Handwriting in High Schools

A young boy I l know (who has just started high school) has been given homework every week that requires him to write an essay/story. The requirments are it must be exactly 400 words and it has to be hand written.

He is not allowed to type it – therefore he is not allowed to use a computer. His whole primary school experience has been working in Google Docs, thus developing his typing skills but more that that learning how to develop writing in a collaborative fashion and potentially co-creating characters, plot lines etc. The only logic for the current practice is that they are preparing him with the correct skills required to pass an exam called the VCE which he will sit in 6 years time. Can anyone else see the problems that might exist within this logic?

On a slightly different tact but still around hand writing perhaps hand writing should be moved from literacy and into the arts – similar to when you go to an Old Timey Theme Park such as Sovereign Hill and you marvel at the Old Timey Writing and how beautiful it is and they offer you a class to learn how – which you take in the same mindset as any other craft class you might consider.

Now why it is necessary to learn the skill of writing exactly to the word count? Well I guess we can take this question all the way up to every degree, masters or PHD document that is required to successfully complete a University course. And why do we so inherently trust words to express ideas anyway? What if they were able to sing a song in their exam, create an animation oh the list is endless.

Our model for PD

I recently took a new job at New Era where I work as a manager in the PD department. We have been working very fast to develop a new model for PD around some of the ideas I am passionate about. So…. here it is.
The New Era Professional Development Workshop Calender and the New Era PD program

Our philosophy behind the program is both innovative, well researched and representative of the practices of the modern society we live in.

Firstly “The Workshop Calender” and “Networked Educators”.
This is a series of over 80 workshops lead by leading experts in a wide array of subject areas but with ICT as a focus.
A teacher can purchase a place at one session for $80 or can buy the whole Calender for $200. The advantage in buying the Calender for is that not only do you have access to every session but you also now have access to our Connected Educators Community.

This is the fun place!!

Our Networked Educators Community is a network that we are building enabling you to do whatever you would like to. You can read our blog posts and comment, you can gain access to free resources but most importantly you can contribute – start a discussion, ask a question, answer someone else’s question, join a working group, start your own learning group around an area your interested in researching. No PD company will be able to cover all the questions you have but by setting up a network with as many passionate educators from as diverse backgrounds as possible we are hoping that all your questions will be answered.
But more than that we ware hoping that the network will drive the knowledge to new places that we alone could never have conceived. The sum of the parts is ALWAYS greater than the whole and we believe that together as educators we can achieve great things in learning and teaching. Collectively we can co-create new knowledge.

Another way of thinking about the ‘Networked Educators Community’ is it becomes a ‘community of practice or as Hayes and Gee refer to it a Affinity Space

The platform that we at New Era are building for this space is housed in our Education Portal aur.edportal.com.au . As we grow and develop we have the ability to add things into this space as required and as the network demands. For example we might decide we want to work more collaboratively in the space and therefore we would like Google Apps to be integrated into the platform. Potentially there might be certain apps which become conducive to better creativity. For example – do you use Scoop.it, or are you a huge Edmodo user – and as the network decides those apps can be integrated into our platform.
To access the full list of PD workshops heres the link http://neweraed.com.au/pdfs/NewEraPD2013.pdf

Secondly – Job Embedded PD.

We have started working with a number of schools using our Job Embedded model and are very excited to role out this program into schools around the country.
Our Job Embedded Program is about whole school change in the area of ICT but rather than focus on the tools we focus solely on learning and teaching – how has learning and teaching changed with the advent of digital age and what impact do the new pedagogies have on us as educators. These pedagogies are based in the learning theories of Social learning, Constructivism and Connectivism (networked learning)

Our Job Embedded Program includes

• working with the schools leadership team to develop an ICT road map and vision and plan for whole school scaffolding.
• working with a chosen focus group in developing learning in contemporary pedagogies planning a unit and skilling up with in the chosen tool. The tool will be chosen from one of our developed modules.
• working within the classroom with the teachers to support them in their classroom practice.
• assisting the teachers as they move into the stage of sharing their learning with the rest of the staff.

As part of or Job Embedded Program the learning is done both face-to-face (at the school) and online. Our online sessions will all run through New Eras Education Portal – the same portal that is being used to house our Networked Educators Networked Educators Community.

By being part of our Job Embedded program the school also becomes part of our Networked Educators Community. Once again this is where this is really exciting place to be. This is where you can go where ever it is you want to – learn what ever you need, help others on their journey, connect with educators from all over the world all on different stages of the learning adventure; all with a slightly different perspective, all bringing something unique so that collectively we can create some thing amazing.

Passion, Generosity, Diversity and Participation – this is what makes a great learning network.

All School Blogging

The following article was originally posted on DEECDs website. And talks about some of the work I was involved with when I was working at North Fitzroy Primary School

Blogs –Creating Worlds of Learning (Global2)

An ICTEV study group of 20 teachers arrived at the school gates to find out how blogging and games-based learning enriches learning for both students and teachers of Fitzroy North Primary School. The school in old in years (built in 1875) but young and contemporary in its use of ICT to empower learning and pedagogy. The approach and ideology has at its centre social learning theory.

Leading the group tour was Connie Watson (Principal), Kynan Robinson (Leading Teacher ICT/Creativity) and Kristen Swenson (3-6 ICT Coordinator).

Thanks to strong and innovative leadership, and the commitment of the ICT coordinators, in recent years blogging has become part of the learning and pedagogical fabric of daily life at North Fitzroy Primary. Kynan and Kristen have been active in the Global 2 blogging space for over 4 years. Kynan told the group that, “Global 2 allows kids to connect to the wider world. You can allow them to have an authentic voice and authentic audience.”

“We take seriously Hattie’s notion that feedback is one of the most potent factors in a child’s learning – blogging, where feedback is available from multiple sources is really important. They are not just posting their work for viewing by others, but posting genuine stages of their work and asking for feedback from others in an interactive process, which is much more powerful than simply learning in isolation and then posting your best work at the end of it”, Connie Watson (Principal)

With Hattie’s Visible Learning research in mind, Connie Watson decided that every teacher, every child from Years 3 -6 and every class should have a blog. All teachers were supported to develop their skills and confidence to create content, post, publish, upload images and movies, and moderate blogs. They now share and compare their blogs and their ideas with their students, parents, industry, and peers internal and external to the school.

Blogs are used to extend and assess all areas of literacy, Italian LOTE, and interdisciplinary streams of learning and skills and personal development. Kynan believes that blogging is a great, ‘platform to skill up and build confidence across the entire school staff to use web 2.0 tools to create and publish content not just be a user of content. If they didn’t blog they would miss out with connecting with the wider world. The main benefit is the ability to connect and find connections all over the world.”

The whole school community is involved at home and at school with their blogs. Homework, parent engagement, Italian recipes, news, quizzes, competitions, provocations, reviews, and reflection – it is all done with blogging accessed from home, school, during the week or at the weekends. “All of our Grade 5/6 students have their own individual passion blogs. We made the shift last year from the show and tell blogs to more of an interactive blog. Since then the quality of the students’ writing has improved dramatically. Their passion for blogging is so much greater and they just love doing it. Every time they have a spare moment in class they want to blog and it has just given them their own voice which is fantastic”, said Kristen.

Students create passion blogs and discover networks to discuss new ideas and perspectives from like-minded students. We heard from students who have created blogs on superheros, star wars, comic books, the World of Minecraft, the Hunger Games, Harry Potter and other favourite books. The students are learning to target their blog and writing style for specific audiences to elicit discussion on an international scale. According to Kynan, “the kids love the Global2 cluster maps so they can see their potential audience from across the world’. “It’s exciting collaborative learning and it is authentic for the kids because they are working on things that they are passionate about, and on questions that are relevant to them, often that they have driven themselves”, explained Connie Watson.

Also central to the contemporary learning and teaching practice is cybersafety awareness and copyright. Cybersafety is built into lessons and classroom practice at every Year level all year long. Fitzroy North PS is an ICT savvy school. Each classroom that the 20 strong study group entered, they barely caught the eye of the students who were completely engaged and immersed in what they were doing. The technology was seamless, the content was all important and it was student owned content. As Kristen says, it is not about the devices it is how they enhance the learning and fit within the learning curriculum. According to Kynan, “the point of ICT is to drive your pedagogy, to assist your curriculum”.

Blogging at North Fitzroy Primary School from Kynan Robinson on Vimeo.

How the learning and teaching is changing

Pedagogy – the art and science of teaching, the method and practice of teaching, an understanding of how humans learn best. This is what educators are interested in.
What has ICT got to do with that.
For too long ICT has been sold to us as an essential with little linking to why. How does it make us learn better?  How does it relate to pedagogy?

When we talk about ICT we need to move beyond the tools. I get sick of hearing one presentation after the other espousing the latest greatest, shrunk down, sped up, oversized, undersized piece of plastic that supposedly will change education forever. It won’t.

Education has never been about what pencils you have in your pencil case it is about people – it is about understanding how we learn. I also get tired of hearing that ICT will make your lessons more engaging – it wont – I’m sure they are already engaging and teachers all know that shiny bells in the corner only maintain engagement for a short time – what are you going to do then?


So why talk about ICT at all? The reason is that the way we learn as humans has fundamentally changed because of the digital world and as educators we need to be aware of that.

Lets quickly look at some of the more exciting current thinking about learning.

Social Learning – For too long in western education there has been the over emphasis on the individual. We see children coming to us as empty vessels that need to be filled by us with whatever information (content) we think is important. This learning is done independent of others.
Rather knowing (or knowledge) is about who you are, what you are doing and it unfolds within a social environment – never independent from it. ICT allows for connections, communities of practice and social learning to occur like never before. How are schools prepared to deal with Social Networks (Facebook, Twitter etc) and utilise them for a new approach to learning? baby

Constructivisim / Experiential Learning – This is not a new theory, its been around for over 100 years, but still many schools regard it as radical. We learn best through experience. The worst way to teach is to stand at the front of the class pass on “content” in a lecture style. If you think you can hold more information than the internet well keep teaching this way – if not lets find new ways. This is not to say that explicit skills based teaching is not at times necessary. But the internet holds many repositories of content and millions of examples of good explicit teaching. For example see the Khan Academy, or just type your question into Google or ask Youtube and someone will have uploaded a video teaching you how to do it. If it is a simple explicit fact that needs to be “learnt” in order to achieve a greater purpose, point the student to a place where they can find it (or better still teach them the strategy to do it so you never have to point them again). This frees you up to provide far deeper experiences for your students to learn. Gaming is one great way to develop experiential learning. Digital games such as Sim City or Civilisation or a host of others can be used to give the students the experience previously unavailable to them. For example in SIM city they experience being a Mayor with all the responsibilities and consequences involved with decisions made. Use it to teach ai Civics and Government Unit. The axiom of experiential learning is “I can teach you about swimming or I can let you go for a swim.” Which one is is the most powerful learning experience. ICT now provides us with potential experiences previously unavailable.

Connectivism – this is a relatively new theory that is entirely relevant to the digital age and in particular, the Internet. It claims that all knowledge is now residing in the online networks. Moving on from experiential learning, Connectivism claims that the world is now moving so fast that we can no longer experience all the things we need to in order to keep up. I’m sure we can all relate to this feeling. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. “I store my knowledge in my friends” is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people.

This theory is very relevant for the why and how we would use ICT. You can see evidence for it in Social Media, the use of Nings, Wikis, Blogs and many other devices that help students connect to whatever networks they need to to assist their learning. It is our job as educators to encourage participation in these networks. That includes publishing work, expressing opinions, asking the network questions, commenting, tagging information and sharing it to a networked group such as Diigo and so on. Active participation is the key.

This is what makes ICT so exciting, no longer are students locked in to the reductionist methods of closed classroom doors. Rather there is a whole diverse world to navigate, to collaborate with, to co-create with to learn how to communicate with. Use whatever tool you want but keep this deeper principles in mind.

 

Minecraft Project

At NFPS we are a school very focussed on gaming in education (using digital games to teach).
Some of the games we have used include  Civilisation and Sim City to teach term long units on government etc. We have done entire term projects on game making (looking at programming skills plus narrative development etc) in the grade 3/4 area. We used programs such as Scratch, Atmospfir, Sploder and Game Salad to do this.
We also use a lot of games on mobile devises in the Jnr levels to enhance the numeracy and literacy program.
This year we received a schools specialisation grant  to investigate the use of gaming to teach and part of this has linked us into working with Deakin Uni and their researchers, investigating some of the things we are trying to achieve.
This term, in an attempt to teach a science based unit looking at biospheres we are using the game Minecraft across all the grade 5/6 classes (140 students).
The premise is the world is coming to an end and all 140 of us  have to move to a new planet. Decisions need to be made before leaving Earth and Arcs are getting designed in google sketch up and prototypes being built using a 3D printer.
Everything we need to establish our new planet is going to be taken with us so decided upon pre leaving. Then we all fly to our new planet.
The new planet, called Auroura 56 Z will be simulated in Minecraft.

I have built a minecraft server for the school where all the work will be completed.
It is a very interesting project to observe. The way we set these things up are the it is mostly student driven with the teachers working as facilitators to the learning.
The kids have organised themselves into 5 districts (technology and industry , agriculture, discovery and education, recreation, city and culture) and have started to build.

One thing of note observed so far in this project is  the levels of bureaucracy the kids are bringing into the game – demanding the establishment of councils and committees. A lot of it has been driven by their existing knowledge of the game.
I regularly meet with a group of 10 kids  who advise me on game play and how to adapt it to enable the efficient and smooth development of our planet. The project has raised a lot of questions regarding global warming – what causes it, how can we avoid it on our new planet – do we really need to mine everything etc. Furthermore  the game based project has raised very interesting discussion about policing – people can obviously destroy other people’s work in the Minecraft environment – how do we control this amongst 140 players (these decisions are all controlled by the students)

All of the students work is being recorded in a wiki. This allows them to collaborate and plan across classrooms as well as reflect on their learning and cross pollinate ideas. An example of a designed arc is below.

Digital Gaming In Education, Aiming to Transform Not Merely Enhance

I have attached an article I recently wrote for technology In Education Magazine talking about the extensive program of digital gaming I have incorporated at NFPS. Gaming is used extensively throughout our entire curriculum including games such as Minecraft, Little Big Planet, Civilisation and Sim City along with a host of IOS games. I also speak about gaming enabling a school to move from its use of technology from being a substitution for other formats or beyond that an augmentation of other formats through to something that  modifies or ultimately redefines the learning. This is where the technology become transformative.

Gaming In Education – Aiming To Transform, Not Simply Enhance 

Pozible Campaign Thankyou

A huge thank you for those who supported our Pozible campaign.

They included Juan Turner, Tim Bishop, Tim Phillips, Andrew Williamson, Tim Lane, Gavin Anderson,, Adam Milburn, Chai Ang, Sarah Curro, Elenor Tilzey, Ben Green, Owen McKern, Danielle Moorhead, Tim Web, Cam Robbins, Trish Harrington, Tania Bosak, Paul Kidney, Lou Lou St Cruz, Gary McKie, Don Jordon, Phil Bywater, Bronwyn Bee Be, Joe Sexton, Sway Colam, Rory McMahon, Margaret Bywater and Miriam Zolin.

The multi media component that has been created (by Dotahn Caspi and Sean Kelly) by your generous donations are absolutely stunning. Everyone in Collider and those working on the production is very very appreciative of your support.

This show is a very personal statement for myself and has been in the making for almost 2 years now, I am really looking forward to be able to show it. It has also been an incredibly satisfying experience as an artist to collaborate with other highly talented hard working artists creating at the top of their fields including the members of Collider, Adam Simmons, Anita Hustas, Andrea Keeble, Jason Bunn, Sarah Curro, and Ronny Ferella, as well as the visual artists Dotahn Caspi, Emmily Caspi, Sean Kelly and my amazing wife Michelle Robinson.

Here is the link to purchase tickets to the show 

Talking About My New Composition. Solo In Red

Some very exciting news. In August of 2012 acclaimed Melbourne ensemble Collider will be performing a piece entitled Solo In Red, written by myself. The piece will be performed as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival program over 3 nights at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

“Kynan Robinson’s new piece Solo in Red is both astoundingly beautiful and original. Setting out to capture the atmospheres of a Cormac McCarthy novel it does all that and more.” – Vierre Magazine 2011

I prepared a statement for media discussing the work which reads as follows.

“With my new piece, Solo in Red, I feel as thoughI have found the creative and artistic expression/voice i have been searching for my entire career.The piece takes its inspiration from the writings of the hugely important American author Cormac McCarthy.My collision with McCarthy’s writing came at a time when I was formulating my ideas for this piece of music. In McCarthy’s work I found a literary parody for my musical concepts; the themes and atmospheres he creates, that so absorb you as a reader, were very similar to what i was interested in creating. Image

McCarthy’s writing and the atmosphere he creates has a sparseness, detachment and tension and is always touched with a dry wit. He presents both the absolute beauty and absolute ugliness of existence, often within the same sentence. To me his works sits somewhere in the place of the spirit world and if you enter it it will often bring forth both frightening and peaceful truths. 
In the composition of Solo In Red I am making a very personal statement on life and it’s deep sadness, only matched by its overwhelming beauty.
The many elements of this show, including performing with the incredible ensemble Collider  plus the breath taking multimedia component which includes lighting plus the most beautiful and lush video projections, (produced by Dotahn Caspi, Sean Kelly and Michelle Robinson) will all lend themselves to an experience that is both powerful and transporting for any audience member.
I am very excited to be presenting my new work at the Melbourne Recital Center and as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. The Recital Center has many great memories for me both as a performer and audience member. It is a building of such beautiful dynamics and delightful aesthetics that it is almost the perfect place to hear this work.”To book tickets to the show you can click on the following link

 

You can also read about the development of the multimedia and actually contribute towards the costs if you feel so philanthropic. You can either pledge support – (there are some great rewards – especially to those interested in attending the Melbourne Writers Festival Paperback and Hardback passes valued at $90 and $325 respectively) OR if you can’t contribute financially – no problems at all – but all we ask is that you spread the word!

Pledge support via our Pozibles site or simple share the link via email, fbook, twiiter or any other means :http://www.pozible.com/collider

It is a costly process to produce these large scale works and your contributions to the Arts are very very appreciated.

If you would like to  purchase a copy of the bands original album click here
Kynan

Cognitive dissonance: Kynan Robinson finds musical ideas in the works of Cormac McCarthy

This is a transcript of an interview I did for Extempore Magazine

At the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival in 2011, we heard Collider at 303, with compositions inspired by the works of Haruki Murakami. In those pieces Collider—led by Kynan Robinson and Adam Simmons—echoed aspects of Murakami’s work in the music. When we heard about the forthcoming concert of music that draws on Kynan’s reading of Cormac McCarthy, we wanted to find out more.

Miriam Zolin: When you talk about writing music in response to Cormac McCarthy’s writing, should people expect to hear some sort of narrative in the music that’s equivalent to what they might find in Cormac McCarthy’s books?

Kynan Robinson: No not really. It’s an interesting little place where I find myself. I did something similar when I was writing for The Escalators and looking at David Lynch. I didn’t do this deliberately. I’d started writing some music and I’d found that the music was heading in a particular direction. I re-watched Twin Peaks and found that the atmosphere that he was trying to create was similar to what I was trying to create.  So then I made a deliberate decision to look at theoretical concepts behind Lynch’s work. I looked at a lot of Lynch’s conceptual ideas and then I related that to The Escalators and created a whole body of work. It was not a deliberate decision to do this; I fell into that place.

At the moment in education there’s a call for creativity in all schools. But the call for creativity is coming more from a workplace angle which means it’s really a call for innovation. There’s not a good understanding of what creativity means.  I’ve done a lot of work on this, as an educator myself, trying to unpack it for other educators. The development of a creative thought is an extensive process for your brain to go through and it requires certain conditions. What your brain is actually doing is moving into a place of cognitive dissonance, a place of confusion. It is trying to leap from one level of understanding to the next. To do that it has to confuse itself and then it has to come out of that confusion into a place of equilibrium. [laughs] That’s a really dumbed down version of the idea! Ideas of cognitive dissonance and divergent thinking practices are things that I’m interested in.

If you apply that to what I did with his project, for about a year and a half or two years, I have had an idea in my head and I couldn’t kind of get what the idea was. I was reading Cormac McCarthy a lot, just reading, without a purpose, and I kept going back there and reading it again and again. I was also listening and re-listening to certain composers I hadn’t listened to for years. People like Messiaen and Morton Feldman, and others. What my brain was trying to do was reach out to find answers. Over the space of a year and a half, the answer was forming until ‘bang’ it popped up with an ‘idea’ — this series of works I’m writing. That’s the link into Cormac McCarthy’s work. My brain was sitting in a place of confusion; I was looking for some of those philosophical answers, those large life concepts and those sorts of ideas. The writings of Cormac McCarthy were hitting into the same place all the time and so my brain was just naturally pulled to it. I don’t know why I kept reading it. Actually this is what everybody does all the time. You don’t know why you keep going to these places but your brain is searching desperately for some sort of equilibrium; a release from the state of confusion it’s entered into.

MZ: And often what you’re looking for is something you can’t consciously articulate anyway…

KR: That is absolutely correct. You can’t articulate it because that’s what divergent thinking and cognitive dissonance are all about. You don’t know what you’re looking for. In terms of education – and I know I’m getting off track here – if you start pushing this into education systems, you need to encourage broad spaces where students are allowed to enter into places of confusion. You need to encourage confusion as a source of creativity.

MZ: And then you have to try and justify it by measuring the benefits of cognitive dissonance, which could be interesting!

KR: [laughs] Yes, it wouldn’t measure too well using standardised testing methods for literacy and numeracy which is what gets measured in our current system.

But back to the thing about Cormac McCarthy – I was looking for a whole bunch of answers, related to a lot of different things and not just about the music I was writing. I started to recognise the concepts he is talking about and to enter into the philosophies and the atmosphere his writing creates. His philosophy and the atmosphere he creates are also relevant to a lot of other things in my life. This music that I’m writing is deeply personal. I’m at a stage in my life with my career and compositions where I’m ready to compose music that makes significant personal statements. Up until this now, I would have had a bunch of musical ideas and whip them up quickly, composing really fast, banging out an album and moving onto the next project. I think that’s what you have to do as a younger person. But I’ve been doing this for a fair while now and it feels like I’m ready to deal with some of those larger life concepts. McCarthy’s writing is full of ideas about the fragility of life and the nonsense in the notion of the sanctity of life. He talks about the beauty and the ugliness in the same moment and also talks quite heavily on a supernatural and spiritual level. These are ideas that I’ve been thinking about for a long time but never been ready to deal with from an artistic sense myself.

MZ: Is this what you were referring on your blog, to when you talked about ideas you’d been grappling with for a decade and a half?

KR: Yeah, concepts of spirituality and those kinds of ideas. I was raised as a missionary child in Bangladesh. It’s an extreme environment and an extreme framework to place upon a child.  So once that’s happened you’re always dealing with those of ideas and you fight through them and those really strong – Christian I guess – overlays. As a young man you fight against them and get rid of some of them out of your life, or you try to, but they are always in there. Once a framework is established within a human being it’s very difficult to break. It’s taken me a long time to not fight it any more and to try to learn how to deal with it and be prepared to deal with it with my art.

MZ: A couple of times you’ve mentioned the word atmosphere in the same sentence as philosophy. When you’re undergoing this process of being open to the information that your brain seeks in its attempt to find equilibrium, how much of that is about the atmosphere and how much is about the words and the text that then just leaks into the music.

KR: If you’re talking about the rhythms of the language, not so much. When I talk to people about the fact that I’m doing this Cormac McCarthy thing and I use words like ‘sparseness’ to describe his writing, they’ll say ‘are you joking? His writing is so full, it’s packed!’ which is true, in terms of sentence structure. There is an incredible amount of detail that he writes in… but the overall feeling becomes sparser and sparser…

MZ: There is quite a bit of space in his work…

KR: Yes, space, and I guess the rhythms of the words in that way are really affecting me. You know, you probably got me on this one. Maybe I have done that.

McCarthy comes from a particular geographical location which is not what I am referencing either. He really places his writing in that space of ‘America’ which I guess also references artists like Morton Feldman who place their music in that vastness of America. For me it’s not about the geography. It’s more about the way he writes all that incredible detail about pretty much nothing – like how to saddle a horse up. It leaves you with a sense of sparseness.

MZ: [laughs] We’ll let you know how it goes, when we hear the music.

KR: Yes, please do! And interesting too, is that he really does have a heavy religious overtone to his writing and that’s something I’m trying to grapple with in my own life. And then it starts linking in to other things.  I also started to look at composers I hadn’t looked at for ages. Like Messiaen. Everything he wrote was about spirituality. I’m drawing on some of the techniques he uses, but more so his dedication to compose about areas of his life which were personally meaningful and things he was searching after.

As far as narrative goes, his writing is definitely linear, but it’s … it just is what it is. The Border Trilogy and those books – they do sort of follow a story. But Blood Meridian is just about that search… the bleakness of it all and also the madness of it all, but within the bleakness there is also this incredible beauty. Those concepts, like the sanctity of life, I really got from him. In our modern times we view life as the most precious thing. He writes in that mode of ‘life can be nothing’.

You can imagine about the times he was writing. Those ideas of humans being so important were not as prevalent. If someone annoyed you, you could just shoot his head off, and that wouldn’t have had the same huge consequences as it would today. Back then it was just another step in the path. It really shook me around and woke me up to this concept when I was reading him. We have this concept of the sanctity of life across the board and maybe it’s a nonsense. He’s an interesting one. He talks about the nothingness of life but at the same time talks about the intense beauty, so it’s all wrapped in together.

MZ: People say that he’s bleak, but perhaps he simply acknowledges the harshness of a reality which we cocoon ourselves from. Perhaps his writing simply goes right there and looks it in the face.

KR: That’s exactly what I got from it too, which is what I’m trying to deal with.  These are big concepts to deal with. I’m close to 40 now and as composer, I feel like I’m ready to deal with those conceptually larger  subject matters. If you’d asked me about 25 years ago to write about issues of spirituality I would have had a different outlook on it – probably a very immature outlook. Yet the seeds were sown by then and they’ve been …

MZ: …festering?

KR: Yes, festering. And that’s what the creative act is all about

MZ: You have a really busy life – how do you create a space where you are able to think deeply about these big issues?

KR: I think they just create their own spaces. I seem to apply this to almost everything I do. When you’re talking about the creative act, everything I do revolves around trying to find some kind of answer. It’s not like I have to sit down and start meditating.

MZ: So you don’t set aside a time each day or week… saying ‘on Saturday mornings between 9:00 and 11:00 I’ll think about these big issues’…?

KR: [laughs] No, for me it’s like a constant search, a constant attempt to be in that space to push my brain as fast and as hard as it can all the time in all sorts of different areas to find whatever the next thing is that I’m trying to create.

MZ: Are you changing as part of the process?

KR: Yes definitely, and I really don’t feel like I want to waste time doing projects I’m not interested in any more. And I guess my compositional style is changing too. It’s going back to a more ‘composer as dictator’ style!

MZ: What does that mean?

KR: Well, you know the composer in the olden days was a fascist dictator and whatever he wrote was what the musician had to do… basically the musicians bowed down to his compositions. And then I came through the free jazz thing about 15 – 20 years ago where you try to break down that political structure; where you’re taking the power away from the composer and handing it to the musicians. Improvising is all about that. But even in that context it’s a very difficult thing to do to break down those political structures because egos get involved on stage. As I’m getting older I’m seeking to take all of that power back as a composer. My music is going to be about my statements and even though I work with improvising musicians, there are still going to be a lot of controls put down on the actual improvising. Not allowing any sense that the musicians can just take it and run with it. This is not about that. Everything in this music has to be about the concept I’m trying to create; everything must bow down to the idea. I tell the musicians, ‘I can’t give you control so when you are improvising – and there is improvising in the music – it must be within these structures.’  I just find myself leaning back towards that model of composing.

MZ: How hard is it to find musicians who will work with you in that way?

KR: It’s very easy because improvising musicians like challenges. I did it a lot harder with The Escalators than I am doing it with this band.  With The Escalators, I set up rule structures and everything had to bow down to these rule structures; nobody was allowed to break the rules. It was an interesting process but improvising musicians are generally up for interesting processes. With this one it is not so strict but there is an understanding of what the music is trying to do. I’m not going to hand over to a crazy wild sax solo that potentially over a 10 minute solo will detract from what the whole of the piece is actually about.

MZ: So the idea is paramount?

KR: Yes, you’re serving the idea. You’re not just playing a bunch of songs. Jazz often operates in that way, where the song is just some sort of framework which will allow the musician to go wherever they want with it. That’s what I mean in terms of my personal style. If I’ve done all this work mentally to try and get to this place where I’m ready to write this music, then I need to have musicians who are supportive of that and who understand it.

MZ: Tell me about the band.

KR: The band is one of the best I’ve worked with. It’s a very interesting combination of instruments and personalities. It’s very rare that you get to play with saxophone, trombone, viola, violin, bass and drums. But also the musicians in this band come from a very dedicated approach to sound. We’re spending a lot of work on things like tuning, which hardly ever happens in the jazz format! It comes from Andrea who plays violin and Jason who plays viola – they play in the state orchestras and the MSO – it comes from their approach because they really want to get that stuff right. It is a lot of attention placed on small detail which is just fantastic. It’s a real pleasure to work in that environment. So concepts of time are really talked through; everybody’s different interpretation of what time is and finding a common time, everybody’s interpretation of tuning and finding a common tuning. Once you start working at that level of detail it’s really refreshing. It’s a really fantastic band.

We’ve just recorded a session at the ABC and that’s going to come out next year I hope. It’s always good with a band to go through a series of gigs and recordings. This band is a band of composers. Every time we do a concert and at least one of the band members writes for it.

MZ: Adam Simmons is writing for this one too, I think?

KR: Yes, Adam is writing for the first set of music and he’s basing his compositions around Dr Seuss. He’s going into it in an interesting way. It will be an interesting show for this concert, with two of us composing significant works, based around the literature idea, which just happened, out of nowhere. You saw the concert where I’d written some works based around the writing of Haruki Murakami and he had done some work on some Russian literature and we didn’t even talk about it. When we realised what we’d done – both responding to different literary works, we thought, ‘well that’s really weird!’

MZ: So it happened without you thinking about it?

KR: It happened really organically but now we’re actually going to focus on it. We thought, ‘well if it’s happening naturally, there must be a reason for it’.

Want to hear this music live?

Monday 12 December
Doors open at 7 for a 7.30 start
Fortyfivedownstairs
45 Flinders Lane Melbourne City
www.fortyfivedownstairs.com

Ticket presales available : (03) 9662 9966

Collider is

Kynan Robinson – trombone
Adam Simmons – tenor saxophone
Ronnie Ferrella – drums
Anita Hustas – bass
Jason Bunn – viola
Andrea Keeble – violin

 

 

Radio Plays ICT and music composition

The project we worked on with level four in term one was to create a radio play.
We initially looked at the Orson Wells version of War of the Worlds.
You can find the whole thing on youtube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wf5TPVz56A

This leads into interesting discussion on the use of sound effects to crate realism as well as talking about radio plays and how they work etc. why they were and still are very entertaining and acting and script writing techniques that  create a sense of reality.We also discussed the genre of Science fiction – which can simply be defined as stories about a science or technology that doesn’t exist and the subsequent consequences of if it did exist.

Secondly we looked at Jeff Waynes 1970s take on War of The Worlds

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyWReM986gw

Here you can discuss the impact of adding music to a story, does it add to the story or overwhelm it.

From here the project fell into a number of steps.

1. write and practice your own science fiction radio play.

2. record it. This can be done in garage band. I tend to use the podcast template because it allows simplicity. It has a male and female voice preset that the kids can record straight onto. Just highlight the track you want to record onto and push the record button. Picture 1

3. add sound effects. Garageband has alot of great samples which can be accessed on the right hand side of the project window, they are labelled under the category of stingers. you can also use the jingles samples to add authenticity to your radio play, eg if you want to cut to an add etc. Sound effects can also be recorded in in the same method that you used to record your voice. This is always an exciting and slightly more authentic way to enhance the students projects.

4. Add a soundtrack. This is always an interesting part of the project and often it is advisable to discuss the role of music in soundtracks. It is used to enhance the main format which in this case is the narrative that is being delivered by the voice. It is being used to enhance the desired emotional state and if it is doing anything else it is being counterproductive to the project. Placing limitations at this stage of the compositional process is a useful thing for many students. The variety of choice that programs like garage band offers can become overwhelming for many beginner composers and quite often leads to boredom.

5. Finally render the project down into an mp3 format and upload it to your blogs.

The kids loved this project and created some amazing things. Here Are some examples
Robin and Eden
mary, alex, honor.

Some of the ICT skills that get covered here according to VELS are

Familiarization with basic skills programs (word)

Using spell checks

File Naming saving locating and file opening

In depth understanding of editing programs such as garageband

Understanding of networks

Use of concepts mapping programs and graphic organisation programs

Advanced web searching

Use of ICT equipment – microphones, mixing desk, etc.

Create products that document original ideas

Web Uploading ability

Familiarization with basic skills programs (word)
Using spell checks
File Naming saving locating and file opening
In depth understanding of editing programs such as garageband
Understanding of networks
Use of concepts mapping programs and graphic organisation programs
Advanced web searching
Use of ICT equipment – microphones, mixing desk, etc.
Create products that document original ideas
Web Uploading ability