Designing Prompts for Literary Audio Studies

Samuel K. Adesubokan, Julie Funk, Faith Ryan, and Jentery Sayers University of Victoria Department of English Praxis Studio for Comparative Media Studies

2021 SpokenWeb Symposium: “Listening, Sound, Agency”
19 May 2021, 11am Eastern
Plenary Panel: “Teaching with Sound / Sound and Pedagogy”

About the Prompts: Jentery Sayers (he / him)

Research motivated by “Readers Are Listening,” a Fall 2020 graduate seminar at UVic

How to move beyond, or expand, established modes of listening to media and literature? Such established modes include Chion’s causal, semantic, and reduced listening, for example.

Outline of a listening prompt (designed by the UVic SpokenWeb team):

Listening as Access: Faith Ryan (she / her)

Primary source: Alice Wong’s 2017 performance of Laura Hershey’s 1991 poem, “You Get Proud by Practicing,” that Wong recorded for the Disability Visibility Project on Soundcloud.

What are the styles and techniques being deployed by the performer? How do these styles and techniques amplify the political and aesthetic significance of the work? How is time utilized in interesting ways in this performance? How do the sounds and/or editing practices diverge from sonic normativity and to what effects?

Listen to Alice Wong’s 2017 performance of Laura Hershey’s “You Get Proud by Practicing” at least twice.

  1. First listen: attend to initial biases and habits of diagnostic listening (listening to identify the medical cause of vocal difference).
  2. Second listen: now that you are familiar with both the recording and the transcript, and you have recognized diagnostic tendencies, attend to the artfulness of the performance and recording.

Listening as Performance-Sensing: Samuel K. Adesubokan (he / him)

Primary source: Peter Adedokun ensemble’s talking drum performance. The audio recording is from a YouTube video of Adedokun’s performance, which aired on a local television station in Nigeria.

What is the sonic lexicon of the talking drum? What roles do rhythm and tone play in the talking drum performance? In what ways is the talking drum performance like oral storytelling? How do proprioceptive responses to the performance understand the human body as audile (an object of mediation)? What are the rules of translation from speech to its musical form?

Listening to this kind of work may not produce repeatable, stable experiences. Repeated listening is encouraged. In the context of storytelling, since the talking drum can mimic speech, the following may be observed (in no particular order) during each listening iteration:

Listening like a Machine: Julie Funk (she / them)

Primary source: Gertrude Stein, “From The Making of Americans.” The Speech Lab Recordings, recorded on January 30, 1935 at Columbia University, collection edited by Chris Mustazza, PennSound.

What is at stake in listening “like” a machine? Is this form of listening a sort of co-production of analysis with the medium/media itself? How might this literary machine listening technique itself influence which elements of the audio you attune to?

Listen four times to any one of the eight fragments of Gertrude Stein’s 1935 reading of The Making of Americans. Record your thoughts and observations at each step.

  1. Representation: Attune to a single audio event. This can be determined by causal listening (certain mouth sounds, pauses), semantic listening (phrases, repetitions), or any other grouping of your choice. Your chosen audio event may occur multiple times in the fragment, or only once. It may be general (all pronouns) or specific (the use of “he”).
  2. Organization: Address any and all conscious inclusions and exclusions you’ve made in choosing your audio event. Why did you make these choices? Are they choices related to the genre, style, or media you’re working with? Are they related to your personal and social experiences?
  3. Recognition: Relate your audio event, keeping in mind any warrants made and identified in the organization step, to back to the work as a whole. This step most closely resembles what we might recognize as literary analysis. You might ask questions like, “Does this audio event have a distinct aesthetic or political value in this work?” “Can this audio event be considered a specific character, or attributed to a character in the work?” “How might it inform on processes of mediation and remediation in recording?”
  4. Modelling: “After the third step, you should be able to come to a finding, statement, or conjecture about your chosen audio event. This is your first model. You may now feed this finding back into the process (four more listens) as an intra-comparative analysis in which you analyze whether your finding is applicable or in any way relational to other audio events in this fragment, another fragment, or a completely new work within the canon.

Thank you.