Thursday, October 30, 2008

'This shit just got real'

I've come to my first real sound project (midterm). Up to now it's been only coding and listening assignments. And only with the last one have we been granted any real measure of creativity. The small 'bell study' I came up with for that assignment is really rather simple, a quality I like, even if it fails to exploit any sense of spatialization (as was made abundantly clear to me by listening to a classmate's piece :)). But having listened to it countless times now, I'm still rather pleased with it. At least, as pleased as I might be with a 30 second mini-experiment. There's something about its simplicity that I'm drawn to. That I'm drawn to simplicity is probably why I created it as such. Or I could very well just be completely and utterly disillusioned with my compositional talents simply because I've never sonically composed something before. I'm sure there's at least an element of that. At any rate, I enjoy the piece because it's simple in the way that 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" is simple, if not quite sublime. You can listen to it here.

That however, was a 'study'. This current project must be 'a piece based on my own compositional concepts.' That's a 7-word difference of expectation. So. Where do I start?

Structure. We've been given direction to model our piece either on one of the pieces we've studied in class, or to use another discipline such as visual and literary arts or a scientific concept. Since the ultimate aim for me to take this series is to explore how to use sound to tell and shape narrative, I figure storytelling structure is a more appropriate form for my piece than anything else.

Now, which form of story structure?

The 'Armature & Seven Steps' story structure from my mentor/friend Brian McDonald: [Once upon a time.../And everyday.../Until one day.../And because of this.../And because of this.../Until finally.../And ever since that day...] All of which serves to develop, prove, and reinforce the theme/premise/thesis or 'armature' of the story.

Syd Field's screenplay structure: Opening Scene, Plot Point I, Midpoint Scene, Plot Point II, End Scene. He stipulates that for a feature length screenplay, Act I will end with Plot Point I, when the story really begins; the Midpoint Scene of Act II should be the turning point of the story from which every scene that follows is fallout from this midpoint scene (see 'The Wild Bunch', 'Heat'); and that Plot Point II is the end of Act II, spinning the action in a final direction toward the climax.

Stanislavsky's Method: Given Circumstances, Super Objective, Objective, Action, Obstacle. This is an acting methodology, but even if it doesn't provide a beginning-to-end structure for telling a story, it does provide a framework for embodying a story. I'm sure there is something structurally worthwhile to be gotten from it.

...there are many, many more, (Campbell's Hero's coughoverusedcough Journey) but these are the three dramatic forms I've studied the most.

Perhaps the best recipe for compositional structure is to crib a little (or a lot) from all of these. Approach this two-to-five minute piece the same way I've approached my feature screenplay:

1) Narrow an area of interest to a specific idea/thesis; this is the Armature. 2) Use the 7 Steps to hash-out the macro-progression of beats towards proving the Armature over time. 3) Use Field's Beginning/PlotPt1/Mdpt/PlotPt2/Ending to create a more specific scene-by-scene -- movement-by-movement(?) -- development of the idea. 4) Use Stanislavsky's method to embody the melodies of the piece and help develop a more emotional progression for them.

That seems pretty reasonable to me. It probably portends a lot more sophistication than what I'll ultimately make -- two minutes is two minutes is composed by a filmmaker -- but it can only help. Structure is a beautiful thing. That's something I've been learning with snowballing momentum lately. The importance and vitality of structure to writing a screenplay finally clicked for me last summer after a year's worth of intensive storytelling study came to a climax of sorts. And now I have the opportunity to study using those same techniques in a different medium.

I feel a little hesitation after writing the above paragraph, mainly because I'm not comfortable labeling myself and my interests, I'm not entirely comfortable using one word to encapsulate everything that makes my sensibilities mine, that kind of goes against pretty much everything I've tried to be. But if I were to choose *something*, I guess it would be 'structuralist'. At the moment at least, I can't think of any artistic ideology more appropriate.

Now, what's my Armature?

Listening to: Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 / RATATAT