Listen to and Read Part 1: Play Sounds, Part 2: Soundwriting Eytmologies, & Part 3: Soundwriting Pedagogies
To simply listen to this introduction, you'll find the entire thing available for streaming and downloading on the Listen page. But if you'd like to read along for any reason, you'll find that same introduction split up between this Context page and the Etudes page.
[The following short conversation sounds low-fi and staticky, to show that it's an informal conversation.]
Kyle: Alright, do you know what I'm opening and closing?
[plastic clicking sound]
Courtney: I thought it was a stapler at first.
Kyle: Yeah… it's not.
Courtney: Trapper Keeper?
Kyle: No, it's my Mariah Carey Unplugged cassette!
[both laugh, and conversation continues, but faded out]
[The following lines are clearly recorded on better mics in a more controlled environment.]
Kyle: I'm Kyle Stedman, and you're hearing me sharing some sounds from my past that mean a lot to me.
Courtney: I'm Courtney Danforth. Kyle and I collected a few of our favorite sounds and decided to surprise each other with them. I'm the one who shared this one:
[sound of train coming into the station, followed by announcer's voice: "Mind the gap! Mind the gap!"]
Kyle: We're playing the tape of this conversation for you, here, as a reminder of a simple and obvious truth: that sounds have a lot of power.
Courtney: Sounds connect to both our past selves and our present bodies, reminding us who we were and who we are.
[back to low-fi sound]
[music: an echoey female voice singing, "We are marching to the slope"]
Courtney: So that's the Cowboy Junkies, "Mining for Gold." It's the first track off Trinity Sessions.
Courtney: There's… noise on the recording. It was recorded live in a decommissioned church, and I grew up as a church choral singer, so the sound of an empty cathedral is something that is always in my ear, and I never ever expected to hear it as part of the backdrop of a pop album. Alright, your turn!
Kyle: Alright, well I'm gonna play a musical piece too.
[music: 8-bit music from an original Nintendo plays an upbeat melody with fast percussion]
Courtney: So, Nintendo music, right?
Kyle: Nintendo music, of course! And what's good here, is it's not just Nintendo music: This is the Shadow Man theme from Mega Man 3. And what I remember about this is I remember it was the first song that I remember hearing on a Nintendo game and listening to and wanting to listen to just the music. Like sometimes I even turned on the Nintendo, went to Shadow Man, and just like turned it on in the background.
[back to high-fi sound, marking that the "narrators" are back, talking to the audience, not each other]
Kyle: When sound affects us, it's sometimes just random and ambient, reaching us the way that everyday sounds do, but sometimes sounds have been composed.
[1980s synth music begins playing in the background, energizing the conversation]
Courtney: Again, this is no surprise: We know that speakers, advertisers, radio shows, filmmakers, musicians, and even architects pay careful attention to the way that sounds can be composed. Speech, sound effects, music, and ambient noise can all be crafted to create an experience for an audience.
Kyle: And that's exactly why we took the time to share sounds with each other, and with you, the listener: to remind ourselves of the way that sounds have been composed in ways that affect us. In a sense, we've been composed by the sounds of our lives.
Courtney: Like we said, sounds have a lot of power. So as teachers, that leads us in a natural direction: Why not share that power with our students?
Kyle: Why not teach students ways to record, collect, edit, and publish sounds that can affect audiences in all the powerful ways that sounds are naturally good at?
Courtney: And that's the heart of this collection: to help students embrace the power of sound by composing with it, by writing it.
Courtney: So, let's give this set of practices a name: "Soundwriting." [magic spell harp riff]
Kyle: "Soundwriting." [magic spell harp riff] I love it.
Courtney: I love it too!
[encouraging peppy music]
Kyle: So let's spend a few minutes dreaming big about all the reasons that we're excited about the practice of soundwriting. I can't imagine us starting out any other way.
Courtney: Okay, so students benefit when they practice soundwriting in the classroom. That's what we're saying.
Kyle: Yeah, that's a great claim. And teachers also benefit when they assign soundwriting in the classroom.
Courtney: So, when students record their own voices and produce the recordings for soundwriting projects, they're positioned as powerful rhetors working in a mode that they intuitively understand—because they do it everyday, right? Speech!
Kyle: Yeah! And their identities are expressed through their voices, and students can be really powerful agents when they blend their voices through other recordings that they choose to gather from their everyday lives.
Courtney: Absolutely! Let me interject, though, that we also want to talk about soundwriting that does not include voices.
Kyle: Yeah yeah yeah. It doesn't have to be voice, exactly. I'm with you. I'd call it soundwriting in my class if a student were producing an audio piece that was composed just of sounds or music, whether the student found or recorded those sounds.
Courtney: Okay, good. We're on the same page with that. You're also making me think about how soundwriting naturally invites students to consider affective possibilities [mysterious spooky noises] in compositions—so, like, how voices and sounds and music and the layering combine to encourage an emotional response in the audience. [creaky old door]
Kyle: Yeah! When we hear sounds, they very naturally affect us on all levels.
Courtney: Soundwriting encourages composers—and we don't just mean musical composers, right? [emotive violin] We mean …
Kyle: Yeah, yeah, any people. People who compose in any rhetorical mode.
Courtney: Those who compose. Soundwriting encourages composers to think of their relationship to time, including big picture things like how long a piece should be. Scope, I guess?
Kyle: Yeah. But time also includes the details of how fast voices should speak [that phrase echoes with increased tempo], how quickly transitions should take, when the audience might need to take a moment to pause—you know like those moments in This American Life where it's like, "Music Moment."
[introspective keyboard plays for a Music Moment]
But there's also the question about when details should be summarized or when they should be compressed. You have to think about all those time-related things when you're working with sound.
Courtney: So this is a concern of anybody who's trying to compose in a time-based medium.
Kyle: Sure! Anyone who watches a video online, or listens to a podcast. I mean, how long it is is something that the audience sees right away. They're always wondering, "What am I getting myself into?" in terms of time.
Courtney: Sure. It's one of the first considerations for anybody who wants to read that text, but also an initial consideration for someone who's going to create or compose a text like that.
Kyle: Yeah. So soundwriting in the classroom helps students practice composing in that kind of rhetorical situation.
Courtney: True! And one of the things that makes it even easier to make some of those decisions about time is the access that we now have to tools to use in composing with audio.
Kyle: Yeah, that's a good call—we do have more modern tools these days. I remember when I was making [cassette deck buttons and rewinding sounds] complicated mix tapes in the 1990s where I was plugging the tape player into the back of the TV, and then into the back of the record player. It was a lot more time-consuming to get that exact right clip and hit record at the exact right time. Our digital tools really simplify this stuff and make it easier to bring it into the classroom.
Courtney: Absolutely. And we're fortunate now that so many schools now have some of those tools already on hand. We don't have to expect to jerry-rig our gear in order to accomplish this stuff; we have laptops and we have computer labs loaded with free audio editing software, and just about every student in my classroom has a smartphone that can record stuff. Is that true for you too?
Kyle: Well yeah, of course, but it's not 100% across the board in all universities or for all students; we shouldn't pretend it is, but on the other hand we know that a lot of people do have access to make audio projects for free.
[background music swells: that same energetic 1980s pop from earlier; we hope you're wearing your sweatbands by now]
Kyle: Okay, good! So let's do it! Let's seriously do soundwriting in the classroom!
Courtney: Right now? Here, in our introduction?
Kyle: Yeah! I mean, we're kind of acting here, right? I mean, performance is an aspect of soundwriting, sometimes?
Courtney [amusedly unconvinced]: Uh huh.…
Kyle: So let's pretend. Okay? Let's pretend that right we're teaching a class. And we're so excited hypothetically about all this soundwriting stuff that we rush out and we assign something to our students. Like, right now. [excitedly] I mean like, what should we ask them to do?
Kyle: Okay, so we're writing teachers, right? So let's ask a student to take some alphabetical writing, like an essay that he already wrote, and ask him just to like record himself reading it. That's easy enough.
Courtney: I think that's something most of my students could handle. So read an essay you've already written. Make a recording of yourself reading your essay aloud.
[ding noise and elevator sounds indicating change of audience along with cheesy music]
Kyle: Ok, just a quick note to you here, listeners. We didn't want to play an actual clip of an actual student reading an actual essay out loud, right here in the introduction, so we asked our friend Eric Detweiler to step in. [concluding interrupting ding noise]
Courtney: Alright. Let's give that a listen.
Fake Student [reading]: "Before delving into the mysteries of receiving and sending messages without wires, a word as to the history of the art and its present day applications may be of service. While popular interest in the subject has gone forward by leaps and bounds within the last two or three years, it has been a matter of scientific experiment for more than a quarter of a century. The wireless telegraph was invented…" (Collins, 1922).
Kyle [talking over Fake Student's reading]: Hey, Courtney? I don't want to interrupt.
Courtney: What's up?
Kyle: I don't want to be rude. I feel like it would be rude if I just start talking over him.
Courtney: Then don't talk over him.
Fake Student: [reading]: "… wireless telephone was invented by the author of this book…"
Kyle: Okay. If this were a real student, I wouldn't talk over him. I'd respect his work and I would be quiet and I would listen carefully.… And I'd help him improve it.
Courtney: But you're feeling critical, I guess?
Kyle: Yeah. Aren't you?
Courtney: Yeah, I guess I'm feeling a little bit critical, I have to say.
Kyle: Okay, I thought so. So, what is it? Surely there's more to soundwriting than this.
Fake Student [reading]: "… was in turn sent out in the form of electric waves…"
Courtney: How would you know? You were not listening.
Kyle: Okay, I know, I know—but I listened to the beginning, right? [laughs] But I'm serious! Soundwriting has to be more than just a boring recitation of words written for the page. Right? I mean, surely we had all that excitement a few minutes ago—we were listing all the great things that soundwriting can be, but I think we had more in mind than just this.
Courtney: Yeah, I definitely had something different in mind when we were talking earlier. Something more crafted, more… engaged with the composition process, something like that.
Kyle: Yeah. I think we're really going to have to dig further in if we're going to understand what's happening here…
Courtney: … before we'll be able to say if reciting words alone is or is not soundwriting.
Kyle: So here's how I suggest we get there: First, let's dig deep into the word soundwriting [magic spell harp riff], let's look at its uses throughout history, and let's look for intersections between those ideas and what we're doing here in this digital book.
Courtney: Right. And then after that, let's focus on our field, look specifically at work in rhetoric and composition that has dealt with what we're calling soundwriting, even if they didn't use the word.
Kyle: Yes. And let's specifically look for stuff in our field that focuses on pedagogy, like: how others in the field have talked about teaching soundwriting.
Courtney: I like it. And in the next part, let's do a ton of actual soundwriting experiments to really dig into the boundaries of what soundwriting can be, as we mean it.
Kyle: I love it. You know, it sounds like we have almost an outline here, right? We're going to talk about the history first and then do some lit review?
Courtney: And then we'll spend the last half demonstrating a bunch of soundwriting experiments to help people get started! I hope all our listeners have paid attention and are taking notes.
Courtney: So let's talk a little more about this word, soundwriting.
Kyle: Right. The history of that word itself.
Courtney: Yeah. Well, history and also, well, landscape, you know, where has it been used in other disciplines too.
Kyle: Yeah! We don't want to claim that we've coined this term if that's not really the case.
Courtney: Well, I started using it in my classroom in Fall 2008—I remember, because that was the semester when I had to stop reading with my eyes temporarily after an injury. So I had to quickly shift to getting my students to read their writing out loud instead of on paper. How about you?
Kyle: Well, I first heard the word in two ways. I did hear it from you, when I talked to you later on, after 2008, but I had actually heard the word earlier on soundwriting.org, which is a site that used to exist that was made by Will Burdette at the University of Texas at Austin. And we actually have a clip here of Will talking about his use of the word "soundwriting"—interestingly, at about the same time you started using it, and I don't think you two knew each other in 2008, did you?
Courtney: I don't think so.
Kyle: Yeah, so it sounds like you both started using the term "soundwriting" at about the same time. So let's hear an excerpt of Will talking about his use of the term, and I should mention that you listeners at home can hear an extended version of his history on our extras page.
Will Burdette: Soundwriting is a translation back from "phonograph," which came from the Greek words for "sound" and "writing." So lots of people have used some version of the word "soundwriting," and I don't want to stake any particular claim to it, but I think it does have extra meaning for people who teach writing because "soundwriting" can also mean "writing that's well-constructed," and so for those of us who work at the intersection of writing instruction and multimedia, the multifaceted meanings of "soundwriting" create, you know, a particular resonance.
When I first got to UT in 2007, I was thinking about all of this, all of these resonances, and I took classes that allowed me to research sound and I did research into dictation and soundwriting machines, starting around 2008. Then, on August 26, 2010, I registered the domains writingwithsound.com and soundwriting.org, and I continued writing about sound at a blog that I hosted at soundwriting.org.
Courtney: So that's interesting—they use the term "writing with sound" now, not quite as much as the actual one word "soundwriting," the word we're starting to use more.
Kyle: Yeah, but let's stick with our word for now and see if we move in the same direction that they did.
Courtney: I like it. And one thing Will mentioned was things like dictation, kind of this nineteenth-century model of how people talked about soundwriting.
Kyle: And actually, we found that too. We went to Google's Ngram search [futuristic electronic hum]. You know, that's where you search a word and Google will say, "Alright, well, over time here's how prevalent that word was in all of our scans of millions and millions of Google Books." [book pages being turned]
Courtney: I looked at our Ngram results and just started browsing around at the different texts just to see how people were using the word "soundwriting" both over time, but also across disciplines, to see what was out there.
Kyle: Cool, so what do you got?
Courtney: Well, one of the first results that I found is an 1886 paper by someone named Brinton ("Comment and Criticism," 1886) [handwriting sounds], and in it, he explains that written languages begin as simple "thought-writing," and that's like "pictographs."
Courtney: And eventually these types of languages evolve into "sound-writing." Those are phonetic, alphabetic systems—you know, like our own.
Kyle: Okay, so "sound-writing" is like the letters on the page represent the sounds that I'm making.
Courtney: Yeah, instead of the characters on the page representing an idea or a literal example of something—a pictograph or a hieroglyph, for example.
[sound of chiseling rock]
Kyle: That's really interesting. So what else did you find?
Courtney: Well, I read about four sentences in a 1990 article in Russian Literature Triquarterly, which isn't something I usually read (Bryusov, 1990, p. 193, translator's note 5). The author there was using our word, "soundwriting," as a literal translation of the word zvukopis. [Her voice echoes when she says it, like it's a magical spell or something.]
Kyle: Zvukopis. [His voice echoes too when he says it, but don't worry, we got bored with that gag really quickly.] Is it Russian?
Courtney: I think so. I hadn't heard that word before so I followed the thread a little farther. I found a Croatian radio program named Zvukopis and it seemed to have something to do with multimodality.
Kyle: Okay, that's really promising.
Courtney: Yeah. I also found a St. Petersburg record company named Zvukopis in 1911. [scratchy old record]
Kyle [laughing]: I love 1911 Russian record companies!
Courtney: And a review that used that word to describe a Czech sound installation. I also found a Serbian musician using zvukopis to talk about the experience of listening nostalgically to music from his childhood.
Kyle: So, zvukopis as affect.
Courtney: Maybe "kairotic memory"?
Kyle: Yeah. So, that's a lot. What else did you find with zvukopis?
[just for fun, a quick, echoing chorus of pronunciations of zvukopis]
Courtney: Well, I did an image search using the Cyrillic characters, and I came up with some stuff that looks like middle school language arts worksheets.
Kyle: [laughs] Okay, so that's pedagogy! What were they teaching?
Courtney: Something about prosody? I don't read Russian, but from what I could tell, it's something about repeated sounds in verse.
Kyle: "Repeated sounds in verse." Okay, so was there anything scholarly besides the original thing you found in the Russian lit journal?
Courtney: Some. When I searched with the English transliteration, I found a critical biography of a Russian futurist poet that uses zvukopis and translates it there as "sound painting" (Goldstein, 1993, p. 40).
Kyle: Interesting! I wonder how else the word zvukopis gets translated.
Courtney: [leafing through papers sound throughout this paragraph] Well, Kyle, I found an article that translates it as "soundscript" (Zhang, 2015, p. 95) and another one translating it as "visual noise" (Perloff & Dworkin, 2008, p. 757). There's an article that calls it "Russian Cubo-Futurist zvukopis," and that one says the English equivalent is "landscapes of sound" (Brzostowska-Tereszkiewicz, 2016, p. 287). There's this one "Russian Ornamental Prose" that translates "instumentovka, zvukopis'" as "sound orchestration" (Browning, 1979, p. 348). And this one translates it as "sound repetitions" (Ivask, 1976, p. 259n1), and this one says "pattern of sound" (Windle, 2014, p. 17).
Kyle: Okay, wait, so we've got translations of zvukopis as "sound painting," as "soundscript," "visual noise," "landscapes of sound," "sound repetitions," and "pattern of sound." Okay so, there's a lot of connotations going on there—do you have any denotations, any actual definitions of the term?
Courtney: Well, there's a piece, "Language Specificity of the Poetic Text in Russian Poetry and Belarus" that uses the word (Mouratova, 2015).
Kyle: Does it define the word zvukopis?
Courtney: I don't know; it's in Russian.
[frustrated Russian folksong on the accordion]
Kyle: Okay, it's my turn. [manic typing] There's a dissertation that defines zvukopis as "in prosody, the same as a system of sound repetition, specifically selected to create a rustle, whistle, and others" (Nalimova, 2012, p. 121n33).
Courtney: You found that super fast. Is it a poetry dissertation?
Kyle: No, it's in music history.
Courtney: Huh. The repetition of sounds that evoke a rustle or whistle?
Kyle: Apparently. Okay, so the author explains, "The essence of zvukopis' lies in the close connection between the initial sound (i.e. physiological acoustics) and metaphor. The concept of zvukovaya metafora [sonic metaphor] is another characteristic feature of Gogol's writing" (Nalimova, 2012, p. 121, brackets in original).
Courtney: That is way more specific than anything else I found. But maybe that's related to this last piece of info.
Kyle: Okay, what's that?
Courtney: Well, when I looked at all the translations, I noticed that most of them suggest something about repetition and pattern, and so I started thinking about noise instead of voice or music, and that dissertation you found suggests sibilant sounds, right?—rustles and whistles—so all of that leads me to static. That's a type of noise.
Kyle: Sure, I guess noise is part of sound as well.
Courtney: Yeah! Well I know Steven Hammer studies noise, so I asked him if he'd run across our word zvukopis in the history of noise art, and he thinks he has, when he was reading about zaum.
Kyle: I'm afraid to ask what zaum means.
Courtney: I know! This is where I stopped for now. It's definitely something I want to look into later though.
Kyle: Cool. But for now, we have a lot! We can still say that zvukopis can be translated as "soundwriting," that it involves immersive, multi-sensory memory, and people using sound can write it that way, taking advantage of sound's powers. That's all part of soundwriting. So there are some associations to our work there, too. It's intriguing. It's really cool stuff.
Courtney: Well, let's back up a minute and look at some more solid ground, perhaps, historically speaking.
Courtney: Melville Bell [single bell sound that represents Melville, a G] was a phoneticist. He was working in the area of physiology and elocution. And fun fact: His father [descending bell pattern representing Melville's father, a combination of G and E, a descending major third] was also a phoneticist. And late in his career, Melville Bell started to apply his effort toward guiding pronunciation of deaf speakers. So he had this book, 1864, Visible Speech: The Science of Universal Alphabetics, and in there, he published a system of phonetic notation that shows users where and how a speech sound is made by human bodies and how exactly to replicate that sound just by reading it.
Kyle: So, just to make sure I understand, so you read the page and you know from reading the page, like from using this Visible Speech system, exactly what it sounds like? It doesn't say, "use a long A or a short A."
Courtney: Yeah, in Bell's system there's a drawing of the mouth, and it shows how to form the sound.
Kyle: So you're reminding me of the International Phonetic Alphabet, like the stuff you see on a Wikipedia page that shows you how exactly to pronounce something?
Courtney: Yeah, exactly right. The IPA got started in 1886, and that was about twenty years after Melville Bell's book. But IPA relies on the reader already knowing the sounds of the Latin alphabet to read its character set, because IPA symbols are based on the Latin character set and the sounds that we recognize from those letters. Bell's system, which he called "World English"—those characters represent positions of the mouth-parts when speaking to signify the corresponding sounds.
[singer practicing vowels]
Courtney: So they might show, is the tongue at the back of the mouth or is it between the teeth? Those elicit very different sounds.
Kyle: So the idea is that a deaf speaker may never have even heard spoken language before, but they can still learn how to form the sounds of speech by reading this book? They know where to put their tongue and how to open their mouth and all that stuff?
Courtney: Yeah, that's the idea.
Kyle: So, it's interesting, when you said "Bell" a while ago, I thought we were going to talk about Alexander Graham Bell [ascending Bell pattern representing Alexander Graham, a combination of a G and a C, an ascending perfect fourth]—the guy who invented the telephone.
Courtney: Right. So here's the connection: Alexander Graham [ascending bells] is the son of Alexander Melville Bell [single bell]. And guess what Melville's father's name was.
Kyle: Um, what?
Courtney: Alexander. [laughs] Alexander Bell. [descending bells]
Kyle: So this is kind of confusing.
Courtney: Yeah. It is. They're all connected though! So the first two, that would be Alexander, the grandpa, and Alexander Melville, the father, both of them worked in elocution. And then the son or grandson, Alexander Graham Bell, he actually used to help his father demonstrate the Visible Speech system. Melville would be out presenting and he'd ask for a volunteer from the audience and he'd write down whatever it was that she said using his Visible Speech system on a chalkboard or something, I don't know, and then he would bring in his kid—Graham, right? And Graham hadn't heard what the volunteer had said, but he would be able to read it off the chalkboard, and because of the way that Visible Speech worked, he would replicate both the words that the volunteer had spoken but also, usually, he could do her accent, because the whole thing is about sound.
[brief clip from The Sound and the Silence, a 1992 film:]
Actor playing Alexander Graham Bell: Kuh. Ay. Nnnn. Ahh. I believe Japanese, kireina.
[surprised approval of Bell's demonstration audience in movie]
Courtney: What you just heard in that clip was an enactment of Alexander Graham Bell and the Visible Speech system from a 1992 film, The Sound and the Silence.
Kyle: So is this in any way related to Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone?
Courtney: Uh, sort of, in a roundabout way. One of the things that Alexander Graham Bell wanted to do was to teach deaf users how to read spectrograms so that they could use the telephone to receive communication from speaking users, without having to hear it. So they could see it with their eyes and learn to recognize waveforms as language.
Kyle: Can people really do that? Can people read spectrograms? Like the waveforms—when I'm recording in Audacity or some other kind of program and I see the little spikes when I talk—can people read that?
Courtney: Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by "read." When I'm editing myself, I recognize my breathmarks and my umms, and stuff like that.
Kyle: Yeah, I guess I can sort of recognize my voice versus someone else's: When I look at my waveform using my microphone, it tends to give me a little stalactite to my voice, until I fix it. But I still can't actually read the words—you know, like I can't look at it and say, "I know what word I'm saying there." But Bell, Alexander Graham Bell, the grandson [ascending bells], he thought some people could or at least they could be taught to read waveforms?
Courtney: He did, and he managed to prove that it was possible, but I mean, it wasn't popular, we don't do it now. It didn't last. But he was able to call up Mr. Watson in 1876 in the first telephone call ever, and this was part of a huge rush of inventions related to sound transmission and capture in the last third of that century, and you know, that's lasted.
Kyle: Yeah, kind of like Edison's phonograph. Right? That was around the same time.
Courtney: It was, that was 1878, and when I was looking at the Ngrams again, I found another Edison-related path. There's a use of the word "soundwriting" in an 1896 patent for a "graphophone."
Kyle: A "graphophone"? Like "phonograph" but just switched around?
Courtney: [laughs] I think it's like startup-speak where you just start leaving out vowels or whatever and in this case they just switched the two parts of the word around. [badum, tss] But it makes sense—"graph" is writing and "phono" is sound, there's only so much you can do with those two words. It's all talking about soundwriting but in the sense of literally transcribing representations of sound onto a medium. So the graphophone was invented in Bell's lab, the Volta Lab [electricity sounds], as an improvement to Edison's phonograph from 1885.
Kyle: In Bell's lab? So his interest in sound continued to be big picture, not just about transmitting over the phone, but also recording it later on. So if I think of the history that you've told me here, that would mean there's a line connecting the graphophone all the way back to the phonetic writing system invented by Bell's father [single bell], the one that he used to read for guests.
Courtney: Right, Melville, and then back even further than that to his grandfather [descending bells]: He was involved in elocution systems beyond writing systems.
[positive electronica music fades in, giving the next few sentences a sense of importance]
Kyle: That's cool, so soundwriting's journey, the word itself, it went from writing sounds onto the page, to inscribing sounds onto wax. So the word suggests taking soundwaves and saving them for later. So to me, to Kyle the teacher, that's really interesting. When I talk about soundwriting today, I'm pretty insistent on the same thing—that soundwriting involves taking soundwaves and saving them for later. So I think if someone were writing alphabetic text about sound, I wouldn't call it "soundwriting"; I don't even know if I would call a live speech "soundwriting." I think I really reserve that term for something that involves actual recordings, inscription. I mean that's where the "writing" part comes in. Maybe it's more than that too?
Courtney: Well, let's look at it from a different direction. So, a lot of what we've been talking about has to do with business technologies, right?
Courtney: I found an 1889 article that uses our word, "soundwriting," and it's about "Pitman Shorthand," and that's a system that records sounds that are heard instead of the words that are said ("Short-Hand and Typewriting," 1889).
Kyle: Okay, so it's a little bit like Melville Bell's Visible Speech and a little bit like other phonetic writing systems but with more of like a practical businessy purpose to it?
Courtney: Yeah, very practical. There was a series of popular phrasebooks during the war that taught soldiers to pronounce words in Italian and German and French. It didn't actually teach soldiers the languages, just how to say things. These books were advertised as "soundwriting" and that was entirely based on Melville Bell's work.
Kyle: That's pretty cool!
Courtney: Yeah. There's also this thing called an "Audograph"; it's a dictation machine that was advertised as an "electric soundwriter."
Kyle: So that's another way of combining words to mean "soundwriting." Like "Audo," like audio, and "graph." There it is again.
Courtney: Yeah. It wasn't very popular, that particular word ["soundwriting"], it was mostly used by the company that made the Audograph, until the 1980s, when I started to see a couple of other dictation manufacturers starting to use it in their ad copy.
Kyle: I love that we're like one more group of people who think that we're so clever, right? Putting together the words "sound" and "writing," and really we're just part of this long history of people who have been saying variations on "soundwriting" just about forever. Even into the 1980s.
[8-bit game sounds and synth music]
Kyle: It's totally gnarly.
Courtney: It's the jam.
Courtney: Totally rad!
Bill & Ted [characters from the 1989 film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure]: Excellent!
[electric guitar riff]
Kyle: High five! So what did you find after the 1980s?
Courtney: Well, I did find one article from 2000, which is the first use of the word "soundwriting" in our own field as far as I could tell.
Kyle: Well, look at that! I know you and Will Burdette both started using the term around 2008, but you're saying eight years before that, someone else was saying "soundwriting" in rhetoric and composition.
Courtney: Well, it's pretty different here from how we've been using the term "soundwriting." In this article, it's used to talk about dictation machines. [rewinding tape sound]
Kyle: Okay, so is it about teaching students to compose with sound?
Courtney: Of course not, Kyle, that would be much too easy. No, here the author wants us to be wary of the supposed neutrality for using these technologies.
Kyle: Okay, I think he's right about that.
Courtney: Yeah, he is.
[Like you heard once above, a ding noise and elevator sounds indicating change of audience along with that cheesy music played on an old organ]
Kyle: Okay, so we got ahold of Stanley D. Harrison, the author of that Kairos webtext, and we asked him to tell us more about his concept of SoundWriting, especially in terms of how his project intersected with ours. So you're going to hear an excerpt of a longer piece that he shared with us, which you can also see on our Extras page.
[elevator ding to audibly signal a switch into Harrison's piece]
Stanley Harrison: I still believe that cyborg soundwriters should consider what it means to be a machine organism that features… Read that.
Robot Voice: a speaking human;
Stanley: Read that.
Robot Voice: a microphone transducer that turns human soundwave energy into a continuous flow of electrical energy;
Stanley: Read that.
Robot Voice: a voice-to-text computer program that changes electric current into strings of digital code;
Stanley: Read that.
Robot Voice: a word processing program that turns digital code into written words on a computer monitor;
Stanley: Read that.
Robot Voice: a text-to-voice program that translates visible words and their digital code back into electric current that in turn causes the headset's transducing element, or speaker, to vibrate and produce soundwaves that in turn simulate a human voice in the act of reading words on a video monitor.
Stanley: Today's Cyborg SoundWriters, with their speech-to-text smartphones, still need to know who and what they are. Who could argue with that? But they must do something more. They must turn their supernormal powers upon the unspoken possibilities of the unwritten future, and that's where writing for sound comes in. Today's SoundWriters need to learn about their heritage in sound by listening to the recordings of such greats as Archibald MacLeish, Morton Wishengrad, the Firesign Theatre, and Yuri Rasovsky. They need to learn how to develop their craft by reading texts on audio production and aesthetics by long-lost authorities like Erik Barnouw, Robert L. Mott, Donald McWhinnie, and Rudolf Arnheim. Then finally, when they're ready, SoundWriters should sound the uncertain depths of their computer–human selves and the world they call home so they may answer the call of the uncertain future. SoundWriting and soundwriting… It just makes sense.
Robot Voice: Download complete.
Robot Voice: We return you now to your regular audio stream-of-consciousness.
Courtney: Alright, Kyle, I would really like to hear what you have found out about the word "soundwriting" more as compositionists mean it. Is anyone else in our field using the term?
Kyle: Well really, what we've already heard here is the only time we've found people actually saying "this is soundwriting," using that word: It's you in your classroom, it's Will around 2008, and then there's the Kairos piece from Stanley Harrison (2000). Besides that though, as we know, a lot of people have, in rhetoric and composition, been talking and writing about sound in our field a lot lately.
Courtney: Yeah, there's people talking about music, about Foley arts, and voice, and acoustics, and resonance, and tons of other things.
Courtney: Let's hear about all of them!
Kyle: [laughs] Okay, well hold on, here's the thing: I'm trying to think of our audience here for this book, and I think that the people we're trying to make this book for are especially people who want to teach with sound in the classroom. And I don't just mean teach about sound or like listen to music and then analyze it and write essays about it, I mean people who want their students to open up an audio editor and play around with the actual sound file itself. Isn't that who we're working towards here?
Courtney: Yeah! So these are students who are making sound, and maybe curating sound; they're certainly building and writing with sound, not just about sound.
Kyle: Yeah, so I think that actually can give us a little bit of a focus for this upcoming lit review section. We can say that if someone is giving us advice about how voice and music inspire written language, then maybe we can just push that aside, in an honoring way, and say, "Hey, we love that work and you've done a great job, but that's not what we want to share with you right now." And actually, I think a really good model for what we're including in this section and what we're not is the Fall 2016 issue of Kairos. It's issue 21.1, where three of the four lead articles have to do with sound in some way, but only one embodies the kinds of things we're covering here in this section.
Courtney: Great choice! It's a rich, multilayered webtext that features student audio productions, detailed pedagogies, and a ton of citations. For teachers who are new to soundwriting, it's a fantastic place to start. It even goes into depth about how student compositions can thoughtfully use music, silence, sound effects, sound interaction, and voice.
Kyle: Yes! That's the kind of work that we'll discuss in this lit review: articles that are all about how to teach students to manipulate sound itself. And we can actually contrast that to two other articles in that same issue in that same issue of Kairos.
Courtney: They're both great, of course.
Kyle: For sure! But they're not about students making sounds. Janine Butler's "Where Access Meets Multimodality: The Case of ASL Music Videos" (2016) is also fundamentally interested in pedagogy, just like Rodrigue's piece with her students, but in Butler's article, students are primarily viewing and creating videos. So of course, video also includes sound, and her students are instructed to create "a brief accessible video," but teaching students to manipulate sound doesn't feel like one of her core concerns to me, even though issues of sound and deafness are at the heart of her article. Does that distinction make sense to you?
Courtney: Yeah, that article is super cool; it's about sound and pedagogy, but it's just not about soundwriting pedagogy.
Kyle: Yes! But as much as VanKooten's piece is about understanding another angle of how sound works on our bodies, it's not about teaching. So we won't go into detail about it here, or other pieces like it. And we could go on forever about other awesome pieces like that—I mean, just look at the groundbreaking work in two special issues on sound that changed the way people in rhetoric and composition talk about sound, but again, which don't talk about pedagogy at all: I'm thinking of the 1999 special issue of Enculturation that Thomas Rickert edited; it's called Writing/Music/Culture, and there's also that 2013 special issue of Harlot that Jon Stone and Steph Ceraso edited on Sonic Rhetorics. We still love that work, even if it's not our focus here.
Courtney: And to add one more wrinkle, there's a lot of work on sound and even teaching with sound that isn't coming from our disciplinary world of rhet/comp. That work matters—a lot, it's amazing!—but we're staying focused in our own world here—at least for now. Hopefully future projects will more systematically make connections.
Kyle: Absolutely. A good example of how rhet/comp work on sound overlaps with other related disciplines can be found at Sounding Out!: It's a site that describes itself as "a weekly online publication, a networked academic archive, and a dynamic group platform bringing together sound studies scholars" ("About us," n.d.). I mean, if you just search their site for "pedagogy" you'll find all kinds of pieces that I think we should all read, including some rhet/compy-type stuff. There's a 2012 article from Jentery Sayers called "Audio Culture Studies: Scaffolding a Sequence of Assignments." His students do a ton of recording the sounds around them and even build up to an audio portfolio. So yes, read the stuff on Sounding Out!; sometimes it's more related to our world, sometimes it's not. But honestly, we're not gonna go too far down that rabbit hole of sonic pedagogies from communication, from media studies, from other areas of English studies.
Courtney: Okay, so we've got Burdette and Harrison using the term "soundwriting," and we've got Enculturation and Harlot special issues, but that is not nearly everyone working on sound and writing, right?
Kyle: Of course not! Some articles are in print-only sources, but because our field has so many cool, digital spaces for publication, like this one [fanfare], there are some online places where we can actually hear teachers and sometimes even student voices doing soundwriting a little bit. Again, even though they're not using that word "soundwriting."
Courtney: That's cool! So let's list some of the most important stuff.
Kyle: Cool, so another special issue, right? People always talk about the 2006 Computers and Composition special issue (Ball & Hawk, 2006), which actually has a print edition and an online edition, and the print edition does talk about teaching some. There are people like Bump Halbritter (2006), who's talking about the audio aspects of video projects. And there are people like Jody Shipka (2006) in the same issue talking about students who made audio projects. She did give them a broad, "do something multimodally" kind of assignment, but some of them are doing stuff with sound. But then if you look at the online edition of that 2006 special issue, there are some people there who are talking about soundwriting and we can actually hear some of their reflections, hear some of their work.
Courtney: I think that's so important when we're trying to learn about sound, to be able to hear examples of it.
Kyle: I know! There's something exciting about it too. I'm not just imagining, "what do you sound like?"
Courtney: Okay, Halbritter and Shipka. Excellent. What else you got?
Kyle: Okay, so in the Computers and Composition Online special issue, we've got Kevin Brooks and four others (2006) who have a piece called "What's Going On?: Listening to Music, Composing Videos," and they include a whole lot of student examples there. It's kind of a bummer that the downloads don't work anymore, but I'm sure the recordings of the student work exist somewhere.
Krause: The next section is sort of a how to, in general, record audio files and also how I did it for this particular class.
Courtney: Well those are all awesome and important, but what about more recent stuff?
Kyle: Well, in 2011, there's another special issue, it's in Currents in Electronic Literacy. It's actually the issue that Will Burdette mentioned a long time ago, that came out of UT's DWRL, that's the Digital Writing and Research Lab (Davis, 2011). It's a really rich issue on Writing with Sound, with 14 pieces that cover remix, videogame music, captioning, autoethnography, and metal [that Bill & Ted riff again because why not]—but three of its pieces really say a lot to the teacher of soundwriting, so of course those are the ones that we want to highlight here. For example, Crystal VanKooten (2011) had a piece called "A New Composition, a 21st Century Pedagogy, and the Rhetoric of Music," and in that composition, she had a video that really heavily featured her student, Kaitlyn Patterson.
Patterson: I wanted the music to be as like transitions too, so each section of each song is kind of like a paragraph or an idea in a traditional piece, or a traditional written piece.
Courtney: Wow, that is really smart! I am not sure I imagined it would be possible to use soundwriting to get students thinking about arrangement. That's a little like my idea for developing an audible punctuation system.
Kyle: Cool, I want to hear more about that sometime. [laughs] In that same issue there's also an article by Mark Blaauw-Hara and Kevin Putman (2011). In this case, Blaauw-Hara was the professor and Kevin Putman was the student, and together, they made a hip-hop track about the student, Kevin, dealing with his OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder].
Putman [rapping over a sick beat, excerpt of "Breakin' the Symmetry"]: When I think back to my 10th year when my OCD began, tryin' on my socks marked left and right was for my just-right plan. Unbeknownst to me my life was overcome with symmetry, checkin' and re-checkin' and that re-responsibility.
Courtney: I LOVE THIS! I keep trying to get my own students to rap their essays and so far nobody wants to try it.
Kyle: In that same issue, we also can hear Lydia French and Emily Bloom (2011) talk to each other, interviewing each other, sharing some of their students' work, again, in a piece that's called "Auralacy: From Plato to Podcasting and Back Again."
Bloom: I think this was a bit much for me to ask them. I've looked at some other assignments and mine was very long; it was a ten minute oral composition.
Courtney: Those pieces from Currents remind me of Moe Folk's webtext on audio essays in Computers and Composition Online.
Folk: The next student example is an example of what I would call the voiceless student essay.… This student audio example contains many, many voices (12 presidents just to name a few), but it does not have a trace of the student's actual physical voice, though I argue it maintains the other hallmarks of writing voice I just mentioned.
Kyle: I know as I assign audio essays in the future, I'll think more about how I'm approaching the topic of voice because of Folk's article.
Courtney: I know we had that early piece that uses the word "soundwriting," but there has been more stuff about teaching with audio in Kairos, even before the 2016 issue we were talking about a minute ago.
Kyle: Yeah, for sure. In 2012, do you remember, Jennifer Bowie (2012a, 2012b) had two companion pieces about podcasting in the classroom. They're definitely soundwriting pieces in exactly the way we're talking about. And, like we've been saying, it's actually cool that we get to hear Jennifer making podcasts about podcasts.
Courtney: Let's make sure to talk about Cindy Selfe's 2009 piece too, Kyle. Everybody cites that one.
Kyle: Right. It's a really big deal. Her College Composition and Communication, "three Cs," article, which is essentially saying to the field, "Hey people, we need to pay more attention to aurality and the big picture of all that stuff here in composition studies," in some ways that we're not talking about here, but also it does have a teaching focus.
Courtney: But that's a printed piece, so there's no audio that's integral to it. She's linking out to these four examples?
Kyle: Yeah, she actually says, "Here is where you can go onto my personal Ohio State server and listen to these examples of soundwriting, of students making pieces." The link doesn't actually work anymore, as often happens here [sad trombone, because repeated jokes are the best jokes]. When I emailed and asked her, she said that anyone who wants to hear these can email her, and she does have the link to these pieces still on her Google Drive.
Courtney: Good, so everybody email Cindy!
Kyle: [laughs] And the other cool thing about that piece is she has a lot of notes directing readers to other websites and a lot of course sites where we can see what other people have been doing in the classroom, and that's part of what we found since we started this project. We start saying, "Hey, are you guys doing stuff with sound out there?" And all these people are saying, "Well yeah, we're trying and trying, we're just not getting a lot of support." So again, that's part of the context here. We're trying to point people to that piece and to other pieces so they can see what other people are doing.
Courtney: There are a bunch more articles that talk about soundwriting without including sound as part of the publication though. Printed or alphabetic stuff. Like Mary E. Hocks and Michelle Comstock: They have a 2017 article "Composing for Sound: Sonic Rhetoric as Resonance" that walks readers through a four-part assignment sequence focusing on resonance and listening.
[Those last two words resonate in an echoey way, and then we all pause to listen to mockingbirds for a moment before moving on.]
Courtney: Their students do a lot of recording and editing, but often with the result that they're trained to listen in new ways, bracketing their analytic responses to sound in favor of the different way sounds make their bodies resonate. It's not a webtext—like, you don't actually hear the students' work—but it still says a lot about what we can do with soundwriting in the classroom.
Kyle: Yeah, of course. And you remember Steph Ceraso and her 2014 award-winning College English piece. [bass throbbing] So she's talking about multimodal listening and this idea of feeling sound in your body, and even though it's a traditional printed piece, she ends in that traditional way that our field so often does with some suggestions about how to attend to these issues in the classroom, and some of those suggestions of hers actually involve students making sounds together.
Courtney: Jonathan Alexander had something in 2015 about Glenn Gould, right?
Courtney [still humming, now also laughing]: I guess I should actually hum Bach there, shouldn't I?
Kyle: No, it's totally fine, don't worry! [both laugh]
[piano plays Bach's Invention in Am, BWV 784]
Kyle: The cool thing about Gould as a character is that he was someone who really paid a lot of attention to recording, and not just recording, but he was controversial because he would splice his tapes together. He would try to make the perfect recording from his different takes and some people didn't like the idea of that being, I don't know, kind of fake.
Courtney: Sure, I guess that's not an authentic performance.
Kyle: Yeah, but it was him the whole time, so it was authentically edited together?
Kyle: I don't know. But, like Ceraso, Alexander—remember, who's writing about Glenn Gould—he ends his piece with specifics about how we can encourage students to think of the same sort of things that are inspired by Gould, kind of the same way that Ceraso's article is inspired by Evelyn Glennie.
Courtney: Computers and Composition has been putting out a good number of articles about soundwriting.
Kyle: Yeah, the year after Alexander's piece, Jean Bessette (2016) has a piece too, where she essentially tells her readers how her students responded to soundwriting assignments. She had her students listen to gay liberation radio shows and had them make audio collages.
Radio Announcer Randy Alfred [from 23 Oct. 1983's show, searchable on the GLBT Historical Society's website]: This is The Gay Life, KSAN's public affairs show for gentlemen who prefer gentlemen, for women who prefer women, and for people who prefer people. You don't have to be gay to listen. Good morning!
Kyle: And then Bessette's article, even though it's a print article in a print journal, it does give a lot of respect and a lot of voice to her students. She quotes extensively from them, saying things like, "this is what I did and what I went through, this is how I grew as I was making this assignment."
Courtney: With these three articles, we get a pretty interesting representation of the types of sound that people are writing with: We have environmental sound [bass thumps replay], we have musical sound [Bach is layered on top of the bass], and then we also have an archival sound [The Gay Life intro adds in. All three play together].
Kyle: Absolutely. It's reminding us of all the genres that are available to teachers when they do bring soundwriting into the classroom.
Courtney: So maybe people would think that soundwriting is the simple reading of words, but these examples are showing us that it can involve quite a number of inspirational sound sources.
Kyle: Yeah! I think that's even a theme of some recent work. I mean Ceraso's (2014) piece even reminds us that we can go beyond discursive stuff. We can go beyond the simple text and discourse when we're making sonic texts.
Ceraso: I argue that alongside and in addition to semiotic approaches to multimodality, it is necessary to address the affective and embodied, lived experience of multimodality in more explicit ways. (Ceraso, 2014, p. 104)
Kyle: And then Kati Fargo Ahern (2013), in a different Computers and Composition piece, also reminds us that when we're using sound, we don't have to just rely on words.
Ahern: What I found myself questioning was not how to introduce audio essays or voiceover, but how to introduce students to uses of sound that do not necessarily draw on the spoken word, voice, or discourse. (Ahern, 2013, p. 78)
Kyle: By the way, let me mention that those recordings you just heard of Ceraso and Ahern are the authors' voices reading their print work for this project. Just so you're not confused or you try to look for the digital version online or something.
Courtney: Got it!
Kyle: And here's one more recent piece that I think makes a similar point. Erin Anderson's (2014) piece in Enculturation even specifically critiques assignments that, and here's a quote from her, that "restrict voices' material potential to the direct representation of intentional speech."
[groovy electronic music plays, giving everyone a sense of hope that everything is going to be okay]
Kyle: So she's reminding us that we can do so much more than record just intentional speech.
Courtney: Yeah, sound is affective, embodied, it's not just reading or speaking.
Kyle: Sound is just so much bigger!
[music continues as you dance in your chair]
But wait! There's more! In the next part, we'll introduce a bunch of actual soundwriting techniques for your classroom.