Peabody Elementary

Through flurries of snow this fortress of learning emerges like a distant memory. I muse about the children who graced its halls over 140 years. How each generation finds itself in a world in flux… like the flakes around me, dancing in swirling eddies.

Little Moments

I meander the streets and come upon these steps. How solid and timeless, the stone. Are these treads worn from decades of feet or is it just the snow, painting with a whimsical brush?

These places were built in the late 1800s. I look up and imagine myself back in that Victorian era.

Have these vessels adorned this window for all those decades, just to peer down at me this moment? I wonder who inhabits this place. As I ramble, almost anywhere my eye falls I see echoes of a bygone era.

Another time, I might have passed without stopping to notice. But today the snow sharpens my eyes and illuminates its little vignettes.

Like these chairs in conversation…

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church

or this row of trees, drawn so delicately against this somber structure…

giving contrast to the wispy anarchy of the branches.

stand of trees next to the Belmont-Paul House

A Historic Home

A block away is the Belmont-Paul House, honoring suffragettes Alva Belmont and Alice Paul.

Belmont-Paul House

Built in 1800, the British torched it as they invaded during the War of 1812. In 1929, it became home to the National Woman’s Party and the struggle for equal rights for women.

The snow gathers along the iron fence and draws my notice…

as it builds little pathways for my eye to travel.

Across the street from the Belmont-Paul house stands the Supreme Court.

Court and Capitol

bas-relief of Justice

It’s a massive building… the adornments reflecting its power…

Contemplation of Justice

Guardian of the Law

And facing it, the Capitol…

I let the branches frame the Statue of Freedom, standing sentry atop its dome.

The Library

From my vantage, I discover a snow salted tree beside the Library of Congress.

Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress

Another, guards the main entrance…

or is it a prehistoric creature stalking the grounds?

On my way home, one more bit of whimsy…

When she was young, my daughter called them maflingoes. I still think of them that way.

I hope you enjoyed this post. It was fun putting it together. As always, your comments are welcome.

Ed Sheeran & Friends Shape a Song

Shaping the Creative Process

The creative process fascinates me – how artists and musicians can start with a blank slate and then make something out of nothing. Usually, all we get to see or hear is the finished piece and, if it’s good, it glows like a polished gem.

But creators shape their work bit by bit. As it flows, the creative process brings together many little moments of inspiration and discovery. Some pieces fit easily like hand in glove, others fall away to be replaced by something better. How it all comes together often remains a mystery.

So, I was excited to see a NYT video that takes us behind the scenes to explore how singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran and his music collaborators created what would become the biggest pop song of 2017.

Ed Sheeran performs “Shape of You” at the 2017 Grammy Awards (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

From a NYT article describing the Shape of You recording session:

“Shape of You” was written in a brainstorming session where ideas are developed or discarded fast, with computers and instruments close at hand and recorders running. “The best songs that I’ve ever written, I don’t really remember writing,” Mr. Sheeran said. “They take like 20 minutes and then they’re just done. And then you move on to the next thing.”

Visualizing Creativity

What makes the NYT video unusual is how it uses music, graphic imagery and text to enhance the interviews. It helps us visualize all the little moments of discovery and inspiration that were pieced together to create the song. The graphics not only give the video a unique look, they also help tie everything together.

As the musicians play a little music riff or talk about working together to build the song,  you’ll see visual representations of the music’s rhythm, its melodic ramblings and little word bubbles mirroring the birth of lyrics.

The graphic elements kick your understanding up to the next level, as the musicians’ sensitivity to each other, their creative energy and the music’s pulse all beat together in delicious harmony.

Here’s the video. I apologize for the ad at the beginning. When it finishes playing you’ll need to click the pause button or else it will continue playing other random videos. 

(If the video doesn’t display correctly, you can click on this link)

Putting the Pieces Together

On the face of it, the video seems fairly simple, like the song. Bring the musicians into the studio, interview them individually, shoot them in black and white against a white background, edit and shape their comments and, seemingly, you’re done. But, adding the music and graphics makes the presentation much more fun and engaging.

The music riffs in the background add energy and help illustrate and counterpoint the commentary. The graphic touches – a music bar that pulses with the beat, dots of melody or rhythm that come and go, little graphic grids to breakup the visual space, text bubbles with lyrics and comments, all hold up a mirror to the creative process.

from the NYT video

The result is a complex, carefully-timed and layered video inspired by a complex, carefully-timed and layered song.

I know from my own experience, when creativity flows, you’re totally present within the moments of inspiration. Time disappears, it’s an exhilarating, empowering feeling. It’s nice to see how much of that was captured in the video.

You can read the NYT article about the making of the song here. You can poke around animator Taylor Beldy’s site here.

So, did you like the video as much as I did? Is the creative process the same for a pop singer/songwriter as with any other artist? What’s your take away? Please leave a comment and let me know.

Picking Through the Pieces: A Father’s Legacy

Mystery Men

I wonder why some fathers appear to their adult children as mystery men. Is it just hard to see them for who they are, outside of the father child relationship? Is it that some fathers are uncomfortable expressing their feelings so they stay hidden, as the strong, silent type? Or when they pass too early, perhaps we’re unable to see them through adult eyes. And so, they become mystery men.

I know my father was a good man, but I’m not sure I got who he was, outside of being my dad. I only learned about some of the events that defined his early life after he passed. I’ve even thumbed through a diary, but its yielded few clues. So, how do you get to understand that mystery man?

Perhaps you’ve asked yourself that question. Growing up, maybe you rarely connected beyond the ritual moments of family life. A person can be so removed, perhaps you were left with no way in.

Charlie Tyrell Asks a Question

screen capture

That question, “Who was my father, really?” haunted Canadian filmmaker Charlie Tyrell. He felt estranged from his father, who died when Charlie was a young man. Wanting to understand the man and explore what made him tick, he decided to make a film.

Charlie Tyrell, from the Sundance site

 

Charlie: “This film was kind of made out of a feeling that I hadn’t completely settled my grief… I felt like I never got to know him as an adult and had to acknowledge that I would never be able to know him from that perspective. So this was me as a fully formed adult taking what I had left of him and what we all knew of him to try to build that to develop a better understanding of him.”

 

Charlie’s effort to understand his father launched him on an archeological dig of sorts as he poured through the wealth of  tools, tapes and detritus left behind after his dad passed away. Maybe the essence of the man lay buried somewhere in all that stuff. Charlie hoped animating all those objects would help animate his father. The result is a whimsical and poignant film Charlie calls, “My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes.”

screen capture

I want to be clear, the film is not about porno, but about the things left behind and Charlie’s struggle to make them speak to him (and us) about his father’s legacy.

I’ll add that I have my own collection of things my mother and father left behind and I like to mull over them now and then. I guess that’s why it’s easy to identify with Charlie’s efforts to unravel the mysteries of his father. See what you think – his video is on the short list as a contender for an Academy Award. I apologize for the ad that precedes the video.

Charlie’s Award-Winning Video

Charlie’s Creative Approach

I found Charlie’s video very moving. It starts in one place, with the home movies and that crazy collection of things left behind, and gradually moves to a much deeper understanding of the family dynamics that shaped his father’s personality. It’s a great example of storytelling.

Having another voice narrate the video creates a quirky third person perspective that enhances the story. I like how he uses animation to remind us of all those inanimate tools and objects, and still photos to show who is speaking. The photos fit right into his animation style and give identity and immediacy to the comments.

screen capture

The animation and text on screen keep us locked on Charlie’s effort to decode the meaning of all those piles of stuff. And just when you feel there’s little to be revealed in those tools, videos and artifacts, the film takes a turn to explore the story of abuse meted out from one generation to the next. After starting with his father’s illness and death and carrying it back to his dad’s boyhood, Charlie looks to his dad’s mother and her childhood to find the key that helps unlock the mystery of the man.

photo by Jen Fairchild, Courtesy of Sundance Institute

 

 Charlie: “I spent a year getting to know my dad in an unusual way. I was learning about his life and the things he did not have time to tell me. I learned to have empathy for a complex man whom I was rather hard on when I was younger.”

Choice or Destiny?

What shapes us? We all make personal choices that define who we are and how we respond to the people close to us. And there’s a strong legacy of personality and behavior that’s handed down from one generation to the next.

My mother liked to say, “wait until you have children of your own, then you’ll understand,” as a way of explaining her decisions and actions. She’s right, it’s difficult to see your parents as they see themselves or understand the choices they make. While we may gain perspective as we mature, our early perceptions can limit our ability to discover a deeper sense of who they are.

photo by by Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images

Charlie: “I thought talking about my dad and his life would be cathartic for me. We never expected it to be broadly received, but strangers are emailing me about the similarities, so it has gotten some traction and it’s a story that people relate to. My grandma came from the generation where you have this abuse/trauma you don’t talk about it. My dad had that as well, but it was at least acknowledged it, and it didn’t continue.”

Charlie’s video does a good job bridging that divide between seeing our parents as locked in orbit around us and understanding how their trajectories impact our own.

There’s a NYT commentary about the making of Charlie’s film you can see here.

If you like Charlie’s quirky filmmaking style, you can check out an earlier film on a completely different subject here.

So what do you think? Does the video work for you? How did you respond to Charlie’s approach to telling his father’s story? Leave a comment and let me know.

 

Carolina Eyck’s Theremin – The Music’s in the Air

I’m often drawn to music that surprises – either by interesting harmonies, a syncopated rhythm or melodies that soar beyond the frame of the familiar. Strange sounds perk up my ears… and then there’s the joy of just focusing on the music as new soundscapes appear. Still, music is so insubstantial – it calls up a host of feelings and memories as it dances around in the air. And then it’s gone.

Carolina Eyck’s Theremin

photo by Ananda Costa

Carolina Eyck’s Theremin is all in the air, literally. She weaves haunting musical tapestries but never touches her instrument. Here’s what you see – she sits erect in front of a strange electronic device with two antennas. Like a magician’s sleight of hand, she squinches and pokes her fingers to conjure familiar yet strangely etherial notes from the very air.

I think the Theremin is very pure and it shows all the emotions you have. I like the purity of the sound because it’s honest.

 

#1 Painting for Theremin and Voice

In this piece and the next, she loops her voice and her Theremin to create lyrical harmonies with a mix of natural and electronic sounds.

The Theremin

Leon Theremin

Her instrument was one of the first electronic music devices, created by Russian physicist and musician Leon Theremin almost 100 years ago. Carolina’s parents also play electronic music. For them, the Theremin was just another cool instrument for their daughter to explore. Carolina started playing when she was just seven years old. The one she plays now was built by electronic music pioneer Robert Moog.

From the Moog music site:

photo by Christian Huller

 

It is a wonderful feeling to just play in the air without touching anything.  Especially when I play with an orchestra and the volume is quite high, I feel all this energy which I have in my hands.  I love the bass notes which can make the whole concert hall shake…

 

#2 Delphic

This selection is a little more complex than the first. It’s called Delphic and maybe you can hear within it the oracle’s voice.

Did you notice how she positions her fingers in the air to find the notes she wants. There’s nothing in that space to guide her except all the hours of practice and muscle memory. I like the way she uses her voice to create a melodic rhythm and frame for the piece and the Theremin to swoop and soar above it all.

#3 Jazz Improv – The Carolina Eyck Band

The piece takes a different direction. It’s an improv with her jazz group, The Carolina Eyck Band. For Carolina and her band, this improv requires deep listening and being sensitive to what she and her fellow musicians are doing as they ride along with the music’s flow.

From the Theremin World site:

photo by Christian Huller

I love modern music and jazz, so I am improvising a lot. There is so much that is unique to the Theremin. For example I have found out, that I can make pictures audible by ‘painting’ in the air. The effect of combining these two completely diverse kinds of art, music and painting, is amazing.

 

 

Her “Song for Birds, Theremin and Band” has a haunting, spacey quality that’s still lyrical as it floats through different musical landscapes and rhythms. Plus, it’s fun to see something created on the spot.

So what do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.

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