Before entering the Berklee College of Music Valencia campus in Fall 2015 and studying in their Music Production, Technology and Innovation program, I was a seminary student at Princeton Theological Seminary. At seminary, a large portion of my education required the reading of autobiography, which allowed my classmates and I to discuss strategies for pastoral care and the management of interpersonal relationships through the posing of theological questions about the stories shared by the author. Desire, care of one’s own soul and the understanding of interpersonal relationships became apparent when reading this kind of literature and I was often inspired to refine my life goals and personal identity each time I studied the genre. In preparation for graduating seminary in May 2015, I made plans to pursue a thesis or Culminating Experience (CE) project at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain. At this time I had a strong desire to integrate my undergraduate music education studies at Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts and my graduate Christian education studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. Later I would fulfill this desire through investigating the important questions I had about my life and story at Berklee Valencia.
Towards the middle of the Music Production, Technology and Innovation program, digital storytelling became the focus of my CE project. After considering many options and platforms to present my creative imagination, I chose one that intersected art, music and technology in a way that was subservient to storytelling about my educational journey. I was optimistic about creating a digital story that would reveal and tell the truth of my life. It was the following definition of digital storytelling, which made it a clear choice for the direction of my CE:
“The process by which people of all ages and experiences share with others stories of their lives or creative imagination, using words, sound effects, field recordings, and music. Hypertext environments facilitate the interactive story in which the “reader” chooses optional paths to explore. Web-based media facilitate not only stories with words, but also movies, stills, sounds, and graphics. (1) ”
This definition helped me encounter what I was after in my creative expression, which was a unique transparency and honesty about my life. Digital storytelling, as described in this definition, also helped me push to the side issues of competition and elitism, which have often prevented me from clearly presenting vulnerable personal truths in my art and music. It also provided a comfortable space for exploring and developing my identity with experimental music and conceptual art.
I believe digital storytelling is an approach and medium for everyone, with no need for strict adherence to professional industry standards that often control the arts. And if used with an autobiographical approach, especially for taking care of one’s soul, it can reveal a special truth about one’s artistic identity or personal story. It also has a natural connection to issues of diversity and inclusion, highlighting the divergent personal and cultural truths of people it may encounter within a given community.
Autobiographical digital storytelling has been a personal discovery and an unexpected gift within my studies at Berklee Valencia. It was largely possible due to remembering my history as a seminary student and having the freedom to express that history within my academic work. As I worked on my CE I remembered that I was also revisiting my music education training from Rutgers University, where we were exposed to non-performance based learning within general music education, which emphasized guided listening and critical thinking about your life experiences as you listened to music. Those undergraduate years of study were most likely the serious beginning of my interdisciplinary learning and reflection about my personal identity.
The piece, “Becoming a Digital Humanist (2)”, which is one of the digital story episodes from my CE project, Becoming a Digital Humanist: An Autobiographical Nonlinear Digital Story, embodies many of the desires and feelings I have explored within my educational journey. My approach to art, music and technology within this piece are subservient to the autobiographical story being told, placing viewers intimately within the vulnerable hope I have for the future.
Words by Jeffrey Cobbold
(1) Information Age Education, Digital Storytelling. Accessed on February 22, 2016. http://i-a-e.org/articles/46-feature-articles/50-digital-storytelling.html
(2) “Becoming a Digital Humanist (episode) – Jeffrey Cobbold YouTube.com – Accessed October 28, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOxVKJaKNlY