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unseen_coverart_final-720x908

Art: Thomas Rodgers
The cover art for Chad Allen’s audio comic,
Unseen, is the only visual feature. The comic was designed for the blind.

Hooray for people who recognize a need and do something about it. In this story, a man who is blind devised a way for other blind people to enjoy an art form usually closed to them.

Jessica Gelt writes at the Los Angeles Times, “Chad Allen was feeling helpless. Not because he happened to be blind. He had a healthy handle on that part of his life. It was the insanely dark news cycle that was dragging him down. The sense that the world was falling apart and he could do nothing about it.

“Mounting anxiety before the 2016 presidential election propelled him to do what he does best: tell stories. He created an audio comic book titled ‘Unseen,’ featuring a blind heroine, an assassin from Afghanistan named Afsana. It is believed to be one of the first audio comic books by a blind author, made for a blind audience.

“Working in a highly visual art form, Allen managed to create an auditory experience that closely mimics the sensation of reading a comic book. A whooshing sound occurs whenever a panel changes; the intentionally stilted delivery of lines, as well as narration that prompts mental images, conjure a feeling of being inside a high-stakes comic book world. Aside from a slick red-and-black graphic image of Afsana created for the cover, ‘Unseen’ has no visual art whatsoever. …

“ ‘Chad’s character is written for a blind audience, but all of us can identify with her because we can identify with the experience of being underestimated,’ says Melissa Alexander, the director of public programs at the Exploratorium [museum of science, art and human perception in San Francisco]. …

“The sense among marginalized groups — people of color, women, LGBTQ people and others — that they have been underestimated has made ‘Unseen’ a popular part of the exhibit. …

“Allen is thrilled to have his work included in ‘Self, Made’ because it validates one of his main objectives in writing ‘Unseen.’

‘You don’t see art with your eyes. You don’t see anything with your eyes. All your eyes do is filter light. You see with your brain, and that’s what I’m trying to teach to people more than anything,’ Allen says. …

“Afsana does not have superpowers like Marvel’s Daredevil. She has a skill. Her skill is to slip in and out of places without being seen. She is not seen because people with disabilities are often not seen. They can feel invisible to society at large, Allen says. …

“The catchphrase for the comic is, ‘Discounting her abilities is her enemies’ gravest mistake.’

“The first installment of Afsana’s journey, which is available for streaming at unseencomic.com, finds her at the American border with Mexico in a not-so-distant future, when a dictatorial president is rounding up immigrants and conducting scientific experiments on disabled people with some very spooky results. …

“Allen, 46, grew up loving comic books. … He was not born blind. He was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that causes vision loss, at the age of 15, around the time his parents were divorcing. His world was thrown into turmoil in a way his fragile teen psyche had trouble processing. …

“Twenty years later, Allen is sitting at his dining room table in front of a small Braille keyboard attached to an iPhone that reads emails, books and writing back to him at breakneck speed. It is hard to imagine a time when he lacked confidence in the world. …

“Of all the questions lobbed his way, Allen says one of the most obvious and compelling is often asked by his son’s friends: How do you see in your head? His reply is beautiful in its simplicity.

“ ‘I say to them, “Do you go to bed at night? When you sleep do you dream? When you dream do you see places? Do you see people that you know? Do you see your family and friends?” ‘

“When they answer in the affirmative, he asks, ‘Are your eyes open?’

“They shake their heads.

“ ‘Well, that’s how I see you.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Ginny Fordham
Berklee professor Steve Wilkes gathers sound at the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. A recent project also captures Cape Cod.

Berklee professor Steve Wilkes and his collaborator David Masher have created some amazing soundscapes that capture the music of the natural world. Their work is described at the Hear the Forest website:

“Hear The Forest is an effort to initiate the process of building an aural-map – essentially, an audio time capsule – of New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest.  Supported by the National Forest Service and the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire, this work will be performed by Berklee College of Music Professor, Steve Wilkes, as part of the 2017 Artist-in-residence program. …

“In addition to his field ecology and sound recording work, Wilkes will offer several public programs, including workshops that will provide residents and visitors with information on contributing to the ongoing sound file collection on the White Mountain National Forest. …

“ ‘I hope to be able to express and communicate to others this profound sense of inspiration – and to help everyone slow down a bit, and really listen,’ ” Wilkes says. More here.

You might also like hear an interesting interview with Wilkes that was broadcast at WGBH. The station provides this intro: “Nature is rich with dynamic sounds, like the roaring of waterfalls or the sweetness of birdsong.

“Berklee professor Steve Wilkes … captured the still whispers of buzzing bugs, the martian-like atmosphere at the summit of Mount Washington and the laughter of children enjoying the park — all essential sounds to create a ‘digital aural map’ of the forest, which he calls Hear The Forest. Callie Crossley speaks with Wilkes about his project.” More here.

I like the idea of encouraging others to contribute their own nature recordings to the White Mountains project. It feels like something anyone could do if they just paid attention — and paying attention is the whole idea.

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Longtime readers may recall I took a playwriting class a couple years ago. One of the assignments — which I blogged about here — was to listen in on a conversation in a public place and write it down word for word. Very awkward, but a good lesson in the random way people really talk.

Now the artist/cabby Daniel J. Wilson has taken the concept to an extreme, recording customers’ conversations and using them in his art.

Matt Flegenheimer writes at the NY Times that while driving a taxi in New York, Wilson “secretly recorded the conversations of his passengers, assembled the highlights into an audio collage of the back-seat musings and installed the final product in his taxi, playing the clips for his riders …

“ ‘It’s this world where people act like you don’t exist, even though you’re three feet away,’ Mr. Wilson, 35, said from the front seat of his cab recently. ‘You get this fragment of a person.’ ” More.

Much has been done with the invisibility theme in literature: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the powerful Mammy in The Sound and the Fury, the murderer disguised as an “invisible” waiter in an Agatha Christie novel — you can probably come up with more.

The Times article discusses the invasion of privacy. I think invasion of privacy might be the penalty for treating humans as invisible.

Photo: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Victoria Reis, left, called Daniel J. Wilson’s audio collage “the least pretentious and most experimental” work she had seen all week, and tipped him.

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Manolo, head of audio at SoundCloud, explained to a few of us in the office last week how SoundCloud works.

The way I understand it, SoundCloud is sort of like a YouTube for audio except that you may have to pay. A lot of musicians use it. It’s good for social-networking purposes because it’s fast. You don’t need to download a separate player to hear the audio. It starts playing automatically, as you can see below.

Manolo said something about “two weeks free,” but I’m not sure I understand that part yet. The clip below, from a South African nonprofit is one track that seems to be free at any time. There are other tracks from magazines like the Economist, which I assume the owners want you to use and won’t charge.

But if you want to upload your music, bird calls, or soundbites, I guess that’s where you have only two free weeks.

If anyone understands this better, please let me know. I want to experiment.

Hear kids at the Children’s Radio Foundation in South Africa wish a happy 94th Birthday to Nelson Mandela.

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Living on Earth, a national radio program produced in Somerville, Massachusetts, has interviewed an interesting guy who makes audio recordings of nature.

He may record, for example, what a woodland sounds like before a logging company comes in and what it sounds like after clear cutting. He may record the sounds of insects in trees. He says it is nearly impossible to get away from man-made sounds when recording nature.

Listening to his recordings early this morning resulted in my listening for the birds more on the walk I took later. (And I turned to see a very jubilant cardinal.)

“Few have heard the world as Bernie Krause has. Originally trained as a musician, he spent years recording the most famous musicians of the 1960s and 70s. Then he left the studio to explore the origins of music in nature. Krause has recorded wild sounds in places few have ever been or even dreamed of. Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah listens in.” Listen here or read transcript.

Krause calls his field of study soundscape ecology. Here is his new book, The Great Animal Orchestra.

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