Sounding Scholarship: A Workshop on Making Your Research Sing

Hello! My name is Emily and I’m part of the 2018-19 Praxis cohort. This month, we’ve been thinking about pedagogy and specifically about how to translate our research interests into teachable workshops. If (fellow Praxis member) Catherine’s workshop is secretly about metaphysics, mine might be secretly about sound studies. The workshop revolves around the central question of sound studies, “What can we get from sound that we can’t get from other things?” However, while the discipline of sound studies looks at using sound as subject and evidence, this workshop seeks to encourage practitioners to explore what sound can do for presenting or interpreting research.

 

The workshop is divided into three main parts. The first is largely interactive and its intention is to demonstrate the ways in which sound can convey information differently (and sometimes more effectively or efficiently) than a written text. The second section demonstrates ways in which sound can be used to present research, by showing a series of examples. The third concludes by asking participants to contemplate how these ideas can be used in their own work, as well as other possible methods of using sound in scholarship.

 

This is intended as a stand-alone workshop with an approximate duration of 90 minutes, but elements could easily be taken away or expanded to fit a shorter or longer time period. I would also like to try it as the introductory part of a workshop series or course which would delve deeper into teaching the actual tools used in the examples and allow participants to create their own projects.

 

Required Materials:

2 pieces of blank paper for each participant

Writing utensils

Printed copies of sound text (see below) for each participant

Sound recordings and a way to play them (see below)

Simple musical instruments: maracas, toy piano, kazoo, small drums, etc. (optional)

Ideally, this workshop will take place in a space with multiple computers that participants can use in part II. Alternatively, participants should be asked to bring laptops or similar technology.

Printed copies of information about tools/project examples (just in case)

 

Part I: Why Use Sound?

First, participants will be played a sound recording or given musical instruments and allowed a few minutes to play with them. Then, I will ask them to describe the sounds they heard.

 

Possible Prompting Questions:

  • How many sounds were there?
  • How would you describe each sound?
  • How long did they last, individually and collectively?
  • How loud was the sound? Did it change over time? Were there softer and louder sounds within the collective sound?
  • Did the combination of sounds change how you heard individual parts?
  • Did the sounds remind you of anything? Did they evoke an emotion?

 

Then, they will be given a few minutes (and paper and writing utensils) to write about the sound. At the end, I will ask them how it felt to talk and to write about the sounds. Did they notice any differences about the possibilities in talking and in writing? Were there any struggles?

 

Next, they will be given a short text example describing sound. This text can come from anywhere, the only requirements are that it attempts to describe and make sense of a series of sounds and that the sounds that it describes can be reproduced for the group (probably via a recording, but other methods could be considered as well). Texts about a musical piece accompanied by recordings of the piece can be helpful here, but other ideas could include descriptions of political speeches, movie or radio dialogues, or natural phenomena (birdsong or lava flowing, for example). After reading, the participants will be played a recording (or live demonstration) of the described sounds. Then, they will be asked: Did you have a different experience reading about the sound than listening to it? How? What might be the benefits and disadvantages of using each of these ways of incorporating sound into your work? How might the fact that the sound was recorded vs. live affect your perception of it?

 

At this point, it should be possible to enter into a more conceptual conversation about the possibilities of sound. Participants can be asked to imagine ways in which one might use sound in addition to or instead of written text. Some helpful questions to stimulate conversation could include:

  • What sounds do or could scholars talk about?
  • Would it be helpful to hear these sounds? Why?
  • What are the benefits and disadvantages of incorporating sound into text?
  • What are the possible advantages and disadvantages of presenting research entirely through sound? (some interesting points here include cost, portability, and accessibility for oral languages and dialects)
  • What are some ways that scholars could use sound in presenting their work to the public?

 

Part II: How to Use Sound, A Few Examples

This section will focus on examples of work in different formats that include sound, as well as tools that can be used to replicate these kinds of presentation. Participants can be asked to split into groups and each group will focus on one example or tool. They can either use provided computers or bring their own technology. After 10 minutes or so to familiarize themselves with the projects, each group will report back, responding to the following prompts:

  • Summarize the tool/project(s) that you looked at
  • What are some possible benefits to this approach?
  • What are some disadvantages?
  • Do you know of any related projects?
  • How could you use this technology in other projects or disciplines?

This list is in flux and should be adjusted to respond to the interests of workshop participants, but examples might include:

Soundcite is a tool which allows writers to overlay text with audio, so that with the click of a button they can listen as they read. The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie shows how this can be useful with musical examples and Treasured Island uses it to seamlessly incorporate examples of Tangier Island’s unique accent and dialect as they are discussed.

Similar to Soundcite, Adobe Buttons allows you to create buttons which can activate audio and video incorporated into text PDFs. I don’t currently have an example for this, but I suspect it would be great for using sound in course papers or in articles for downloadable journals.

Workshop participants are, of course, likely to be familiar with the concept of a podcast, but these examples demonstrate ways in which podcasts can be incorporated into academic scholarship. The first is a series of podcasts designed by the sound studies website Sounding Out!, in which scholars write brief and insightful work on sound in the form of blog posts. The podcasts are similar to the blog posts, but of course, allow for a different incorporation of sound and different listening possibilities. Chart Chat is a weekly podcast run by two UVA grad students working on popular music. In Chart Chat, they respond to the weekly changes in the American and British popular music charts. For them, this is a format for long-term consistent analysis and a place to work out initial ideas and for listeners, it is a place to learn a little more background and analysis of weekly chart trends. The Ottoman history podcast puts scholars from a variety of institutions and disciplines who work on Ottoman history in conversation. Each week they delve into a different issue broadly related to this topic.

Garageband and Audacity are two tools that students and other aspiring podcast makers can use. Garage Band is available on all Mac computers and is fairly intuitive to use. Audacity is a free download and has a less friendly interface, but is a little more flexible and allows for more fine tuning.

The Roaring Twenties is a research project about sound in New York City towards the end of the 1920s. The website includes an interactive map showing the location and contents of various noise complaints and of playable newsreels. Lynching in America is, as the name implies, a website about the history and impact of lynching in the United States. Along with interactive maps, a film, and other resources, the website incorporates a section of oral histories taken by people affected by lynching. I am torn about including this project, as it is undeniably important, but also a painful topic that requires a depth of attention that just looking at its use of sound might not give it. Right now, my idea would be to describe it and show the first page, but not delve into the sound examples themselves.

Among other thing, the London Sound Survey features an interactive map of London, broken into a grid in which each square features a series of recording taken from different locations within that area. This project imagines a different way of conceptualizing and remembering the city as it changes over time.

 

Part III: Reflections and New Ideas

Finally, participants will be asked to consider new ways of using sound and how this might be useful in their own research. This topic can be presented in conversation or as a written activity, or both. At the end, participants will also be given an opportunity to write down their emails and receive access to the Google Doc containing all the resources listed above, as well as to the workshop slides, if they so desire.

 

An Important Note: It is important to remember that recorded sound is subject to copyright and that before considering using sound in their published work, scholars should consider the necessary protocol to get access to their sounds. If they are creating their own sounds (voice recordings, interviews, etc.), they should remember that these too can be copyrighted. If they do not want a copyright, it is a good idea to consider taking steps to mark their sounds as open access, so that they cannot be copyrighted by others in the future.

 

How Can I Improve This Workshop?

This workshop has been designed based on my own interests and experiences and, undoubtedly, there are many other aspects of incorporating sound that I do not cover here. Please comment below or write me at em6ks@virginia.edu with any thoughts, corrections, or ideas for further resources!

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