Two Releases Spring 2016

You might be thinking that I’m showing favoritism by once again announcing a release by UK artist Dave Migman. It’s certainly true that I like his work and would love to enlarge his audience. It’s also true that he’s relatively prolific. While most of us seem to be running our children around town or getting sucked into another season of some television show or other (now that we can stream whole seasons over a weekend, why bother with anything else?) he’s busy making stuff. Not that artists don’t deserve a little relaxation and a chance to fill themself with the mental equivalent of a Twinkie but, really, we’re usually happier making stuff.

Dave Migman - Learning How To Live And Die - Learning How To Live And Die 3

A drawing from Learning How to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

Migman’s most recent release on Bandcamp, Learning How to Live and Die, has many of his delightful drawings. His writing, as always, is visceral, blood and sinews, corporeal, tangible, and in-your-face outraged. That is, he’ll probably offend your finer sensibilities and get himself thrown out of any polite discussion of office politics. The sounds here, behind the words, are spartan, especially compared to his last release iPadded Cell, and, as always, help build a sense of immediacy and intensity.

Another drawing from Learning How to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

Another drawing from Learning How to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

According to the notes on Bandcamp’s page, these works were originally “dogcasts” written and performed in 2012 for Doghorn publishing. Then, “This version has been re-edited, scooped and hollowed and then pumped with reinforced concrete. Some readings are recent, others old. It recounts a journey through Greece back in 2007 and much was written under the influence of Grecian Village white wine, while staring at the gathering dusk.”

A third drawing from Learning to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

A third drawing from Learning to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

I hope you have the time and money to venture over to Bandcamp to buy all his recordings. (I think all his downloads are name-your-price.)

Also available at Bandcamp is my own collection, 20 Years Frozen for
All Time, with selections spanning 1996-2016. Compared to my previous retrospective collection, 15 Years of Prattle and Din, this one better represents my earlier, pre-computer years of recording.  It is a 2-disc collection (though it downloads as a single stream of twenty-one compositions) lasting over 2 1/2 hours. It’s hard to do anything else while listening to any kind of spoken word, so this could be quite a chore to listen to. The collection includes a 72-page booklet, both in standard PDF and in a printable version (set out in 12-page signatures that need to be collated, trimmed, and bound), and binding instructions. The content of several recordings and certainly that of the booklet are sexually explicit and not appropriate for all ages or philosophical states of mind. The booklet is thick with biographical detail, forays into my recording history (which you can find in even greater detail on my blog Prattle and Din), essays on the creative process, the texts for all included recordings, as well as some notes specific to each recording (again, you can find much more on the blog).

Drawing 105 from Laughing Water. 6"x 8" graphite and acrylic on Rieves BFK. Early to mid-1990s. One of the more socially acceptable (that is, less explicit and therefore less "offensive") drawings from the series. Copyright Michael Myshack.

Drawing 105 from Laughing Water. 6″x 8″ graphite and acrylic on Rieves BFK. Early to mid-1990s. One of the more socially acceptable (that is, less explicit and therefore less “offensive”) drawings from the series. Copyright Michael Myshack.

Drawing 107 from Laughing Water. 6"x8" graphite and acrylic on Rieves BFK. Circa early to mid-1990s. Another "tame" image from the booklet. Copyright Michael Myshack.

Drawing 107 from Laughing Water. 6″x8″ graphite and acrylic on Rieves BFK. Circa early to mid-1990s. Another “tame” image from the booklet. Copyright Michael Myshack.

 

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If the Book Could Be Heard

At one point the intention for the book was to include a CD of recorded performances of the poems and some of the prose. Things did not work out that way but you need not miss out.

I’m talking about Lee Foust‘s recent publication of Sojourner.

I’ve been listening to his recordings on soundcloud.com for almost two years now. I’ve always had the impression that you could find him on a street corner or in a park in Florence, drums in hand and his voice and eye sneering at the American tourists (of course, only his fellow Americans). Or I can imagine him reading his work to his creative writing students, alternately trying to scare them to death with the poet’s edge he gives to every word or breaking their young hearts with tales of love lost. Maybe none of this is true but it’s easy to imagine. I mean, it also wouldn’t be hard to imagine those students totally numb and oblivious, just because he’s their teacher.

It could be a sad thing that the CD of poems was not included with the book. But you’re in luck. The recordings have long been available to hear but, in preparation for the book, they have not been available for download. Now you can download them and burn that CD yourself (thank you, I’m in the process of doing just that this weekend).

Foust’s performances have always seemed to me to have an abrasive edge, something of a scab of anger and disgust with how people treat one another. On reading the prose in Sojourner I found a different feel, more observant, introspective, and distant. But am I projecting? My favorite composition in the book is “Sojourner (Back in NYC)”. Reading it to myself it was meditative, philosophical, almost a chant of variations on a theme. To again hear him read it, the piece is entirely of the earth, full of flesh and the senses, the experience quite tangible and not particularly peaceful.

No Universal Format for Digital Publishing

Was there a time in which anyone inventing new technologies was stoned to death for violating tradition? I imagine there was. And every time I have to deal with a new battle of proprietary products I start looking for something to throw.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not idolize old technologies (with the exceptions of the bound book and a manual transmission in my car). I’ve lived with oil lamps and wood burning stoves and outhouses and having to haul in water. I’ve written with a manual typewriter (it’s sort of a printer/keyboard combo without a monitor and very limited editing capabilities, primarily involving the crumpling of paper). I’m not someone who misses the sounds of clicks and crackles on vinyl or the hiss of tape. My desk no longer sags under the weight of a CRT monitor. Et cetera.

I do, though, tend to embrace technology when it has stabilized a little, when one developer’s offering has won the battle in the market place and we can all settle down to enjoy the content rather than fussing over the medium.

This has not yet happened in the world of electronic publishing. The primary forms are: EPUB and its variants; interactive PDF; interactive magazines; and HTML. I think the only format that works on all computer platforms and on almost all mobile devices is HTML. At a glance PDF also seems almost universal.

My first foray into both reading and production was overly optimistic. ePublishing with InDesign CS6 by Pariah Burke is an excellent work, digging rather deeply into things not exactly specific to the book’s title, with an abundance of information and tips. At the time I was looking into buying his book I was also looking at Digital Publishing with Adobe InDesign CS6 by Sandee Cohen and Diane Burns. Cohen and Burns’ book looked as though it did little more than walk you through the InDesign menus. This is more or less true, though there are a couple pages in their book that I wish I’d read (pages 224-225). Burke has charts with the pros and cons of each format and spells out their limitations. Unfortunately he’s not really looking at the market and what is typically being supported.

For instance, the EPUB: version 3.0 supports more layout options as well as audio and video. Very encouraging. Cohen and Burns point out that very few e-readers or mobile devices recognize EPUB 3.0 and, to date, that most of the electronic book sellers do not market it. (I think my next project will be a new collection, a dream log, created in both versions of EPUB and probably PDF. I’ll post them here, but until I get a website of my own this will be the extent of availability. And that’s another problem for independent publishers and do-it-yourselfers: where to publish and how to make your work available to as many devices and operating systems as possible.)

On the surface PDF would seem to be the ultimate format for an electronic book. You can do almost anything with it, it’s been around forever, and almost all devices and operating systems can open it. But there’s the catch: often they can only open it. Cohen and Burns have a long list of things that don’t work, for instance in Macs and mobile devices. Hyperlinks usually still work but multimedia and buttons only work on your PC (I found this to be true on my NOOK HD as well as on my partner’s iPad3, and I’ve gotten reports from friends that my first foray was a bust on their Mac laptops). Except on a PC an interactive PDF is likely to be opened as a flat, printable PDF (your basic, boring user’s manual-type PDF). If you’d gone ahead and created a printable PDF your images would at least be higher quality.

Interactive magazine is very interesting and very versatile, with all kinds of interactivity, linking, multimedia, and viewing options. Two catches: one is that, at present, they are not viewable on computers, just on tablets (both reference books were saying the same thing); the other is that you have more hoops in terms of processing and integration to create an app for your publication and potentially much more work and expense. For instance, to create an app for an Apple readable publication you have to have an Apple computer. I don’t think I’ll be creating any kind of interactive magazine for years to come.

What about HTML? It’s capable of doing just about everything the other formats are promising, and maybe more. It’s viewable and functional on everything but some of the older e-readers.…I think the problems are threefold: packaging, distribution, and know-how. I think for me packaging and distribution are the more difficult to overcome. Unlike the general subject of digital publishing creating a downloadable packet of HTML is a deeply buried sub-genre that is not featured in how-to books or videos. It’s something that’s always “outside the scope of this book”. It’s probably not much more than creating a folder, as you would for a website, and maybe ZIP-ing it. (Once again I’ll mention that I subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud and its incredible assortment of software. Muse is still under development—at least as far as I’m concerned—but it’s already an extraordinarily easy tool for creating HTML. It’s a lot like using InDesign for creating print and electronic books.…I still find it doesn’t work well for adding audio files (and also video?) and that I need to do that in Dreamweaver.)…I have no idea how to tackle distribution. None of the online bookstores market HTML books. If they did we’d probably end up with another proprietary nightmare (for instance, even though EPUB is a common format Amazon’s Kindle will not read it, you have to convert your EPUB to their file system).

So, yes, I will keep working through these issues. And, yes, I will keep you posted as to the results.

In the meantime, I’m having vicious fantasies of throwing things at the developers of proprietary systems. I’m more of a mind to pelt them with our ever-dwindling supply of Twinkies than with stones.

Interactive Books, First Excursion

For over 30 years I’ve wanted to produce books that include not just my words but also my drawings/paintings. Back then it was impossibly expensive, even to do it in black and white. Adding audio to my repertoire in 1996 put it even farther out of my reach.

Now we have digital publishing. The possibilities are overwhelming. They are more titillating and frustrating than satisfying, because there is no universally readable format. (Pariah Burke lists the current formats, their pros and cons, in ePublishing with InDesign CS6. Discussed are: EPUB, PDF, digital replica, interactive magazine, and HTML—and the variations of each.)

But, it’s fairly affordable.

I decided to start with something already in existence, a chapbook I produced in 1984. It was called Essay (verb, to try something difficult) and was my first foray into self-publishing. Originally it was printed by a quick printer in black ink, no half-tones, on highly acidic paper. The text was done on an old office typewriter (manual, not electric) by a not-so-competent typist (me) with drawings that were pretty basic and, so I thought, easily copied (they weren’t, because I couldn’t afford to do half-tones). I knew so little about making books that I even botched the binding (see photo below), stitching from the side rather than through the spine (side stitching is common in traditional Japanese binding, I love the look of it and use it from time to time, but what I did with Essay was nothing but incompetence).…I made 50 copies. A few friends bought them. The Amazing Alonzo’s paperback exchange in Duluth put a couple on the shelf on consignment (I was a good customer). Cheng-Khee Chee, then head librarian of the UMD library, graciously bought a copy.

Chapbook cover. Essay. With inept binding.

The cover of Essay, 1984, showing the inept binding.

The first step was to scan all my original printer spreads (yes, I still have them) and then break them into individual pages. The awkward part of this book, and what makes it a poor choice for a first try, is that it’s all images. Ordinarily you’d create a book in InDesign or QuarkXPress by creating text and image boxes that will reflow to fit the screen of the viewing device, depending on what format you choose to export this as. I still might try to do this one as a fixed image epub, like a children’s storybook.

The first attempt at interactivity was to add navigation. Because I didn’t want to do anything to conflict with the look of the original I did not create visible buttons. So far everyone who’s played with this has found the navigation buttons pretty quickly (most of them are what you’d find in any format of epublishing).

Then I decided to take a step into the future (or recent past) by adding audio. I read a description of each page or read the poem. Conscientious artisan that I am, I cleaned the background noise from the recording (that would be the fan on my computer), compressed the vocal to make it more consistently audible, tweaked the EQ (also to make it a little easier to hear), and added a pinch of reverb to make it more aesthetically pleasing. Of course almost all this work disappeared as soon as I converted the files to 32-kbps MP3 files—sounds like shit but it makes the overall document file more internet friendly (it’s still about 10MB).

It’s easy to embed any kind of media file into an InDesign document. A little file player is created that can be placed anywhere on the page.…On playback of the finished PDF I found it becomes an ugly gray box that won’t go away until the file is reopened. It took some fooling around to find a place that was consistent from page to page but would never cover any of the text.

A replica of the table of contents where I define all the navigation points and the button for the audio player.

Here I define all the navigation points and the button for the audio player.

What seemed like an almost universally supported file format, the PDF, has failed everywhere except on PCs. It only worked the way a printable PDF would on Macs and mobile devices, both Android and Apple operating systems. That is, the navigation buttons still worked. It seems that InDesign creates a Flash player when embedding the audio. (I need to further explore what’s happening. So far my searches have not been informative, much less suggesting alternatives.)…I tried attaching the audio files in Acrobat, which also worked on my desktop. On my NOOK HD this version would no longer open the PDF reader navigation with page thumbnails.

Click the link below for a fully operational copy of the book. Your feedback is welcome.

essay interactive electronic 2013

Okay…I tried a preview on my computer, a PC running Vista 64-bit, and everything worked.

As I continue to explore electronic publishing I’ll keep you posted at this blog. I’m looking into other possibilities as well, such as a bonus feature with a CD download (a printable PDF with images and text).

Addendum, March 7, 2013: Because people are running into the same difficulties playing the uploaded PDF as they had at home when various family members tested it (no audio on Macs or mobile devices) I’ve uploaded the audio to soundcloud.com. To hear the continuous set go to the sets tab or to the sounds tab for the individual tracks (which can be downloaded, for your convenience). One thing to say in favor of the recordings posted on SoundCloud is that they are higher quality than the 32 kbps mono versions embedded in the PDF. They are 256 kbps “stereo”. Supposedly CD quality.

Connecting the Fragments

I have two books on William Blake by Ruthven Todd, one is about Blake the artist and one is about Blake the poet. Reading these books you’d think that there’d been two guys named William Blake who lived at the same time and same place but had never crossed paths. Blake was not a divided man, at least not in any creative sense: his poems and drawings were all serving the same purpose. To me, this is one of the symptoms of insanity in our culture, the need to fragment and specialize (where the means become the end).

For over 30 years I’ve wanted to produce books that combine all the media in which I work. Back then it was just a matter of words and images. It seemed to become even more of a pipe dream once I started recording. Always, it was beyond my means, where I would need the commitment and money of others—that is, a publisher.

Just as we can all now be record producers in our own homes (and within the grandeur of our own minds), it is also easy to become your own publisher. And electronic publishing makes this a full-color operation immediately viewable online and downloadable. Even more wonderful, you can add audio and video. Sculptors, installation and performance artists, landscape artists and others creating immediate experiences and environments will still be limited to very meager recorded representations of their work. But for we flatlanders, we isolated recluses of the creative world, we who too often stick to the archaic media and craft of, say, painting and poetry, there is hope.

Years ago I worked as a silkscreen printer, where I was introduced to early incarnations of digital publishing via Photoshop and QuarkXPress. Since about 2003 or 2004 I’ve been using Adobe’s Creative Suite, which means I switched from QuarkXPress to InDesign. This really hasn’t amounted to anything except a few individually distributed book/CD compilations for friends (or victims, as they might seem) and a lot of debt. I was always tempted by the possibilities of the software but without a public presence and connections it was just a very strange form of self-pleasuring.

After the release of the iPad in 2010, and the subsequent burst of activity in the tablet market, the world has begun to blossom for electronic publication and Adobe has really been pushing the electronic connections for InDesign.

I now subscribe to Adobe CS6 Creative Cloud and am in the process of reading ePublishing with InDesign CS6 by Pariah Burke. The layers of debris and rot are being peeled away from my imagination and my youthful passion to produce books in which I can include all the media I work in is again becoming visible and showing signs of life.

First, I’ll recreate some of my old chapbooks and CD booklets, to master the software and publication process (and I’ll probably need some sort of website to make them available). Just think, in each book, instead of burning CDs, I can place the audio tracks within the text and graphics with a link to play the recording. This will be downloadable, interactive, and viable in almost all devices in use (probably the interactive PDF format). It shouldn’t be too big of a deal to create alternate formats from the original InDesign file.

As I continue to explore the software and process I’ll keep you informed of the results. I’d really like to convince others that this is doable (not so cheap, InDesign alone is about $650 and takes some time to learn how to use…or the subscription, with access to almost every program Adobe has, is $50 a month). As much as I love the printed page, having those sheets of paper in my hand or stacked around my bed like talismans of safety and tranquility and vivid dreams, I will embrace the very rich future of electronic publishing. At least creatively, my day is coming. I hope we all have our day, both as producers and consumers.

As a farewell, I’m going to leave you with a recording and one of my drawings, to give you a sense of how they’re each an expression of the same imagination and why they should be combined in a single publication…

lxxi-71

LXXI-71 8”× 6” Graphite, india ink, gesso, chalk, and acrylic on cream Rieves BFK. Circa 1988.
In 1983 I began a project called Laughing Water combining poetry and erotic drawings, most of which are sexually explicit. I’m hoping this one is tame enough for the world of blogs and our supposedly free speech internet.