Several weeks past, I attended a workshop on the use of storytelling for effective social engagement. Sitting at my table was a doctoral student interested in better ways to communicate concepts of ecological economics to the public. As we chatted about the various metaphors embedded within conventional economics, particularly around growth and development, I started thinking about stories that focus on the challenge of communication and the power of metaphor. Searching my mind for examples, I found myself returning once more to the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation for inspiration, this time to an episode titled Darmok.
“Windrider is a project that I began in 1989 when music began to form in my mind while reading Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind for the very first time. Back then my musical equipment encompassed a couple of synths, a sound module and a MIDI digital sequencer. I was sometimes surprised when I would simply put my hands onto the keyboard and melodies would erupt from my hand movements. I did not really understand what was happening but it soon became evident that the music suited certain scenes and moods within the Nausicaa manga.” – Karl Schaal, The Windrider Project
Sticking to last weeks’s topic on music and sound in storytelling, I wanted to share a series of development videos around Flower, a videogame released in 2009 by thatgamecompany. It’s one of my personal favourites, and in these videos, music composer Vincent Diamante and sound designer Steve Johnson talk about their experiences crafting an emotionally resonant narrative for a game without text, speech, or even characters. Take a look:
While listening to the incredible soundtrack of Cloud Atlas during my writing session, I thought back to a post I read a few months ago about the power of music in storytelling. In it, the author shares his firsthand experience with something most of us know to be true, that music can play a crucial role in enhancing narrative: “Emotions become clearer, drama becomes more intense, and action becomes more exciting. The whole story is augmented and pushed to a new level that the visuals alone can’t accomplish.” But can sounds by themselves, without words, become primary vehicles for storytelling? Connecting this thought back to an environmental theme, I came across this fascinating video by University of Minnesota undergrad Daniel Crawford in which he converts global temperature records in a piece he plays on his cello. Have a listen:
“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” – Sonmi 451 Thus sums up the core premise of Cloud Atlas, one of the more polarizing movies in recent memory and my personal favourite film for 2012. Spanning six stories over five centuries, many people found the movie slow, jarring, and difficult to follow. While I understand and accept some of these criticisms, they in no way diminish the sheer vision and ambition of this sprawling and profoundly human epic. If there ever was a film where the sum experience becomes more than its parts, Cloud Atlas is it. Before I begin, I want to share this short clip featuring directors Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer as they speak about their motivations for adapting David Mitchell’s novel for the big screen:
I don’t recall where I first came across the work of Edward Burtynsky; it could have been at the library, the bookstore, or one of those coffee shops with actual coffee table books. All I remember was being drawn to the front cover image of his collection of photographs, to the intense fluorescent shock of orange lava snaking through charred lands: A beautiful and awesome volcanic landscape. Only when I read the title, half immersed in the river’s glow, did I realize something was amiss. Manufactured Landscapes. As I flipped through the book, the beauty that I saw and the awe that I held for the landscape fell away, replaced by a swell of alarm and disbelief. The river wasn’t lava, the setting wasn’t volcanic, and nature had nothing to do with the creation of this particular landscape. One of the most powerful things art can do is challenge us to examine the assumptions we hold about the world. Burtynsky’s photographic forays into industrial shadows pushed me to confront my own notions on beauty and ugliness, the value …
This past week, I had the fortune to take part in two fascinating and separate discussions about the future. One was a dialogue with poets and writers envisioning our province’s economy in 2030. The other was a conference workshop with teachers and communicators exploring the role of imagination in environmental education. Both involved reflecting on the types of futures we want and identifying potential hurdle to those futures. These stimulating sessions of “collective dreaming” got me thinking about the role stories can play in the envisioning process. Naturally science fiction, a genre that deals specifically with potential futures, came to mind. To me, writing science fiction is a daunting challenge – worlds have to be constructed, political issues have to be addressed, and technologies have to be incorporated into society in ways that are both fantastical and plausible. I think a science fiction author who can create complex, believable, and captivating stories is one who has thought deeply about the human condition and the future of humanity, and is probably someone worth listening to.