Idea Blog

Music is Sculpture

Posted on: March 10th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Aidan Carr

Writing music before the 20th century was a lot like painting—you had certain colors and certain brushes, and you painted certain things. Like painters, composers outgrew these boundaries—painters stopped painting things, composers stopped writing tonal music, etc. But we still think of most music as having a pretty narrow set of ‘brushes’ or ‘paints’—the Beatles used guitars, classical composers write for the symphonic orchestra, Miles Davis played the trumpet.

You’ll notice I’ve neglected electronic music. This is for a reason. Electronic music and the thinking that produced it does not work this way. It does not have a palette; its palette, rather, is sound itself, the physical vibrations that make noise in your ear. Electronic sound is not paint; it is clay, clay under the hands of the most impossible alchemist, capable of morphing into literally any substance imaginable. Writing music on the computer is not painting, it is sculpture.

More on this to come, but for the time being, absorb this ‘sculpture’ by a British artist who produces under the name Four Tet. Like the work of Michaelangelo, its detail is pristine, exact; every sound is there for a reason, every detail contributing to the whole. It repeats, endlessly—accept this. Let what sounds the same wash over you—I promise you, if you do so, it will not be boring, it will be beautiful.


What’s Being Adapted

Posted on: March 10th, 2013 | 0 Comments


May title.

by Aidan Carr

Opening credits.

The film I’m adapting is called MAY. It is has a cult reputation of sorts—it frequently makes pop “Top 10 Horror of 2000’s” List, a horror-hipster favorite. This is actually how I discovered it—on such a list, the author ranked MAY as his second favorite of the decade, remarking that it was “not so much scary as sad,” which intrigued me.

“Sadder than scarier” is a fair assessment; unlike most contemporary horror films, MAY focuses on the monster and not the victims. It has this (and more, as you’ll see) in common with Frankenstein—a difference of purpose, more about why terrible things happen than the thrill of them happening.

MAY was written by Lucky McKee when he was a film student at the University of Southern California, and it is a lonely film—the eponymous monster/heroine is in nearly every frame, and half of these by herself. May cannot hold a conversation. Even animals become suspicious of her. As a member of the outside world, such a withdrawal is unsettling, disturbing, a harbinger of something darker and perhaps dangerous. Disordered social interactions point towards inner instability, and this frightens us. Pariahs scare us.

I saw a man in a park late at night in Barcelona pace in tiny circles, reciting a mélange of Arabic and Spanish syllables with no connection, and I stayed away.

Imagine this from the inside. That man pacing in circles was speaking, trying to communicate, and yet all his faculties for doing so were broken. All he can muster are the short-circuits of syllables. How terrifying this must be; more than terrifying, how lonely.

Super lonely. Super lonely.

This is May’s problem, though it is not as pronounced and all the more insidious—her signals too are broken, but they take on the illusion of order and coherence. They trick people for a time, herself included. May is fascinating—she makes her own clothes, she works for an idiomatically-challenged Eastern European veterinarian, she has an elaborate collection of fine porcelain dolls—for a time. Soon her obsessions—stitches and sutures, needles and scalpels, dolls—are no longer fascinating; they are dangerous. When her newfound ‘friends’ sense this danger, they too run away. Her own realization that she scares people is her anagnorisis, and nobody survives it.

The way May’s compulsions finally play out is this; all of the people she meets through the course of the film possess a body part that May finds particularly attractive. One man’s hands, a woman’s neck, another’s legs, et cetera. May has long since outgrown dolls and needs human company, hence why she meet all these people who rejected her in the first place. Nobody wants May’s company, so she resolves to fashion someone who does, out of all of the best parts of the people she knows. The creation of this new doll, ‘Amy,’ ends the film.

A strange subject for a musical, you’d correctly think. One key aspect allows room for music in this story,  even begs for it. May holds unspoken conversations with her doll Suzy that drive her emotional arc; these conversations are full of the kind of desperation and yearning and pure desire that sings onstage, and dolls are an inventive and unusual instrument with which to sing those desires. Sewing machines, too, have their own strange and strangely beautiful music, akin to the musique concrete of Edgard Varése or the minimalism of Steve Reich. Out of this kernel—musicalizing May’s emotional interior life, accompanying it with the sounds of the real world like the sewing machine—I’ve developed a sort of musical vocabulary that underpins all May’s movements in the world. Several other implications follow from this central conceit, many of them structural—they will be discussed in the posts that come.

A bottom line: MAY will be a musical like Sweeney Todd, that follows a monster through her emergence as such; it will be a musical like Cabaret, with a nagging discomfort that sprouts into full fledged dread; and it will be more, an electronic aberration, a show soaked in samples and synthesizers and stitches instead of trumpets and saxophones, something funny and uncomfortable and uncomfortable because it is funny, something sadder than scary. (All this, I hope.)

Making Musicals: An Introduction

Posted on: February 27th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Aidan Carr

For the next two months, my writing here will document the process of creating a new work of musical theater. This process is lengthy and not particularly glamorous: indeed, much of the groundwork and infrastructure for the project that this creative diary follows has been in development for nearly two years. It is the final portion of the working, however, the tail end, that is most interesting; myths of frantic out-of-town tryouts and hotel rooms covered in scribbled-over drafts abound in theater circles; any given episode of NBC’s Smash inevitably invokes the trope. These myths are hyperbolic iterations, but they stem from a real and palpable creative excitement surrounding musical theater work nearing completion—an excitement that I hope to communicate in the postings that follow.

Musical theater typically is a most collaborative art form—there is a composer, a lyricist, a book writer, a director, producers, a musical director, an entire orchestra and ensemble of singers/dancers, and a host of other design staff, every single person contributing to the aesthetic of what the audience experiences. My project is somewhat unusual because, by its nature as an academic thesis, I am required to assume the first four or five roles by myself. Normally, this would be more than problematic, it would be fatal to a production; hence, a lowering of ambitions is in order. The end result of this process is to be what’s termed an “unstaged reading.” A company of actors with scripts and scores on music stands will take the stage, stand when they are in a scene, and sit down when they are not. Two or three musicians and a narrator to read stage directions will accompany them.

The work itself is an adaptation of a horror film called MAY, directed by Lucky McKee. It is a macabre fairy-tale of sorts, an amalgamation of Frankenstein, Faust, and The Bell Jar (at its heart), and its two most distinctive features are an ensemble of singing imaginary dolls and the extensive and intricate employment of electronic music.

Thanks for reading. Now let’s get started.

Students at the Oscars

Posted on: February 27th, 2013 | 0 Comments


by Harvey Burrell

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explored a group of students at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University and their contributions to the Academy Award Nominated film “Beasts of the Southern Wild”.Beasts” was completed for 1.5 million dollars, an impossible low sum of money by Hollywood standards. It took home the  Grandy Jury Prize at Sundance and received 4 Oscar nominations. 33 students volunteered to as many as 40 hours per week. All of this was accomplished in a “class dubbed Studio 400A, an advanced elective wherein students offer free visual-effects work for low-budget films.” This model places students in meaningful roles on film sets. It is likely to catch many independent producers’ eyes. It is an amazing way to cut costs and give students a chance to express themselves creatively. However, it can also turn the corner and become an easy way to exploit tuition playing students. In the case of “Beasts” it worked out for the students, many of whom have received job offers from VFX studios. It can be a fine line, but when walked carefully everyone wins. It is an interesting model to consider as things develop here at the Media Lab.

Be sure to check out this awesome behind the scenes video from “Beasts of the Southern Wild”!

Students School the Oscars in the Art of Special Effects by Linda Freund

How to Pet a Shark

Posted on: February 20th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Rebecca Bernard

You have to use two fingers when you pet a shark. You line them up side by side. Then gently place them in the tank. Let the shark come to you. It will avoid you if you reach for it. Show no desperation.

Most humans spend time growing inside the body of another. Eventually, we surface for air. It is complex and not complex at the same time. The sharks rise to the surface and feel the fingers, flat and together. Often, our mothers hold us, we the newborn.

I am thinking of a story called ‘How to be Kind.’ The plot, naturally, includes mostly unkind acts and regret. There is much sighing and quiet and longing. The characters ask to be held.

At the aquarium in Kentucky, we saw sharks. Some in tanks, some in great pools. They swam and mingled. Later, I was upset or maybe you were. The memory becomes a swarm of the feelings made at the time. They too, swim and mingle.

It is good to see faces in the mind. In that space I might make them any way I choose. We are born giving pain. We are born without memory. Our mothers hold it for us. The pain and the memory.

At the bottom of the tank there are not jewels or colored stones. It is empty. No plant life. At night, sharks sleep and drift. When the tanks are dark and the groping hands are gone, does peace exist? Nearby, the jellyfish glow.

The sensation is both smooth and violating. I find myself empathizing with the sharks. They swim past, waiting to be touched. Not a Shark

Make Space – How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration

Posted on: February 13th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Harvey Burrell

How do creative people share space?

This is one of the biggest issues when designing a multi-purpose space. The book Make Space draws upon the experience of the Stanford and design consulting firm IDEO. Both of these firms have been heralded as leaders in fostering creativity. The book raised a lot of great questions about space and challenges designers to think beyond the cubicle. It also offers a hands on approach to building a space. Building a space is also a way to build a community. The people involved then become “invested owners rather than entitled users”(31).

Questions to be Answered:

How do we define thresholds/ transitions into new spaces? How do we signify this change?

How do we balance the need to keep storage secure with the desire to have it visible? (Visible tools tend to foster creativity)

What is the attitude or ambience you want your space to create?

How do spectators enter the space? Can they observe quietly and engage when interested?

How do you account for a variety of learning styles in one space?

Ideas to Borrow:

Casters in unexpected places. Allow furniture to move and be reconfigured as needed.

Idea generation happens in a space separate from where we share our ideas. If you share an idea too early it can be squash

Labelled water bottles are an easy way to reduce impact and foster community.

Clear signage. Labeling cabinets and hooks makes it easier for new users and ensures things end up back where they belong.

Headphones = do not interrupt. Have them available.

Put writable surfaces everywhere you can.

The take away message from Make Space is that creative minded individuals need to work in a space that has a “bias towards action”. All the elements that go into a space need to be there to foster creative ideas.



It is worth noting that even companies as large as Facebook and Zappos have started designing offices that follow many of the principles outlined in Make Space.


Posted on: February 12th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Rebecca Bernard

We are filled with bones. We carry them with us, daily. The mind changes. The bones change too. But the change is not quite the same. In aging, some bones become hollow. Does this make us bird-like?

As a child, I disliked birds. I preferred dinosaurs. Did the one evolve from the other? We are animals moving thickly forward in space and time. My niece forms castles from rocks. Things remain the same, but perspective changes. Dinosaurs become birds. The brontosaurus never existed. A pile of stones is a pile of stones is a castle. I have a collar bone. Once, it was broken. In mirrors, I see it reflected. Everything is cyclical, but nothing feels cyclical. Each day is new so how might it be seen as being like any other? How close must we look? In gestation did I have a collar bone or did my mother, briefly, have two?

Yesterday I wanted X. Now I want X.  What is constant if all things are variables? The changing nature of change. I sit in the mush of my own brain. Has the mush changed over the past five years or is it the outlook? It would seem that life follows an imperfect circle. The tree it forms keeps growing. It is still a tree, not a bird. It is round and wide.

Time is happening. I must hold onto my bones. They remain inside.



Posted on: February 4th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Rebecca Bernard

I dreamt my mother had lost her hands. I awoke in a California king. Citrus grew outside. Lemons, grapefruit, oranges, clementines. Balloons floated in the pool. Mountains rose on either side. This is a place I hadn’t been to before.

It is strange to fly across the United States. The deserts, vast. The earth like so much dried up fish skin. After I saw the film The Passenger I couldn’t stop thinking about dust. Wouldn’t it be nice to swim inside our own unconscious apart from ourselves? That way we could look at all the thoughts, order them like paint strips. Today, I am latte.

To return eastward we flew over the Pacific Ocean. An arc. The ocean appeared. I thought, oh, all this time this is where I was. On the lips of the land. We know things in different ways. Seeing the water then, it felt like I hadn’t known the land ended. Islands appeared. All of our consciousnesses lined up, it becomes a chattering world.

What would she do without hands? Do we learn more from order or from parataxis? This is a word I have just, myself, learned.

From Plane


Posted on: January 28th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Rebecca Bernard

There is something about being in a car and not moving. Three hours in one spot on the highway. Parked. The strange sense of false movement when the other lanes begin to creep and you are standing still. Up ahead, is there blood? Is the asphalt a canvas of someone else’s’ loss? Humans in still unison.

I have spent time in cars: parked, moving, idling. It can be a good place to be, the car. I picture all the air from all the cars I’ve ever experienced. That closeness. It filling an auditorium. A stadium. Me forgetting the individual moments. The memories I hold in a state of constant revision as I remember and re-remember them.

We’re in an empty parking lot. It’s the weekend. The white lines like rows and rows of even teeth. Our youth flexes its thin arms. What is that strange feeling of holding a memory in your gut? The atom splits with sadness and joy together. A place of motion, and you held still. Rephrasing a sentence. The night is hot. It is a hot night. How do the changes affect the characters? Is that what I wonder about? Part of my life is spent in traffic. Part of my life is spent in traffic. If I say it twice, does it mean something unique each time? I am trying to remember.

Hey, Car.

The Joy of the Sing-Along

Posted on: January 21st, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Rebecca Bernard

Sometimes I listen to music. It is an oftentimes thing. This act, the listening to music, is a thing that many people do. In the past week, on Tuesday, I saw a singer perform. It was a thing that I had been anticipating a good deal. Only, in the days before the show itself, the anticipation stopped. It ceased and there was instead something of a feeling of dread or anxiety. This feeling or intuition was not misplaced. I do not believe the show was something that I could have enjoyed only this realization came latent. It was during the first chords of the first song that I realized I wasn’t actually there.

I am currently re-reading a text that is a favorite of mine, The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. I am thinking about certification. Certification occurs when an individual sees his or her place of living portrayed in a film or on television. I have twice lived in places that were certified. Once in New York, and then again, here in Nashville. At the time, I am not sure that this led to any greater feeling or sense of awareness. The more I think about certification, lately, the more it starts to make sense to me. In Percy’s essay, “The Loss of the Creature,” he describes how it is almost impossible to see the Grand Canyon if one approaches it in the traditional ways. However, if one were to stumble upon it—the experience and vision would truly have the potential to be their own. Seeing a place that we see everyday is impossible, but perhaps the act of seeing a place we know from the perspective of a film makes it knowable to us anew.

I was never going to be able to see Jeff Mangum. The levels of premeditation, the fandom, the traveling—it all led to an experience steeped in the inauthentic. I have more of a chance of seeing him alone in my car on a drive to anywhere than I did that night. And in a way, this is the best part. Authentic experience is everywhere. Waiting. So the work to be done is my own. Here’s to listening.

-Rebecca Bernard, Curb Creative Writing Fellow