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'Drone On Drone': A Collaboration


The assignment, layered with challenges, united students from two courses: Advanced Video and Introduction to Music, Sound, and Technology. Professor of Art Ella Gant, who teaches the video course, dubbed the project “Drone on Drone.”

The charge: Gant’s students would work in pairs to create a video that included footage shot by a drone. Adding a wrinkle, Gant also asked students to incorporate a randomly assigned “image capture” device such as a GoPro or still-image camera. Meanwhile, on the other side of the process, students from Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Ryan Carter’s music class, also working in pairs, would create computerized scores for the videos. And the scores needed to be built around a musical drone, which is a low, long-lasting note.

The projects would address, however broadly, the theme of surveillance vulnerability. Because the assignment was new to everyone, including Gant and Ryan, no one knew what to expect in the final products. In the end, they were surprisingly good — and tended toward creepy, given the theme and the droning music. Think, “Someone is watching me. Who? Where? Why?”

As complex as the challenge was, Gant says, students had the support they needed to successfully undertake it. Collaborators also included Educational Technologist Bret Olsen and Instructional Designer Doug Higgins, who flew the drone and helped students understand its capabilities as a creative tool.

For video students accustomed to working solo, says one of them, Dehao “Dan” Tu ’20, a big challenge was collaborating with the composers and drone pilot. “It’s more like producing a film in the real world in that we had to constantly communicate with each other, create a storyboard ahead of time, and schedule time to shoot drone footage,” says Tu, whose video partner was Claire Lincoln ’20.

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Music students were creating the sound even as video students were putting together the visual component, which meant composers didn’t always precisely know what they were scoring. That’s why the assignment specified the use of a musical drone, which is a versatile sound, Gant explains.

“When Professor Carter first told us about the project, it seemed like a daunting task,” says Marie Fouche ’19, whose partner in sound was Jane Plomp ’20. They worked with Tu and Lincoln. “We actually had no idea what the videos looked like when we first started creating the sound. We had to create sound based on timestamps and descriptions given to us by the video team.”

Going into the assignment, Fouche and Plomp used feelings to compose their music. Root Glen may never feel the same to viewers of their video. “We wanted to create something that creeped the audience out and created tension. It felt like we were taking a shot in the dark at first, but it ended up being a lot of fun,” Fouche says.

Tu says he and his video partner loved their final piece. “And it definitely looked more professional than the other pieces I did,” Tu observes. “The piece would be incomplete without the music since the music really helped the audience to understand what’s happening and what’s going to happen, which otherwise might seem a bit confusing.”

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