Blog Post

Eeeeeee, rrrrrrrr, *flip*! Sounding out from Durham, NC

Eeeeeee, rrrrrrrr, *flip*! Sounding out from Durham, NC

My involvement with the digital humanities—and now the HASTAC community—started with what I saw as a generative overlap between digital scholarship and the field sound studies. My research focuses on the cultural history of the LP in jazz, specifically in the way that the long-playing record made it possible to record extended improvisations in the studio and in live performance. I’m interested in the multifaceted relationship between musical performance and technologies of reproduction and how such sonic technologies influenced artistic/musical production.  

Since much of my work emphasizes the (sometimes hidden) role of record production, I found resonance with the questions and provocations of digital humanists about the means and forms of scholarly production. So I worked with my colleagues and former HASTAC scholars Mary Caton Lingold and Whitney Trettien to obtain support for the soundBox project from Duke’s PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge. I’m sure to be writing about my involvement with soundBox in the coming months, but for my introductory post I want to focus on how I’ve started using digital tools for my personal organization and to improve my workflow. I should take a brief moment to shout out to Annette Joseph-Gabriel’s recent HASTAC post on workflow and Mary Caton Lingold’s post on study habits that got me thinking. 

I’ll admit that I’m a workflow junkie. I’ve tried iPads, netbooks, desktops, and laptops. I’ve attempted to integrate Evernote, iAnnotate, Goodreader, Simplenote, Plaintext, Instapaper, and Zotero in to my everyday activities only to realize that I prefer Endnote, Pocket, Dropbox, and all things Google. I’ve been a Scrivener user for 4+ years now, which I’ve used to organize my dissertation research and writing (it’s hard to imagine my life without Scrivener’s scratch pad). When I was recently asked to give a short presentation at Duke’s PhD Lap Skills Session about HASTAC, Twitter, and Google Drive I decided to share with the HASTAC community how I use Google Sites to organize my professional self. 

Do you, like me, ever have the problem where you can’t find (or remember where you put) that updated conference bio, CV, syllabus, grant application you wrote at the end of 2009/10/11? Searched in endless word documents for your most recent bibliography, discography, or 150-word summary of your dissertation? Through the 2011 grant-writing season, I had become increasingly frustrated by my how much time I felt like I was wasting while searching for my own work already accomplished. I decided to try and build and personal (but private) google site and have been happier ever since. 

I found the interface intuitive and since it doesn’t require any programming skills, it only took a week to build my site and put up my content. I like that I can update and access it from anywhere with an internet connection and quickly reference (and edit) the different aspects of my academic life. I use it as an organizational hub. I have discographies, bibliographies, old grant applications, my CV master list, my formatted CV (a google doc with built in integration), class syllabi in progress, former syllabi, class grades, and quick notes from events, classes, and lectures I attend. It takes some maintenance, but I no longer have to search through versions of CVs, project descriptions, and conference abstracts. It integrates great with google drive, youtube, and other internet gadgets. At the very least, it gives me the feeling of efficiency since I can access all my information from one location. 

Sure, it’s on the web. Yes, I’m sure some mid-level hacker could probably find their way into my information though it doesn’t come up in searches. Frankly, they are welcome to browse my unsuccessful grant applications and my barely readable course syllabus. Have at it. It’s a tool for organization that has solved at least one of my workflow problems. Someday I’d like to make it a public document of my work, but for the moment it just helps me stay organized.

Here are some screen shots to give an idea of what it looks like: 





Hi Darren—

Really excited to see a fellow sound enthusiast and workflow nut here on HASTAC. I just wanted to say that your google site integration here is pretty slick, especially the way that this could make the transition to a full-blown website in one step.

As a plaintext Markdown nut, I basically use the program nvALT in the same manner, storing my individual "note files" inside my Dropbox. I basically keep everything I've ever written in there, from syllabi to class papers and of course a document named "Current CV." I think it's search and tagging features are really useful, and because it's plaintext in Dropbox, also accessible from anywhere. And since Markdown can go pretty easily to HTML, I could also throw a lot of this stuff on the web, but with several more steps.

That's just by way of sharing. It's another kind of solution, though admittedly a much less creative one!



Hi Craig,
Thanks for sharing the info about nvALT. From the looks of it, the application seems very flexible and customizable. I’ll have to check it out. 
My one problem with google sites has been trying to find ways of integrating sound into my workflow. I can embed soundcloud, youtube, and other links, but so far I haven’t found anything that allows to work with sound the way I’d like to. Perhaps once audacity extends their chrome app to macs. Until then … 
Any tricks you know of? 

Sadly, I don't have any good online audio tricks.  Though I was doing some Googling today, and it seems like some of the audio playback functions buiilt into HTML 5 have some really incredible possibilities. I keep thinking about Jonathan Sterne's post last year on "audio in digital humanities." Here is a relevant section on how he would like audio to function on websites:


2.6. Close listening: It would be outstanding if a user were able to manipulate the audio in some basic ways that mimic the nonlinearities inherent in “close reading practices:
Not only skipping around, but
a) speeding up, slowing down,
b) scrubbing,
c) marking in and out points,
d) and freezing.
It would be great mobilze some HASTAC resources and some #dhsound peeps to see if/how some of these goals might be possible.

I've tweeted ths out as one of the most useful, patient blogs detailing personal data management I know.  Wonderful.  Many thsnks. 



So one thing that interests me about this workflow set up is the idea of maintaining all the different drafts of a project. At the Scalar workshop, we saw how Scalar will store every draft of a page, so that both the author and readers can see how the project developed. I'd really like to think about how we can promote this kind of reading using other platforms, such as Google Sites, or Wiki. I think of this now because I just created a new document for the first chapter of my dissertation - "Chapter 1 Outline: Draft 2" - but realized that not only do I want to hold on to my original thoughts about the organization of the chapter, but I'd actually like to share them, emphasizing process over product. I think one way to make this a successful project would be to get around simply uploading various different drafts - a reader will probably almost never look at anything but the most recent document. So how can someone set up a site that really compels (or asks nicely) the reader to take seriously the process of drafting that the project went through to get to where it is? I like the idea that a reader might see something in an old draft that was dropped in a later draft, and potentially start a conversation around that, so the conversation isn't dictated solely by the final choices that the author made. And I like the idea of a conversation being generated around the thought process of and labor that went into a project, and not just the product itself. How would you imagine a digital project that actually represents workflow itself for readers, meant to be read? And what does this say about how we conceive of the act of reading?


One program that has been really helpful to me in mapping out all of the concepts I want to deal with in my dissertation is The Brain. Below is a screen shot of one view of it. It is actually much more dynamic. You can click on any of the terms below and see how they are connected to other terms. You can add notes, upload documents, or create links to any of the terms, as well. 


I realized after my last post that The Brain might be really useful for creating a workflow document that the reader can explore. So I just quickly created an example "brain" of what a preliminary workflow document, in its beginning stages, might look like. 

Attached to each term in this brain, e.g. "Chapter 1, first draft and notes," I can create a link to the document. As I said, this screen is dynamic, so as you click or hover over terms, various connections reveal themselves, terms shift, the concept map changes. Unfortunately, you need to pay a lot of money to get the version of The Brain that will allow you to upload more than a screen shot to a website, so that the reader can actually play around with it. I tried to convince Duke OIT to purchase it so that students can download it for free but . . . well, that didn't happen. 


Claire, is this the product you reference here?



Hey Amanda, that's it! I need to take the time to really find out what the Pro version offers to see if I could use it for a digital project, either as part of my portfolio or as an extension of my dissertation. It seems like it would be much more worth the price if the Pro version would allow you to share your Brain with non-Brain users online. 


So I spent some time messing around with this handy program this morning and found it visually pleasing and potentially very useful for both DH projects and workflow organization. Of course, it would take me a little time to get used to all the ins and outs (I'll admit that I felt a bit lost trying to navigage and figure out what's possible). But Clare I'm curious to hear how you've integrated this into your thinking. Do you start from ground zero with this program? How does it translate to your writing? What happens when you want to reorgnize a draft, do you have to recorganize your brain (project, that is)? 

In terms of sharing your process through drafts, one of things I like about google sites is how you can easily create subpages and link them through built in widgets. You can use it as an archive for yourself, so that you have all your past thoughts right there at your fingertips. You can set each page to have a readers comments at the bottom -- I only wish it was possible to make comments like you can in googledocs, with the comment appearing on the side of the document. (I suppose you could imbed a google doc and do this, but it takes one extra step.)

Alternatly, there are different page templates (such as "annoucements"), which are orgniazed by a series of posts, like a blog. The most recent goes on the top, the others filter down. You could place you drafts in each post, put a sublisting at the top and have everything organized chronologically. 


Well, part of it may depend on how you think. I'm a very conceptual thinker and so it helps me to have a spatial map of my ideas and how they are connected. Outlines work at a certain point, but they force a non-linear project into a linear format. So when I am in the beginning stages of a project, doing a lot of reading and not sure yet how I will order my thoughts but still have a sense of how I see things connecting, making a conceptual map has been the most effective way to organize. I've seen a lot of people write their ideas out on index cards, and then tape their cards to a wall and draw lines to represent various connections. The Brain does exactly that, only its digital, so it's easier to alter connections (break them, create new ones) than it is to do on paper. You can highlight certain lines, or color code, them, as well, if you want to further parse things out. Plus, you can attach documents, notes and links, so it is actually more expansive than an outline. You can also upload an outline to the Brain and the program will translate it into a map. Looking at an outline in a spatial configuration has helped me to make new connections and find new routes of thought that I didn't see initially. The Brain also allows you to take a concept map and generate an outline from it, so there is a linear element built into it if you need to move back and forth. You do need to take time, though, to play with it and see how you can make it work best for you. 

I use Google Sites for my online portfolio. I do use it a little bit for workflow, but again, I prefer having a platform that is more dynamic and non-linear. For me, Google Sites is great when I want to present material in a very specific way, but what I like about the Brain is that it forces the user to explore - physically walk through and inhabit - different concepts and their connections. It does require more work, but that is why I like it. The user has to actually move through it and experience it; I feel like that opens up so many more possibilities for imagining to relationships between ideas that aren't explicitly represented. 

Also, it is great for teaching. Students love it! It helps them to see the big picture of what came out of a class conversation in a more concrete way. 


I've just started playing around with Scrivener. I mainly got it for transcribing a/v interviews, but so many people I know love it that I figured I could benefit from its other tools. Haven't had time to play with it much. I'm terrible at managing workflow, so I'm not sure yet if it's going to make the dis. process smoother or just add one more layer of effort (I do love it's ease and low cost for transcribing, though). With your experience using Scrivener, what would you say are the best features to start with?


Also, fyi on the subject of LPs--my research is about blindness and digital literacy. The LP (along w/ a lot of other sound technology) was originally developed with talking books for the blind in mind. Here's a bit on the history :



Your post reminded me that in my own research on environmental sounds I've often come across references to how early nature recordings made at Cornell became popular with blind listeners, both in the Talking Book program, and later through a radio series called "Know Your Birds." Maybe you already knew that. Anyway, here is a photo I took of one of the labels, from Special Collections at Cornell (you should be able to click through to download a full-size version):


Thanks, Craig, really interesting. I'm going to look into this more. I used to teach enviro. writing, so a nice connection to my past life. :)


Hi Melissa, 

Thanks for the comment! I'm aware that many sound recording technologies (even Edison's, I believe) were designed with talking and reading in mind. Both Lisa Gitleman and Johnathan Stern have written about this I think. Music was an afterthought to most of the early technologies in the late 19th century. I was unaware of the ABF's collaboration with RCA in the 1930s, which has got me thinking about the many ways histories of technology often have these amazingly hidden stories. One point of confusion for me: does this mean that there were commercially available 12in 33 1/3 talking book available in the 1930s and 1940s? 

I ask becuase the LP technology in this article is different than the LP technology developed by Columbia in the late 1940s (which developed into the technology most people refer to now as simply the LP). The same speed, maybe even the same material, but Columbia's technology was built in house and went in a few different directions that RCA's from the 1930s. RCA tried this technology during that decade but it never gained hold in the markets (though radios and the film industry continued to use it). In fact RCA largely dismissed Columbia's claim that their LP would revolutionize the recording industry becuase they had already tried this and failed. They were on the wrong side of histoy on that, but it did lead to the devoplemnt of the 45. Anyway, do you know if the produciton of talking books changinged lagely in the 1950s?  


Darren, I wish I knew the answer to your questions! I don't know a lot of the details of AFB's development of LPs (the RNIB in the UK was also involved in LP development and I'm not sure how their technology compared to AFB/ RCA). This stuff is a little outside of the research I'm currently doing for my dis, but it's of ancillary interest. I don't think that the early talking book technology were available commercially, but I can't say for sure. Something I want to dig into more--the intersections between assistive and commercial technology. May be my next project, so I'll keep you updated if I learn the details. I'd like to dig into the tech  archives of various blindness organizations.

So much to do!