Tuned in for Tumbleweeds

So, of the radio programs I listened to this week, Tumbleweeds was the one that I was interested enough to reflect on. I like the approach that they took using the different perspectives to tell the story. Better than that, however, was the production value of their program. The music, the sound effects, the sudden changes in pitch, and so on all created a very immersive atmosphere while listening to the show.  The commercial were entertaining as well, and the transitions were all smooth. The whole production sounded like something one might actually here on the radio. That the authors continued the story afterward tells me something of their interesting and passion in telling it as well.
The final consideration for the program was that while listening, I was really honed in on the audio elements of the show. In a way that I would have never been before making my own program, I listened for the subtle things that made the whole thing sound complete. And, as a sign of the quality workmanship, I could not tell what was recorded where and when. It did not sound like patchwork, but rather like a smooth, complete, cohesive radio program.

Western News Broadcast

So, this week was a far more exciting week for our radio show. I spent most of the week thinking about different stories and approaches to telling Western news. I settled on a few ideas, and then changed them, and then changed them again. I originally planned to do a piece on a gambling tournament that my character was winning, but I used him in my commercial for playing cards, and I have given him so much attention as far as playing cards in saloons that I decided to give it rest for my news segment of the show. That, in turn, freed me up to kinda go with the flow and watch as my group created their pieces.
The one thing I planned from the outset was to do a breaking news bulletin on a train robbery. I found some alerting sounding music and a telegraph sound, to indicate that the news was fresh, to use as an intro and outro for the bulletin. The other segment I ended up adding was a piece about a woman whose husband had died on their foolish journey to California because he swore they would find gold. After being alone with her children for a few years, though, her and her son actually did miraculously find some gold in a cavern after feeling the presence of the deceased husband and father. After listening to the basis for the other news pieces from my groupmates, I decided that it would be nice to end more upbeat. We already had a tornado, a shootout, a robbery, and an interview with a dislocated native American. Additionally, I liked that the gold find story had all the traditional story elements, and even some of those characteristic of westerns. It has a conflict, a climax, a rise and fall of action, and a climactic ending. It also contained some tough steadfast characters whose triumph over the odds gave them potential to become successful pioneers. I originally planned the story as an interview, but since two of my other group mates were using that technique, I opted for a more traditional story with a couple of supporting soundbites… or maybe it was just my history with print journalism rearing its head that made me chose that format.  The only downside to that was that the story did not get as much detail as I could have added using a traditional interview. It did have the basic cut and dry just the facts, get to the heart of the matter, effect that characterized journalism, however, so it was appropriate for the context.
Another interesting part of the experience was that I put the whole segment together. I tried where I could to make it sound like a uniform news broadcast. In addition to my segment, I also recorded an overview intro to outline the stories we would cover like many news programs do. I tried to arrange the elements in a way that made sense, an exciting breaking story about a tornado, then the top story of the shootout, bringing it down with the interview with an Apache woman, then an alerting news bulletin about fugitives to stir it up again. Finally, a story with a happy ending to end on a final note and then a hand off to Julianna who had created a closing for us.
Another thing I considered when arranging the elements was how to put in the bumpers and commercials. I used all of our bumpers and it just so happened that a few sounded like they were breaking for a moment and a few just sounded like station id’s. I put the ones that indicated an upcoming break before the commercials and put the others after, and then Liam’s bumper, which used the same some as I had in the intro, came after the bulletin to indicate a return to the same programming as before. The commercials I just moved away from each of our segments so that they would be mixed up and not just sound like each of us had a few minutes of programming and stuck our work all together. In fact, I did not put any two pieces of work from a single person side by side.
After I was done, I used my new audacity editing techniques to make it all more uniform. I used bass and treble boosts to make the sound more full. I used fade in and outs between segments where necessary, but used a full blast lead in for the news bulletin. I used amplifier for the quiet sections, then compressed it all to make it more full. I threw on a hard limiter to get rid of some of the peaks that might pop, then I normalized the whole track to fill up the quieter sections.  Overall, I am pretty pleased with the turnout and was pretty happy about working with the people in my group.

Nascent western news program.

This week we made a little headway toward getting our radio program put together. The first part was getting the groups together, which was a little easier than I had expected that it would be. We quickly went about throwing out topics and show ideas and such until we came up with something that sounded like it would make an interesting show, and Julianna came up with a group name.
With that official business out of the way, we discussed some strategies and ideas on what we want to include and how we want to divvy the work. That discussion is still ongoing, but it at least has enough direction that I can start giving some thought to how I want to proceed. I think that we have enough ideas floating about that now it is down to each of us just taking want we want and making our own contributions to the work. In the end, I think that so long as everyone in our group makes their contributions, that the whole idea will lend to a well thought out and fun to listen to ds106 radio program.

Vignelli’s advice

In the publication, Vignelli took a rather abstract tone, which given the subject matter, seemed entirely applicable. I took a digital design course once as a part of my journalism major at Wichita State University where we covered, although using a different frame work and different terminology, many of the thing that Vignelli discussed. Before that class, I thought of design as, at most, choosing a color and layout that caught people’s eye, or didn’t. Discussing the use of space, typography, the way that certain elements of design appeal in different ways, and so on was, at the time, foreign. Now, I am certainly still a novice at design by any means of the term, but I have now, at least, developed a sense to look at some piece of design and make judgements about why a designer might have chosen to do what they have done.
The element of design that I never considered before was just how deliberate, purposeful, and even communicative it is. Design conveys meaning and delivers a message just like verbiage, and those messages need to enhance or compliment one another.
As for the deliberate aspect, Vignelli argues in his booklet that no element of a design ought to be decided or created arbitrarily; every element has a purpose and if they do not, then they may be undermining the purpose of the work. As he put it, there is no hierarchy of design. Placement, colors, typography, shapes, and so forth all work together to accomplish a common aim, to convey a message.
As is the case for any message medium, there are senders and receivers, and the differences between them make it difficult to understand the impact of the message. In the way that a writer need be conscious of how particular words evoke certain feelings and thoughts in people reading them, a designer needs to be aware of how each of their design choices either reinforces or contradicts their message, and to keep it consistent. Design is art and art is communication. It necessary contains a subject, a medium, and an audience and a good designer is constantly aware of the impact of their design choices on all three.

Design Blitz

So, this week I was more house prone than normal due to life circumstances and did not have an opportunity to photograph and designs. The one time I did go out, I left with my phone too dead to get a photo of the flyers in Monroe that displayed dominance, or the typography on a Mary Washington Healthcare billboard, although I actually found a similar picture later. So, instead I googled the following phrases “advertisement,” “billboard,” “flyers handout,” and “magazine spread” and grabbed some exampled that caught my attention. Afterward, I went back through the list of principles and found those that the photos best exhibited. As a side note, I did not pay attention to copyright in these photos because my critiques fall under fair use.
The first of these elements is color. In this photo, they use color in a couple of interesting ways. First of all, most of the photo is all different shades of the same hue in a monochromatic color scheme. Given the common association with cold and ice, and that it is the coldness of the Slurpee they are emphasizing, that color scheme makes sense. The only break from the monochromatic color scheme is the 7 11 logo on the cup, which calls enough attention to the cup after seeing the ad to let people know what exactly is being advertised, but not so much attention that a viewer is apt to look there first.


This photo illustrates an interesting use of typography.  I liked what they have done here with the what appears to be 4 different fonts. I was taught that the maximum different fonts that should be used in a design is generally no more than three, one serif, one sans-serif, and in rare cases, one special font. In this photo, they used the different fonts to group and prioritize information. The special font is their slogan which calls special attention to itself. The first sans-serif is in the Hospital name, which also stands alone. The last two fonts are the message and website, which are written in the same serif font to group them, and then the name and details about the woman in the photo which is written in a san-serif that is actually pretty similar to the serif font of the website, which also contains the name of the cancer survivor. In this way, it seems they have created a miniature network of fonts despite having gone over the traditionally acceptable number.


The next photo, I think, made an interesting use of space. Most of the visual elements contained are all inside of the nike logo, and considering the branding and recognizability of that logo, I think it is a good design choice. Inside the logo, however, it is quite busy and varied, a message that the verbiage on the sign seems to want to reinforce. “Nike has something for everyone so you can be unique, but you are all united in the fact that you chose Nike” is the message I get from the design. In that way, it seems that they are using the design to express what, in words, might have been conflicting messages, but because of this choice, has allowed the sign to maximize appeal.


The final example I have is one of unity. Given the simplicity of the large H on the left, there were a limited number of ways to connect that H with the text on the subsequent page. I am unsure why they chose the H in the first place, and overall do not like the spread, but I do thing that they did a good job of unifying the elements.

Elements of Western Design

The movie posters almost exclusively do not feature “western typography.” Many of the fonts are unlike those featured in the stills of western typography.  The fonts in the posters are, however, strikingly similar, and I am curious as to whether if I was shown just the typography from one of those posters if I would know it to be a western. In retrospect, and although my memory may be faulty here, It seems that the type faces they have used were also similar to many western novels that I have seen.
There are several western staples and stereotypes associated in the designs, however. Guns, especially old revolvers, are featured in a number of the photos. Cowboy hats are also iconic representations of the western Genre.
I wonder, however, what someone like Vignelli would have though of some of the posters. I am probably missing some contest for some of them, but quite a few of the designs seem to simply be trying to do and to convey too much. There were a few that in my precursory glance, I could not have even stated the title, which does little good if you are trying to inspire someone to see a movie. Looking at the posters and seeing what works and doesn’t work is a lesson in appreciating simplicity and purposefulness of design.

Radio Show Ideas.

So, these are the ideas I have for a radio show thus far.

  • Campfire stories. Cowboys spend a lot of time around campfires so this seems appropriate. It can either be an exchange of stories with some nifty sound effects to go along with them, or, instead, a show about how to compose and create a good camp fire story, the necessary elements and such.
  • With whatever the show included, I think it ought to include some old western songs, or at least clips of it such that copyright will allow. If we analyze some of them, it qualifies under fair use.  Not just country music, but stuff like ol’ Roy Rogers singing Get Along Little Doggies.

What’s that sound?

So, if it one thing that all this audio exploration and experimentation has demonstrated this week, it is the ability of audio to contribute to stories, or even to tell stories all on its own. The stories we told with just audio helped my appreciate this, but I spent some time this week thinking about audio in contexts outside of this class as well. Anyone looking for the power of audio in horror ought to watch some tornado survivor videos where the video, because of conditions, is totally blacked out. Just hearing the howl of the tornado and the shrieking of the wind as structures are torn apart around people is terrifying, no imagery necessary.  The people screaming and freaking out only contributes to those terrible sounds.
The moon landing story incorporated some of those awesome powers of audio story telling as well. The sounds as they explored the distant, desolate, rocky moon were horrifying, but the creators of that story added some creepy sounds effects and such as well that helped along the way. During the speech at the end, there is an eerie hum behind the speech that contributed to both the feeling of desperation that astronauts would have felt had they been trapped on the moon as well as the sadness conveyed by the text of the speech commemorating them.
It is no wonder then, that H.G. Wells was able to frighten so many people with his radio broadcast of war of the world. It a world that seems to be dominated by visual everything, stories, videos, advertisements, and so on, it is interesting to consider the power that audio and sounds still hold.

The stoic boy gets the girl

The above curve represents, in Kurt Vonnegut’s mode of story analysis, a representation of the story, “Moment of Vengeance” by Elmore Leonard. In the very early story, they allude to an earlier elevation of the protagonist. I decided to include that because it was discussed, although the associated action was already finalized. Afterward, there is a rapid decent as it becomes clear to the reader that Treat is incapable of preventing Korgeson and his men from taking his wife and Korgeson’s daughter.

That portion is the early fall in the line. After the fall, despite more attempts to break Treat’s resolve, he proves himself to be a hearty, stoic, western hero capable of withstanding, and even combating the adversity thrown at him. His station is, despite external circumstances, the same for that whole portion because he lacks his wife, his sole object. The whole scene against Korgeson’s men is a relatively flat spot despite being the beginning of the climax.

The rise at the end to above the starting point is based on the fact that now, in addiction to getting his wife back, Treat has won the grudging approval of her father so they will be able to live their lives without his interference. Additionally, Treat has proven himself the worthy victor who will do far more than just provide, as Korgeson said that he feared was all Treat was capable of.

What does it mean to be Western?

Having read “The Ice Man,” “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” and other Western stories, both for class and beforehand, some common elements, style, settings, and characters, stand out. As stated in a previous blog, the western genre seems to be the literary embodiment of the prevalent frontier mentality that still exists in the shadows of American mentality, coupled with typified individualist characters that Americans hold in such high regard. In some ways, many of the elements of those stories can be associated with that idea. I chose these two stories in particular because I was interested in the temporal distance between them. The former is a relatively new western, while the later was written by one of the earlier western writers. The commonality between them, then, suggests the immutability of any genre characteristics that they share.

Rugged, tough, and defiant characters are common in westerns. Indeed, in the two stories under review, both protagonists and antagonists in the stories generally match this description. In “The Ice Man,” Victor internally recognizes the smart, passive thing he ought to reply to the immigration office if he wished to be left alone, but decided against it despite the trouble it will bring. In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” both Jack Potter and Scratchy Wilson are hard men willing to participate in gun fight, when necessary for the former, and when he is drunk and feels like it for the later. Potter reacts unlike a normal man might, ducking at hiding at the sight of the gun, or even acting in deference toward the man wielding it. He remains steadfast and informs Wilson that it might well be his best opportunity to kill him if he wishes so. In this way, our protagonists are both willing to stare down the odds and face their adversaries.

The taming of the wild is an elements that seems common in western and is associated with the aforementioned frontier mentality. Both stories, each in their own way, represent that struggle. The civilized man, Jack Potter, who was so ashamed that he could have abandoned his sense of propriety and duty to his community in something as personal choosing a bride for himself, must face down the wild, drunken, gun toting maniac with whom is he always willing to do battle. “The Ice Man” keeps one element of the man facing the wild, but turns another on its head when Leonard made the law man the antagonist. Victor still tests his might and courage against bulls, so he is, in that regard, our normal western hero. Nothing of a coward shows inside of him, unlike the dishonest, self-serving law enforcement official. The good wins out in the second story in a unique way, that our protagonist retains his dignity in the face of his opposition. 8 seconds on a mighty bull is more fearsome than a short time in a cell on account of a dishonest law man.

In Westerns, there is generally a clear sense of right and wrong, good and bad. While the characters may all exhibit signs of each of them, their actions are plainly interpretable. In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” the antagonist, himself a duality, recognizes his good side at the resolution of the story even if he is personally incapable of understanding it. When he hears about the Sheriff’s marriage, he abandons his cause and lets the sheriff be. In “The Ice Man,” there is very little doubt that the uncouth immigration and customs officer is the bad man, his way of trumping up charges against Victor and his friend makes his nature plainly evident to the audience.

The simple narrative structures, admirable, albeit somewhat stock, characters, the good versus evil, man versus wild, elements of westerns are evident in both stories, despite the differences. Rugged individualism is a mainstay of American idealism, and the idea that there is always something out there that needs civilization to be bestowed upon it still reign in American literature, western and otherwise.