Special Jewell has been the host of Haiku Speedbuild for twice as long as I’ve been a resident of a virtual world! So, when I received a notice yesterday that after 4 years as host of Haiku Speedbuild she’s decided to step down, I felt a bittersweet sense of loss. But I also knew that if she was soliciting applicants to take her job, I wanted to apply. Like so much of the Internet, virtual worlds are a place of remarkable diversity and amazing generosity. For about 8 years now Haiku Speedbuild has achieved, week in and week out, something educators across the globe have been trying so hard to discover: the meeting of fun and learning. In an hour participants inspire themselves and each other in both the aesthetics and the techniques of 3D creation. It’s an extraordinary event that I’ve loved occasionally participating in or visiting the builds during the week. The chance to see how others approach the same task as you is priceless, and the “constraint” of just an hour is indeed a liberating factor: freed from a focus on perfection participants have a real chance of entering a stream of creative flow.
If I’m lucky enough to become the new host of Haiku Speedbuild, my first priority will necessarily be to preserve and continue the legacy of fun, learning, and inclusive participation. I don’t want to mess anything up or have any heavier a hand than the beautiful lightness with which Special has facilitated the creativity of so many souls in these past couple hundred weeks.
If there is a place than I can nudge or inspire just a little, it will be to offer a little encouragement to reflect on aesthetics and abstraction. The beautiful work that this event continually produces is, very often, a “literal” interpretation of the words of the haiku. We see this in all media, in painting, in photography, in music videos. We love paintings that reproduce the beauty and healthy glow of our children; we love photographs that radiate with the amber warmth of a sunset; we love music videos that make visual the words of a song we love. Still, sometimes less literal, or more abstract work, can “open up” a piece. When Picasso painted African masks, he didn’t just render them in his medium, he transformed them into powerful iconography that took on new meanings. When Warhol took the everyday of pop culture and wove it into the tapestry of his life’s work, he added shadings and reflections that were far less apparent in the material’s natural habitat.
For me a haiku is less of a film script, and more of a tone poem. A flavor nugget of ideas that explodes with sensual delight on your mental tongue. I’d love it if just a little bit I could help Haiku Speedbuilders think about ways to be less literal in interpreting the words of the haiku, and to search for that explosive experience of the flavor nugget, however abstract it might be. Abstraction does’t always give us the easy beauty of that gorgeous painting or photograph, but it can open up a work to more perspectives from a larger audience. By being less specific, abstract works can resonate in the specificity of more souls.
Here’s a few music videos to illustrate this point. Taylor Swift’s Love Story is an enormously popular video. Like a rich Haiku Speedbuild it makes visual the words so many fans have enjoyed:
Taylor Swift: Love Story
Love Story is awfully pleasing for a lot of fans. I have to confess though, I’m not always a fan of music videos that perform the song lyrics. It’s not that they’re in any way unpleasant, it’s just that they mostly show us what the lyrics already gave us.
If Love Story “wears” the lyrics like clothes, then All Your Gold by Bat for Lashes “feels” the lyrics like internal organs. In one sense this isn’t that different, like Taylor Swift in Love Story, All Your Gold shows Natasha Khan singing her song. Yet it is a little different. It’s not so narrative. Why is she in these settings? What do they mean? Rather than dancing to the song, Khan is dancing of the song. Her movement, her “interpretive dance” piece is less word-for-word and more the visceral, gestalt feeling of the work. The elements in this video aren’t necessarily found literally in the song lyrics.
By translating lyrics to visuals, The Love Story video creates a pleasing world, but it is a video world that exists within the same box as the song; by taking the text as inspiration to create new visual elements, the All Your Gold video expands the box of the song. This doesn’t make it “better” but it does engage a wider idea space that lets the video watcher experience new things different from the song alone, that, if chosen well, can amplify the feeling and experience of the song.
Bat for Lashes: All Your Gold
In Cocoon, Bjork, like Khan, and Swift, also sings her song for the camera. Yet we’re a ways from Love Story in this work. Once again, the visuals do feel “right” and fitting with the text, but they are also not obvious from it. The visuals are new elements that expand and open up the work to new ideas, new experiences, and new associations.
Here’s Girl from Beck. Once again, like Bjork, Khan and Swift, this video features Beck singing his song. Even so, the visual world he creates is a new imagining that seem to work with his music, but rather than word-for-word acting it out, it injects new inspiration to the music. The visuals while fitting, are also new and independently compelling.
Very Large Green Triangles by Matmos isn’t a narrative “song” the way most of these other tracks are. Since the music itself is already more abstract, perhaps it’s not too surprising that the visuals also are abstract, independent, powerful, and free. What does Very Large Green Triangles mean? Who knows! You and I and your friends and my friends will probably all bring different life experiences and associations to this work and it will resonate for us in different ways. It won’t have the specificity of Taylor Swift’s Love Story, but it might have the potential to offer moments that are uniquely experienced by the individual.
Matmos: Very Large Green Triangles
All these approaches to music videos, like all the work at Haiku Speedbuild, are compelling and beautiful. If I am lucky enough to become the new host of Haiku Speedbuild I’ll do my best to honor and celebrate all of them. But if I can inspire just a little to open up beyond the words of the haiku in an effort to perhaps be less literal, but to search for a way to discover the mental flavor burst that is a haiku, then I’ll be doubly lucky.