Listening in on the Sound Class: Discussion 1

Finishing up our first full week of course work for my sound class: I’ve included a few links to some of the samples I’ve asked students to post to their own SoundCloud accounts. This task was meant to give us a chance to explore sound as an object of listening in and of itself – which, I hope we can see is not just listening to a certain object or thing. In this latter case, we can say that we are not so much listening, as we are attempting to surveil or observe a particular object – focusing, that is, on something that has already caught our attention and accordingly been identified as noteworthy.  One might compare this mode of “listening” to the way a predator might zero in on potential prey. By contrast, for this exercise, I asked class members simply to listen closely to how sound in general might present itself within a certain environment. How, in other words, do we hear things that do not catch our attention? A surprising number of arguments and comparisons seem to emerge almost immediately: listening through some of our examples here, we can see how certain attributes play off of each other to help us interpret the sounds as they proceed. Shifts in tempo, intensity, pitch tend to be especially helpful here. Without these changes, the sound will lose much of its identifying quality pretty quickly. A monotony (monotone) of sorts will begin to seep into the space before us. Using this approach to sound, we see how strange and alien even the most mundane industrial and household objects can appear. In “bouncing ball,” the title first seems to give it away, but the slightly off rhythm makes it almost sound like a cardiac machine – albeit one attached to someone in need of a healthier heart! You can hear a slight metallic beep after each percussive thud. Samantha’s choice in sound is similarly nondescript, but the patterns and shifts in pitch make it quite intense at times. This student’s sound account has an intriguing title: Wrongful Turn, fitting, perhaps, given the fascinating narrative that emerges from these bursts of what seems to be fingers tapping. The sounds themselves instantly transform into a series of frantic dialogues – a common enough occurrence in our era of digital communications. It’s hard not to imagine each stream of ticks and taps circling in around a specific set of statements and ideas. This is sound at the speed of thought.

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Students prepare to make their first soundscapes.

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