Archive for the ‘Project’ Category

Looking to the End

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Now that we are in the home stretch of info age, I am gearing up for the final project. This piece is only worth a tiny 5%, but it stands in as my final monumental act in this class. Further still, I have an overwhelming desire to leave even the slightest impression of my existence on this campus. The grade percentage does not mean anything to me, I am more concerned with its meaning and contribution.

The question becomes, what do I do for this final project, for the final battle?

Naturally, I chose something related to the ever-present Reverend, Jim Groom. I spoke with a number of my peers about setting up for another documentary. This time, we will be tracking the evolution of the digital storytelling course here at the University of Mary Washington, some of you may know this course as ds106. There has been a great deal of news about DTLT’s work with this project, and it seems fitting that a final information age look into its development over the years. Having watched ds106 evolve from afar, I can see that there have been mutations, complications, and major successes with this course. I am excited to jump right into meeting with thinkers who have put the course together, different student participants, and potential skeptics about the course.

Due to time constraints, we will more than likely keep the project tied to our campus, but I think that we can still speak to the larger context of open education as put forth by many of the iterations of ds106. Frankly, the course became a firestorm when Jim Groom opened it up, so it seems only fitting to take the course and study it at the point of origin. As with the other documentary, I think there will be issues of knowing how to tell the story and understand what is there to be told. I do not simply want to make a work devoted to singing ds106 praises. As a historian, I feel it problematic to take a specific side without looking deep into context, issues, and the voices of a specific event/group. The documentary should be all about the research and understanding what is happening on the group through multiple points of view.

Fine Points of Documentary

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

In this blog post I begin with a consideration of the pitfalls and issues with the documentary project. I follow up with a brief exposition on my personal development through this project and ponder suggestions for any future groups taking on this project. A quick note of thanks to Dr. McClurken, I greatly appreciated the opportunities we have this semester to take on unique projects. He risked this course’s success by entrusting us to select viable projects and course readings.

I acquired a number of new skills that I would not have otherwise even begun to think about, yet even this process came with issues. In crafting a documentary I had no idea where one began. You can read first, which may inform your questions, but without doing interviews right away the rest of the documentary feels formless. However, many guides and tutorials suggest building a storyboard of what you would like to tell. While I am certainly not artistic in my storytelling, but how can you create a storyboard without already having the story? I learned how to start building relations with interviewees and set up meetings. My group thoroughly discussed tips and techniques to keep an individual somewhat on subject, namely how to politely steer the conversation back to a relevant direction. The best skill I picked up was how to edit video.

Prior to this project, I had some inkling of how to work out audio issues, but video presented a new mystery to me. Thanks to substantial online tutorials and my project partner’s strong eye for editing, I felt supremely confident in my ability to sniff out bad cuts and how to overlay a good b-roll. There will always be the obstacle of learning a new piece of technology, but consider that the technology is a platform for you to tell a story. If such is the case, despite the difference in buttons and functions, different programs will expect the user to bring the same set of skills to the table. Do you know how to find a problem with video? Do you understand how to keep a viewer mentally engaged with your work? These are a couple of the underlying questions one must ponder. My partner was not familiar with Premiere but felt right at home with Avid. Although these are two different programs, her strong editing skills can shine through in both. I love editing video and adding audio tracks that blow people’s minds.

With any project, the key lesson is knowing how to budget time, however time is again an overarching issue. One should mainly note that in a group project the core issue is dividing workload. I found balancing the work power of four people to be exceedingly difficult, especially given my dearth of skills. Regardless, I should have considered ways to play to each individual’s strengths and time availability. Each member of my group gave this project their full time and attention, but at some moments there was little for them to take care of. Truth be told, video editing can be a solo job and does not require a committee at the very beginning. Given that, how do you divvy out a four person group? Perhaps the lesson here is understanding the nature of the project and potential job roles for each participant. I wouldn’t want to take away from anyone’s learning experience, which can easily happen when individuals only take jobs they are already proficient at. I find this to be a particularly hard balancing act and would love to get other opinions on the matter.

I fell in love with this documentary project and already have ideas rolling through my mind about the next short piece. With only a few weeks left in the semester, I can’t believe it has taken me four years at UMW to realize that I love film work. Better late than never, and there is nothing wrong with pursuing documentary as a hobby, right?

Gain Flesh! Gain the Girl!

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Final product of the advertising project for Dr. McClurken's Information Age seminar.


Advertising Age. How It Was in Advertising, 1776-1976. Crain Books, 1976.
Brown, Bruce W. Images of Family Life in Magazine Advertising, 1920-1978. Praeger Publishers, 1981.
Heimann, Jim. 40s: All-American Ads. Köln: Taschen, 2001.
Parkin, Katherine J. Food is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
Primary Sources for example advertising:
Life, 1936-1940. Accessed October 15, 2011.
Popular Mechanics, 1937-1938. Accessed October 15, 2011.

Popular Science, 1937-1938. Accessed October 15, 2011.

Encoding the Language

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Click here to view the embedded video.

Having now given my presentation, I reflect back on how I made it through the talk. I dug up the few articles and works about the talking drums. There seems to be a wider literature about “language surrogates”, but those works treat talking drums in a very cursory fashion. When I began this project, I went straight for John Carrington’s slim volume on African talking drums, which written in the 1940s, provided me with little more than a conceptual understanding of the instrument. For this assignment I needed to successfully play the instrument, not just theorize. McClurken seemed to be looking for more than just theory when he gave us the option of demonstrating a form of early communication. I began to search for more materials, perhaps there was a teaching book for the talking drums? I found little of practical use, but there were some amazing individuals teasing out how the drums work and relate to other systems of encoding language, such as writing.

What I really need was more Youtube. I found a few users who uploaded themselves playing or taught the absolute basics of the system. The visual and audio of those videos solidified how to play the drums for me. I do admit that I still lack the ability to make my drums talk, but I do sound rather awesome when going off on a hippie jam. I studied the three tones and how those tones work in conjunction with the language. While I couldn’t tell you how to say a phrase, I can tell you that if there are x syllables in that phrase you hit the drum y times and the tone’s of the words in the phrase will tell you how to tighten the drum. My project technically tanked; I couldn’t actually use the device. However, I came away feeling confident that I could explain and demonstrate how one would communicate with the talking drum. Below I list the texts that provide good resources for further information on the talking drums. You will notice that few of the sources are completely up-to-date. Talking drums have seemingly lost their status as a true speech surrogate and now represent a past cultural tradition rather than a current and practically used linguistic practice.

To gush for a moment: I loved this project. It’s rare for me to combine my love of languages, drums, and history into one assignment. Hats off to you Dr. McClurken.



Arewa, Ojo and Niyi Adekola. “Redundancy Principles of Statistical Communications as Applied to Yoruba Talking-Drum.” Anthrops Bd. 75, H. 1./2. (1980): 185-202. Accessed: 20/09/2011,

Armstrong, Robert G. “Talking Drums in the Benue-Cross River Region of Nigeria.” Phylon vol. 15, no. 4 (4th Qtr., 1954): 355-363Accessed: 20/09/2011 08:47,

Carrington, John F. Talking Drums of Africa. London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1949.
Nzewi, Meki, Israel Anyahuru, and Tom Ohiarumunna. “The Lingual Fundamentals of African Drum Music.” Research in African Literatures vol 32, no. 2 (Summer, 2001): 90-104. Accessed: 21/09/2011,
Ong, Walter J. “Oral Cultures and Oral Performances.” New Literary History vol. 8, no. 3(Spring, 1977): 411-429. Accessed: 21/09/2011,
Related Youtube Videos:

Ayan Bisi Adeleke – Master Talking Drummer: Drum Talks, 2007. Accessed: 9/19/2011.

___________. How To Play a Simple Rhythm on The Talking Drum, 2010. Accessed: 9/19/2011.

Ilubabamini. Talking Drum Lesson, TDL 001, PART A, 2011. Accessed: 9/27/2011.

________. Talking Drum Lesson, TDL 001, Part B., 2011. Accessed: 9/27/2011.

Drum Talk

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Next Thursday, the InfoAge Class will be presenting or discussing early forms of communication. I opted to do a practical application piece. Having read James Gleick’s chapter on the African Talking Drums, my curiosity piqued so badly that I found a little drum of my own. The troubling aspect of all this is, learning how to play in order to communicate is rather difficult and the amount of people who know how to play fairly few. The reality of all this is that I may need to drop the project and come to class with a piece of paper in my hand and tears on my cheek. Well, perhaps I am exaggerating, yet it still stands that given a limited time frame, I cannot get the device worked out quickly enough.

Let me just share a video of a master player at work: 

Click here to view the embedded video.

He has a great style, but I am wondering if the style of play and the art of communicating what Carrington described not grossly disconnected somehow. If this is so, how/why/when? The easy answer is the people playing no longer need talking drums to communicate over great distances of space. No one has altered the device. You still use your left arm to squeeze the cords around the drum in order to change its pitch, yet the people playing today are not the same as those playing it before them. That may seem like an obvious statement. However, consider the notion that the technology hasn’t changed. The context, which that technology used to exist in, has vanished. I talk as if that vanishing act is new, but Carrington notes in his slim text on talking drums, that even he noticed fewer boys learning how to play messages on the drums.

The drums present two learning issues. First, as an early form of communication, fewer people use or bother studying them. Perhaps language/drum enthusiasts go out of their way to learn it, but like technology such as the telegraph, knowledge of how to decipher the messages has fallen to the wayside. There is a sort of irony to advancing technologies. They feature pieces of older technology, yet those of us who know how to use the most update to date technology would be hard pressed to even deal with VHS or audio cassettes. What I am trying to get at is, early technology does not imply simple technology. One must not assume an early technology to be any easier to manipulate than the modern piece. We lack the context in which people used/developed the technology. We also have our brains reformatted and calibrated for certain types of machinery. So, the earlier pieces of tech require a shift in thought process, which truly is an art of patience.

Secondly, the talking drums themselves our linked to a language that I have no background in. Much like not knowing Morse code, even if I could operate the device, I would not understand the messages I am sending or receiving. Call it foreign technology if you will. I am a foreigner to the technology of talking drums in two ways, namely locality and temporal. There is a foreign language component. Talking drummers model their message after a base tonal language and must assume that the listener or recipient will do the same. Not having the foreign language base becomes a problem for the casual learner. You can mimick sounds, but without understanding meaning, you are only babbling and not speaking. I already noted temporal issues in the above paragraph. Looking at a different time makes you a sort of foreigner, even if that time is within your own location’s history. You are still disconnected and potentially unaware of certain contexts. Yes, early American English is still English. No, you still would have a whole lexicon of slang and idiomatic phrases that would mystify you, much like a foreigner with a beginning grasp of another country’s language. This foreignness stacks hurdles for me to leap over in this project. It is happening slowly but still happening.

In learning how to communicate with the Talking Drums, I am meeting up with individuals in Fredericksburg who know a thing or two, but the prospects of me communicating with the drum are looking grim. Who knows perhaps I will make a breakthrough soon? If nothing else, I can talk about the links between the drum and language.