Categories
Opinion

Tár

We went to see Tár this weekend. I really, really enjoyed this – and I’m going to say a few things about the film, and hope I don’t spoil anything.

A post pandemic #MeToo tale with several twists, Cate Blanchett holds us captive as the composer/conductor Lydia Tár. I won’t discuss the plot, which you can find on wikipedia, but I want to say I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the cis old white guy world of classical music (performance, recording and, to an extent, publishing) through her eyes. It’s a rich film. Some things that come to mind: the way the camera follows Tár as she harangues a student at Juilliard, or the dialog of a public New Yorker interview, the hundreds of small details that director Todd Field slips onto screen, and the the decor of the various homes and office was wonderful.

I’ve been spending the past year thinking about and experimenting with improvisation, which is the complete opposite of this world, and there are dozens of examples on display. It brought me back to days pursuing undergraduate degree, music history and even my time working along side the classical music buyers at An Die Musik in Baltimore.

We talked about the movie after we left the theater, while we were laying in bed, and over coffee this morning. There’s a lot to unpack in here. There are a few things that don’t add much (the metronome and nighttime fridge scenes) and don’t lead to any obvious conclusion. The point is, there’s a lot to think about, and it’s easy to return to this story after leaving the theater. I look forward to watching it again, but encourage you to find a good theater with the comfy seats to experience this film. The sound and music production is fantastic.

Categories
Opinion

Twitter, The Watcher, and the change you want to see

Please be advised, dear reader – I’m going to share my thoughts on the show made by Netflix called The Watcher below, and there is a potential spoiler. Don’t worry – that is several paragraphs away from here, and I’ve marked it with a subheading.

If we’ve ever talked for any length about social media, I’ve probably mentioned that all the big platforms will eventually go away. Ice melts, even the biggest bergs in the ocean (sadly, truer today then when I thought of the analogy). Remember when AOL was monolithic?

I joined Twitter in 2007. A lot of good came from my participation. I made a lot of good friends, I learned a lot that helped my career path, and it was a positive experience. Sitting in front of monitors all day in a closet of an office at Johns Hopkins Hospital, I felt a connection to peers in my field. One time, there was an active shooter in the building, and I knew about it 20 minutes before the administration alerted the building occupants because of Twitter. Once, there was an earthquake the shook my home. I had never experienced one before, and local folks on Twitter confirmed that’s what had happened. Etc.

For me, things changed when:

  1. Twitter switched from linear posts to algorithmic feeds, and
  2. When 45 was elected. The divisions in our country became more visible (to me, at least).

My feed on Twitter shifted to more news/politics, and every day seemed to bring some new disquiet. I quit Facebook a few years ago, and aside from some FB only events/posts, I haven’t missed it. As a visual artist, I feel the need to be on Instagram, and to smaller extent, TikTok. I use Snap Chat with my partner, my buddy Dusten, and kiddos. I have limited my Instagram use, and regularly remove it from my device.

So, Twitter is now under new management, and a lot of folks I like are leaving. Other’s have described the potential perils of the new management, and I particularly appreciate Dave Troy’s thoughts and ideas on this. It makes me a sad, even though I’ve been an extremely passive user these past few years. Change is inevitable, as I’ve been telling people for years.

About a decade ago, I had a very healthy LinkedIn account, with 500+ contacts. Someone on Twitter pointed out that LinkIn was allowing various people to appear in targeted ads without their consent. Everyone was opted in by default. I thought about it, and decided I hadn’t gotten any real opportunities from LinkedIn, and so decided to delete my account. I had mild regret over that decision a few times, because I wasn’t able to backup the contacts, and, years later, decided that maybe I did need to hang a shingle out on linkedIn and wouldn’t it be nice to have those old contacts? So, now I’m back on LinkedIn.

I said all that to say I am weighing the value of staying on Twitter. My pal Jenn says she’s staying. She’s my favorite technologist, and I respect her and her opinions more than most. I had been keeping my Twitter handle warm, thinking it might become useful in the future, when I want sell more of my work online.

And I have a nostalgia for when I was able to use Twitter effectively – to develop relationships and opportunities. I miss those days.

On the other hand, social media is tiresome, and I’ve come to resent platform algorithms, the influencers, and a lot of performative advice given copiously by strangers. Not to mention political hostility. There’s just so much bad noise.

I suppose these ruminations have reactivated my feels for… blogging! I’m grateful to still have this shingle, which I’ve maintained for longer than I’ve been on Twitter. I use it to document my art, and rarely, the occasional opinion. I think it’s time to share more of those, hence this long article. It also reminds me of another loss, of which I don’t think we ever fully recovered. Google retired Reader, which was the best RSS tool I’ve ever used. I’ve tried Digg reader and Feedly, but neither really measure up. Hey, Automattic! This seems like a no-brainer for folks the power ~60% of the CMS market! Why not make an RSS tool to go along with WordPress and your other fantastic tools?

A big part of blogging for me used to be connecting with people on this blog, and on their own blogs. I disabled comments back in 2013, when the gale of divorce kicked up. I wanted to close my shutters over the windows, and just be quiet for a while. If you’ve read this far, and want to comment, please email me jim.doran@gmail.com. Maybe it’s time to enable them again? But, I think the choice to disable comments and the loss of Reader changed blogging, at least for me.

I recently started reading The Haunted Looking Glass. It’s a collection of Edward Gorey’s favorite tales of ghosts, ghouls, and grisly goings-on (selected my him). It includes stories by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, M. R. James, W. W. Jacobs, and L. P. Hartley, among other masters of the fine art of making the flesh creep, all accompanied by Gorey’s inimitable illustrations.

I picked this up to take to Yarmouth. Beverly and I read it to each other before sleep in bed. I can see why Gorey liked these stories. Oddly, some of them just stop abruptly. Imagine you are walking through a rambling Victorian house as a grandfather clock starts to chime at midnight in the distance, when your candle blows out, and you step off what you thought was a landing to find you are falling, falling, falling thought the darkness. That would be abrupt, yes?

The Watcher

Beverly and I just finished the Watcher. I hoped it might shape up to be a “Haunting of Hill House” type twister. Not so much. I recently finished The Devil in Ohio and Dahmer, both good October fare. But The Watcher left me feeling much like the incomplete stories in The Haunted Looking Glass. It claims to be based on true events, but imagine if you brought an Agatha Christie novel on vacation and you enjoyed tripping over red herrings and false leads, only to read that Hercule Poirot can’t solve the mystery. Or, can you picture yourself watching seven episodes of a season (when maybe two could have done the job) only to find you are falling, falling, falling through what should have been a satisfying conclusion? I feel conned by this show. On the other hand, I thought about the show for days, and it made enough of an impression to inspire me to record these thoughts. So, yay?

The Change I want to see

I’m looking into making my own RSS reader and I’ll share my work on this soon. I found some encouraging tools that I think I can use to cobble something together. I miss following folks. If Twitter really is borked, maybe this is at least a partial solution. More soon.

Categories
Opinion

Loop Research

Justin, Billy Martin and me

Are loops interesting? Are they useful? Why, or why not?

I started asking these questions in graduate school, and browsed through scholarly sources. I didn’t find a definitive answer from others, but I will put forth that “Yes, they can be intersting and yes, the interesting loops are very useful.” Maybe the why doesn’t matter.

I recently visited the studio of one of my favorite drummers, Billy Martin, in search of more information. He’s inspired me for many years, from the first time I saw him play at the Knitting Factory in NYC with Calvin Weston and John Lurie, to the time Medeski, Martin, and Wood rocked the Ottobar in Baltimore. His short instagram loops have certainly informed some of my S.Ex work (putting an iPhone under the drums on selfie mode, particularly). So it was a thrill to stand in the room where he makes this stuff, and be able to ask a few questions.

Billy is easy going, and generous with his thoughts. There were probably 10 or 12 other people there, and he spent time with everyone. I enjoyed the whole day very much.

I’m about to embark on another studio building project, and he answered my questions about his own studio, The Herman House, which is behind his home in NJ.

A barn like building surrounded by bamboo.

After spending time looping sounds in this place, I came away encouraged by how much I’ve figured out on my own this past year. I have the feeling I’m on the right track (for me, that is). And a few thoughts drifted to the front of my mind.

It’s important to get it recorded – get it on tape, in your phone, in the computer, as it’s happening. Don’t wait for perfection, and don’t lose it by spending time getting set up, practicing, etc. The content of a loop can be simultaneously magical and imperfect, and therein lies charm. They are highly usable that way. I’ve found that a lot of cool loop segments have incomprehensible time signatures, and I get lost trying to find the “one” downbeat when I’m trying to play along with them on my drums. Billy said “forget about finding the one. Just find a shape and go with it.” I really like this idea, and playing this way is new to me. Something the either adds tension to the loop, or supports it, so I’m going to work with this for a while.

Ultimately, if it brings joy, then it’s working.

A diorama of Billy Martin's Herman House Gallery.
Categories
Opinion

The Labors of Love: Animation

I started animating stuff back in 2001. I was working at a shop that needed a Flash developer to accompany their Director developer (software for making CD-ROMS). I liked Flash’s drawing interface, and I was able to quickly get a grip on ActionScript. When the iPhone came out, Flash lost favor and marketshare, and I stopped working with it. Flash finally died last year.

In 2016, I began animating again in earnest, this time using a DSLR on a camera stand to make stop motion. Sometimes, I drew on an iPad. I decided to focus my graduate school efforts on pursuing animation. I’m still putting down roots as an animator, and finding my way.

In 2020, I made eight animated films. They are all “shorts,” and they all took a long time to make. On more than several occasions, I would glance at the clock and see it was 2:00am, and I would wonder why I decided to undertake such a long, protracted project that asks for so much patience, concentration and focus.

Then, I’d finish the project, edit it, and publish the video. Soon, I’d forget all about what it took to make the film, and I’d start thinking about the next one.

A colleague warned me that it’s difficult to find festivals to show work. The competition is thick. Most festivals charge an application fee, which violates my rule of never paying to enter work for a show. It can get expensive. My pal Martha Colburn advised me to just keep working on dioramas. Lucky for me, I ignored that advice.

I’ve had some luck. I checked a big item off my bucket list by having not one but two films in 2020’s Sweaty Eyeballs Animation Festival. I’ve had a few other screenings, too.

So, animation is expensive, both in terms of my time, and trying to find an audience. And what I’m doing is not likely to make money.

Why do it?

First, I don’t make art to make money. It’s delightful when someone buys something, for sure. But having other income lets me make the art I want to make, without the consideration of living off the proceeds of sales.

Second, I’m a storyteller, at heart. Animation has been a lovely addition to my artistic pursuits. I get to combine and incorporate many things I love into a single work: drawing, storytellings, puppets, writing, costumes, decor and sets, music and sound. Animators invent both technical and narrative solutions, while completing projects. There’s a kind of magic in thinking of something, giving it form in the world, and creating the illusion of life. Like Dr. Frankenstein. It’s challenging and rewarding.

While I was watching other animations at Sweaty Eyeballs, and listening to some of the animators talk, I was struck by the idea that animation is a lovely labor of love. Independent animation is a form where the animator has the complete freedom to make lots of decisions and choices about what to do. The end result can be a singular piece of work reflecting its creator in a way other forms do not, and it’s a form that, to me, inspires wonder.

Categories
Opinion

A few days away…MFA

Jim Doran Weird Science

It’s been a long time coming!

This is a screen capture of digital signage that is displayed on Towson University’s campus for my upcoming MFA graduate show.

I’ll share more shortly, but couldn’t wait to post this.

UPDATE 4/29/2021

It’s almost a full year later as I write this. We are still in the pandemic. We have a new president and administration. Things are opening back up for in-person events, dining, etc. Here’s how things stand.

I graduated from Towson University with an MFA in Studio Art. I’m happy about this, and I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, some of which I’ll share here.

I applied and enrolled in 2015. My employer offers very generous tuition remission, and I love school. I wanted to study art in college, but ended up studying music, and earned a minor in art history. So, when I was looking at graduate programs, I found Towson offers a part-time MFA. I applied, and to my delight, got in.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Art School. As a non-art-schooler, I imagined difficult art school critiques and such. I also was going in with fully formed processes, and wasn’t sure what I wanted to get out of this, or what to expect.

I found a very flexible program, which many avenues of study available. The Fine Arts Building is a wonder. I had a leaky, floody studio on campus for a year. I went part time until 2017, when I took a break. Actually, I quit. I thought I might study instruction technology or cyber security. I was also questioning my purposes in spending so much time in grad school – earning 60 credits over a part-time schedule can take over 5 years.

I decided to reenroll in 2019, only this time I would go full time. I think that was smart. I returned to find a new cohort of diverse, smart, energetic people with lots of positive energy. I threw myself into exploring animation, and I had a wonderful time.

What I learned about graduate school: graduate school provides one time to make work, and get feedback from others. You teach yourself most of what you want to know – either by sitting in an undergrad class, attending a seminar, etc. Faculty can point out things you might not know about, and offer feedback on stuff. Faculty members are humans, and they only offer opinions – some are helpful, some are not. Smaller committees work better than bigger ones. Ultimately, you get out of it what you put into it, and what you bring into the experience with you (baggage, ideas, fear, joy) will most certainly inform the outcome.

What I got for my time: My thesis was an exercise in self reflection that helped my pull together a bunch of notions, inspirations, and ideas that were all inhabiting different parts of me. Practically speaking, I learned how to make cyanotypes, and plastic replicas of my figures. I learned about 3D scanning and printing. I developed several studio processes for animation. My interest in music and audio recording deepened. I made some wonderful friends.

I’ve reworked Doranimation.com to show my animations, as per my original plan. I removed the artist talk and a few of the posts showing non-animated pieces that I would have used in my real life exhibit. Here’s my artist talk:

I considered my MFA presentation successful. For my part, it felt a little one sided, in that people viewed my work from their computers or phones (if they viewed it at all), and that was that. At a normal opening, one can visit with people, explain ideas, and generally have a good time. In this case, I could see numbers from analytics, and aside from a few emails, I didn’t get much feedback. Which is completely fine, because I was able to complete the degree and graduate on time.

Almost a year after posting my graduate work and completing my thesis, and six years after undertaking this whole project, I can say it was worth doing. I entered the program with a developed set of processes and completed body of work, and discovered the value of research as it pertains to art.