Living Portrait

I suppose The Johnny Cash Project is as close as I will come to a Grammy nomination. Seems the crowdsourced sketch-video put to Cash’s “Ain’t No Grave” has been nominated for Best Short Form Music Video at the 53rd annual Grammy event coming up in February. In case you haven’t heard of it, here’s a bit of background on The Johnny Cash Project, including a recent version of the piecemeal video.

As far as I can tell, the video is continuously redrawn, with new frames entering into circulation and with old frames dropping in rank as participants assign a five-star rating to existing frames. Many months ago I spent a whopping thirteen-plus minutes sketching frame #1271. Whether or not it was my finest (or even a remarkable) artistic moment may take many more years to determine. My efforts have been rewarded with an average rating of two out of five stars (.400 is kicking butt in baseball and in drawing, right?). Anyway, ratings are not what is important here (ignoring momentarily that the Grammys are a contest).

Grammy win or no, the Cash Project has a pedagogical double that I remember each time it turns up again in this or that RSS stream–the class-drawn music video pieced together from snippets of lyrics and whatever drawings they motivate, all spliced flip-book-style into an on the fly music video. The rawness of DIY; the investment of “I did that.” D. has done this a couple of times with first and second graders who illustrated “What A Wonderful World.” Before the Cash Project, I hadn’t given too much earnest thought to a corresponding compositional project worth pursuing in the classes I typically teach. The Cash Project is a far more mature (i.e., serious-seeming) digital monument, and, that being the case, it has pushed me to reconsider possibilities for small-crowdsourced projects, maybe by adapting something like this and incorporating Google Docs-Drawing (with placeholder images and layers).  I like the way these music video projects link (implicitly collaborative) crowdsourcing and gestalt; the summative experience is more forceful than, say, reading a wiki entry, although, ideally, their logics could be linked–with one used to illuminate the other. Maybe.

Undoubtedly, I’ll be too tired to stay up and watch the Grammys. And that’s if I even remember when it is on TV. But I’m hopeful that The Cash Project gets its due. Here’s a glimpse of the competition.

Quickly, Quickly

Spring Break begins tomorrow. No beach-side cabana and umbrella-garnished cocktails in my foreseeable future. Just life at a slightly altered (i.e., re-charging) pace until classes resume on March 8. I believe this is the earliest Spring Break I’ve ever had.

In classes, we wrapped up a three-week unit on wiki writing today. The assignment went something like this: for twenty-one days, assume various roles in the production of a wiki–facilitation, discussion, research, entry writing, editing, and coding. Last semester I set up groups. This semester I didn’t. My aim with the wiki assignment has always been to immerse in the mess, to dive in, or, for the more cautious, to wade through some quick compositional emergence, or distributed, self-paced, collaborative writing. All the while, we should keep in mind the question of what is stylistically available in wiki writing. There is no single answer to this, of course, but it seems like wiki writing often (I am tempted to say “always”) returns to an “average effect,” more studium than punctum.

I’m not sure we fully achieved the mess I had in mind. A snow day on February 10 threw off the early development of the project. Facilitation and early discussion was cut short. Twelve days into the project I brought graphs to class–a simple activity distribution curved, as you might have guessed, like a long tail. A few had done much work; many had done much less, just like on Wikipedia. Also, the graph reflected two data-sets, one for number of edits and one for frequency of logins. So that everyone processes the assignment by a distributed pace rather than a climactic pace, the prompt encouraged logging in and making identifiable contributions every other day or so. Halfway in, this wasn’t quite working. But the graph confronted us with the problem, and, consequently, it moved us collectively nearer to the quick-writing messiness I had in mind. For the remaining nine days, the wiki came alive–to the tune of 38 contributors, an impressive blur of edits, revisions, and rearrangement.

Certainly we gained some experience with wiki writing–wiki writing connected with our continuing inquiry into style and technology. And, for the most part, I stand by this approach (i.e., will try it again), even if it still has a few wrinkles to smooth out. I prefer it to a common alternative, which is something like wiki-as-showcase, where the wiki functions as a platform for sharing individually authored pieces, where collaboration is predefined, where discrete contributions carry over into some kind of portfolio or autonomous collection of best works (many variations on this, to be fair). The showcase approach to wiki writing is fine, but I want to continue to think through the near-aleatory, massively collaborative chaos available in wikis and to think through the this chaotic approach for a school assignment and for the question of what is stylistically available. How? I’ll begin by reading and commenting 36 or so reflective essays over the next couple of days.