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Students Produce "Academic" Music Video

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Still image from Glass Wave's Annabel Lee video
Still image from Glass Wave's "Annabel Lee" music video.
Photo Credit: 
Giulio Gratta

A team of undergraduate students from Stanford’s Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages (DLCL) is approaching digital humanities projects with an eye for design.

Zachary Chandler, the DLCL Department's Academic Technology Specialist, founded a DLCL in-house design group, called “Experimedia,” to offer humanities students more opportunities to merge technology and artistry with humanities research.

“Our tagline, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, is ‘digital humanities product design,'” Chandler said. To date, Experimedia projects have utilized graphic design, web design, and videography.

A recent endeavor, for example, entailed designing a website with collaboration space for “The Performing Trobar Project” which, together with an undergraduate course on the same topic, explored the medieval style of musical poetry called Troubadour through a series of workshops, seminars, and a concert.

Robert Harrison, Rosina Pierroti Professor of Italian Literature and Chair of the Stanford University French and Italian department, is melding humanities and creativity in a different way, by performing songs inspired by classical texts. Harrison is the lead guitarist in Glass Wave, a bona-fide rock band with three other scholarly band members. When the band needed a music video to promote  “Annabel Lee," a track from their new album, Harrison suggested they contact Experimedia.

Chandler said the music video request came at just the right time, giving students a chance to try something wholly new. “This promised to be a creative and challenging departure from the Drupal development work that Experimedia has specialized in recently."

The lyrics of “Annabel Lee," inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's last complete poem of the same name, provided the creative spark for everyone at Experimedia as they got involved in pre-production, brainstorming, writing, and iterating. Like other Poe works, the original poem explores themes of death and love. Chandler asked the students to think about the original poem and how to engage with it in crafting the video.

The Experimedia designers decided to highlight a somewhat eerie connection between Poe and Stanford University. Poe was fascinated with premature death and Stanford was founded by Leland and Jane Stanford in commemoration of their only son Leland, who died at the age of 15.

As Professor Harrison put it in a description of the video, the final product “conflates Poe's 19th-century aesthetic with the memorial roots of Stanford University.”

Though its themes are historic, the music video is far from old-fashioned. Over 5,000 still images, all taken by Giulio Gratta, B.A. Product Design '10, were strung together to create a stop-motion animation rather than a traditional film video.

Christy Wampole, a Ph.D. Candidate in French and Italian at Stanford, was largely responsible for driving both the production and creative processes. Wampole, who also happens to be the lead singer for Glass Wave, developed the compelling visual narrative which, as written in the video's YouTube description, is “a highly readable, open-ended film that complicates the themes of mourning, gender, and memory.”