Hi and welcome to Parallel Worlds.
If you’re listening to this in real-time – by which I mean, if it’s July 2020 and you’ve been waiting for this episode for a while – I’m sorry it’s taken so long.
This will be the final exercise episode of this season. After this, I have two interviews to upload, which I’m quite excited about – and then I will be using this stream to showcase the work of students from the Master Institute of Visual Culture who’ve taken this course.
Later in the year, this same podcast feed will be used for another, similar course, called Scripted Design - I hope you can join us then too.
So, let’s get back to the exercises. We’ll start the same way we always do – with five minutes of reflection on the here and the now, what’s happened to you lately, things you’ve observed, moments you want to capture. As soon as the five-minute timer starts, I’d like you to start writing. And remember, keep that pen, or that metaphorical pen, moving. It doesn’t matter what’s coming out, if it’s gibberish, if it’s nonsense, but think through the writing. There’s something liberating about starting to do something and not knowing what it might look like at the end.
So, five minutes - starting now.
Hi, welcome back. Where did you go to? The same place as normal? Is there a normal? Is it different from your real-world normal, or are you creating something that’s yours, that’s hidden, that’s secret? I would really like to hear what you’re capturing, what’s important to you, what things you decide to put down on your piece of paper every day. So often the things that we think are uninteresting to others, the things that are so obvious to us – are the things that other people actually find compelling.
I say this as a design teacher – part of my job is to go around to students in their work-spaces, and ask them questions about what they’re doing, what they’re thinking, what they’re working on, why they’ve done something in a certain way, and what might happen if they’d taken a different approach. I absolutely love doing this, because I get to see the inner workings of interesting people, the many many different approaches that people have, the things that people find fascinating. My job is often just to be a sounding board, a person who’s there to listen to ideas in progress. I can’t tell you how much I love it, and how lucky I feel to do what I do. But coming back to this idea, one pattern that I see time and time again, is that people disregard what seems obvious to them, or what they find easy. People can dismiss something as trivial because they take it for granted. I know that I do it myself – I have cut out all sorts of things from my own work because I’ve thought that it’s too close to home, it’s too steeped in what I know, or what I find easy. But, when I see students, often we’ll be talking, and I’ll be flipping through their sketchbook, or looking at the post-it notes on their wall, or the objects they’ve put around their studio space, and there will be something small that they dismiss, a thumbnail sketch in the back of a sketchbook, or something they say and then disregard, which is the key to making their work work.
So I hope in the process of doing these daily writing exercises that you’ve found some of these little things, these acute observations, that you’ve become aware of your viewpoint, the intrinsic thought processes that you already use, the frame through which you see the world, that can be brought out and turned into something interesting.
And that brings me on to the final exercise of this series. It’s different from the other exercises, because it will take you longer to do. It’s the big project we’ve been building towards – but you already have all of the things you need to do it.
I would like you to make a short audio work that takes place between two parallel worlds. The first world is your daily life, your reality here and now, wherever here is, and whenever now is. I’d like you to invite the listener into the space you occupy, to show them where you are, what you’re up to, what you’re working on, what your life is like, what you’re thinking. You’ve been preparing for this for weeks! If you have your daily reflection writing exercises, look back through and see what you notice, what you tend to gravitate towards, what patterns have emerged.
The second world is one entirely of your choosing – it can be fantastical, it can be some other place, it can be a world where different rules apply, where you are a different person – whatever you like. The one restriction that I’m going to make is that it should somehow link back to the first world, the place you exist in now. You can choose how that works – perhaps there is a similar storyline in the parallel world, perhaps people do similar things, perhaps the parallel world is accessed through a place that’s very close to you right now, a portal, or perhaps it’s a place that you can escape to when you close your eyes – but make this second story what you would like it to be.
The other constraints are that the audio story should be six to twelve minutes in length.
So, that’s the brief. One audio production, six to twelve minutes in length, depicting your real-world existence right now, and a parallel world of some kind. You can choose how you jump between the two, how you tell the stories. Let’s run through some of the exercises you’ve already done in this podcast which will help you along the way.
The first week we did a lot of thinking about memories, places you know well. You wrote about warm memories, what might have been had something else changed, being stuck, and narrow escapes.
You’ve made audio stories – presenting your own surroundings from different perspectives: you narrated your immediate surroundings as if you were a tour guide, as if your room were a crime scene, and an art show, and a catalogue. Perhaps you’d enjoy thinking about your current reality from a new angle, from a new perspective. Or perhaps when you enter your second world you’ll do it from a certain perspective that causes you to think and perceive things in a different way.
Then, let’s talk about audio production. I hope this seems less daunting than it did when you started this course – you’ve started to do small exercises in this area. You should have a folder with various sounds you have recorded from your surroundings, and fake versions of those sounds which you’ve recreated using various means. These pairs of sounds might be useful for your audio work – think how you can use both the real and the fake sounds to build atmospheres, to create audio moods. The fake sounds might be a good way to signal a shift into a weird new place – if listeners are already familiar with one sound, then hear a strange version of it, they might realise that the place they’re in now isn’t the same as the one they were earlier.
You also recorded your own voice quite a few times, so hopefully this is less intimidating than it was before.
If you want a pro tip about audio production, there is a web service called auphonic.com, which can clean up and balance audio so that it’s easier to hear. I use it all the time for this podcast, for the scripted episodes I write, and for the interviews I’ve conducted. I always upload my audio to Auphonic before I edit it – that way, I’m working with balanced sound from the start. You get something like two hours free sound processing each month, which should be more enough to do this audio story. They even have a free app which you can use to record sounds on your phone in decent resolution, then upload for cleaning. I can’t recommend it enough as a way to make sure your audio is clean. There’s a link in the resources page to this, and a load more resources, at parallel.olliepalmer.com/resources
But – back to the stories. You’ve also looked at story generation!
You’ve made conspiracy theories – these could be a seed for a parallel world, or an observation in the real world. You’ve written origin stories that frame an artist in a different way, you’ve written about fantastical objects. You’ve explored ways in which you can create new stories from lists of things, combining pre-existing stories into new creations. That’s quite a few ways to generate ideas for your fantastical second world! If you feel stuck, just look back through your notes from the past few weeks! You might find a strange little fragment of something you were thinking about that unlocks the story.
You’ve also analysed the way that Ross Sutherland created spaces to move through in his audio piece Six House Parties, and you’ve written great and terrible reviews of your own work for your future self to look back on. Thinking about the overall goals that you have within your own practice might also help frame these stories – what might you really enjoy working on here, which helps you move towards the ideal practice you have in the future?
So, there’s plenty that you’ve done that will help this get off the ground, that will help you to write and produce an audio story linking two parallel worlds. Good luck with this exercise. If you make a story you’re proud of, please do share it with me! I really enjoyed listening to the stories from the students at the Masters Institute of Visual Cultures – they went to places I wouldn’t have expected, they spoke with an honesty that was refreshing, they used audio in all sorts of interesting ways. I’ll be posting them here on this feed later this year.
But for now, thank you for listening, and good luck with the final exercise!
Continuous writing, in reflection on your life, thoughts, and feelings at the moment
- Make a narrative audio work of 6-12 minutes’ length which includes elements of:
- your real, daily life and/or artistic practice
- a parallel, fictional world of your choosing
- The role of this exercise is to enact the learnings of this course – the process of world-building and narrative writing – in one concise audio work.
- The audio work can be real and/or fictionalised. It can use autobiography, fiction, found sounds, your own foley – whatever helps you to take the listener on a journey between two worlds. It should carefully consider the emotional journey you wish for a listener to go through, using principles of ‘framing’ we have discussed throughout this podcast.