By Michael Neal
I have had the pleasure of both reviewing and now responding to Blake Washington’s “Worth Striving For” remix project. The first time I viewed and listened to this project, it was primarily an audio project with a single, static image (found in the current project at 4:16-4:20). I knew from the outset that this was a well-crafted and performed spoken-word project. I had some questions as to the extent that this was a remix, asking in my review if the linguistic text was compiled from different sources or if it was original. (I found out subsequently it was the latter.) The project was a remix primarily because Washington wrote about the topic for a more traditional research paper before remixing it into this spoken word piece. With the audio being the primary modality for the piece, I first focused intently on the lyrics and especially the rise and fall in both volume and intensity, the cadence of his speaking voice that I think nods to the gospel preaching tradition that informed so much of the Civil Rights discourse and continues today. To me the cadence felt at once natural in response to the content and engineered to evoke the spirit and emotions of the listener.
The addition of more visual content re-shaped my experience with the text altogether. In my review, I simultaneously suggested and expressed concern about adding more visually. While I thought it would engage the audience, I wasn’t sure if or how they might detract from the central audio text. It is a spoken word project after all. Despite my concerns, I couldn’t be more complimentary of the work Mr. Washington did with the visuals. While neither the audio or visuals for the text are particularly complicated technologically (in his reflection Washington is clear about the programs to which he had access as well as his skill level), the thoughtfulness of the relationship between the linguistic and visual texts is noteworthy. This is further complicated by the challenges he faced finding royalty-free images and video for his project or obtaining permission for copyrighted visuals, something I struggle with in my own work. Identifying the right image and synching it perfectly with the audio text takes pain-staking time and attention to detail, but it amplifies and complicates the message in important ways. The purposeful juxtaposition of audio and visual texts is no small accomplishment, and I think it is the greatest strength of this project, one that might be invisible to viewers unless directed.
I appreciate the paradox of the central message that racial equality is a goal that is both unattainable and worth striving for. Simple. Straight-forward. Strong. I appreciate the repetition of lines (e.g., “I don’t understand anymore,” “Be honest with me”) that re-enforces and brings us back to the central theme. It helped reset my hearing to become prepared for the next lines of content. At times the rise and fall of intensity was a bit extreme for my tastes, but I gasped aloud at the line “black men shot dead” with the rapid scrolling of photos of those killed by the authorities. I also especially appreciated the moments where the screen goes black, which focused my attention back to the audio and created the mental space to listen to and reflect on the line being delivered.
Thanks to Mr. Washington for his hard work in composing and revising this engaging multimodal text and to The JUMP+ for publishing it. It’s certainly an excellent model of what can happen when we invite students to remix traditional writing assignments to create a new digital composition.