Reflection on the Medium:
While I am no expert in working with the digital medium of video, I have some prior experience which strengthened my understanding. Because of that prior knowledge, a classmate asked me to explain the nonlinear nature of the remix project to her. During a class discussion, I had heard her bring up Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), a film famous for its editing work in the creation of “dialectical montage.” Essentially, if my classmate understood a dialectical montage, as featured in the massacre scene on the Odessa Steps in Battleship Potemkin, then she also understood the nonlinear nature of remix. Mast et al. (2009) explain that the dialectical montage juxtaposes seemingly disparate clips and creates a conversation between them (p. 123). The clips might be disjointed in terms of content or stylistically, but when they are combined in a non-linear sequence, different themes and ideas emerge. However, my prior knowledge of montage did not make for a seamless remixing experience.
Working in Windows Movie Maker is a daunting task for any amateur video editor simply because of the unreliability of the software. In my previous experience working with the program, I was swept away for hours, splitting, cutting, and rearranging clips. However, this time around, I found that in the midst of my immersion, random clips that previously worked would suddenly turn black. Several other problems, such as freezing, also disrupted the flow of my work. For a self-proclaimed “binge writer,” this was extremely frustrating. Once the coveted lightning bolt of creativity strikes, I run with it. It doesn’t matter whether I’m working in a word processor or in a shitty piece of software; once the ideas begin to flow, I shut myself away from the outside world and dive in. However, this time around, I found the medium of video composition tedious and lacking fluidity. Windows Movie Maker was not conducive to my creative process.
Still, I am happy with the overall results of my remix. I felt I accurately conveyed the ideas that Paul Simon discusses in the beginning of the video by providing viewers with visuals to attach to the lyrics and melody of the song, enhancing its emotional appeal. Even with a terrible piece of software, I was able to “say” much more than a word processor would have allowed me. I highly doubt my ability to write a traditional essay that invokes the same emotions as the remix. It is possible, but it would require me to think in more concrete (and in my opinion, somewhat boring) ways. The visual medium allows for a more instant perception of metaphors—metaphors that combine with audio to expound upon the emotions and ideas being explored, metaphors that overlap one another and don’t require an interpreter to translate their meaning. The viewer is the interpreter.
As quoted by Tyron C. (2008) in his discussion on political parodies, remixes often “require some form of ‘insider knowledge’ in order for the audience to interpret them properly” (p. 211). In the case of my remix, “Seeing Silence,” I would agree. The reference to Sharon Tate is not clear unless the viewer has prior knowledge of her history and appearance. However, I believe whether the viewers understand the full complexity of the specific choices or not, they are still able take away their own interpretations of meaning. They are still being challenged to think complexly about the images’ relationships, and they may even decide to research the clips for a better understanding. Furthermore, the digital medium of remixing provides the perfect venue for conducting that research.
Because of the individualistic nature of its interpretation, I believe video composition most closely relates to poetry in terms of writing and reading. Both mediums also lend themselves to more in depth textual analyses by discourse communities—not to say that other forms of composition don’t; these are simply the two I most closely identify with. Other forms of visual art and writing, including photography, painting, fiction, etc., also prompt further analysis. However, both poetry and video composition heavily rely on images to provide readers with instantaneous access to meaning through metaphor, and those metaphors share an intertextual nature. Poetry, when read aloud, also combines the aural aspect of enhanced emotion that I associate with remixing. While other mediums of visual art and writing often seek to tell a story, poetry and remixes tend to focus more on thematic content created with fragmented stories.
Unlike most forms of writing, including poetry, remix lends itself to stylistic diversity in a single work. Traditional writing remains somewhat inflexible in stylistic blending, stretching beyond the borders of genre and into a more inherent notion of voice. While I’m sure remix composers develop their own voice over time, one remix can contain dozens of stylistically diverse clips and images. For example, some clips in my remix depict black and white ephemeral footage, while others are derived from more modern, user-generated content. Some images are close-up shots. Another clip pans over a still image and zooms in on the shape of a Pegasus formed by smoke. The options for combinations in remixing are endless, and the multitude of sources embraces intertextuality without limitation.
In traditional composition, only multigenre pieces come close to providing writers with a similar number of stylistic options. However, traditional writing lacks the immediacy of remix in every step of the creative process. Remixing provides the freedom to access and publish content quickly and independently. I didn’t have to search Rowan’s expensive databases or submit my remix to various journals for publication, yet I was still able to create a complex text that challenges people to think about important concepts related to the human condition. To me, the aforementioned definition gives my remix both literary and academic qualities.
In this remix, “Seeing Silence: A Visual Remix of ‘The Sounds of Silence’ by Simon & Garfunkel, 1965,” I challenged myself by attempting to visually represent an idea that was not my own, rather one I came across that aligned with my beliefs. Having grown up in a time when MTV actually played music videos, I have always been drawn to the visual interpretation of music. In a distilled sense, I tried to make my own Simon & Garfunkel music video. In a more elaborated version, I attempted to show the ever-growing emotional disconnect between individuals in modern society. I think the best way to discuss my rhetorical choices is to analyze them chronologically in relation to the song.
I began the video with a clip of Paul Simon discussing the meaning behind the song as a way to introduce readers to the text. The visual part of that clip ends, but Simon’s voice continues to play over the images that follow. Next comes a clip from the Iranian protests of 2009. As Simon talks about people’s inability to communicate, Iranian protesters record videos of the chaos with their cell phones, a communication tool. However, the riots in the streets of Iran indicate a much larger issue—a society’s attempt to communicate their anger and dissatisfaction with their government.
Next, I cut to a clip from the Vietnam protests in the U.S. where a man is being dragged off by law enforcement. This image shows the universal nature of the issue by depicting a similar scene in a different setting. It also enhances Simon’s words as he says, “You have people unable to touch other people.” Clearly, the man is physically touching other people, but emotionally, the exact opposite is taking place. As Simon continues, “unable to love other people,” I cut to another Vietnam protestor holding a sign that (I believe) reads: “PEACE WITH BEATLESPOWER IS FUNLOVE FOR LIFE.” While I’m not entirely sure what the slogan means, it contradicts with the struggles of drafted soldiers, black Americans, and women, all of whom faced oppression during that time. This oppression directly relates to Simon’s ideas about humanity’s inability to communicate and love one another.
As Simon stops talking and the song begins, I cut to marching protestors. The clip shows only the legs and feet of the protesters to once again demonstrate the universal nature of the issue. The image slows down just as the music begins to provide viewers with a meditative feeling. Then it fades into an image of Sharon Tate. Viewers see her profile as she’s being interviewed, and this gives off a calm sense of division—not frenzied, but separate. The viewer is not yet a part of the remix, but rather an observer.
As Simon & Garfunkel sing, “Hello darkness my old friend,” Tate smiles as if greeting this “old friend.” The personification of darkness in the lyrics to comes to life through Tate. Here, the viewer would need to know who Tate was and what happened to her in order to understand the intertextuality at play. However, even viewers who are unaware of her brutal murder can probably understand that she is a symbol of innocence because the clip fades into a flower blooming and then back to her.
I edited the flower clip with film grain and film age to contrast with the crisp beauty we see in the images of Tate. Then I split the Tate clip and applied slower speed and film grain because I wanted to capture a specific look she gives the camera when the interview is ending. The look signifies a side of Tate that is somehow more “human” or “real” than the side she portrays while knowingly on camera. I continued to use the film grain throughout the remix not only to provide a cohesive aesthetic, but also because it represents the viewers’ inability to see other people—to be aware of issues outside of themselves—one of the song’s primary themes.
Another clip of Tate follows and ends with the lyrics, “within the sound of silence.” The lyrics and image of Tate show how she was silenced, but it also represents how violence silences people in many ways. Victims of violence often do not or cannot speak up. I cut the clip and trimmed it to show the pan shot of a city (Los Angeles, I think), which was a part of the Tate footage. However, it works to convey the idea of multiple victims, not only Tate. I inserted two more clips of protesters (Civil Rights and Iranian) inside the pan shot. This enhances the lyrics of the song playing over it: “In restless dreams I walked alone/ Narrow streets of cobblestone/ ‘Neath the halo of a street lamp/ I turn my collar to the cold and damp.” While the protesters are not walking alone, they are being marginalized or oppressed in some way which relates back to the idea of division. The Civil Rights protesters walk together on a street (“Narrow streets…”), and a street lamp and fire in the following clip relate to the “halo.” Similarly, as the clip pans back to Tate, her collar is turned toward the viewer.
The next clip cuts to a flash of light which matches perfectly with the lyrics. An atom bomb test is the source of “the flash of a neon light/ That split the night.” I cut to footage from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s funeral and a shot of Martin Luther King walking. The viewer does not need to know that it is Roosevelt’s funeral in order to understand that the people grieving are communicating in nontraditional ways. Because President John F. Kennedy’s death inspired Simon to write this song, I wanted to incorporate a mass crowd of people experiencing a powerful emotion simultaneously—a quintessential form of communication—one that does not require words. King’s death inspired the same emotions, so viewers can make the connection through him.
I wanted to use a part of the live performance of the song from which I derived the audio. I picked the clip because Simon & Garfunkel both look directly into the camera, hence at the viewer. Therefore, the viewer transitions from an observer into a participant. Then, I cut more atom bomb footage with clips of an experiment in the revival of a dog’s heart. The heart is beating, but it is attached to a machine, not inside a body. This juxtaposition shows the destructive nature of disconnection. A house explodes as the song reaches a critical peak, enhancing the emotion related to the ideas.
The following clip shows a herd of horses crossing a river as the lyrics say, “‘take my arms that I might reach you,’” which implies hope. Then I cut back to the atom bomb as the song continues, “But my words like silent rain drops fell,” signifying that the hope is gone. I took a still shot from the atom bomb footage because the smoke formed the shape of a Pegasus. Not only is this an interesting visual, but it also implies that even in the midst of destruction, creation exists. I allow viewers to meditate on this still by panning across it diagonally as it zooms in toward the Pegasus. Then I cut to horses running, which I edited to look old and to alter the speed. This clip acts as a transition to the end of the song.
The last verse of the song picks up both volume and emotion, so I created a montage featuring several different clips: graffiti being drawn on a subway, subway trains rushing by, the Iranian protests, and the Vietnam protests. I edited most of these clips to speed them up to give the viewer a frenzied, hectic feeling that coincides with the song.
Finally, I ended by slowing down one of the subway trains and fading back to Tate. Dr. Wolff suggested I bring Tate back in at the end, so that viewers are not confused by how much time was spent focusing on her in the beginning. I agree with his comment, and I hope that by bring Tate back at the end, viewers who do not know her story will take the time to research it. The last clip shows the atom bomb exploding, which I repeated several times throughout the remix as a reminder of the implications of human disconnection. For the credits, I chose to use another meditative song, “Moon Fever” by Air, to allow viewers to reflect on the remix and its meaning.
This remix was much more calculated and planned than my previous one. Every single clip, every single cut, every single choice I made had a rhetorical purpose in the representation of the song. I think because I was portraying someone else’s idea, I wanted to make it match as closely with Simon’s discussion as possible—to do the song justice. My previous remix was more suggestive in nature, and therefore the rhetorical choices are not as tight. Working on this remix has inspired me to revise my old one and make it better. I also feel I have a better command of video editing software since I incorporated new skills into this project. I hope that viewers are as satisfied as I am with the “final” draft.
Mast, G. & Kawin B. F. (2009). A short history of the movies (Abridged 10th ed.). NY: Pearson Education.
Tryon, C. (2008). Pop politics: Online parody videos, intertextuality, and political participation. Popular Communication, 6, 209–213. [PDF]