The story of an hour x Alien (1979)

This is an exercise for my first semester in the Master of Timebased Media.

I chose to work with a short story by Kate Chopin: The story of an hour.

It’s about a woman with a heart weakness who is told that her husband passed away. She cries among relatives and then withdraws to her room where she begins to ponder on the implications of her husbands untimely death. Although he had loved her very much and she knows she will be grieving him more once she sees his body, there is a joy that comes upon her – the joy of freedom. As she realizes that the years to come belonged entirely to her and she embraces this new chapter of her life with all her heart, it unfortunately gives in – she dies of heart failure.

To create a sound from this story, I put myself in her position and performed a vocal improvisation based on the feelings I was experiencing. I also read part of the story in the beginning to get into the mood. In the spirit of musical improvisation practice I added three layers of first take acoustic guitar improvisations, one layer of flute and one layer of maracas, aiming to accompany the vocals and react to different aspects of the improvisation.

While working on the murmuring task I accidentally created something that sounded like an alien, so I murmured over this scene from the movie Alien (1979). When I importet the files into Premiere I got curious to see what would happen if I added my soundtrack from the story to this completely unrelated scene from Alien and was pleasantly surprised how much these two pieces of media work together to create something completely new. Even though the only connection between them is death.

Thoughts on Music in transmedia art

A transmedia approach towards music

„In the best case, this concept guarantees the greatest possible freedom beyond rigid boundaries of media, genres or disciplines.“

Wherever boundaries are accepted and reinforced, artistic monotony becomes a frightful possibility. Within music alone, the rigid genrefication meant to ease the discovery of what’s pleasurable endangers the worth of art which lies beyond pleasure. Whoever has attempted to master any skill is no stranger to that. Within art, we separate works according to form, content and relevance. At what point do we begin to take away from each of these properties by locking them with others of their kind? Polarization appears to have some sort of underlying spectrum, from useful / connective over product-oriented to disconnected. Transmedia art as a discipline is dedicated to an existence in between and misplaced. It seems impossible to grasp the essence of a person by viewing their existence through a variety of situations – how many does it take to perceive the transcendental? Yet, transcendence may not be achieved through what is but rather through what keeps being done.

„It is important to grasp each medium in the spectrum and history of its identity. Through such a practice – precise analyses instead of ‘anything goes’ – the best forms of expression and translation for the respective contents can be developed.“

Therefore, each aspect of live performance, music and the album as medium requires to be thoroughly examined to discover what has been lost in translation and make an informed decision on how to go about remixing and reintegrating them into a modern artistic context.

Music as a medium

What makes this undertaking so complex is that music as a medium appears in many more diverse forms than the static waveform. The phenomenon “music” exists across a plethora of contexts:

  • Musical Storytelling (being the oldest form)
  • Live Performance (the context in which it appears most classically)
  • Instrumentation (arrangement choices dictating the relevance of a piece)
  • Recordings (a context developing parallel to technical development in the field, but usually associated with a single, ep or album format)
  • Cultural (music is born out of and intensifies / creates cultural movements as an expression of shared experiences)
  • Artistic (there is an extended history of modern artists working with or being musicians, using instruments within their art or designing covers for albums)
  • Audience (their availability and responsibility influences the mutual experience)
  • Social (the musician is expected to stage their identity (or have it staged for them), through cross platform content creation; music can help others stage their identity)

Furthermore, there are already established methods for presenting certain art forms with music:

  • Music Video
  • Live performances at vernissage
  • Visuals at concerts
  • Reading and live music

While these are valid ways of connecting the art forms, it is arguable whether these constitute as the “best forms of expression and translation for the respective contents” – this has to be decided for the respective artwork and situation. Nevertheless, following conventions blindly is not a part of my personal definition of interesting art which serves as my main motivation to challenge my blindness in the matter.

Musical Storytelling

Music relays information. To tell a good story means relaying the information that is wanting to be understood in a memorable, engaging manner. It is challenging to memorize a short story word by word – summarized in rhythmical and possibly melodic form, it comes more easily. The mind finds rhythm in every sound, even in image. The passing of time itself induces a perceived rhythm of the experiences filling it. There is rhythm to a story, to the ways it expresses itself, which does not have to be accompanied, but, in theory, could be accompanied by anything suited to move or be moved. An artwork which has once existed in this way, will not stop moving as long as it has not been forgotten. That is the power of storytelling.

  • Concept albums

Contrary to the convention of letting the song tell its own story and filling an album with an outwardly not fully related collection of them, musicians sometimes choose to conceptualize and present a story within the course of an album. When and why did that first come about? Why did the prog movement cause such a conglomeration of them to make it into pop culture? What are the implications of choosing the album as the primary output of the message (f.e. The Wall Album vs Movie)?

About choice in media

How do you choose the best media for a message? What thoughts go into choosing a media? For me it tends to be the format that comes most naturally.

If cross media translations are possible, the choice of making an album does not weigh much more than choosing to write a book, a graphic novel or making a short movie.

Oftentimes, it is not the content which dictates the form, but rather the people involved and the skills they have. The work is tuned to the supposed reception by an audience. Some audiences are expected to be educated and do some work of their own to listen when hearing, to grasp when watching, to transcend when touching. The less work the audience is expected to do to understand, the more forward and skillful the execution of an idea needs to be in order to reach them nonetheless. This spectrum is three dimensional, too – for a skillful execution does not necessarily equate high quality, nor does it equate a general positive reception.