Tailspin is a fascinating interactive text that uses sound to tell the story with sparse text and striking images as supplements for the story. It is focused around a father/grandfather figure that is suffering from tinnitus and reflects the way he communicates (or fails to communicate) through a haze of chaotic and discordant sounds. The reader is encouraged to click on spirals to advance the story. On each page, all of the spirals have to be clicked in order for a blue one in the center to appear – that is the one that advances the story to the next “scene”.

It begins with eerie music and what sounds like plates and silverware clinking, giving the reader the sense of a domestic scene. One of the spirals brings sound of the father figure shouting – a menacing, incoherent voice (I later reflected that it sounded more like a beast than a man, so probably how it sounded to those hearing it but also possibly to the man who is shouting but is only partially hearing himself). Nothing happens when you click on the spirals. You only need to cursor over it. Each one has text and some have images as well. When a spiral reveals a poem about a child helping birds, you hear birds. Images of birds also show up. Here, for the first time, we start to understand what’s going on. A child is fearful of her grandfather because he is angry and shouts (that’s mentioned twice). Also, the idea of the birds here introduces a contrast that appears throughout the story – the sky and birds and flying. I feel that ultimately, it is used as a metaphor for being free – free from the family conflicts and physical limitations (like tinnitus) that shackle the protagonist. The children also wish for freedom from a home dominated by this angry man.  A third spiral reveals an image of a cat dancing with a dog. The imagery is interesting. It is a sketch rather than a full picture, it looks cartoony, and the creatures move across the screen. They almost look like kids in costumes. The dog is particularly odd. It has clear eyes (no pupils) and the body looks like a six pointed star. They are not fixed on the screen, but are constantly moving and changing. In this way, they are like kids, and the images are accompanied by the sounds of kids laughing and playing and the sounds of an arcade or a cartoon. After cursoring over the screen a few times, a third creature appears – more like a kid in a costume (looks like it has a hood with whiskers drawn on).   The images stay on the screen, even when you move to the next spiral. On this screen, the main character is named as George and the text reveals him to be kind of a typical grumpy old man (he says things like “the kids should play outside” and references “back in my day”.)  Another spiral reveals a girl wanting to smash plates – the first indication of anger here from someone other than George. The source of the voice is not clear. Up to this point, the voices seem to be either George or his young grandchildren. The blue spiral appears when you click on a spiral that says “Kill the noise, deaden the fear” – kind of an inner monologue, like a devil on George’s shoulder. This is a constant theme – the issues he has with his family and noise. The cat cartoon character has disappeared leaving just the dog and squirrel. On the next screen, there is spiral mentioning that the girl doesn’t want to ask her grandfather something – reinforcing the fear the kids feel from him. The last spiral here has references to fire engines and is totally off topic from anything else so far. It introduces an element of uncertainty and chaos into the story. There is a sound like the wind on a microphone held by someone running.

The next screen shows more references to kids playing and indications that the parents are trying to downplay it. George is getting increasingly annoying. There are the faces of multiple cartoon characters on screen – more close up – maybe that means they are more in his face, so to speak? I’ve also begun to notice a series of escalating high piercing notes that play over and over while I’m reading – an obvious reference to tinnitus and the high-pitched whine in one’s ears.


New references now to George’s war history – and a time in his life that he clearly remembers with some  measure of pride, but as we find out later, also some shame. At this point in the story, it contrasts with a child or grandchild’s love of war films. So both characters referenced “love” the war, but for difference reasons. One of the spirals here sends out red rings and a kind of a “death ray” type of sound.  Looks like radar as well. Seems to be a reference to his hearing because of the sound, but could be a reference to the war as well. One spiral here shows one of George’s adult kids thinking about telling the kids to tone it down but opting against it – in other words, willfully eschewing an opportunity to help her father. Another makes clear that George has told them that almost anything sets off his hearing problems, yet when we read that other people have talked to him about his hearing problems, we get no sense that they are really reaching out – only that they are upset about his reaction. More rings appear. Also, we see images of ears and an image of blue sky and a plane when he talks about joining the military with hopes of being an air cadet. Also a reference to “explosions” – amping up the urgency from this element of chaos introduced alongside the story.


Next screen is more examples of kids playing and the grandfather getting annoyed. In one, he yells again – a monster-like sound – and it says he “spits fire” – a war/fire metaphor that gets used repeatedly. Now we start to get some shape to the storyline about the fire and explosions – there is a reference to a burning plane and images of fire. Again, one of his children willfully doesn’t help her father by sitting on the side of him where he can’t hear. Wondering if the images of the cartoon animals that show up are an indication of the way the grandfather sees the kids? As animals?

A heartbeat has joined the sound of the escalating tinny whiny noises and a schematic of the inside of an ear appears.

On the next screen, closeups of the cartoon faces coincide with a mesage about not being able to understand people. I feel like the way the faces flash and are closeup is a reflection of how he feels intimidated or confused. There is a lot of overlapping noises now. We get an indication that he never got to get into the air cadets with a message that says his dreams were dashed. Noises are annoying and chaotic.

Interesting that where one message talks about about George never listening to her, there’s a line that says he can be fun too, but its faded as if spoken under the person’s breath or as an aside – like a thought that seems ridiculous or shouldn’t be spoken aloud or even a distant memory cropping up out of the blue. I feel like the heartbeat has sped up now. Lots of references to war-like metaphors or burning – for instance, an argument for treatment is “shot down in flames”.References here that the grandfather still holds out hope of flying – a peaceful sound of wind,m images of blue sky and birds appear. Interesting that when a kid talks about the birds and sky they say it’s boring. An interesting contrast between two viewpoints. The sounds are more persistent now – the heartbeat faster, the bells ringing, a siren-like wail, a sound like a teletype machine beeping…. Lots of use of “hearing language” – mentions turning a deaf ear, says she cant get a fair hearing – birds and planes are prominent here – as if everyone wishes they were somewhere else

In the next screen, we get to the nut of it – he feels ashamed that he was never a pilot – the daughter feels shame as well, mistaking her father for a “hero”. But we see that it’s not that cut and dry. He remembers seeing a pilot die in a burning plane – and says 9 out of 10 of the pilots ended up being a “dead hero”.  In the passage about a pilot trapped in a burning plane, we hear a teletype machine and fire engines and images of fire. He also writers that about the pilot “screaming for his mother” but the text is faded – like it is a thought he is trying to suppress.  Lots of warlike language here – words like bullets, him spitting fire, etc

The next screen has an image of a spiraling plane (spirals again!) coming at the reader and a horrible voice yelling “Help Me” and the grandfather says he’s actually happy for his bad ear, presumably because he couldn’t hear the screams of the dying pilot – an interesting contrast after the entire story has been spent talking about how much trouble and heartache his ears have given him.  Another passage showing George’s child willfully opting against reaching out to him. Even when he looks “vulnerable”, there’s a “red hot burning block” keeping her from reaching out – interesting language considering how much burning and fire plays into the reasons that George can’t reach out to her.  Here, the blue sky starts to feel like a metaphor for death – the ultimate escape from the world in which he is physically trapped and perhaps an escape to the world he misses – of flight and planes and heroes in WWII. The final spiral is red and takes you to a screen where there are dozens of circles and the text “Hang onto deafness for dear life”. I take that to mean that in the end, the grandfather may have actually been more grateful for not being able to hear the screams of the dying, even if it cost him the ability to communicate with his family. Interesting that he is physically barred from communicating, but his children (and by extension his grandchildren) have chosen not to communicate with him – preferring to lecture him about treatment and then passing on opportunities to genuinely reach out.  Another spiral takes you to the credits for animation, sound and special thanks.





E-Lit: The Beginning

I have not encountered much of this kind of writing, but it strikes as a fascinating way to use the senses to communicate a story beyond text on the page. Upon first looking at it, it struck me a bit like ee cummings who tried to defy conventional writing styles to give the aesthetic quality of his words meaning and add to the communicative value of those words.  Now, through technology, that seems like just the tip of the iceberg.

I first chose to investigate “Like Stars in a Clear Night Sky“.  The initial impression of the experience was that it is designed to put you at ease through the use of bells and the slow, gradual appearance of the stars. The foreign language also adds to the sense of the expotic. It sounded Middle Eastern to me and the whole thing gave me the impression of being in a Middle Eastern desert, at a bazaar or something – perhaps long ago, listening to stories.  The aesthetics certainly put you in the mood for a story, that’s for sure.  The tiny script on the opening page certainly intrigued me, like it was almost a secret. The tone of the voice is somewhat hushed as well. I immediately moved my cursor to the stars to see if captions would appear (which they did).  I was a bit impatient and began clicking on them as soon as I had checked out the first few.  I only looked at 3 or 4 before clicking to read my first poem.  (I actually went back and restarted the program three times and found that in my impatience, I realized I was ignoring the tone and tenor of the speaking voice entirely and was annoyed that I had to wait so long for new stars/stories to pop up. The captions came up very slowly. I guess my sense of relaxation dissipated as soon as I had the opportunity to explore the experience further). I first tried the story titled “The boy who dreamed the world” and found the poem there did not make sense to me.  First of all, I didn’t feel the poem fit the title (and found that in subsequent readings I had the same issue – that the title was a clever phrase that seemed to be chosen more for its pithiness than its representation of the story).  The poem itself was a musing on the nature of heaven.  But the boy talks about the immensity of eternity and about all the adventures he could have but then says he could become bored with it.  Did he mean that the adventures could only happen in life and not in death/eternity? It didn’t make sense. It took away from the overall experience. I also read poems about the uncle whose “life was a test” and the water “that is thirsty”. The “uncle” narrative I found to be disjointed and the ending felt tacked on – a different story about a different man who said his life was a test.  While it was supposed to be evocative , I think the story of a man who finds a woman he loves and follows to a different country and raises wonderful children with – then is upset because she says something petty is not a substantive enough account to make me consider his suggestion in a serious light. The water story is more of a poem – and it is good for what it is.  But what does me mean his water is thirsty?  The author, Ezzat, plays with language but doesn’t hone in on anything.  He just uses water metaphors.  I liked the story about the land that is changed by its inhabitants and the author’s opportunity to decry those who no longer hear the voice of the land, but it’s a story and a pint of view that’s been expressed before.  Another poem in which the author talks about the world wanting to become his family and says they are knocking at the door, ends with a line where he says “I ask them to keep it down; you are still sleeping in a small room upstairs.” That is nonsense in my opinion and poor writing.  Clearly, the entire poem is a metaphor and yet in the last line he is using realistic language?  Is the idea that you are sleeping upstairs a metaphor for something? If so, I don’t see it.  In all, I found this site aesthetically beautiful and well put together.  However, when you weigh the “setup” (the bells, the tones, the images) against the actual poems/stories, the poems and stories fail to deliver.  I found this site disappointing overall.

After checking out the other two, I can say that I found Soliloquy to be an interesting setup but frustrating in its execution.  The text is very small, the screen once you get to the conversation has no ornamentation and clicking on line at a time was tedious at best.  I thought it interesting that you could search for words and phrases, but I wasn’t sure what meaning one could derive from the fact that let’s say, he mentions Diane’s name nine times. The aesthetic value of this site was essentially nil. I ended up highlighting the entire paragraph so I could see everything at once.  I felt it was more interesting in theory than in practice.

redridinghood was also interesting – a far more complicated aesthetic than the other two and by and large, it kept me interested when the story went awry.  First thing I noticed was that it opened in a small box not a fullscreen which gave it a level of intimacy but also felt like a school project (like it was somewhat incomplete). The box tab read “they are evil” which i thought was a spooky little aspect. The music was fantastic – a little industrial, punk, grunge.  It made it clear this was not the fable you are used to.  I watched the video multiple times to make sure i clicked on as many of the little icons as possible.  The ones on the first screen did nothing (which was a bummer) and it seems like no matter what you do, you end up in the apartment highrise where it appears you can click on many different windows but you can actually only click the lit one.  Ultimately the only place I could see that you could try alternate storylines was once redridinghood falls asleep and you can pick different directions for her dreams.  The music changes in each of these progressive scenes and that was great.  But I felt there were multiple missed opportunities for other things to happen.  What about the mother?  What about the raccoon that appears to be chasing her?  What about the boy that confronts her on the path?  It was visually interesting and the art was compelling.  There were some cool little tricks – like the fact that the flowers spin and seem to explode if you put your cursor on them.  But the dreams were just a sidebar to the “story” which was that the boy apparently gets rid of whoever the woman in the bed is (grandma i assume?) and then once redridinghood is in the bed, he appears to be ready to shoot her in the head before the story ends.  It felt like it skipped around a bit and that the author relied on us knowing the original fairy tale in order to fill in gaps that they either didn’t want to bother with or didn’t have time to flesh out.  Again, the art was great, the music was great and I thought it had some promise, but ultimately I felt like there could have been more.