Digital Sculpting

Paragraph by Paragraph
Paragraph by Paragraph

I spent a good part of the morning reviewing much of the material I’ve written for the internet over the last several years.  In the mid 90’s, when I was still connecting to the web via dial-up, I had made a few websites that contained original writing, but like ‘zines themselves, languished away unseen.  In the year 2000 I tried this again, having transplanted myself to Portland, and having an interest in HTML.  But is was sometime in 2002 that I really started keeping a blog, for real.  I remember the reason, too: that I could use the format to produce more writing on a near-daily basis, so I could stay limber, and possibly produce material that I could edit and use in a ‘zine.  Naively, I was still thinking that blogging wouldn’t take, that I would run with it for a while, and then give up.

And yes, that would happen.  Quite often.  Long breaks between posts, followed by re-committing myself to a highly formal daily process.  I would use new interfaces, skip between doing the code myself and using some service.  I would fluctuate between highly personal and extremely formal, searching for a tone that was mine.  In looking at the posts I’d assembled, I noticed that writing for the web – like writing ‘zines – has a unique form that must be refined over time.  The more blogs you read, the more you begin to find what works and what doesn’t.

Of course, you would also have to convince yourself that you have some kind of audience, too.  In looking at previous iterations of this blog, I find it interesting that I assume I have a large number of readers that follow the blog closely.  Compensation?  Most certainly, but also a sort of confidence, too, perhaps.  The idealism of youth.  I’m sure you can say that there is a difference between that which is written under immediate public scrutiny vs. that which is written over time, left to ferment and develop at its own pace.  Perhaps, more than anything, I was able to convince myself that I did have readers, so I could try writing in that affected kind of way.  In a way, I just like to pretend.

Over time, like most blogs and bloggers, a lot of my content contained an incredible amount of personal content, both specific and symbolic, in efforts to purge and vent about things that most people never asked about.  While I do not deny that those elements have been a huge part of this thing over time, with hindsight I have moved those items to a journal, where they are not in danger of being seen by anyone by me.  The best history is re-written after the fact anyway.

There are some entries that I really liked.  There were others I didn’t.  There were times where I wished I had done x, then it turned out that I did do x, just not until after I’d done y first.  There were other times where I realized I left out the best part, and other times where I was so afraid to elaborate, that I would just include only the best part.  I could usually tell the times that I was doing all (or some) of this on purpose, but it was those magical entry where I no longer could tell why I had written it, because it actually just worked well on its own, those are the ones I like the best.

Anyway, we’ve streamlined things, reduced and improved, and added a little flair when possible.  The tags keep related items together, but the whole things ebbs and flows based on my own particular whims.  We’ll see how long I can keep this one up.

Three weeks, maybe?


Radio The Way It Should Be Done

I (Heart & <3) Ben Blacker
I (Heart & <3) Ben Blacker

As we begin to weave our way into the Golden Age of podcasting, two things remain abundantly clear:

1.) More and More people include podcasts among the kinds of media they consume on a daily basis

2.) The People who are the best at producing podcasts make shows that they would like to hear themselves.

Neither of these points are shocking, or even revelatory in any way.  Newspapers went through a very slow but similar evolution over time, gaining more and more readers, and being created in a way to reflect the creators own desires.  The same can be said for radio and television.  This is merely the process through which media gains the respect needed to be considered a legitimate outlet.  Which, of course, brings us to the very crux of all of this to begin with: none of this was the case six years ago, when podcasting still seemed like the future, something that “wasn’t quite there yet.”  By 2007, you were already behind the curve if you didn’t include a podcast now and then in you list of things you Liked on a public social media site, and now, as genuine digital networks are beginning to flourish while terrestrial stations shrug their heads and licence off a few more minutes per hour to an insurance company.  Six years is an incredibly short period of time to make the transition from Obscure to Source Of Daily Entertainment.

And that, to me, is fantastic.

Not only has podcasting finally delivered the promise that radio seemed to make in the late ’60’s and ’70’s (media belongs to the people, dude!), but it’s allowing entire genres to develop, and others to return, in ways that commercial radio could never allow.  It’s not just that podcasting could outperform radio in terms of cost, but by virtue of the much wider reach that the entire Inter-Web has to offer, nearly any show can develop and blossom as they reach a devoted web community provided they actually can deliver in terms of content.  Even shows with poor production quality can hit a home-run provided the hosts are funny, the subjects interesting, and the overall show carries a certain element of fun.

Nerdist Industries, brainchild of Chris Hardwick, has been extremely adept when it comes to keeping things fun.  And one person that seems to have internalized the notion is Ben Blacker, the host of both Nerdist Writers Panel, and writer of The Thrilling Adventure Hour, both excellent examples of the possibilities of podcasting.

The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a podcast based around edited highlights of recordings of live performances of the titular stage show.   Ben Blacker works with a troupe of actors – The Workjuice Players – to produce audio theater “in the style of old time radio” where they offer supernatural thrillers, cowboy space adventures, sixties-style superhero parody, and everything else in-between.  Using foley artists and music to flesh out the experience, this show not only reflects the sensibilities of old-fashioned narrative audio theater, but the modern sensibilities that they infuse this product with offer a level of playfulness that actual old time radio never managed to allow.  (With the possible exceptions of Groucho Marx, or Abbott & Costello.)  While something like this would languish on traditional radio in spite of a wide range of guests the show regularly features, in the world of podcasting it can thrive.

In many ways, Nerdist Writer’s Panel is the opposite of TAH.  Ben Blacker hosts this show, instead of writing it.  The show features discussion panels with a variety of writers from various fields, instead of offering a dramatized version of a story Ben has written.  In fact, where TAH is the final product of Ben’s writing process, NWP offers Ben a chance to discuss the craft of writing with peers, in a fairly informal manner.  While the guests can often make or break the draw of any show, Ben Blacker manages to keep the show focused, keep the guests on track, and to keep the conversation ever focused on the subject at hand: the art of writing.  As someone who fancies himself interested in word craft and word play, this show is endlessly fascinating, to the point where I’m interested in listening to people talk about TV shows that I have never seen – nor do I want to – and yet I’m attentively listening to how they broke the pilot episode.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Nerdist Industries has, in many ways, done things right: they grew their fanbase out of things that they themselves would find interesting.  Case in point: the format of many of these shows.  Out of financial necessity, many podcasts these days are live recordings of conversations that happen with the hosts and guests, often done in one take, and with little production or editing afterward.  And, in many cases, “conversation” is being kind.  Bullshit is what it really comes down to.  A group of people get together and bullshit about all sorts of crap.  And record it.  And post it on the internet.

While this might seems like “bargain basement” in terms of production values, the fact of the matter is that the kinds of people these shows are aimed at are people who love to sit around and have these exact same kind of bullshit sessions.  Podcasts, through evolution, created the conversational talk show, a form of bullshit that is so relate-able and identifiable that it is very easy to be drawn to these kinds of conversations.  We would be having them ourselves if we weren’t commuting, or sitting at our desks, or if our friends weren’t already at work, or if we weren’t already somehow impaired from being able to spew our own bullshit.  Instead, we like to fill that time with other people having those kinds of conversations instead.

Nerdist Industries has also recently launched a fantastic YouTube Channel that’s not only an extension of the other great things that Nerdist offers, but also has vintage Kids In The Hall clips, among other things.  However, my money is now on the Writer’s Panel shows, of which there are at least 20 more that I haven’t yet heard.

There’s nothing like an iPod full of podcasts to make any day feel right.