by Steven Jeffrey Lemieux
At the outset of this response I want to note that I have The Stuff Dreams are Made Of playing in the background. I’ve done most, if not all of my writing, to a soundtrack for about as long as I can remember, and often than not the music fades into the background as I get wrapped up in writing. But there are still moments when the music breaks through my concentration. I don’t want to make any claims about how much an impact whatever it is I’m listening plays in what I write, but I like the thought that Kalvonix and Big Luv are playing some, if small, active part in my writing a response to their album.
They begin their project with an intro track that acts as a grandiose project statement for their “multimodal collaboration.” Throughout the track they make a series of claims about their own project; they bombastically, proudly maybe, call it out as the “epitome of multimodal composition.” They’re consciously working across multiple material and conceptual modes. Most obviously they’re blending music and language, but before that they’re already first writing both the music and lyrics. It’s another transition, a re-mediation, to take their writing and perform it. The slight rough patches, when they get a bit off beat, are great reminders that this is a performance, that by rapping their writing they’re already making it multimodal. The play between the loose, living, performed human voices and mechanical (but just as performed beats) highlights that Kalvonix & Big Luv aren’t just performing with one another but with the music they’ve created and the host of machines they’re using, too. The slight refrain “write, rap, record, listen” acts to remind the listener what it is that they are engaged with, that we’re listening alongside Kalvonix & Big Luv, engaging part of their composition practice, that, again, the active performance of their songs is part of the composition, that reading the lyrics or listening to the beats alone isn’t taking up the project.
Alongside these more material modes we can also take up their blend of rap and literary analysis as another layer of multimodality. There’s some tension between these two modes, especially between the more guarded analysis and the empowering self assuredness that seems to be a key component in rap and that especially comes through in the personas Kalvonix & Big Luv. Throughout the album they play with this tension through the use of multiple characters or speakers. Rather than performing to a specific audience and adjusting accordingly, as is often the case in student writing, these authors actively manipulate their own personas by adoption different characters as they move between different texts.
In their intro they make clear that they’re taking up rap as both a genre and as what we might call technology of delivery. With the line “rap doesn’t always have to be so negative” it’s possible to see this project as being just as much about working against genre stereotypes as it is a literary analysis. Their project, then, embraces multimodality in its arguments as well as its material and conceptual components.
Jody Shipka, in her text Toward a Composition Made Whole makes the case for a broad understanding and careful examination of multimodality. In the conclusion she reiterates the need for new maps that we need to better engage multimodal composition; she writes that “these new maps of composing must work to highlight semiotic remediation practices by examining the various ways that semiotic performances are re-presented or re-mediated through the combination and transformation of available resources (human, nonhuman, and natural)” (131). She puts as much weight on a reader’s ability to read multimodal composition as such as on the author’s composition practices. The Stuff Dreams are Made Of is a project that shows a sophisticated degree of multimodal blending. It weaves together different disciplines, materials, voices, and arguments, and as listeners we can meet them halfway.
Shipka, Jody. Toward a Composition Made Whole. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. Print.