- Oct 2017
what about the increas-ingly tense background music in a lV drama, or the sounds that let us know when a computer is starling up? Whether big or small, each of these aural components conveys meaning.
In psychology, classical conditioning is a type of associative learning that links automatic behaviors with previously neutral, or unrelated, stimuli. Ivan Pavlov’s experiments on dog digestion first introduced the concept of learned associations to the psychology community by demonstrating the transformation of a neutral stimulus into a stimulus that can prompt unconscious behavior. In his experiments, Ivan Pavlov recognized that the natural, unlearned response of dogs to the presence of food was salivation. Salivation was not a learned behavior, but an automatic response to a natural stimulus (food) in the dog’s environment. In this case, food is an unconditioned stimulus because it always induces salivation, which, itself, is an unconditioned response. These two variables encompass a natural stimulus-response relationship, which Pavlov sought to infiltrate with a third variable.
Ivan Pavlov wondered if introducing a neutral stimulus before the unconditioned stimulus would cause a dog to associate both stimuli with salivation. In other words, would the dog execute the unconditioned response of salivation even before the unconditioned stimulus is presented? If this neutral stimulus, able to be perceived by the dog but not naturally associated with his experiment’s unconditioned stimulus (food), regularly preceded the arrival of the unconditioned stimulus, would the dog eventually begin salivating before the unconditioned stimulus (food) even arrived? The answer is yes. Pavlov and his fellow researches sounded a bell before presenting a dog with food for several trials. Once the food was given to the dog, the dog would salivate.
Principally, the sound of the bell was a neutral stimulus. It did not naturally cause the dog to salivate. However, through its continuous pairing with the unconditioned stimulus, food, the sound of the bell became conditioned. Acquisition took place as the dogs learned the link between the sound of the bell (the neutral stimulus) and the arrival of food. Eventually, as classical conditioning completed, the dogs salivated at the sound of the bell alone because they began to anticipate the arrival of food.
One episode of The Office demonstrates this concept of classical conditioning. Jim, a character on the show, conditions his coworker Dwight to reach for an altoid every time his computer shuts down. Because his computer emits an audible noise every time it shuts down, Jim is able to condition Dwight into associating meaning with the sound of his computer shutting down. As mentioned in the text, “small aural components convey meaning,” This clip of The Office demonstrates why and how, seemingly insignificant aural sounds like the sound of a computer turning off, can provoke unconscious or conscious meaning in our lives. In this case, every time Dwight hears the sound of a computer shutting down, he unconsciously reaches for an altoid.
The following variables are necessary to understand the following clip of The Office:
Unconditioned Stimulus: offering an altoid
Unconditioned Response: reaching to grab the altoid
Conditioned Stimulus: sound of the computer shutting down
Conditioned Response: reaching to grab the altoid
Jim Classically Conditions Dwight on The Office: https://vimeo.com/35754924
Link to photo of Ivan Pavlov: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Pavlov
A Performance Is a Multimodal Text
The supplemental text I chose to analyze is entitled “The inside story of Terminus, the new dance company by five ex-Atlanta Ballet dancers.” Author Scott Freeman details the timeline of the idealization, creation, and implementation of Terminus Modern Ballet Theater through a journal-like storytelling of events. As a writer for ArtsATL, Freeman was assigned to observe and report on the novel dance company as its members navigated strategy sessions, funding requests, and secret ambitions. Four months of weekly, private meetings between Terminus’s five dancers engendered an eloquent disclosure of the modern company’s origins and aspirations.
In September of 2015, the Atlanta Ballet declared that its artistic director, John McFall, would be leaving his position. So, Tara Lee, Christian Clark, Heath Gill, and Rachel Van Buskirk, four of Atlanta Ballet’s star dancers, were selected as members of a dance search committee; the committee would consider three finalists for artistic director, and recommend a candidate to the Atlanta Ballet’s Board of Trustees. As they contemplated the final three candidates, the aforementioned distinguished dancers imagined what an ideal dance company would look like. What would be that company’s values? How would the company’s art be shaped and presented? What would its leadership style comprise?
John Welker, the founder of Wabi Sabi, a summer arts troupe that performs modern dance numbers outdoors, was one of the candidates considered for artistic director. At the time, Welker was an established star dancer of the Atlanta Ballet. To better prepare himself for the role of artistic director, Welker completed a degree in dance at Kennesaw State University and received a master’s degree in business. Star dancers Lee, Van Buskirk, Gill, and Clark all agreed that John Welker was the best fit for the Atlanta Ballet’s position of artistic director. Unfortunately, the Atlanta Ballet already appeared to prefer another candidate, Gennadi Nedvigin. During this time, Nedvigin was retiring as principal dancer at the San Francisco Ballet.
As rumors of Nedvigin’s probable appointment began to spread, dancers Lee, Gill, Van Buskirk, and Clark jokingly considered starting their own company if Welker was not chosen as the Atlanta Ballet’s new artistic director. When Welker’s candidacy was rejected and Nedvigin became the ballet’s appointed artistic director, the four dancers, along with Welker, felt defeated. Under John McFall, the company’s repertoire presented a modern injection of dance that Lee, Gill, Van Buskirk, and Clark enjoyed immensely. However, Nedvigin was trained in classical traditional ballet at the Russian Bolshoi Ballet School; his classical roots seemed to wrap around the ballet’s modern repertoire and squeeze and diminish its presence. With Nedvigin’s appointment, the dancers felt that their “freedom [...] was being taken away” (Freeman). So, after giving Welker time to heal from his rejection and prompt retirement, Gill, Lee, Van Buskirk, and Clark approached Welker with their desire to form a new modern dance company in Atlanta.
In September of 2016, the group, including Welker, met at Kennesaw State University, which they initially saw as hosting a potential performance space for the new company. Having been taught to empower themselves by John McFall, the Atlanta Ballet’s retired artistic director, all of these dancers felt that they had a responsibility to create something they believed in. After ensuring that the four star dancers then performing with the Atlanta Ballet wanted to create meaningful art for the city of Atlanta, Welker felt convinced of the project’s hopes and worth. To Welker, it was critical that the dancers not seek to spurn and remove themselves from the Atlanta Ballet’s legacy; their careers with the Atlanta Ballet were valuable and influential. The new company’s motivation must be devoted solely to the creation of a new vision, not a competition with their past.
The five dancers kept their plans to retire from the Atlanta Ballet and form their own company secret until April of 2017, in which ArtsATL revealed that Lee, Gill, Van Buskirk, and Clark (along with nine other dancers) would be retiring from the company. In May, the retiring dancers shared details about their plans after retirement with fellow dancers in the company. Their start-up dance company, formally known as Terminus Modern Ballet Theater, presented by the Serenbe Institute in cooperation with the Westside Cultural Arts Center, would have two headquarters and five principal dancers. May saw the last performance of Lee, Gill, Van Buskirk, and Clark for the Atlanta Ballet. They performed Camino Real, which incorporates both stage acting and dance. Their time culminated in an emotional finale, yet their ending at the Atlanta Ballet marked a new beginning.
Bibliography: Freeman, Scott. “The inside story of Terminus, the new dance company by five ex-Atlanta Ballet dancers.” ArtsATL, 18 May 2017, http://artsatl.com/story-terminus-dance-company-founded-ex-atlanta-ballet-dancers/. Accessed 1 October 2017.
Like the tools in a toolbox, though, modes can sometimes be used in ways that weren't intended but that get the job done just as well (like a screwdriver being used lo pry open a can of paint).
An example of a mode being used in an unintentionally effective way would be the aural mode of Flannery O’Connor’s voice as she reads her short story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” Before reading the linguistic content of her story, my high school professor played an audio recording of O’Connor reading this story in a ballroom theater.
O’Connor is a Southern author from Savannah, Georgia, so one of the first characteristics I noticed of her voice was its accent. Next, I noticed the bluntness with which she spoke. Her voice sounded rather dry and sarcastic at times, which perfectly illustrated, even softened the uncomfortable humor present in the story. I became so engrossed with the aural mode of O’Connor’s short story that once the linguistic mode caught up to me, I felt shocked by the grotesqueness of the events unfolding.
The aural mode of O’Connor’s reading deceived me and lured me into a state of selective-attentiveness, however, this deception worked well to demonstrate the content of her story. “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” is, itself, an illusory and misleading narrative that culminates in a dreadful tragedy which appears quite suddenly and viciously. Until one rereads the story and recognizes the points of foreshadowing present all along, O’Connor’s voice served an unintentional purpose of misleading the (in this case) listener.
At other times, words may work better than images when we arc trying to explain an idea because words can be more descriptive and to the point. It may take too many pictures to convey the same idea quickly (see Fig. 1.18).
For the Primary Source Description assignments, students are required to make heavy use of the linguistic mode in order to communicate the imagery of the quilt. Rather than composing an essay of photographs, students must provide enough detailed and descriptive language of the quilt that potential reconstruction of the panel discussed is possible. As this quote shows, knowing when visual modes and linguistic modes are necessary for the most efficient communication will be an essential skill in our college education. Though the Primary Source Description calls for extensive use of the linguistic mode, the visual mode must also be evoked.
Careful collection and presentation of visual aids will hopefully augment the reader’s imagination of the author’s linguistic mode, instead of overpowering it. My class notes on how to execute a well-rounded Primary Source Description can be seen below, as well as on my website:
Be Specific and Comprehensive in Your Description
• Don't just focus on visual descriptions.
• Describe the texture of the panel, and even its sound.
• Does the panel feel sturdy or thin and frail with age? What is the tactile sensation you observe?
• What are some of the spatial relationships between images, objects, or other attachments on the Quilt panel?
• How much does it weigh?
Images in Your Primary Source Description
• One should include images that quote details from the panel.
• Images may help to support your description.
• You don't have to have a picture of the entire panel.
• In fact, be sure that the images you do include do not supersede the text. The text must remain relevant, so use detailed images that are subordinate to your description.
• Use pictures that help to explain certain details on the Quilt.
If there is a flower on your panel, describe how many petals there are. Use analogous language to better convey the color of an object or the size of it. "The blue is similar to the color of a robin's egg."
As Kenneth Haltman notes in the introduction to American Artifacts, the ability to recreate an object’s “visual and physical effect in words” is critical. Knowing how to use language to effectively describe and interpret visual information can even provide a more comprehensive analysis of that object.
The decision of Welker, Lee, Clark, Van Buskirk, and Gill to name their dance company Terminus was intentional and purposive. The name Terminus comprises multiple elements of symbolism through which meaning can be derived. Terminus was one of Atlanta’s original names, and it describes the former setting of the Southern city. Terminus means “end of the line,” which indicates the spirited growth of Atlanta around the railroad’s stopping point between Georgia and the Midwest. Not only is the name Terminus historically significant to the company’s homebase city, but it is also metaphorically significant.
To the dancers of Terminus, the “end of the line” simultaneously serves as the origin point of a new journey. Their inception as a dance company flourished from their conclusion with Atlanta Ballet, a significant chapter in all of these dancers’ careers. Tara Lee describes a terminus as an “intersection and meeting point of ideas” in which “people [come] together to create something new” (Freeman). She believes that this definition describes the Terminus Modern Ballet Theater dancers well. The name Terminus is multimodal because it evokes specific imagery related to the railroad as well as a symbolic interpretation critical to understanding the motivations and origin story of this ballet company. As the text demonstrates, understanding the full message of even a single word requires a multimodal analysis.
Questions one might ask:
Are there images associated with the word?
What is the word’s historical context?
How is the word presented?
Does it belong at the fore of the conversation?
Does it compete with and/or complement another mode?
Multimodal describes how we combine multiple different ways of communicating in everyday life.
Photo by Felipe Barral: The dancers of Terminus Modern Ballet Theater have built illustrious careers dancing to the beats of other artists’ inspirations. For a long time, they have confined and defined themselves by the expression of other people’s work. Yet, once the Atlanta Ballet embarked on a path that was unfit for their individual artistry, the dancers of Terminus Ballet decided to tread their own path, away from the crossroads that had come to challenge their willingness to be brave. Though these dancers are terrified of the unknown that they have plunged into, they also feel excited and invigorated by the pressure they feel. Pushed by the prospect of failure, the Terminus Modern Ballet Theater dancers are characterized by their intense motivation to introduce new modes of expression into dance. As artists, these dancers hope to experiment with their image as it is presented in all of the contexts that a new company requires.
These dancers, thus, have to be multimodal.
Tara Lee, Heath Gill, John Welker, Rachel Van Buskirk, and Christian Clark don’t only dance; they also contribute to their company’s website, design company logos, contemplate appropriate studio and performance space design, and engage in business strategy sessions. Hoping to present to their audience contemporary modern dance fused with elements of classical ballet, the dancers of Terminus Modern Ballet Theater contain a diverse set of skills, not only in dance, but also in marketing and business. Just like their style of dance cannot be categorized into a specific genre, neither can the capabilities of these performers be categorized or limited by the traditional expectations of dancers. These dancers recognize their need for a multi-modal skill-set so that they can create visual art through both their dance and their digital webpage. They will appreciate the importance of the spatial mode as they block stages for their choreography, and finalize the design of their company logo. Working on multiple interfaces (at the physical, tangible level as well as the digital level) has bolstered this dance company’s intimacy with their creative expression. Their ability to fathom multiple modes is critical to their success.
We can u-;e this mode to communicate representations of how something look~ or how someone is feeling, to instruct, to persuade, and to entertain, among other things.
As page 9 notes, "audio can also have visual impacts." This quote demonstrates the multi-modality of singular objects and subjects, a fact that exhibits the importance of multidimensional analysis. One of the panels on the AIDS Quilt contains a patch of leather, which has both a visual connotation and a distinct aural context. Leather evokes the Danny Zuko stereotype by conjuring images of enigmatic characters and inviting the sounds of rumbling motorcycles.
Cardiac monitoring, similarly, is a common image in popular media that also contains multiple influences and connotations. Cardiac monitoring is typically executed with electrocardiography, a machine that monitors a person’s cardiac rhythm. At its core, though, the sound of a heartbeat monitor relies on the heartbeat itself. Our pulse of life.
The human heartbeat is primal and intrinsic to our humanity. It betrays our fear and reveals our desires. Its visual and aural modes are ingrained within us all, for it is both a familiar sight, and a calming sound. The following short film presents the significance of our heartbeat in finding our truths, facing our fears, and embracing love. Relying heavily on visual and aural modes to encapsulate a story of heartache and romance, "In a Heartbeat" communicates a tale of love by personifying a famed motif, the heart itself.
But a visual presentation of complex information can allow readers to make quick com-parisons.
In her TEDx Talk, Amy Cuddy shared research of other scientists in her field that demonstrates the significance of body language in our conscious and unconscious judgements of others. The “quick comparisons” of “visual representation[s]” mentioned in the text can be directly related to Nalini Ambady’s research on what she termed “thin-slice judgements.” Thin-slice judgements are often unconscious, initial evaluations of another person’s character, yet they influence our perceptions and long-term impressions immensely.
Nalini Ambady’s research challenges the popular belief that human intuition is biased and inaccurate. Brief observations, such as those based on a singular photo or 2-second clip, are powerful demonstrations of “fast thinking.” Fast thinking, despite its quick judgement and conclusion, is no less significant than long-term evaluations. According to Ambady, quick comparisons shape our preference towards both job candidates and romantic partners. They even accurately predict the teaching effectiveness of college professors.
In 1993, Ambady published her first findings on the significance of nonverbal behavior in our determination of another person’s character. In this study, Ambady produced 30-second soundless clips of college lectures; she then asked participants to whom the professor was a stranger to evaluate that professor’s teaching effectiveness. Students of the professor also rated his or her teaching effectiveness, and surprisingly, independent scorers and actual students of the professor produced similar assessments of teaching effectiveness.
Even when shortened to 10 second, 6 second, and 2 second clips, brief, soundless college lectures induced similar ratings of teaching effectiveness between independent raters and actual students. Ambady’s following studies further supported her assessment of the accuracy of “thin-slice judgements, showing that nonverbal behavior (which can be taken into context as all that does not encompass the linguistic mode or the aural mode) efficiently communicates information about our environment.
Alex Todorov of Princeton University conducted a study that found that 70% of the outcomes of Senate and gubernatorial races could be predicted solely based on photos of the candidates’ faces.
Alex Todorov's Research: On the Face of It: The Psychology of Electability by Maria Konnikova
Amy Cuddy is an American social psychologist who has produced significant research on nonverbal behavior and language. In her TEDx Talk, Amy Cuddy shared research (both her own as well as that of others) that demonstrates the significance of body language and other nonverbal cues in our daily interactions and perceptions of our environment. Our emotions and our physiology are influenced by and understood through our nonverbal expressions. Nonverbal expressions of power and dominance cause humans and animals alike to make themselves bigger. When we feel powerful, we take up more space by spreading ourselves on a couch or entering a room emphatically and assertively. These expressions of power are “universal and old.” In fact, they are ingrained within us. Congenitally blind people and those born with sight perform the same gesture of pride when they win at a physical competition. It doesn't matter if they've never seen anyone do it. Both groups of people lift their arms over their head in a V shape and lift their chin - this is the posture of pride studied extensively by Jessica Tracy.
In contrast, expressions of powerlessness make the person or animal small. When we feel powerless or scared, we close in on ourselves, and wrap ourselves up. We don’t want to bump into the person next to us. As a professor at a competitive collegiate institution, Amy Cuddy has observed classic cases of alpha male gestures of dominance as well as gestures of powerlessness most often occurring within populations of women in her classes.
Some people raise their hands really high and occupy a lot of space in the classroom environment; others appear to be “collapsing in on themselves” when they enter her classroom. Correlated with gender, expressions of power engender greater participation in class; expressions of powerlessness are associated with lower participation in the classroom setting. So, even though equally qualified women and men enter the same university, they still experience differences in grades, a fact that seems to be partly attributable to participation. So Cuddy hoped to answer the question of whether or not our nonverbal expressions govern how we think, feel, and behave. She also wanted to explore if one could experience a behavioral outcome by faking confidence and enthusiastic participation.
Physiologically, those who feel more powerful are more likely to be assertive, confident, and optimistic; these people feel that they will win even at games of chance. Powerful people take more risks, and show higher levels of testosterone or the dominance hormone, and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. For one of Cuddy’s experiments, people were made to adopt either high power poses or low power poses. First, participants spat in a cup. Then, for two minutes, participants would either adopt a high-power or low-power pose. After two minutes, participants are asked to rate how powerful they feel on a series of items. Then, they are given an opportunity gamble, and afterwards spit in another cup.
- 86% of the participants who adopted a high-power pose gambled.
- 60% of the participants who adopted a low-power pose gambled.
- People who adopted the high-power pose experienced a 20% increase in testosterone.
- People who adopted a low-power pose experienced a 10% decrease in testosterone.
- Participants who adopted a high-power pose experienced a 25% decrease in cortisol.
- Participants who adopted a low-power pose experienced a 15% increase in cortisol.
Cuddy’s results demonstrate that as little time as two minutes of power-posing can lead to hormonal changes and behavioral differences, causing us to either feel confident or stress-reactive. In order to apply the significance of body language and power posing to real life, Cuddy and fellow researchers needed to choose a situation that is comparatively evaluative and invites social threat, and other stressors. They felt the most relatable situation would be that of a job interview. Participants in this second study either adopt low-power or high-power poses and aftwerwards undergo a stressful, five-minute job interview. Participants are recorded and judged during the interview. Judges are trained in nonverbal cues, and appear with stoic expressions the entire time.
Four independent coders then evaluate the interview tapes of the study’s participants, and determine who they would hire. These coders are unaware of the hypothesis and conditions of the experiment’s participants. Participants who adopted the high-power poses were hired, and rated more positively overall. The content of the participants’ speech was not necessarily the determining factor. In other words, their linguistic communication did not significantly influence their hiring. The presence of their speech (their enthusiasm, passion, and seeming authenticity) did, all of which was influenced by their initial body language.
Amy Cuddy’s TEDx Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc
Although most of us arc used to hearing sound all around us every day, we don't often pay attention to how il signals information, including feelings, responses, or needed actions.
One of the activities in our class textbook, Guide to First-Year Writing (6th Edition), asks us to “consider a song as an argument” (70). This activity (activity 2.12, found in chapter two) requires the participant to locate a song that appears to make an argument and answer the activity’s given questions. For this exercise, I chose the song “Love Is Dead” by Estonian musician Kerli.
The title alone presents Kerli’s argument: love is dead. Answering the activity’s given questions, however, caused me to contemplate Kerli’s song as a complex communicative device; I soon realized that Kerli’s message is not as simplistic as the title implies. In my response, I hypothesize that Kerli is a mistress who has made the difficult decision to leave a secret relationship. By referencing lyrics that support my interpretation of the song’s argument, I was able to appreciate the narrative present in the song, and analyze its method of storytelling.
Previously, I felt most drawn to the aural mode of “Love Is Dead,” however, this activity prompted my explicit admiration of the song’s linguistic mode as well. Through the following questions, I discuss how and why the linguistic mode of the song’s argument is supported by its aural mode:
How would you describe the musical style of the song? In what ways does the style of singing and instrumentation help convey the rhetorical argument?
Here is a snippet of my response:
*The composition of the piece seems to describe the navigation of a dangerous path. It’s as if one has to look over one’s shoulder while listening to this song. By employing a sense of danger, the ballad mimics the traitorous and deceptive nature of Kerli’s secret relationship.
In the song, Kerli’s vocals are slightly distorted. She sounds as if she is singing from behind a glass wall, showing that she is both unsure of the words she is singing to herself, and afraid of being honest about her doubt of the worthiness of her relationship. The instrumentation is forceful and almost overpowers Kerli’s voice at times. One is never unaware of the thematic orchestra scoring Kerli’s ascent through perilous territory. As the song advances, however, Kerli’s angelic voice increases in power. She continuously repeats and chants variations of “love is dead, love is gone, love don’t live here anymore,” alternating between singing these words, chanting them, and crying them to the audience.*
As this article’s authors point out, the aural mode of media “signals information” even when we are not consciously aware of those signals.
At first, I only appreciated the superficiality of the composition of “Love Is Dead,” and simply recognized that it sounded good to me. I now realize, however, that the aural mode of the song also performs the deeper, more complex function of storytelling. The sound of Kerli’s song influences the emotions that I feel upon listening, and the imagery I conjure in accordance with the music.
Read the full response on my website, Postscript Reverie: My Analysis of "Love Is Dead"