Coda: The Sound(Career)Track Project
Unlike my theoretical exploration, the following application changes tone, as I want to put emphasis on student improvising, not my own. I use the Sound(Career)Track project as a “fun” last project, particularly after the challenging bibliographic-block project that takes up the exigencies of more traditional research-based papers. I assess the Sound(Career)Track project, however, using much the same criteria as the earlier assignments, all of which focus on developing insider-language and negotiating various bibliographic networks.
In turning the Sound(Career)Track over to students, I allow them to decide how much they want to “get into” the language of their music and the language of their careers. I find that most students appreciate “geeking out” a bit at the end of the semester, sometimes with ending/re-beginning performances with smashing guitars, throwing artifacts into the crowd and heading off with their bandmates in anticipation of next semester’s gig. Sometimes they turn in the work with a CD they’ve burned, and even though I offer to return it to them, many of them laugh and smile and tell me just to keep it and listen to it every once and awhile. And sometimes, I do.
A Sound(Career)Track: Set-Up
The Sound(Career)Track contains Three Tracks, Three Chord-Changes, a Main Stage performance and a Coda. (The Modal-Fusion theory that I have expressed above contain innumerable hidden tracks that are a common feature of digital recordings.)
Currently the directions and examples I provide is a paper-based assignment, but inventive students often develop elaborate CD-packaging, PhotoShop posters, and, in one case, a tour date T-shirt. Students almost always submit their work with a CD that samples some of the music from the project. I do not assign these extras; they are, as with so much else in Music/Composition, emergent.
A Sound(Career)Track: Jam
Though the choice of where to begin is up to them, I encourage students to start the project in the middle-step, “Laying Down Some Tracks.” Rather than working chronologically, I suggest they develop four albums by re-mixing the insider-language of their career across the language of their favorite music. Here’s an example of some titles a student going into Engineering Technology might do. The name of the band, we might imagine, could be called The Fabricators: “Shake Ya Elastomer” (from “Shake Ya Ass” by Mystikal), “Can’t Mold This” (from “Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer), “Isn’t it Ionic” (from “Isn’t It Ironic” by Alanis Morissette), “Don’t Break My Polystyrene” (from “Don’t Break My Heart” by UB40).
Next, I suggest students turn to the first track of the assignment, where they consider personal and academic influences in their lives with a section entitled “Grooves.” Here, they select four or five people from their lives to consider as though they are musicians. The narration that results approaches fiction writing, and yet they are to draw upon non-fiction encounters in their writings. Here’s a narration style students might deploy:
Mrs. S was my senior high school math teacher. Her stage presence was amazing; she always kept the audience interested and on the edge of their seats. Her main hit was entitled “The Quadratic Formula Song,” and she opened every performance by saying: “Let’s get ready to factor!” Her style of music, unlike Mr. B's who often invited people up to sing duets with him, was strictly solo .You could tell she liked to listen to the sound of her own voice because …
After these “Grooves,” students engage a section entitled “Making the Band." Here, students discuss their current friends and roommates from the school year. The goal is to describe the respective academic-career approach of their peers in terms of musical-style.
L.J.’s favorite song is “Whisky in the Jar” by Metallica, and this fits him perfectly because he’s a partier. He would be the one in the band that would always want to take a solo. The rest of the bandmembers have to shut him down sometimes as he sometimes gets out of control. One time for example ... We make fun of L.J. a lot, but he takes it in stride. He is one of the release valves for when we are frustrated on tour. As far as academics, he is not nearly as strong as me, nor does he much care as much as I do. I would have to say that I practice more than L.J., which is not saying much because he thinks talent is all natural anyway.
The main stage of Sound(Career)Track is called “Making it Big.” Here, the students describe their first semester at a university in musical terms. They follow the same music-career insider language noted above. The idea is to express the mood of their semester through music. Here’s how one might start a section that quickly becomes filled with examples from many gigs:
Our band has played all over campus and the state this year. We didn’t really start to get any attention until S.J.C. joined our scene. The audience just wasn’t into when my bandmates and I performed our long solos and smashed things up backstage. We needed a fiery female vocalist to shake things up, and that’s exactly what S.J.C. has done. Now, the Phar-Out Chemists are starting to gel, and nowhere was this more evident than when …
Between these primary tracks are a series of “Chord Changes,” that invite students to 1) consider a change of mind they have had with regards to their career path, 2) consider a specific song that is important to them somehow, and 3) to select one of the songs they’ve "written" and think of it in terms of a video.
The final section of the Sound(Career)Track is called the “Coda.” Here, students describe an emblem or artifact that displays something about their tour. These items are initially informed by such signature items as the Pink Floyd Pig, Stevie Ray Vaughn's cowboy hat, or the lightening bolt skull of the Grateful Dead. (Students understand such iconography from liner notes and videos they have and watch.) Basically, the emblem might be depicted on a concert T-shirt or on an object given to the crowd. Often this blazon is a culmination of images they have assembled from other projects. (In the Signature Project, for example, students extract anagrams from their proper name that they often stretch into each of their works.) Above all, this emblem is an effort to tap into Ulmer's interest in Heidegger's notion of attunement through the fashioning of a logo (2003: 59). My assignment sheet starts with the following excerpt from Ulmer's framing of this goal, and I will end this section with it and a layout of the project so that others may re-begin there.
The notion of attunement by Heidegger goes back to Timaeaus (which in turn was informed by the Pythagorean notion of the ‘music of the spheres’). In the history of the term ‘Stimmung,’ Leo Spitzer noted the importance of Timaeaus for figuring out the world soul as musical. The importance of music in Classical education through the middle ages was based on the idea of morality as a tuning of the individual soul to this world harmony (Spitzer, 34). Heidegger revisited this tradition as part of his return to the Greeks, designating ‘Stimmung’ as one of the existentials grounding one’s being in the world. It named the ground of feeling that lets us know where we are “at,” how we are doing, how things are with us or stand with us (in us), how we find ourselves to be (Befindlichkeit—“situatedness” or “state of mind”) (Ballard, 1991: 33) (Ulmer, 2003: 59).
A Sound(Career)Track: Tracks
Track One: Grooves (4-5 Influences)
---->First Chord Change: Change of Mind
Track Two: Making the Band (4-5 Current Friends)
---->Second Chord Change: Important Song
Track Three: Laying Down Some Tracks (Creating Song Title with Career Insider-Language)
---->Third Chord Change: Imaging a Video for Such a Song
Main Stage: Making It Big (Semester in review, expressed as a Modal-Fusion Music/Composition)
Coda: Closing Emblem/Blazon