Two Talkuments: Examples from 'Speaking on the Record'

by Tara Shankar, Massachussetts Institute of Technology

Tara Shankar presents a new technologically supported activity called spriting in her article “Speaking on the Record: A Theory of Composition” in the September 2006 print issue of Computers and Composition. As digital examples accompanying that print article, here she presents in multimedia format two compositions drawn from the large body of work produced by the 22 elementary students who used Shankar’s SpriterWriter software to explore typical and atypical composition tasks for 13 weeks. The author talks about the two examples below.

Ruben, age 10, “April vaction [sic]”

One of my favorite talkuments is a composition by a 10-year-old boy, Ruben. He borrowed words and cadences from wildly different places, like church and television, to make sense of the concept of family and the strength of his feelings for his father, who lives at a great distance. His voice resonates with emotion, and he has difficulty expressing the complexity of his feelings. Words erupt halfway, silence intervenes, and the oral detritus of his thought process float around the talkument surface like flotsam, yet he finds his way to the right words and surges forward with confidence.

I only showed Ruben the tools and how they worked once, placed the microphone on his head, and asked, “What would you like to sprite about today?” Compositions seemed to flow out of him, as though there was a profusion of words and ideas he needed to record but didn’t have the space or tools to do so before.I present his second composition, named “April vaction [sic].” It is significant that Ruben chose to share this particular composition formally with his classmates one week after he made it, on his last day at the school before moving out of town.

I present Ruben’s work in several forms. The first is a talkument, an audio recording in RIFF Wave format (22050Hz, 16 bit, mono) of his final spritten product. The second is a screen capture (Figure 1) of Ruben’s talkument development in the SpriterWriter software I developed. The third is a structured transcription I made of “April vaction [sic]” to reveal visually some of the complexity of Ruben’s utterances.

Listen to the Talkument (Riff Wave file)


Figure 1. A screen capture of Ruben’s completed talkument interface in the SpriterWriter software.

Ruben made the recording about his April vacation first, without stopping the recording. Upon listening to it, he realized he wanted to add something else. He searched for a particular point in his narrative and made a split in the sound in order to interject his thoughts on the word “ohana,” from the Disney Channel.

Transcription of Ruben's talkument

This is a story about my April vacation. On my April vacation, I shall go down South to see my father my Granddad, and my Nana, and (.) I'll spend (.) my whole April vacation down there and I'll come back, (.) and I'll have a whole lot of fun down there.Cuz every year I go down there or every time I go down there, (.) they always (.) treat me ve:ry special. And *I: like it. And I love the (.) (inaudible) (5.0) but (3.0) {VOC inhale} I'll never ever ever ever e:ver: (.) wanna leave there. Becau:se, I just li:ke *staying there. Not because I don't have any schoo:l, but because I like seeing my father a lot. Because (.) um we:ll (.) well (.) {VOC mouth sound}

{NVC mic sounds} I learned something on Disney Channel (.) that can help me:: (.) learn the culture of why: {PRN why-ee} (.) about (.) family. This wor:d is (.) *Ohana. Ohana means *family, and family means nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten.

Not seeing your father for a whole ye:ar is really (.) tough. But I always get to talk to him on my mother's cell phone. An he's bought me: so much *stuff tha:t (.) we:ll (.) I can't remember th- the las:t th- thing that he gave me (4.0) but (.) that's why: I wanna go down South on my April vacation. Because (.) my grandparents and my da:d, treat me (3.0) uh (.) same 'exact {PRN exerract} way, that any other paren:ts and (.) grandparents should. (4.0) An: (.) they even teach me how to *cook (.) down South. And I *like cooking. And they always buy me lots of clothes that I like to wear every now and then, (3.0) so (.) that's why I wanna jus:t (.) make this: documentary: (.) abou:t my: (.) April vacation. (5.5) An: (.) well, that's it. (4.0) The *end. Anyway, P_S I lo:ve my Dad more than anything in the world.

Mikayla, age 7, “Thegirls”

This is the final composition that Mikayla, age 7, sprote during my 13-week investigation with the children, and in both of our opinions, it is one of her most successful and enjoyable pieces. It is notable in its creative use of song and textual annotations.

Mikayla often enjoyed singing her spriting, particularly in collaborative arrangements with a six-year-old girlfriend. But in “Thegirls” she works solo, incorporating singing into her talking themes in several important ways. First, the songs become explicit illustrations of her topic—initially, what the popular girls do—in ways that resemble how conversation demonstrates action in novels. Of course, in writing, it is not possible to demonstrate a song. Second, the structure of “The girls” seems to use popular song structure (verse, chorus, verse, chorus….) rather than a more conventional written genre. Thirdly, it is notable that in her discussion of what the popular girls do, Mikayla only uses first person and evaluative structures when she sings. That is, she becomes the popular girl when she sings. In an Austin and Searle sense of doing things with words, Mikayla is doing very different actions when she talks and when she sings. Lastly, Mikayla’s process of spriting—recording her entire idea all at once—might require singing familiar songs periodically in order to have time to think about what to talk about next. Only two children, both older than Mikayla, began to use a highly controlled and piecemeal approach to spriting composition that relied heavily upon editing to achieve a seamless final effect.

Mikayla was learning how to write at the time she composed “Thegirls.” She enjoyed relistening to this composition and carefully selecting words from the oral fabric of her spriting to emphasize visually. She seemed to select words she already knew how to spell (e.g. “the,” “it,” “so,” “and”) or words that she wanted to learn how to spell (e.g. “because,” “watch”).

I present Mikayla’s work “Thegirls” in several forms below. There are two talkument versions: an audio recording in RIFF Wave format (22050Hz, 16 bit, mono) and a Java applet that simultaneously presents her textual annotations in tempo with her spriting. Secondly, I present a screen capture of Mikayla’s talkument in the SpriterWriter software. Thirdly, I make a structured transcription of “Thegirls” available; but admittedly, it is not successful at capturing the complexity of Mikayla’s singing or stylized speech.

Listen to Mikayla's talkument (Riff Wave file)

Watch Mikayla's Java Applet of her talkument (includes text annotation animation)
[A note about getting the Java applet to work: Visitors will need to have Java enabled in their browser, plus their version of the Java Runtime Extension (j2re) must be 1.4 or higher.]


mikayla's talkument screenshot

Figure 2. A screen capture of Mikayla’s “Thegirls” interface in the SpriterWriter. Mikayla enjoyed annotating her spritten work with writing.


(inaudible) The girls of popular are *popular and they like JLo and, they like boys and the boys of - are cute (.) the boys that they like an:d they: like to stay, at the movie theatres all day and watch three movies a day {VOC mouth sounds} and then {VOC mouth sounds} they like to go to the park and play and then they like to go to the singer theatre and this is what they hear {SUNG I want you to know I love ya because you and me are together and I want you to know that it is so true that I love you and it's true I want you to know that it is true and you are the boy of my (inaudible) I want you to be like that} and then they went to the movie theatres and they saw Sinbad they saw {VOC mouth sounds} Shrek two and they saw Shrek one and they saw, the love movie with (inaudible) and then they went to the movie theatre - the singing theatre again and this is what they heard {SUNG I like it I like it I like it like that I like it I like it I like it like that uh huh oh yeah baby}

If anybody asks me about the s:ong about s:tepping, it's - you have to think about what you want to do, and then you have to think about what step moves you wanna do, when you dance or you go to the club, or you just dance in your house with music it's just fun to dance, and that's why I go to dancing school and I go to other: exercising schools like tennis and stuff, to exercise my bones and dancing can exercise your bones too, it can make you healthy and: sometimes if you learn how to step, it'll be easy for you to stretch your bones because if you dance you can like (.) touch your toes without bending your knees and, I like dancing and stepping because they're really fun and dancing and stepping {VOC mouth sounds} are fun to do. Bye::

Step step side to side round round hit the ground step away bring it back and, let me see you do the love side step step side to side round round hit the ground, step away bring it back, and let me see you do the love side.


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