Final project help and advice – read before you start work

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by Owen Green

– Sound sketches: Keep sight of the fact this is a sound design project (which is easily done as you burrow into patches / concepts). I would very strongly advise the following:

* Before getting bogged down in patching etc. make a very quick and very dirty sonic sketch of the kind of outcome that you have in your ‘mind’s ear’. This should take no more than a couple of hours; work by following the path of least resistance, grab sounds from wherever, put them together in whatever environment you are most fluent in (e.g. a DAW), don’t worry about rough edges etc.

*The value of this (and it is immense) is that you have a handle with which to periodically pull yourself out of the narrow focus imposed by patching etc. and to remind yourself of your wider goal (even if these are changing). Repeat periodically (every week or two).

– Writing / Reading: Don’t wait until you’ve started (or even think you’ve finished) reading to start writing!

* For those of you with a fairly clear question in mind, sketch out responses now (maybe ~1k words) on the basis of intuition / previous reading / whatever.

* For those of you with a vaguer idea, hammer out shorter exploratory responses to potential questions.

* Use your blogs for this if you wish (certainly a good idea for a number of reasons). This helps you direct your reading from the outset, rather than trying to digest an entire literature and then pull some sense from it: Remember, reading is most effective when you’re doing so with a specific question in mind.

* Again, do this regularly. Once / twice a week maybe. Your write-ups will be all the better for it: they will more focussed, better researched, and you will have far greater opportunities to consult us and your peers on issues of style, structure, argument and language if you have some writing to share well in advance of the last possible minute. It is important to break the not-writing -> writing barrier as soon as possible (for the good of your stress levels as much as anything!).

* The ‘academic’ thing: There is always confusion about this. ‘Academic’ does not mean stuffy writing, nor a strict adherence to rational empiricism, nor a mandatory engagement with continental philosophy (and so on). It does mean (or should) work that is rigorous, clear, contextualised, precise, focussed and explicitly aware of the boundaries of its inquiry. There are of course a number of possible focusses that your writing could take; it could be an aesthetic response to your work and *work like it*, or a methodological focus, or a technological focus. What it preferably won’t be is a descriptive journal of your work where you avoid the risk of exposing yourself by making robust claims about the nature of your (and others’) work. Whilst I have preferences out of that list, it has to depend on the nature of the practical work being done and the questions that *you* are asking.

* Nevertheless, try not to worry about this for the time being. It is much, much more important that you just start writing!

* Also! If you’re thinking of using Latex, don’t wait until you think you’ve learnt it to start writing! Accept that if you’re doing Latex as you go, there will be some mistakes; or just defer the Latex-ification until later; or (which is what I’m looking at doing at present) go via an easier intermediate form like markdown (fletcherpenney.net/multimarkdown/use/) to quickly produce your drafts.

– Workflow

* Try not to be sequential in working, e.g. don’t decide that you must finish your monster-patch before thinking about sound, and that you must do all practical work before starting to read / write. These strands of the project are co-dependent, and need to be allowed to develop in parallel.

* Strive to always know what you’re doing next. If you roll that way, there are some helpful software packages like Things (culturedcode.com/things/).

* Re-vist your work plans regularly. Always have some shortish-term deadlines (like a week) for various components. For example, by next Wednesday: complete an alpha version of your patch, have a sound sketch, have written 1000 words of broad response to your question, have annotated five items in your bibliography. The value here is in short-circuiting any tendency to over-focus on perfection at the cost of project momentum: do whatever is needed, no matter how ropey, to get some alpha functionality in your patch; write in fragments of English if need be; skim read (at first) to gauge usefulness.

* Read something interesting? Thought you’d put into your bibliography later? Nope. Do it now! Install Zotero (or Mendeley) and get acquainted; Zotero makes adding material via the browser ridiculously easy (in FF I get a ‘add item’ my address bar). For journal articles familiar yourself with the wonders of adding by DOI. BUT: don’t be fooled into thinking that Zotero will get it right all the time; check its data, and correct where needed. If you need to include non-standard items (recordings, scores, fragments of video) then figure out how to do this sooner rather than later (e.g. get a decent style guide, ask google / us)

* Stuck? Spending long stretches staring into the middle distance? Try working 10 minutes on, two minutes off. It is scarily effective. Get a timer (it works much better ‘on the clock’). Work intensely for ten minutes, taking whatever short-cuts necessary; rest for two minutes (get up, stretch, think, whatever, but don’t work). You will find that you have more ideas on what to do next from the enforced rest. Seriously. Take regular proper breaks: every 90 minutes (say) make sure you take 15 minutes away from the screen (preferably outside) to refresh.

Posted in Sound Design Final Project ARCH11012