This video was created as a model project for an undergraduate writing class. The assignment focused on media-oriented composing, but required that videos also emphasize words on screen. The piece was further developed and mixed into the publication Watch the Bubble, in 2012. It captures a live performance that includes manipulation of multiple videos, an audio player, and live typing. The version included here was recorded in 2018.
In many ways, processing the piece is reasonably straightforward. The viewer can easily take in the text that is typed on sticky notes on the computer screen. At the same time, some points are implicit in bicycle spokes, guitar strings, and processes of tuning. Additional videos offer scientific information or visuals related to bubbles and surfaces. Truing also includes three recordings of the song "Holocene" in video windows as well as one in an iTunes window.
00:00 The video opens with web browser windows on screen: in the upper left, a male figure with a guitar; in the upper right, a video with a live performance of the song "Holocene" by Bon Iver; in the lower right, a video with a female figure holding a guitar; in the lower left, a video clip showing an old man on a beach making enormous soap bubbles using two sticks and some string. The cursor selects play on all of the materials. The cursor moves to the top of the screen and brings forward an iTunes window containing an audio file of the live performance of the song "Holocene" by Bon Iver. The cursor selects play, and then a visualizer is turned on, transforming the iTunes window into a computer-generated image of horizons, planets, and suns. The band eases into the song. From the video with large bubbles on a beach in the lower left, a narration track begins: "I hate to even write or think about alt-scholarship. I've thought for some time that you don't write about the digital; you do digital work."
00:25 The male and female figures with guitars begin speaking, offering instruction on how to play the song: "uh, I'm going to try and explain how to play Bon Iver's . . ." ; "Hello, YouTube! Um . . ." The cursor moves to the video in the lower left and mutes the volume on the narrative track. The vocals in the live performance of the song begin. The cursor moves to the right of the screen and brings forward a sticky note window and begins to type: "We're here to make an idea real, a movie. It will be a moving thing that brings response. The bicycle. The bee sting. Guitar string."
01:21 The cursor brings forward a video clip in the lower left of the screen and selects play. An image of a spinning bicycle wheel in a truing frame appears. The cursor moves back to the sticky note and continues typing: "The shearsman strumming into being the bread and the stone, which links us to craft, which leads us to art, which brings us to now."
02:02 The cursor minimizes the sticky note and then brings a new sticky note on screen and continues typing: "We need words like water. We need their circulations for turning ideas, for truing them, for bringing them into tune, the way a wheel might speak through its spokes."
02:48 In the bottom left, the video of the man blowing large bubbles is replaced by the video of the spinning bicycle wheel, which shows hands truing the wheel. For a moment, the sticky note and its words are obscured, then it returns to the foreground and the typing continues: "Thus, we, too, give voice through the wires."
03:05 The cursor brings the video of the man making giant bubbles forward; the turning bicycle wheel is no longer visible. The video with giant bubbles begins to show additional layers with shorelines and a boy beachcombing. The typing in the sticky note continues: "We're drifting like sand or sea shifting over plates, like wetlines changing place with the tides. We're lifting. Collecting. Spacing. Repeating. Gathering before coming ashore."
03:42 The live performance of the song concludes its second verse and moves into a soft instrumental segment. The cursor minimizes the second sticky note and moves it off the screen. The male and female figures demonstrate how to play the song; the woman's voice is audible: "and then you're gonna do the third fret, fifth string." The male voice can be heard: "You don't always have to do this sort of intricate pull off, hammer on with the song. . . ." The live performance of the song in the upper right is stopped. The cursor brings forward the iTunes window and selects stop; without the music, both guitar instructors' voices are more audible, but their words overlap. The cursor turns up the volume on the video with the old man making bubbles and a brief snippet of the narration is heard: "We need scholarship that looks at art and knowledge."
04:08 As the videos of guitar instruction and of a man truing a bicycle wheel continue to play, the cursor brings a video describing the science of bubbles to the foreground and selects play. The narrator in the science of bubbles video speaks: "There is a method to the bubble madness that unlocks some pretty basic laws of nature. Law number one, they act like a prism, reflecting the basic colors of the universe." The woman teaching the Bon Iver song begins singing softly in the background. An interview voice in the science of bubbles video speaks: "White light coming in is actually composed of all the colors in the rainbow and based on the thickness of the film, all the different colors refract off in different ways. So, just like a prism, we get the whole spectrum in every bubble. The amazing thing to me is that when you look up close it looks like bubbles are clear, but there is so much color going on." A second interview voice responds: "That is correct. It's every color of the rainbow. I like to think that the colors are a map, showing you that the film is thick in some places and thinner in others." The science of bubbles video is muted. The voices of the male figure, the narration in the bubble video, and the woman singing blend together.
05:08. The cursor rearranges videos on screen, and then selects play on the live performance of the song. The music—still soft—continues. The cursor brings forward the iTunes window and selects play on the live performance of the song. The song is now layered, echoing due to the timing being slightly off on the two performances. After a few seconds, the cursor turns down the sound on the iTunes window and moves the window off the screen.
05:45 The cursor brings a new sticky note to the screen and begins to type: "Light casts movements like blue or green or blue and green. The tracings are breath or wind or liquid flowings. . . ." The cursor brings forward the science of bubbles video to reveal a hand pushing through the film of a bubble. The transparency of the sticky note is increased so that the text is opaque over the image of the hand and bubble. The cursor types: "like skin turning bubble and returning wet with mind sight. The mixing laps at the overlaps of image, song, word, or heard whisper from a front porch. Shh. . . . This is important."
06:54 The live performance of the song concludes, and the cursor presses stop on the video in the upper right. The audio from the guitar instructors is audible; both the man and woman sing different parts of the song. The video with bubbles is moved to the upper right corner of the screen; it now also shows opaque layers with bees and flowers.
07:12 The cursor turns up the sound on the science of bubbles video, brings forward another sticky note, and then pastes in the phrase, "Shh. . . . This is important." The cursor begins to type: "It's the healing of the split. It's the organic mechanic opening a window to say, we can change shape." In the science of bubbles video, the two interview voices converse: "So there it is. It's pretty amazing. You think of it as one event, instant event, but there you really see the tear. You never think of it as a directional event. It just looks like it's there and it's gone." The science of bubbles video shows a ball bearing thrown through a soap bubble in slow motion, the ball tearing the edge, and then bursting the bubble. The narrator of the video speaks: "Watch the bubble burst again, even slower this time." The male guitar player sings in vague falsetto.
07:35 The narrator of the science of bubbles video continues: "There's some complex science going on here. Surface tension holds the soap bubble molecules together while the air inside the bubble forces them apart. When the bubble begins to tear, soap molecules shoot out in all directions as tiny droplets." The cursor continues to type in the sticky note: "we can move together as we do in this moment through the film." The cursor moves the sticky note off the screen. The cursor mutes the science of bubbles video. A new video appears on screen showing bubbles floating through the air.
08:02 The cursor brings a video on screen containing a male figure in front of a bicycle wheel on a workbench. The cursor selects play and the figure begins plucking the spokes and speaking: "After radially truing the rim, pluck a number of spokes on the drive side and listen for the tone." The ringing of the spokes is barely audible over the speaking of the guitar instructors. In the upper left, the male guitarist plucks strings near the tuning pegs of his guitar and says, "after the second time he sings the chorus, I just pluck these little top bits." The plucking of the strings is barely heard. In the upper right, the man with the wheel at the workbench continues: "Then pluck a number of spokes on the non-drive side and also listen for the tone." The cursor lowers the sound of the video.
08:35 The male guitarist can be heard: "after the third verse, the Christmas-y verse, you want to slow down a bit and just play long, languid notes and try to think of the suitable timing to hit the next bit of the line." The video is muted. In the video in the lower left with the spinning bicycle wheel, a male figure can be heard: "When I squeeze these spokes, there's really good resistance. And that's how you want it to be. It's nice and tight all around." The man sweeps his fingers over the spokes in the bicycle wheel and continues: "So, technically, they should all have about the same tightness." The cursor mutes that video. The cursor slowly mutes the video of the woman playing and singing the Bon Iver song. The video ends.
The video features four variations of live performances of the song "Holocene." One, performed by Bon Iver on July 29, 2011, has been selected from concert videos posted on YouTube. This video is played live in Truing, and a copy of this recording is played using an iTunes audio player. Two additional versions of the song are included in the piece. Both of these have been gathered from how-to-play videos hosted on YouTube.
A number of other videos provide visual and sonic materials. These include videos with instruction on bicycle wheel truing as well as a video on the science of bubbles and a video depicting bubbles. Truing also includes a compilation video that brings together imagery of bees and flowers, waves and shorelines, and figures creating large bubbles. These materials have been sampled from numerous items hosted online. The compilation video includes a narrative track that sheds light on the themes in the piece; however, the volume of this narration is turned down for most of the live performance of Truing, keeping the insights hidden.
"Bon Iver Holocene How-To." YouTube, uploaded by Katie Boeck, June 30, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siB-EZls5pA
"Bon Iver—Holocene (Pristine HD)" [recorded performance, July 28, 2011]. YouTube, uploaded by MetabolicalFor, July 29, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0aFoJmeyaM
Carter, Oberon. "HOW TO PLAY: Holocene by Bon Iver." YouTube, uploaded by berondi, June 28, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZKy09IZT58
"Compressed 02." Vimeo, uploaded by Kim Pimmel, August 29, 2011, http://vimeo.com/28304264
Discovery Channel. "Time Warp—Discovery Channel—Soap Bubbles Science Segment with Keith Johnson of BubbleArtist.com." YouTube, uploaded by Keith Johnson, October 23, 2008, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eV6Wh-KX3bY
"How to True a Bicycle Wheel." YouTube, uploaded by Donswoodshop, October 22, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-1n--L8Pjs
Langer, Susan. Philosophy in a New Key. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960.
Manning, Erin. The Minor Gesture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.
Pickering, Andrew. The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Rickert, Thomas J. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013.
thebiketube. "How to Build a Bicycle Wheel—Part 3.2 36 Spoke Truing." YouTube, uploaded by thebiketube, March 8, 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4wsRWb2zmA
Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality. Edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. New York: Free Press, 1978.
"Bon Iver's Holocene" has an atmospheric quality. Blending effects, airy vocals, and repeated guitar patterns, the sound is layered and open-ended. The primary soundtrack is provided by a video of a live performance of the song. For resonance, a second instance of the performance is played in an iTunes window. The second iteration calls for tuning, since the timing is slightly off and the volume needs to be lowered to create a sense of echoing. Similar adjustments must be made to the how-to performances and other media elements. Of such sonic materials, Alfred North Whitehead says that "relative intensities" must be weighed as we consider the feelings associated with even a single note. This weighing of intensities is an apt model for screen composing. Meaning emerges as elements accrue overtones and merge into harmonies.
Such composing invites "analysis [that] reveals an abstract qualitative pattern which is the complex relatedness of the fundamental tone-quality with the tone-qualities of its select overtones" (234). The audio elements in the piece bring this coemergent, intensity-based, layered experience to scholarship. The overtones are amplified by the additive compositional method, combining more and more visual and sonic materials. The two versions of the Bon Iver performance resonate with each other through adjustments in volume and timing. They similarly relate to the how-to videos. The how-to relationship, at the same time, is more adjacent, introducing distance and dissonance as well as similarity and resonance. The composing brings the similarities and differences together through tunings of intensities.
Truing foregrounds written text in its composition. "We need words like water," the video claims, "for turning ideas. For truing them." All symbolic meaning, Susan Langer tells us, creates movements of abstraction and understanding, but words have a particular power. Invested with both visual and sonic relations, a "word-picture" (73) or "sound-unit . . . becomes a symbol to us, for some item in the world" (72). Unlike sounds or images themselves, words bring added apprehension through causal connections and relationships. "The trick of naming relations instead of illustrating them gives language a tremendous scope; one word can thus take care of a situation that would require a whole sheet of drawings to depict" (74). Langer says that "the greatest virtue of verbal symbols is, probably, their tremendous readiness to enter into combinations" (76). Words drive us toward sequences that reveal "the correlation of symbols with concepts and concepts with things" (77). In Truing, the typing that plays out on sticky notes affirms the power of these linguistic combinations.
The verbal patterns and resonances combine with visual and sonic sequencing. Heavy repetition has refined the timing of where to queue the playhead, when to select play on a video clip, and how to arrange the materials in the live performance. In these interactions, the sense of tuning is experienced by the human performer working with (and against) compositional materials (that include words). This work, as Andrew Pickering reminds us, links these material interactions with invention: "Such practice consists in the reciprocal tuning of human and material agency, tuning that can itself reconfigure human intentions" (21). Material shapings make it so screen-performed texts are never the same. Subtle adjustments emerge through "a goal-oriented practice [that] takes the form of a dance of agency" (21).
These material and sonic tunings play out in a situational context. Whitehead notes that feelings linked to sonic materials are extended by the "complex ordered environment composed of certain other actual entities which, however vaguely, is felt by reason of this audition. This environment is the datum of this feeling. It is the external world, as grasped systematically in this feeling" (324). Truing captures composing as coemergent creation in a setting that conditions our experience of symbolic materials. At 08:05, a how-to video showing bicycle rim truing is played: "Pluck a number of spokes on the drive side, and listen for the tone," the video narrator instructs. At the same time, in a how-to video, the player plucks strings between the bridge and the tuning pegs of a guitar: "I just pluck these little top bits." The entities come together as the audiovisual associations (strings and spokes) are tuned and cast through the layered spaces of the screen.