The David Byrne-Edward Tufte excerpts in Wired magazine in 2003 prompted widespread media discussion about Microsoft's presentation software, PowerPoint. Tufte's "PowerPoint is Evil," an excerpt from his essay, "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint," garnered most of the media attention that fall, in part because his argument seemed more controversial than Byrne's "Learning to Love PowerPoint," and in part because Tufte's short essay is more affordable and accessible than Byrne's large and expensive multimedia work Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information. Byrne's project consists of six PowerPoint music videos, working with stock images and original digital orchestrations, providing a challenging but intriguing model for multimodal composition. For Byrne, the medium was the message, as he demonstrated how the "loud and pushy" software Tufte railed against could be pushed to its limit and become art.
Learning from Byrne, Kevin Brooks used a "PowerPoint Music Video" assignment in the fall of 2003 in the first course of NDSU's two-course, first-year English writing sequence. In his role as Writing Program Director and instructor of new Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs), he has gradually helped expand the use of the assignment to twelve instructors in 2005. This paper, undertaken by Brooks and the four first-semester GTAs in 2005 (Michael Tomanek, Rachel Wald, Matthew Warner, and Brianne Wilkening), will focus on the question "what do students hear in a song, and how do they use what they hear?" Our study has taught us quite a bit about how to improve the teaching of the assignment, and we believe our students' descriptions of their processes, their thinking, and their decision-making will be of use to any instructor who wishes to teach "composing with sound," whether through a music video assignment or other multimodal assignments.
Students showed three general strategies for working with music—literal illustrations, associative applications, and background enhancements—but even within those strategies, they took a variety of approaches to the composing process and produced a diverse set of videos. We see the potential for offering some fairly specific composing suggestions drawn largely from the intuitive practices employed by our students.