Category: Author interviews

New book! Soundings: documentary film and the listening experience

New book! Soundings: documentary film and the listening experience

We are delighted today to announce the publication of our newest book, a beautifully written collection edited by Geoffrey Cox and John Corner:

Soundings: documentary film and the listening experience

Buy the paperback version

Download the open access version

It has been a privilege to work with Geoffrey and John on this fascinating collection of essays, and we asked them to put a few words together about their research and the driving force behind the book.

Geoffrey Cox and John Corner explore the arts of sound, investigating the richness of what we hear as well as what we see in non-fiction films.

We all recognise that sound is important to documentary films, without it we would often have no idea of what we were looking at or of its significance. What is far less recognised is the often complex ways in which our listening becomes interlinked with our viewing so as to generate feelings and ideas well beyond those carried simply in ‘what is said’. This is partly a matter of how documentary producers work to let us hear the world as well as see it, a world of noises, natural, and mechanical and of patterns and textures of speech going well beyond the literal content of commentary or interview. The sonic dimension involves a range of technological and aesthetic creativity in the production process right through from initial recording through to final editing. Often, it importantly involves the use of music in ways which we might be encouraged to register but which will often work powerfully in the background, shaping the kinds of knowledge and pleasure we get from a film without our being consciously aware of it.

A huge range of non-fiction film uses sounds in this way to guide and supplement our visual experience and fill it with feeling. The longstanding practices of film, television and now web advertising show a range of sound designs importantly at work, so too do the even more longstanding techniques of film propaganda. However, many documentary and video makers, rather than reinforce the delivery of a narrow message, have wanted to use the possibilities of different sounds to enrich, make more complex and perhaps even challenge, the sense of reality ‘coming through’.

In our work, drawing on international contributors including film-makers and composers as well as academics, we ask questions about how sounds are recorded and assembled in documentary production, about the variety of the ways in which they work when listened to and about their contribution to making this area of visual culture an important culture of sounds too. Our belief is that further critical attention here goes beyond the expanding area of documentary scholarship and connects with a broader understanding of the contemporary media arts.

Buy the paperback version

Download the open access version

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Our author James Mendelsohn discusses the banning of Hezbollah

Our author James Mendelsohn discusses the banning of Hezbollah

Hezbollah in its entirety must be banned by the UK government – here’s why

James Mendelsohn, University of Huddersfield

Earlier this year, a billboard in Luton, England, had to be taken down after it was vandalised with graffiti. The poster was advertising an al-Quds Day rally. This anti-Israel, anti-American event originated in Iran and has spread to numerous other countries. In the UK, the annual London rally regularly features the parading of the Hezbollah flag. This is especially controversial, prompting calls for a change in the law.

Hezbollah – from the original Arabic term meaning “Party of God”, which can also be transliterated as “Hizbullah” or “Hizballah” – is an Iranian-backed Shiite militia group that was established in the early 1980s. It was initially formed to drive foreign forces out of Lebanon and its bombing of French and American bases in Beirut in 1983 claimed 299 lives. Hezbollah is hostile towards Israel and supports President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war.

Hezbollah’s emblem features a stylised assault rifle and its forces have adopted the “Hitler salute”. In 2002, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said that if all the world’s Jews were to gather in Israel, this would make it easier to kill them in a “final and decisive battle”.

The organisation has a track record of global criminal activity, with a particular emphasis on terror attacks – not only against Israelis, but also against Jewish targets worldwide.

However, Hezbollah has also participated in Lebanese elections since 1992. It holds government positions and provides social welfare. For this reason Hezbollah is not completely “proscribed” or banned under current UK law. Instead the government has banned the “military wing” of Hezbollah only, but not the “political wing”.

Banning terrorist groups

The Terrorism Act 2000 gives the Home Secretary power to proscribe an organisation if it is “concerned in terrorism”. Hezbollah’s “military wing” has been proscribed since 2008. But its other “wings” – its MPs, government ministers and social welfare activities – are not.

The Terrorism Act makes it an offence for a person, in a public place, to wear an item of clothing, or to carry or display a flag “in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation”. In 2004, a man was convicted of this offence after passing through a Scottish port wearing a ring which prominently displayed the initials “UVF”. This had caused police to believe he was a member or supporter of the proscribed Ulster Volunteer Force, a loyalist paramilitary group.

Scenes at al-Quds March in London 2016.
Twitter

The consequences of the distinction between Hezbollah’s military and non-military wings were seen at last year’s al-Quds Day rally where, as in previous years, Hezbollah flags and other articles were paraded through central London. Yet no one was arrested – even though all of Hezbollah’s wings share the same emblem.

More than just a flag

Some of the emblem-bearers – perhaps encouraged by the rally’s organisers in order to avoid trouble – even affixed stickers expressing support for the “political wing”. Yet they also chanted: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This is generally understood to be a call for the military destruction of the state of Israel. This would suggest that the marchers were not supporting only Hezbollah’s “political wing”, but its “military wing” also.

Hezbollah flags fly at al-Quds Day march in London.
Twitter

Distinctions drawn between Hezbollah’s “military” and “political” wings are unpersuasive. The entire organisation is banned in some countries including the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Israel.

The UK government has justified taking a different approach by reference to the historical distinction between the IRA and Sinn Féin. Yet Hezbollah itself repeatedly rejects any such notion. An early Hezbollah document stated:

Our military apparatus is not separate from our overall social fabric. Each of us is a fighting soldier.

In 2000, deputy secretary general of Hezbollah, Sheikh Naim Qassem said:

Hezbollah has one single leadership…It manages the political activity, the jihad activity, the cultural and the social activities…we have one leadership, with one administration.

In 2002, Muhammad Fannish of Hezbollah’s political bureau said:

No differentiation is to be made between the military wing and the political wing of Hezbollah.

In 2013, Hezbollah’s political affairs official, Ammar Moussawi, said:

Everyone is aware of the fact that Hezbollah is one body…Its military and political wings are unified.

In 2013, Hassan Nasrallah said:

However, jokingly I will say – though I disagree on such separation or division – that I suggest that our ministers in the upcoming Lebanese government be from the military wing of Hezbollah!

Such statements cast serious doubt upon the distinction between the “military” and “political” wings maintained in UK law. It makes no sense to proscribe only the former but not the latter, when Hezbollah’s own representatives insist that there is no real division between the two.

The ConversationSince last year’s al-Quds Day March, there have been calls from both Conservative and Labour figures for Hezbollah to be proscribed in its entirety. In January this year, MPs passed a motion calling for the home secretary to do just that. And it is hoped that Amber Rudd will now do so.

James Mendelsohn, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Huddersfield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Our author Dainis Ignatans discusses links between immigration and crime

Our author Dainis Ignatans discusses links between immigration and crime

Immigration and crime, is there a link?

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shutterstock

Dainis Ignatans, University of Huddersfield

I am an immigrant. Many people worry about those like me, and those from other countries who might follow in my footsteps.

Bold newspaper headlines either blame immigrants for a whole host of issues or portray them as saintly helpers in the struggle for economic well-being.

Political parties use immigration policies as key selling points, driving a division in public opinion – with either fear and hostility towards immigrants, or with unnecessary overwhelming praise. Both are equally undeserved.

And in this politically charged atmosphere, discussion of immigration has become the poster child of an era in which expertise is vilified and inconvenient truths become “fake news”. And the fewer facts we have, the more outrage there is.

A mixed picture

The reality is that as researchers, we know little about the relationship, if any, between immigration and crime. This is in part because lowbrow journalistic obsession with immigration and crime has made it somewhat a taboo topic for research. As evidenced by the limited academic literature available, a consensus simply does not exist.

In the US, areas with higher concentrations of recent immigrants have been found to actually have reduced levels of homicide and robbery. Using police recorded data in Chicago, researchers also found that first generation Mexican immigrants are 45% less likely to commit a violent offence than third generation Americans.

Similarly, a large scale European study on the effects of immigration on crime concluded that while an increase in immigration generally does not affect crime levels, it does go hand-in-hand with increased public anxiety and anti-immigration stances.

It’s all about culture

Research also shows that immigrants who come from culturally similar backgrounds to their new area, are likely to commit fewer crimes than the native population. Research on Los Angeles, for example, found that a higher number of Latino immigrants who were from culturally similar regions to the current residents, reduced the rates of violence in the area.

Similarly, research in Spain showed that Spanish speaking immigrants had a much more benign impact on crime than those of other origins. Such immigrants undoubtedly have an easier time moving to a new country where the culture reflects something like their own.

Similar cultures can make it easier for immigrants to fit in.
Shutterstock

And yet, people from ethnic minority groups in Western countries are disproportionately likely to be arrested and imprisoned for most crime types. And asylum seekers are over-represented in the crime figures in Germany and Denmark.

Similarly in the UK, the impact of two waves of immigration has been examined by researchers, specifically looking at the relationship between a rise in immigration and crime levels. The analysis found that when workers from Eastern European states (that joined the EU in 2004) came to the UK, the impact on crime was minimal. But the research also found that the wave of asylum seekers who came to the UK in the 1990s – mainly from war torn countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia – coincided with a slight increase in the total number of property crimes at the time. This was thought to be down to the fact that employment rates for this wave of immigrants was much lower than those of the average Briton.

What about multicultural areas?

Immigrant populations tend to be very concentrated, with people tending to reside in areas with existing communities. My recent research shows that throughout England and Wales, areas where immigrants from one single background make up a significant majority of the immigrant population, tend to be low in crime. Nearly as low in crime as the areas with small immigrant populations.

It doesn’t make a difference what the background of the immigrant population is, what appears to be key is that there is a cultural similarity among the immigrant population within an area. My research also found that areas with very high numbers of immigrants that are low in crime – or below the nation’s average – tend to be areas with either European or African immigrants.

But my research also showed that areas where two or more cultures (other than that of the indigenous population) are prevalent, tend to be very high in crime. This is specifically the case in areas with the highest proportions of immigrants from Asia and Europe. In these areas violent crime is 70% higher, property crime is 92% higher and vehicle crime increases by 19% compared to national average.

What to do about it

The research I have carried out shows the need to view culture as invaluable in the examination of the impact immigration has on crime.

It must also be considered that immigrant communities are less inclined to contact police and more likely to “self police” – which inevitably can result in more crime. So, policing of immigrant communities, which are becoming increasingly more concentrated, needs to be done with cultural differences in mind.

The ConversationSocial housing and other affordable housing initiatives must also be thought through carefully to avoid creating cultural clashes where possible. Some recent advances such as the UK government’s Integrated Communities Strategy already try to address language barriers that preclude integration. But ultimately, more calm discussion with a view towards a safer and more cohesive world would not hurt either.

Dainis Ignatans, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Huddersfield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Politics and society in contemporary fiction – author interview with Ruby Cowling

Politics and society in contemporary fiction – author interview with Ruby Cowling

Ruby Cowling is one of the authors published in our collection of poetry and prose, I You He She It, published earlier this year. In this blog post she talks about how fiction writing can be an outlet for your own viewpoints, but also a way to explore societal issues.

Something to say? Tell a story

In my current work-in-progress, a novel, I have found myself writing about data privacy, corporate power, manipulative advertising, the mental health of young people and the ethical questions surrounding artificial intelligence. Put that way, it sounds as if I’m writing some polemic, banging a drum for a whole range of troublesome issues, trying to do with fiction something I could do better through journalism or social action.

Maybe it’s cowardice. This way I can afford to put my head just slightly above the parapet, because I always have the excuse that it’s fiction. It was the character that made me say it!

But then, fiction has always done this – acted as a Trojan Horse to smuggle in disruptive messages about us as humans, about our society, about things we should be questioning if we’re going to progress in a humane way. Storytelling’s oral tradition, in particular, has been one of the most effective and enduring methods of resisting repressive power. So the guise of entertainment is not, I think, an ignoble one.

That’s the difference, though, between polemic and storytelling. The entertainment value.

The holy grail for me – as a reader as well as a writer – is a great story laid on a bed of, for want of a better phrase, “serious issues”. Story is hard. With my work-in-progress, I’ve actually found the story much harder to bring out than those issues, and have had to fight to prioritise it when the many “serious themes” have been falling over each other to be heard. But I knew I didn’t want to end up with some rant. I want readers to have a good time, first and foremost. Two spoonfuls of sugar to help the medicine go down.

A note on the medicine

I think contemporary British society is particularly under-addressed in our (contemporary British) fiction. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but there’s a tendency to avoid referencing the enormous changes we’re going through – and a trend in publishing for nostalgia and “the known” (historical fiction; books based on true stories or real people) – and the risk is, we’re creating a cultural gap.

With technological and societal change affecting us so profoundly and so rapidly, our modern world is bewildering, it’s true. Further, I understand that for a huge number of people reading, as a leisure activity, is an escape; I appreciate that they want to be taken elsewhere, not forced to relive a printed copy of the tough day they’ve just had.

I mean, I’d love to be able to write poetically about the idyllic worlds of yesteryear, simple folk pursuing lyrical lives in the fresh air and so on, but apart from the fact I don’t have that skill, it just doesn’t seem honest. Instead I keep finding myself back chewing over the messy stuff we’re dealing with here and now.

Ironically, that often means I write speculatively about a very-near-future or just-slightly-alternative-present – as in the novel I’ve been working on. But that just takes us back to the storytelling tradition. Don’t tell it straight, or it risks being a rant. (And, it’s important to mention, in some societies it risks the wrath of the powers you’re questioning.) Twist it, reshape it, douse it in story. Make it an allegory, a metaphor, an glorious adventure. Ideally, the reader will come away saying Wow, I had a great time with that story – and it really made me think.

Ways in which a writer approaches poetry

Ways in which a writer approaches poetry

Ford Dagenham is one our authors published in I You He She It – a collection of short stories and poems developed out of the Grist project. As part of #OAWeek we asked him to discuss his writing processes and and how he keeps himself on track when writing poetry.

You can read the Grist collection online, open access here.

You can read more around the author on their blog.

The Poetry Process

(readings prose submitting etc are another story)

I write poetry waking up. Not weekends. Days off are ok.

After a day or two off I get the itch. Without being dramatic, who I am unravels.

I post the mornings poem on the blog then I pat myself on the back.

I keep notebooks for poetry and story ideas. I use Notes in my iphone. People assume I am another addict to the glass. I enjoy this misconception.

I look OUT and IN.

I wrote rules down. Its like a blueprint, a distilled list of elements.

I often ignore it.

If I write something that feels dead, it probably is. Its unlikely to merit a funeral.

I resuscitate dead work. Halve its word count. Then its bones show. Then I add flesh and hats.

The delete key is liberation. Often a way out of the swamp.

I repurpose bad work. A bad line ON PURPOSE is ok, even funny.

I delight in accidental rhymes.

Rhyming on purpose is a forced endeavour, lending an expectation that can destroy natural flow.

I find a neighbours minutiae a gift on dead-end mornings.

I stop and start something new. Freshness is spring air and old work can improve like ignored wine.

Distractions can be material. Also they are distractions and inevitable.

Better to not read others work at all, than read it with a mental red pen.

Beware the vacuum, tho it can be informative, like a mirror.

If I write just bare branches, then I add flowers and leaves.

Sometimes a poem is done before you are. Notice this.

I try to be universal and personal. Brand names, song lyrics, ad tags are reality.

I sometimes try for a new language, which sounds poncy.

I enjoy a good typo.

I use no punctuation. When I do use punctuation, its either like a day at the seaside or a horrible school trip.

Writing is a state born of continued trying.

Writing is HEALTHY. That tortured genius lark, I don’t buy it.

My blog says ‘a poem or pic a day until I die or don’t’. This gives me discipline and flexibility.

My blog is the one most important thing that keeps me writing.

I write for me and my dozen regular readers and occasional zines. This is enough.

Moving water is good for inspiration. Like fire. Constant motion. The bath counts and washing the dishes.

Rejection letters/emails are difficult for editors to write. Have empathy. I thank them for a good rejection. I been read. Good.

Rape yourself with kindness.

I dig deep. I skim light.

If I go stale, its often because the music has stopped.

Read poetry. Lots is just guff. Read anyway. Broadly. Dart and prod. Reading poetry on the toilet one morning (counts as running water) I wrote six poems none of which was shit.

I try to be aware of my thoughts. They are journeys.

Songs stuck in my head get new words for the melody.

If I borrow or steal, I credit it in the poem or in the title.

I try not to judge. If I judge I make it clear I’m judging. Then I judge myself.

Have an opinion. Don’t be blind to other opinions.

I have realised I am writing this in the voice of Alan Partridge.

Beware of voices in your head. Or be aware of voices in your head. They are not all for you.

I think in my gut. Head-space is chaotic, don’t spend all day there.

Rarely am I writing the worlds most important poem. But I try to.

There WAS a thousand excuses to not sit down and tap anything out.

There IS a thousand reasons TO sit down and tap something out.

I try not to write about writing. Sometimes I of course do.

I attempt authority. Probably it is fake. We are not all Moses. Its important to believe what you write. Or how will the reader? Don’t be Dan Brown.

I don’t worry about titles. I make it up at the last minute. They can be changed.

If you have a good line that won’t fit, there’s your title.

Use the first line as the title, then the reader hits the ground running.

No title is fine.

A number as a title hints at a secret order.

A title of a COLLECTION is more important. Be understated. The work will fly higher.

Imbibe what you need to. But its YOU that writes, not blended chemicals.

Today I am a sober poet. No one has ever done a harder thing.

I keep calm. Too angry is fine. I wrote one of my best poems when angry with the council housing office.

I read Ferlinghetti’s 2001 inaugural address.

Finding your voice as a poet

Finding your voice as a poet

Tony Watts is an author published in our Grist collection of poetry and prose: I You He She It. As part of #OAWeek we asked Tony to talk about his writing processes and how other writers have influenced the way he approaches his work.

I tend to describe my creative life as a state of permanent writer’s block occasionally interrupted by a poem.  I normally feel so uninspired that my total output of about six hundred poems is a constant source of amazement to me.  I’ve no idea how I did that: it feels as though they were written by someone else – someone much brighter than me.  On the other hand, I don’t just sit around waiting for inspiration (that way lies madness): I keep my oeuvre in a constant state of revision – that is to say, I keep going methodically through the lot looking for what can be improved or rejected.  And when I get to the end, I go back and start again (Sisyphus comes to mind).

As a young aspirational poet I puzzled about how or where I could “find my voice”.  I was led to believe that “finding your voice” was something important that you had to do before you could be a proper poet.  The trouble was that whatever I wrote tended to look like an exercise in the style of the poet I was currently reading.  “In that case, just stop reading”, you might say.  And how wrong you would be.  The solution is to do the opposite – to read as much and as widely as possible – and your “voice” will gradually emerge all on its own.  Billy Collins hit the nail on the head: “The source for a poet’s voice is external, not internal.  It lies within the poetry section of a library.  It is the voice of all those other poets who influence you and are ideally ‘recombined’ in a way that the reader can’t identify very quickly.”  He might have added that there is a catalytic factor involved in this alchemy – and that is the unique set of memories that constitutes your experience of life on earth.  A.E. Housman, Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats, Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, R.S. Thomas… these are just some of the favourite poets who, in my case, were fed into the top end of the funnel.  What comes oozing sluggishly out the bottom end is “my” voice.

When asked why he climbed Everest, George Mallory famously replied, “Because it’s there”.  If you asked me why I’m writing a poem, I might say, “Because it isn’t there”.  As a poem begins to take shape in your head, there comes a moment when you become simultaneously aware that there is a poem-shaped hole in the universe and that it has fallen to you to make good this serious deficiency by filling it.  Philip Larkin thought that the reason we write is that everything that’s been written so far is somehow inadequate.  He was right.  While it may seem the height of hubris to imagine you can fill a gap carelessly left vacant by every great writer of the past, the fact remains that the universe has changed – it now has you in it.  And that makes all the difference.

You can read the Grist collection online, open access here.

Taking the Models back to Music Practice: Evaluating Generative Transcription Models built using Deep Learning

One of our latest JCMS authors, Bob Sturm, explores his research into transcription models – interesting stuff!

High Noon GMT

Our journal article has now appeared: Sturm and Ben-Tal, “Taking the Models back to Music Practice: Evaluating Generative Transcription Models built using Deep Learning”, Journal of Creative Music Systems 2(1), 2017.

My one-line precis: Here are five ways to evaluate a music generation model that are far more meaningful and insightful than the daft “Turing test”.

The contents of this article formed my introduction at the panel, “Issues in the Evaluation of Creative Music Systems”, at the 2nd Conference on the Simulation of Music Creativity. The panel was organised by Róisín Loughran, who also has an article about evaluation in the same journal volume. So, I include below an adaptation of my panel notes.

The topic of evaluation seems to be mentioned quite frequently in music generation as an extremely difficult thing to do, and I wonder why. There is a number of different ways to go…

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