These musings are meant to go alongside the Project Co-ordinators blog for the Deconstructing Pecha Kucha (PK) project, written by Pollie Barden, and the other participating artist’s blog, written by Gemma Nash.
I’m just going to give my own perspective from notes that I took at the time! So there is little filtering of my ideas.
Audio: Anagrammatical Unsods Hint: when you’ve finished listening, click ‘back’ in your browser to continue reading.
I was asked to do the Deconstructing PK project in early June and gladly went along with the idea, even though I had only vaguely heard of PK as a means of presenting work. I reckoned that at some point someone would ask me to do a PK presentation and I better understand a little about it!
However, more importantly is the fact that I thought I had a chance to deconstruct the PK format too. As a Situationist artist who loves to make subtle subversions, I thought it would be an ideal project to progress my artistic practice.
Bending the Rules
The structure of PK of having 20 images shown for 20 seconds isn’t great for a visually impaired artist whose work is multisensory. So my initial thought was how could I try to keep to the 20 second 20 images limitation of PK but allow the audience members to sense the essence of my work.
I was also terrified about how I could accurately talk about a visual image for 20 seconds, followed by another and another … and still keep the speech corresponding to the image on the screen. I couldn’t work out how I would keep the timing/pace in synchronisation for over 6 minutes.
Thus, I decided pretty early on in the project that I wanted audio cues to let me know when the image was changing. I briefly thought of just doing 20 sounds for 20 seconds each, but decided that we live in such a visual world that I needed the images to assist sighted people to feel comfortable. Also, my work is about the visual as well as the other senses. So 20 images and audio changing every 20 seconds would be the best solution in this case.
The next problem was that now I needed 20 images and 20 audio tracks – 40 individual artworks – to construct something, which I still hadn’t really decided how to present. This scared me a little as I knew time was limited over the summer due to other commitments. Therefore, I chose an easy solution, which was to do a retrospective of my visual and audio artworks.
My next decisions were on how I would construct and present the 20 combined images and audio tracks. Firstly, I had to think whether the images and audio were to correspond to one another or whether they were independent from one another. As I was putting a video piece into the PK structure, I knew at least one of the elements would be linked. However, I also liked the idea that most of the images and audio can work either independently from one another or juxtapose against one another. I also really wanted this structure as visually impaired and deaf audience members will still get an equally valid presentation. Therefore, there are really three presentations in one, namely a visual, an auditory and a combined visual/audio version.
Secondly, I now had to work out how to present the PK work. I thought about presenting 20 slides of images and 20 separate audio tracks, but that just seemed too complicated again to keep it synchronised. Thus, I decided to make a film where the images and audio would be pre-synchronised and I would then do minimal live dialogue over the film. The live element of the presentation would need to be sparse to enable the audio to be appreciated fully, but every element would be thought through exactly to the word.
I easily had over 30 images of artwork, plus two of myself, of which one had my lovely current guide dog Patsy on it, so selecting images was a matter of choosing the order to be interesting as a series in their own right, but also to work with the sounds and their ordering. I basically used a chronological order, but I didn’t strictly keep to this order when making the final film, however, it did help with initial selection.
Every Girl needs an iPhone
I had audio tracks from 1995 onwards that needed re-editing and I also needed to record new tracks and edit them for the PK project, as I didn’t have 20 recordings of the style I wanted to put with the images.
It had been a few years since I had recorded my own audio and edited it. Back 10 years ago I used to use minidisks and edit from one machine to another. It was very slow and hard to do, but possible if you had no useful vision. As I’ve misplaced the minidisks and used to have terrible problems independently getting the recordings onto the computer, then I decided I would upgrade my skills a little.
I decided to use an iPhone for the recordings, which wasn’t fabulous quality but suited the feel I wanted for the film. Also, I knew I could do basic recordings using an accessible app called Hokusai. This would also solve the problem of getting the initial recordings onto the computer as I could use Dropbox to upload them.
It’s Audacity for Me!
I now had to quickly – only a month to go to the final presentation – identify an editing package, which was free, or cheap, then learn how to use it. I decided that if I was going to edit with a package then I could use the small payment I had for the project on getting some training from a visually impaired audio expert, rather than chance it with a sighted audio trainer. Hence, Sherrie Griffiths of Speak For Yourself came to my rescue.
Within three hours I could do any of the basic editing including overlaying tracks and manipulating them. In addition Sherie taught me everything about the spoken word and how to sound more natural and gain enhanced rapport with the audience. Therefore, I also have the skills to do audio podcasting, which is what my next project is concerned in developing.
Putting It All Together!
As I’d used all my entire budget on the audio training and I didn’t have the skills or accessible software to construct the film by combining the images with the audio, I decided to employ a friend and colleague Melanie Cliffordto do the final edit for me. Melanie wonderfully managed to cut down my slightly over 20 second clips into the correct length and put them with the images I had indicated – and she did it all in record time.
I Hate Technology!
All the way through the project I was investigating accessible software for both making and presenting the film. I found a basic sound editor with Audacity that is useable but not completely accessible, but still haven’t identified a film editing package that is accessible.
If I thought the making of the film was difficult then the presentation was even harder to find something I could use with my screen reader. I tried various conferencing packages but in the end Skype was useable, but again not completely accessible. I could not run my own film from any of the presentation packages, so we gave up trying to find a solution and Pollie ran it for me. This felt a bit of a cop out, but I had spent hours and hours trying different packages and I was exhausted and fed up!
The Big Event
On September 25 both myself and Gemma presented our work over Skype to Pollie and Carien. I really enjoyed listening to Gemma’s artwork and I loved the fact that she had made it accessible by providing a live audio describer. I had practiced my speech over my film and liked the effect of that too.
I believe the main element that let down the overall effect of the live event was that the quality of Skype was very poor that day, although I’ve used it when there has been no problems. This means the recording is very poor quality too and I felt that people could listen to the film, which I called 202020: A Psychogeographers Tale and more, on Youtube, but that they have no real feel for the PK version with the live speech as you really can’t hear it that well.
About the Remaining Difficulties and Gains
This project had its highs and lows, but it was personally a very special project to be involved with as it took me out of my comfort zones.
A Big Thanks
I would very much like to thank Drake Music and Furtherfield for giving me this opportunity to progress my career so much within six months. I’ve learnt lots and made some wonderful friends too!