Experimenting with SoundSlides

This week I've begun experimenting with using SoundSlides to present images in a more compelling and deliberate way. SoundSlides allows you to arrange your images in a slide show, adjust the timing and movement of slides as well as transitions between slides easily. SoundSlides also allows you to lay an audio track to accompany the slide show. While I've been familiar with other photographer's visual presentations put together with SoundSlides, this is my first time working with it. This is my first experimentation with combining sound that I captured from the formal event of the Kendra Phagwa Festival in Londonville, with photographs I took at the event. I also experimented with stop motion animation, created by rapidly presenting a sequence of images so as to create movement from the still images.

I had a number of challenges, again, technically and content-wise, that I hadn't anticipated.

Technical challenges: In the previous multimedia work I've dabbled in, I've worked primarily in Final Cut Pro, a much more powerful (and much more complicated) program that allows for the incorporation of video, still, and multiple layers of audio. Since I do not have Final Cut Pro, my first challenge was in creating an mp3 audio track that would accompany my images. When using programs like Final Cut Pro, most multimedia storytellers will build up from the audio track, which they complete first. The first layer is audio, and from there, image stills, video, and supplementary audio (sound effects, narration, music) is layered up accordingly. Although the process is easier when the audio track is finished, one challenge of using SoundSlides is that once an audio track is imported into SoundSlides, it cannot be changed. Any changes to the audio track must be made in a separate program and then re-imported into SoundSlides to replace the original track. Since the source of my sound was from video recorded using my Nikon D90, and since I do not have any other audio software as of yet, I decided to try using iMovie to create my audio track. I then separated the video from the audio, built the audio track, exported it as an mp3 file, and imported it into SoundSlides. That process alone was time consuming, and posed some problems since I couldn't revise that track once it was imported into SoundSlides without repeating that time consuming process. Overall, I found that iMovie, while easy to use, is not the right tool for me in this setting. I've just downloaded Audacity, an open source sound editing program, and while Audacity won't change that I won't be able to change my audio track from within SoundSlides, since it is software dedicated to sound, it should give me more options to deal with sound in a more efficient way.

Content: One of the challenges with telling a story through photographs, sound, and/or video, is, well.. telling the story. It's fairly easy to present a slide show of interesting images, but it is much more different to arrange those images in a meaningful order with meaningful timing, and to incorporate a thematic flow throughout. This is one of my areas of least experience right now. I know of a few ways to tell a story with images. One is to accompany textual narration, either in captions or subtitles within the presentation, or as introductory text at the beginning for context. Another way is to have a third-party narrator give context to the images. Another way is to include interviews with subjects, and to mindfully lay the audio interviews over appropriately paired images, and when applicable, appropriately layered sound effects. None of these options, however, are possible if, as the storyteller, you don't understand the story you want to tell. As a result, all of the above issues are problematic to my telling a story of Phagwa. I attended the event with no knowledge of the event, many of the songs were in Hindhi so I did not understand the language, and without that knowledge base, I didn't know what to photograph. Even now, after the fact, when I've done a bit more research, I still don't understand the story of Phagwa enough to tell "The Story of Phagwa." What I can tell, however, is MY story of attending this Phagwa event. I chose to record sound of the musicians playing and singing because I was drawn to the trance-like meditative calm that filled the air when they played. I photographed the musicians, and their instruments, because many of them were foreign and beautiful to me. I photographed in rapid succession with very short shutter speeds the action of the drummers', and other muscians', hands to convey what I saw as a combination of individual actions by individual body parts by individual people resulting in these beautiful sounds that flowed over a large crowd of collective individuals. I recorded sound of people singing and dancing around Holika as she was burnt, and I photographed that process. At the event, I decided to capture as widely as I could, in hopes that I would latter be able to draw from that pool to tell the story that I would learn after the fact. After the fact, however, in conversation with Nicolette, I realized that perhaps what would be more interesting in this setting, and what might lend itself best to a technical exercise in using new tools to see if these are the tools I want to continue using, would be to simply document myself through this experience.

Okay, great. I'm documenting myself through this experience. That still gets me back to those first sets of issues:
1) Do I thread this fragmented story together with text or with narration?
2) If I weave this story together with narration, presumably my own voice reflecting upon the experience and why I chose to shoot/capture what I did, I did two audio tracks -- one of the music and sound that I recorded at the event, and one of my own voice's narration.
3) Since SoundSlides only accommodates a single audio track, I'll need to layer my narration over the existing audio track in a separate program, export the two merged tracks as a single mp3 to import into SoundSlides.
4) I don't know how to do that yet.

So this is my first attempt. No text, no narration, only my images, and the accompanying sound that I was interested in, and several hours of this non-technologically minded girl trying to figure out new software.

To be honest, I'm not sure how much more work I'm going to do on this project, since my intent was for it to be more of an experimentation with this process. What I am going to start doing is applying this process (although hopefully it'll be easier with the help of Audacity or another sound editing) to a new project that I hope to continue for the rest of my time here : Maxi Taxis as a form of personal expression.

One of the first things I noticed when I arrived at the airport in Port of Spain were the big bold letters "GOD'S FAVOUR" sprawled across the upper front windshield of our maxi taxi. The more maxis I saw, the more expressions of perspective, religious and secular, displayed proudly on the front and rear windshields of the maxis. Once I started to ride different maxis, I noticed that their use as vehicles of self-expression extended far beyond the words toted on their exteriors. Many maxis have graphically expressive ceilings. One maxi I took to TrinCity had an elaborate Transformer's themed design on the interior ceiling while another one I took in Arima had a puzzle-piece patterned interior ceiling. Even the little signs inside are expressive of the drivers' personalities. So far my favorite signs include "If you must smoke, please don't exhale," "Please don't poke the driver," and "I am a Driver, not a Pilot. If you want to get where you're going on time, leave earlier." My initial conversation about this idea have been with Chris Cozier and with another well established photographer in the area, Mark Lyndersay, who I'm also working with here. Chris Cozier offered some insight into the history of Maxi Taxis, specifically pointing to how much more expressive they were in previous years and reflecting on some issues that arose as a result of a sort of socially deviant underground maxi taxi culture in Trinidad. Mark Lyndersay informed me that much of the scaling down of the maxi taxis relates to a shift in the culture of consumerism with regards to automobiles. He reflected that back around the 1980s, when Maxi Taxis were very expressive, people would buy one vehicle for years, whereas now, people purchase vehicles with the intent to trade them up in a few years. As a result, people don't invest as much into their vehicles, since vehicle modification can make it harder to resell in the future. I see a really interesting dialogue emerging from this trend in the maxis, and in their changing roles in Trinidad's culture, and perhaps in their changing roles for the maxi drivers' lives. I'm also particularly drawn to documenting this because its such a routine and ordinary and non-glamorous part of daily life here. I'm also drawn to the Maxis as a documentary project since Chris Cozier mentioned that he wasn't sure if there was any documentation of Maxis back when they were intensely expressive.

I'm going to start off trying to find 2-3 maxi drivers with highly customized vehicles, see if I can follow them along on their route for a few hours, talk to them about their lives, how they started driving maxis, why they chose to customize their vehicle, what the customizations mean to them and so forth. Naturally, I have to think about my safety, as a young, female, foreigner who doesn't know her way around this island as much as I'd like to. I'm going to see if I can meet some Maxi drivers through my Maxi driver and friend, Ivan LaRose. Ultimately, I'd like to use multimedia storytelling tools to tell the stories of a few Maxi drivers, as told through their vehicles.


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