This piece explores the concept of the afterlife using using excerpts from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, as well as concepts from various philosophies and religions such as Daoism and Buddhism.
intermedia haiku: cellar door
The so-called word "cellar door" is supposedly one of the most beautiful words in the English language, something I heard from Donnie Darko and then repeatedly went back to and read about for the years after—for instance, I recently discovered that Grant Barrett from The New York Times compiled a history of the word in his article, "Cellar Door." My haiku examines the word from visual, auditory, and linguistical points of view.
The word "cellar door" first emerges in my piece among some of its similar words and respellings, "cellador" and "sellador." These respellings fade away, but return later in the piece. Its morphing into "cellador" signals the creation of a door via the double "l", and a rabbithole via the merging of the double "o." When the "c" is dropped and the "s" is added, creating "sellador," the word transitions into its first image—a snake, growing from the "s," slithers into the ground, emerges from the cellar door, and disappears into the rabbithole. The letters fall away, leaving the rabbithole (or the letter "o") on the screen. The letter "o"/rabbithole is now a mouth, with the snake as its tongue in the next image. Then, by portraying a minimalistic sideview of the inside of the mouth, I illustrate how the word "cellar door" is produced by the mouth (teeth represented by two vertical lines, tongue represented by the horizontal line). Finally, the tongue transforms into a path for a ball to slide over. This final image visualizes the phonetics of "cellar door," with the ball sliding for the "ce," looping for the "llar," and bouncing offscreen for the "door."
Barrett mentions that C.S. Lewis, among others, experimented with and marveled at how respelling "cellar door" changed the feel of the word, and even made it sound different. I played an audioclip my friend reading "cellar door" each time it was respelled and revisualized to experiment with how the audience perceived the word. Erik Satie's Gymnopédie, No. 1 accompanies the piece to lend a fairytale aura to the piece. Its tinkling, somewhat unnerving melody reminded me of Gary Jules' "Mad World," Donnie Darko's theme song. Finally, all this is set to the sound of children playing to allude to its literary meaning, a portal similar to a rabbithole from Alice in Wonderland, launching into a more fantastic world. The sound of children playing also highlights our impression of the word—it may seem mundane to someone well-acquainted with the English language, but for a fresher listener, it is magical, a rabbithole, and a portal.
visual music poem: in motion
Nujabes' "Aruarian Dance" is one of my favorite songs, and my visual music poem aimed to visualize the music at its most minimal level. I tried working through three different ideas: 1. Having video shots of my friend's cat stretching, yawning, and padding along, 2. Stitching together still frames of a skyline being drawn (similar to a stop-motion film), 3. Filming someone's eyes while blinking, smiling, scowling, etc. I ended up with this idea when I was trying to animate #2 in lieu of putting together the 78 photos I took for #2. The most difficult part of this project, beside choosing between all the ideas I had, was dealing with the many layers on Flash, as well as timing the movements of the string. I often would get lucky with string oscillations, as they would seem in time with the beat. Perhaps this is just a deception orchestrated by mind, eyes and ears, but especially in one of the last sequences, the fall of the scribble brings about a domino effect of strings twanging that coincides with the strumming of the music. Though the strings in motion seem to allude to the plucking of guitar strings, this is only a happy coincidence.
The twang of the guitar is most poignant, and it is reminiscent of strings stretching and shrinking, which is what I try to convey when I string along the the melody, literally, across the screen. I wanted there to be a sense of fluidity and growth as the strings intertwined and formed new scribbles, as though they were making small talk and having casual conversations as they moved past each other. The onset of the beat signals the "clapping" of lines, as though in more active engagement with one another. Finally, the melody sets in with the beat and a new scribble is introduced, this time engaging with the strings, which act as the environment. It is cradled by the strings, it bounces against the lines. It engages in fluid motions, as well as abrupt. As much as the scribble illustrates the melody, it is not the object in control as it is also a product of its environment. For instance, the beat also influences its movements as the clapping lines slam the scribble up and down. The strings cradle the scribble from its various falls and plummets, but they can launch it arbitrarily as well.
To extend the metaphor to us humans, we are the scribble and the strings. We influence and are influenced, change and are changed. Sometimes we are the center of attention, as with the white scribble; other times, we are the accompaniements and "background," as with the strings; and still other times, we are the audience clapping, as with the lines. We believe we are falling, and yet we are reflected back up and smacked back down by people whose intents we are unsure of. We are bounced about the canvas of life absurdly, almost randomly, but there are in fact "beats" and "melodies" that existentially constitute our momentum.
text-image poem: escalators
I original started with the image of an escalator acting as a gumball machine, which was something that stuck out to me as I was traveling this summer. Eventually, this turned into a longer poem, which I adapted to fit this assignment. I wanted the image to begin mechanically, and then eventually form into something more flexible to parallel the different types of movement.
For instance, the first metaphor comparing an escalator to a gumball machine invokes a robotic movement, suggesting the mechanical nature of conformity, since everyone is going the same direction and the same destination: down, to the ground. The next line about people being ejected into a "mob of morphing blobs" invokes the image of people clustered together, unsure of where to go. This is represented by the gumball breaking down into plain old gum. The final line suggests that people eventually find their respective destinations, and ultimately arrive via their own methods. This is represented by the gum stretching from New York to San Francisco.
These three lines can more or less serve as a metaphor for life (#deep). We all begin mechanically, doing as someone else says. When we all realize how we've been sucked into conformity, we struggle to find an identity and break out of the mob. Finally, when we've found our footing, we're able to stretch from idea to idea comfortably within our new shells.
sound-text poem: happy
This sound-text poem explores the concept of happiness. It first begins with heartbeats, and then adds multiple layers of voices repeating the word "happy," eventually culminating into a chorus of "happy" and into a pop—then fizzles out into applause, and dwindles back into heartbeats.
I wanted to convey self-consciousness with the heartbeats, as though our own insecurities rather than our desires powered us (because naturally, satisfying our desires ultimately brings about happiness). The first layer of voice is from Pulp Fiction, asking, "We happy?" The next layers of voice are clips from Mulan, Zoolander, The Godfather and When Harry Met Sally, all of which have explored multiple aspects of happiness. Each has a different intonation of the word "happy," representing happiness as a multidimensional emotion. More than that, it represents happiness as something that can be blurred, and our pursuit of happiness to be overwhelming. And even more than that—it suggests that we claim we are happy much more than we actually are.
The popping (taken from the cork popping out of a champagne bottle) signifies the breaking point of emotions. Finally, liquid is poured out in an anticlimactic trickle, almost a sort of carthasis, and fizzes out into applause—our façade of happiness has been a grand show this entire time.
presentation: since i left you
What first captured me about this song was the beautiful guitar strums in the beginning, conveying a sense of nostalgia. The song sounds innocent, whimsical and cheery, almost as though breathing in fresh air —the only real lyrics are “Since I left you I found the world so new,” set on repeat to a repeating melody with very little change. But set to the context of the music video, it’s haunting and sad. With the video, the repetition serves as more of an echo, alluding to the reality of the setting—in a coal mine.
0:12-1:05: The water droplets turn into muted guitar strumming, and the canary chirps at 0:40 and 0:50, easily mistaken as accompaniment to the melody—except for the ominous symbolism of canaries, which were used to signal danger in coal mines since they were more susceptible to changes in air pressure and quality. At 0:57, a voice beckons them to “Watch the steps,/Get a drink, have a good time now/Welcome to paradise,” as the two miners uncover a door above them. Without the words, it would seem as though the two miners had discovered a fantasy world; without the video, the words are innocent and playful. Together, they create a more eerie meaning, and when the shaft of life explodes into the frame at 1:00, it is clear that the music, words and video are referencing heaven—or more generally, death. The flute in the background references the canary, heightening its chirps more melodically.
2:30-2:55: Ralph has finally gained admittance into paradise, and his steps to the beat of the trumpet enliven the music. At 2:37, the drums melt away as the motion slows, and the second miner can be seen at 3:00 clapping awkwardly. This is the crucial moment when it’s clear that this second miner is not a part of this world, whereas Ralph throws himself into the new environment. The light halo in the background darkens the faces of Ralph and the blond dancer, lending a divine glow to this scene.
4:00-4:17: Here, the sequence of Ralph flipping is repeated three times with the music, which repeats three times, starting over each time he is shown beginning the flip. The grandness of his movements suggest a final and majestic aspect to his finale, but the slow motion, becoming more dramatic for each flip, also suggests the slowing of time as Ralph approaches the end, or “death.” Again, the halo in the background and the tinkling of the xylophone creates a heavenly quality, to his performance. The last scene of him landing from the flip is a shot from behind him, showing the faces of the dance judges—he is literally facing judgment. Just as he lands for the final time, the lyrics are “Since I left—I found the world,” as though forgetting the “you,” or the second miner, representing reality. He has passed judgment, he has found the world.
4:20-4:52: At 4:22, there is a faint screeching from a bird, imitating the canary once again as a final warning just as the second miner begins to fizzle away, cued by the tinkling of the xylophone at 4:25. The chorus changes, and sounds more angelic compared to the previous chorus. From 4:37, the chattering and the melody fades into the chattering of reality, and when the second miner speaks, there is a sharp contrast between the previous childish, melodic singing versus his rusty, prosaic speech. The canary chirps in the background, and because of the light, the chirping is more innocent rather than foreboding.