I first taught audio in 2007, as part of an English composition course at the University of Washington (UW). Now, over ten years later, I frequently include it in my courses at UVic. Students and I experiment with listening techniques, such as causal, semantic, reduced, and deep listening, and I encourage them to engage complex issues of mediation by writing with audio. They might, for instance, compose radio documentaries and voice-over tracks in “Audio Culture Studies,” which I’ve taught three times.

Links to the “Audio Culture” syllabus, three prompts for writing with audio, a course playlist and poster, and an end-of-term review are below, followed by a course description. I also point to a piece on scaffolding audio assignments that I published with Sounding Out! (edited by Jennifer Stoever) in 2012 as well as to a 2013 talk I gave at UBCO on working with historical audio.

Image of a track of audio in the sound editing software, Audacity

Audio Cultures
Fall 2012, 2013, and 2015 | UVic English 466 | Undergraduate course for 40 students

Links: syllabus (PDF); three prompts (HTML); playlist (HTML; Zotero, too); poster (PDF); end-of-term review (PDF); piece (HTML) for Sounding Out!; talk (HTML) at UBCO with slides (HTML)

This course is an interdisciplinary approach to culture by way of sound. Attending to the political as well as the aesthetic dimensions of sound, we will survey a history of audio technologies (e.g., turntables, tape, radio, and MP3s) together with the cultures in which they are embedded (e.g., remix, high fidelity, protest, and ethnography). We will address questions such as: Do we own our voices? When and why do we think sound is immediate or immersive? Why is sound often associated with emotion? Under what assumptions are sounds gendered, sexualized, or racialized? Is sound ephemeral? Is it material? Do ideologies shape how we hear the world around us? Why do people hack audio technologies or remix sounds? When is sound “authentic”? How do sonic and visual cultures intersect? How does popular culture privilege visuals? How do we think about audio and images together while also considering their differences?

Throughout the semester, we will listen extensively to historical audio, study sound artists, read publications in sound studies, and examine films and advertisements. You will also practice composing in three audio genres: the radio documentary, the voice-over, and field recording. By the semester’s end, you will be expected to produce academic arguments anchored in cultural studies methodologies and also reflect on sound as a way to critically approach culture. I will assume you have no experience working with sound.

We will likely study the work of Theodor Adorno, Laurie Anderson, Jacques Attali, Les Back, Alexander Graham Bell, Michael Bull, William S. Burroughs, John Cage, Michel Chion, Mark Cousins, Bing Crosby, DJ Shadow, DJ /rupture, DJ Spooky, Thomas Edison, Ralph Ellison, Brian Eno, Kodwo Eshun, Girl Talk, Lisa Gitelman, Grandmaster Flash, Brion Gysin, Stuart Hall, Holly Herndon, King Tubby, Kool Herc, Le Tigre, Lead Belly, John Lomax, Marshall McLuhan, Merzbow, Jack Mullin, Pauline Oliveros, John Oswald, Les Paul, Tara Rodgers, Tricia Rose, Luigi Russolo, R. Murray Schafer, Pierre Schaeffer, Jonathan Sterne, Edgard Varèse, and Alexander Weheliye.

For more information, see the syllabus for the course.

Images 1 and 2 of Audacity edited in Photoshop. This page was created on 19 June 2019 and last updated on 18 June 2021.