Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Sound Design Themes and Goals.....Revisited

A while ago a wrote a post about defining themes and goals for sound design (http://sound-sculpting.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/sound-design-themes-and-goals.html).  In summary, I noted that one of the things I obverse with those new to sound design is that they can go about it in a very literal manner.  That is, one action = one sound.  I then suggested that possibly a better way to go about sound design is to clearly define what you are trying to achieve with the sound before actually starting.  The reason I mention this again is that I have just watch the Mavericks of Sound Design Panel video from Moogfest and I was taken by the reflection of a lot of my thoughts on this matter being articulated by the panel.  If you have time this video is worth a watch as it contains a lot of additional points of view.


When you are planning your sound design projects ask yourself these questions, "What emotion do I want the listener/viewer to have at this point?" and "What aesthetics do I want to put across to the listener/viewer?"  If you can answer these questions you are at a good point to begin the sound design project.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Realisation of a Sound Design Portfolio

In my last few posts I have been considering the creation of academic portfolios for sound design.  In this post I will now examine the realisation options for building a portfolio.  Back in the "old days" a sound designers portfolio would normally consisted of a showreel that would be used as a showcase of their best work.  The advent of digital portfolios meant that it became possible to adopt the two faces of an academic portfolio that I have already spoken about in my previous posts.  From an academic point of view, the two faces makes lots of sense and can help to provide the foundations for a portfolio that can be carried forward into a professional career.  Recently work has been published that seems to advocate using different digital choices: Electronic Portfolios - ePortfolio (Dalziel 2006), Blog Portfolios - bPortfolios (Wicks 2011), Mobile Portfolios - mPortfolios (Barrett 2010), etc. However, in my opinion these seem to be missing the point!  I'm not sure that these different implementation technologies really make much of a difference.  For me it seems far more important to make sure that when implemented, the key elements that I highlighted in my previous post are covered with a suitable realisation.  For testing purposes I have built a prototype sound design portfolio using a platform called Mahara (https://mahara.org/). However, it should be possible to build a digital portfolio that meets all of these elements using different platforms.
  • Planning what sounds need to be created to meet the brief and consideration of how the individual sounds will work together in the final content = blogging to create a Personal Development Plan (PDP) for the content being created and the portfolio itself 
  • Log individual sound elements, complete with providing an inspiration for the sound created and details of how it was made and produced = blogging with possible document upload and SoundCloud can be used to embed audio content that can have comments placed at specific points in the content timeline
  • Final content showing how the individual sound elements have been integrated together to create a final piece = blogging with text documents that can be either uploaded or embedded and SoundCloud can be used for audio content
  • Formal report giving precise details of how one of the individual sounds was created and exactly how it was integrated into the final content = document created from the blog entries and can be either uploaded or embedded
  • Provide a mechanism for students to reflect on what has been achieved = reflective blog entries
  • Able to upload or embed different documents or media = support for web 2.0 technologies
  • Provide storage for work in progress = local or cloud servers
  • Allow formative feedback, ideally at corresponding points in the audio content = embed SoundCloud tracks
  • Support for networking and conversation between both students and tutors = add "comments" to all content (audio, blogs, forums, etc.)
  • Ability to keep some parts private and make others public = maintain an unpublished workspace and published showcases 
  • Provide wider networking between to students and the "outside" world = externally visible blogs and forums
  • Give confidential summative feedback and final grade = provide integration between portfolio and institutions Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) grade centre
  • Allow the work to be showcased to the wider world when completed = combine appropriate elements from the above to create a showcase - use social media to help publicise

As well as these elements I have also identified that students need stimulation to develop their content and themselves, over an extended period of time.  The stimulation mechanisms maybe generated using the following elements:
  • Student based reflection = reflective blog entries containing analysis and evaluation
  • Formative feedback from the tutor = adding comments directly to the portfolio elements (audio, blogs, forums, etc.)
  • Collaboration between students and the wider world = forums and making the content (showcases) visible on the internet

As I mentioned previously, I have created a prototype portfolio using Mahara as the complete implementation plateform.  Although Mahara fits very well with the academic requirements and does offer a very user friendly construction process (when you get your head around the different components), it does have a big drawback!  It does allow blogs, forums and networks to be created, however these do have a visibility issues.  In the sound design area there are already well established online communities and while using these institutional communities will work fine for collaboration between the students themselves, they will not open them up to the wider world.  This will then impact on the ability of the students to network with the professional/semi-professional sound community and build a reputation.  This is particularly important for the sound domain as most people work freelance and get into the industry through a long process of building a reputation and working their way up.  Ideally a portfolio started in their academic careers will form the foundations of a professional professional that will be continued through their Personal Development Plan (PDP).  Therefore, it seems important to not only use the institutional communities, but to also make the students aware of the wider communities and encourage them to fully engage with the networking possibilities.

Dalziel, C., Challen, R., & Sutherland, S. (2006). ePortfolio in the UK: Emerging Practice.  A. Jafari,& C. Kaufman, (Eds), Handbook of Research on ePortfolios. PA: Idea Group Reference. Ch. XXXIII

Wicks, D,, Andrew Lumpe, Henry Algera, Kris Gritter, Helen Barrett, Janiess Sallee (2011). bPortfolios: An Overview of Blogging for Reflective Practice. Seattle Pacific University School of Education August 2011.

Barrett, Helen. (2010). The future of mPortfolios (m=mobile) for Lifelong Learning. mPortfolios web-site, http://sites.google.com/site/mportfolios/

Thursday, 21 June 2012

What is a Virtual Portfolio?

In my previous couple of posts I have been considering from an academic point of view exactly what a portfolio is and what is required of a portfolio for sound design.  In doing so it has started to become obvious that one of the things that is unique to creating portfolios for this area is the diverse range of content that is required.

Another area for consideration is although this maybe an academic portfolio it is for an art based discipline where it is important that the content can be showcased as a professional portfolio for the sector, such as a showreel.  This may not actually be that different to any other discipline, but being an art it is important that the aesthetics are showed off appropriately via the portfolios medium itself.  How is the best way to showcase a sounds that have been designed?  The normal way is to show them in-situ in the final content.  Although this does immediately show the context for the sound it may not necessarily be the best way to show some of the aesthetics of the sounds created.

Something else that I have considered is that not all content naturally lends itself to representation in a portfolio.  For example, if I were a sculpture of stone then my artistic medium would be blocks of stone.  This being the case then a paper or digital portfolio would contain virtual representations of the sculptures rather than the sculptures themselves.  This is the same for certain aspects of sound design, where the mediun is sound.  For example, if a sound is created with a synthesizer the artefact is the patch itself that makes that sound.  Although the patch file itself could be uploaded, assuming it's a soft synthesizer of cause, it will not mean a lot as it can't be played.  Therefore, a virtual representations, such as audio files or samples will need to be included.  This will also allow appropriate delivery content to show off the aesthetics of the artefact.  In this case the portfolio become a virtual portfolio of the actual output artefacts.  Hence it is a virtual portfolio.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Sound Design Portfolios

In my last post I tried to clearly define what a portfolio is and its purpose.  Having done this it is now time to start considering what this means for a sound design context. A sound design portfolio is not that different really to any other portfolio, except that many, although not all, of the artefacts will have a high media content.  This is likely to be different to other more academic disciplines, where the content range maybe less diverse.  For example, a sound design portfolio might contain elements of the following different types of media: audio recordings and tracks, samples, MIDI files, FX libraries, DAW projects, synthesizer patches, FX chains, videos, photos, FX and track list, scores, scripts, showreels, animations, sound installations etc.  As can be seen this is an extremely diverse range and some of these may not naturally lend themselves to digital delivery.

As well as considering the different artefact types that are likely to be required in a sound design portfolio, it is also worth considering what is required from both the student and the tutor perspectives.  In doing this I am very much thinking about my students and me as their tutor, but if you think I've missed anything then please let me know.

Sound Design Students

My undergraduate Music & Audio Technology students start developing a Sound Design Portfolio in their first year and continue through their studies.  However, in the first year this is what it is required:
  • Planning what sounds need to be created to meet the brief and consideration of how the individual sounds will work together in the final content 
  • Log individual sound elements, complete with providing an inspiration for the sound created and details of how it was made and produced
    • Audio tracks, MIDI, patches, samples
  • Final content showing how the individual sound elements have been integrated together to create a final piece
    • DAW Projects, track lists and/or FX lists, final mixdown  
  • Formal report giving precise details of how one of the individual sounds was created and exactly how it was integrated into the final content
  • Provide a mechanism for students to reflect on what has been achieved
  • Allow additional media content to be retained
    • Images, videos, scores, scripts    
The portfolio should provide space for all of these individual elements to be formulated and developed over a period of time - like a true "workspace".

Tutor Requirements

As a tutor of sound design these are the elements that would be expected of a sound design portfolio:
  • Able to upload or embed different documents or media
  • Provide storage for work in progress
  • Allow formative feedback, ideally at corresponding points in the audio content
  • Support for networking and conversation between both students and tutors
  • Ability to keep some parts private and make others public
  • Provide wider networking between to students and the "outside" world
  • Give confidential summative feedback and final grade
  • Allow the work to be showcased to the wider world when completed

Having given this a bit of thought, for me the key to effectively using a portfolio as a "workspace" is providing the students a space to "develop".  This takes time so an important part of a portfolio assessment process is engaging students so they use the portfolio over an extended period of time.  As well as giving them time, they need stimulus to develop.  It seems that this will come from three areas:
  1. Student based reflection
  2. Formative feedback from the tutor
  3. Collaboration between students and the wider world
Any portfolio system must provide a mechanism to foster all three of these area.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

What is a Portfolio?

I am currently about to start work on a "virtual portfolio" system that will be used for students to develop a sound design portfolio.  Before beginning work on the detail of this project I think it is worth clearly defining "What is a Portfolio?"  The normal academic reply to this question is something along the lines of...
"A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student's efforts,progress, and achievements in one or more areas. The collection must include student participation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection." (Paulson 1991) 
Although this gives a very vigorous interpretation of the academic requirements, it does not consider the wider ramifications from creating a portfolio.  Therefore, it is worth asking the question "What is the purpose of a Portfolio?"  There are two main academic goals for a portfolio: one is as a "workspace" where students can develop their content and the other is a "showcase" where the students can present their work (Barrett 2011).  When considered from the students perspective the workspace is very much about the process, whereas the showcase is the presentation of the product.  However, from an academic point of view the portfolio offers a mechanism for assessment of the student's efforts.  When considering the process this will be about formative assessment, while the product can be used for summative assessment.  This means that the audience for the portfolio as a workspace is largely internal and the audience for the showcase will mainly be external.  It is this external view that carries wider ramifications for the portfolio, beyond just being an academic exercise and it is hoped that the portfolio will become a life-long exercise.

So what are the key elements of a portfolio?  First, it is a repository for holding work. This is a given, based on where the very word comes from (french for page carrier).  Next, it should contain elements of the following to meet the definition above and the academic requirements (Becta 2007, JISC 2008).
  • Planning and setting goals
  • Capturing and storing evidence
  • Collaboration
  • Giving and receiving feedback (formative)
  • Reflections
  • Presenting to an audience
  • Networking and building a reputation
It is also important when planning portfolio work to have a clear target output for the portfolio.  This means identify a specific target audience for the portfolio and tailor the presentation specifically for them.

Next I shall consider exactly what is required for a portfolio in Sound Design.

Paulson, F.L. Paulson, P.R. and Meyer, CA. (1991, February). What Makes a Portfolio a Portfolio? Educational Leadership, pp. 60-63.

Barrett, H. (2010). Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolios. Educação, Formação & Tecnologias, 3(1), 6-14.

Becta (2007), Impact study of e-portfolios on learning,  http://www.becta.org.uk

JISC (2008), Effective Practice with e-Portfolios: Supporting 21st century learning, http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/publications/effectivepracticeeportfolios.pdf

Thursday, 17 May 2012

I Feel Love

I learned today that Donna Summer had lost her fight against cancer and sadly passed away.  As I have mentioned previously, her song I Feel Love was hugely influential in getting me into electronic music.  As much as I loved these wonderful synthesizer sounds  and the funky rhythm, it was the vocals the brought the other parts to life.  Right from the first spellbinding "Ooh. It's So Good", to the last captivating "I Feel Love", she gave a truly alouring performance that just sat so well with the track.  Amazing really as there is no real lyrical content, but just a fantastic delivery.  It was this magic that she brought to many of her classic tracks.  I felt her love.  She will be sadly missed.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Practising Sound Design for Visual Content

In my last post I spoke about practising your sound design and suggested practicing sound design for visual content by finding some suitable footage, removing the soundtrack and then creating your own accompanying sound.  The specific content of the visuals is entirely up to you, but trailers or adverts work quit well due to them being short in length.  Failing that you can edit your own video, although remember if this is not done well it will not matter how good your sound design is, the perception of the content will be poor.

When learning sound design one of the mistakes that most newbies make is to go about it in a very literal manner.  Along the lines of....there is a sound source in a scene so I need a corresponding sound.  That is, one action = one sound.  This is not really the best way to go about it as you will end-up with a very literal sountrack.  Often resulting in a soundtrack that is either too cluttered, sparse or just lacking a clear message.  A better way to go about the sound design is to look at every scene and think about the what you are trying to convey to the viewer with the sound.  Consider theme, concept, narrative, aesthetics, emotion, atmosphere, abstractions, expression, feel, characterization, reality, separation, metaphors, environment, authenticity, intelligibility, etc.  When you have considered these you can go about creating a soundtrack to match the message you want to put across to the viewer.  In doing this you will find that you end-up with much more focus to the sound and should find that you naturally create the required selectivity, based on what you are trying to achieve.

Another really good idea for practising this form of sound design is to take some fairly generic visual content and then create different soundtracks for the same content that allows you to explore different styles, emotions, atmospheres, etc.  You will have to make sure the visuals posses the scope for what you are trying to achieve, but it is a really great way to explore what is possible with the sound.

As I have said before, all of this content can then be used to build your showreel and hopefully you will learn a lot and have some fun with sound.