ENGL 475 - Writing with Sound
In a world where writing is mostly digital, we often overlook the presence of sound—music that accompanies video, voice published as podcasts, noise remixed into an ambient art form or as background for daily life. Filmmakers have long recognized the power of sound to direct audience responses, and with the rise of the podcast in the digital age, the persuasive potential of sound is an even more fruitful area of inquiry than ever before.
This course will examine recording, editing, and distribution of sound as a form of writing. In order to understand the rhetorical effects of sound compositions, this course will read and discuss important works in the field of sound studies and offer an introduction to using open source digital audio editing tools for writing with sound.
At the end of the course, students should be able to:
- Identify various sound genres and their rhetorical effects
- Critically analyze how sounds change, affect, and produce audience responses
- Provide appropriate citation/attribution when working with digital sources
- Understand the technical and practical affordances for producing sound
- Compose effective digital podcasts and audio essays
Note: This course will be organized as a project-based workshop (especially in the second half of the semester). In addition to readings and discussions, several of our class meetings will be opportunities for hands-on practice with digital audio tools that will involve your classmates and the instructor. Please be advised that such work demands regular attendance and requires active participation.
Required Texts and Materials
- The Sound Studies Reader, edited by Jonathan Sterne
- Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound, edited by John Biewen and Alexa Dilworth
- Audacity – Open Source Audio Editing Software
- Headphones (a pair of quality on-ear or over-ear headphones are strongly recommended, but earbuds will get you through)
- A USB thumb drive on which to save/back up your work
- Additional essays, articles, and podcasts will be provided digitally
You will be provided with a professional digital recorder to use for the duration of the semester. The recorder is Wofford property, and you are responsible for its well-being. You are expected to take proper care of the equipment and may be held responsible for damages. If you fail to return borrowed equipment at all (like, you lose it or break it beyond repair), you are responsible for replacing the equipment with the same kind, and I will hold your final grade submission until it has been replaced.
Grading and Assessment
Rather than a traditional model of grading that generates a complex math equation for how much each piece of work is worth in the overall pie chart of coursework, all major assignments are created equal in this class (in a certain sense). Your grade will be based on the work you accomplish and the progress you demonstrate.
Below, I provide detailed and clear expectations for what is required to obtain a B in the class. This is the “contract” by which we will hold each other accountable. Regardless of strengths or weaknesses as writers/recorders, anyone in this class can get a B by fulfilling these expectations.
You are guaranteed a B if you:
1. attend class regularly—not missing more than a week's worth of classes (2 absences);
2. meet due dates and writing/recording criteria for all major assignments;*
3. participate in all in-class discussions and activities;
4. miss very few informal, low stakes assignments (e.g. reading responses, recording activities, and in-class exercises);
5. give thoughtful peer feedback during class workshops and work faithfully with your group on other collaborative tasks (e.g. sharing papers, commenting on drafts, peer editing, on-line discussion boards, answering peer questions);
6. sustain effort and investment on each draft of all assignments;
7. copy-edit/proof-listen all final revisions/productions of main assignments until they conform to the conventions of edited, revised English;
8. make substantive revisions when the assignment is to revise—extending or changing the thinking or organization—not just editing or touching up;
9. attend conferences with the professor to discuss drafts/proposals.
Thus you earn the grade of B entirely on the basis of what you do—on your conscientious effort and participation. The grade of B does not derive from my judgment about the quality of your writing/recording. Grades higher than B, however, do rest on my judgment of writing/recording quality and your participation.
*If any of the work you turn in fails to meet the minimum expectations of the assignment, you will be notified and required to revise it to meet the minimum standards. It will not be considered “complete” until it has been revised (see revision policy below).
While the criteria above clearly outline the requirements/expectations for a B, plus/minuses will be determined by your participation in class and online, and the quality of the work submitted.
You are responsible for making your own decisions regarding attendance. I do not excuse absences, but I do like to be informed about your well-being. If an unavoidable problem prevents you from attending class, please contact me as soon as possible, preferably ahead of time, to let me know. Given the size and discussion-based nature of the class, multiple absences will certainly have a negative impact on your grade. If you miss more than two full weeks of class, you will be withdrawn from the course (WP/WF as is appropriate). In other words, your fifth (5) absence will prevent you from receiving credit for the course. Also, attendance at out-of-class conferences with me is considered the same as class time. If you miss a conference, you will be counted absent.
Feedback often comes in the form of informal in-class discussions about your assignments and individual or group conferences. For instance, when I and your peers offer critiques of your draft projects, we assume that you will implement those revision suggestions into your drafts. When you don’t, you should have a very good reason in relation to the purpose of the text/recording for not doing so. Otherwise, when I am reviewing your projects, I should be able to see your progress on the text/recording from the time it was workshopped as well as from informal, in-class feedback or conferences with me. I hope that this grading system will allow you the freedom and flexibility to take risks in your assignments while also providing time for you to re-envision and revise those drafts into more usable, sophisticated, and polished texts/recordings by the end of the term.
If you plan to revise an assignment because your initial submission failed to meet expectations or didn’t meet your own expectations of excellence, you must make an appointment to come speak with me prior to completing the revisions. Together, we’ll map out a revision plan and I’ll answer any questions.
Keep in mind that “revision” does not mean merely correcting mistakes. To have effectively revised a paper/assignment is to have re-envisioned it: to reconsider structure (both global and local); to weed out extraneous claims and clauses; to improve the flow of ideas and sentences; to provide additional support for weaker arguments.
Once you’ve met with me, you can complete your revisions. When you resubmit the work, you’ll also include a written explanation of the changes you made.
Written responses to required readings (300-500 words). Responses will be opportunities to critically and creatively engage course readings and case studies as well as provide the starting point for much our class discussion. Also, there will be a number of in-class audio exercises designed to be responses to our in-class instruction.
This assignment will ask students to compose a sonic landscape using field recordings and found sounds. Exact forms for this assignment will vary, but might be framed as “Sonic Postcards.”
This assignment asks students to select a print-based writing to remediate into a sound essay. This will entail extracting the essential points of the essay and revising them into some combination of sound.
After identifying/subscribing to a podcast, students will script and compose a 3-5 minute analysis of the podcast series that examines the themes, genres, online distribution, and technical dimensions to the serial program.
This final assignment will include a short proposal, three podcast episodes of 3-5 minutes, and a brief prospectus that outlines a digital distribution plan. Of your three podcasts, one will include an interview, one will include a sonic remix or remediation, and one will include a site recording.
- ability to interact with the course website and other websites
- access to word processing, visual design, podcasting, and web design software
- a suitable email account checked regularly for course-related business
- a Flash drive or other means to backup coursework
Routine work with technology is a component of this course. Students need not be technological experts to succeed in this course, but digital technology interaction is integral and computer problems are not valid excuses for incomplete work. Practice the core principle of digital data work: redundant backup. Digital technology will fail; be prepared for that eventuality.
Personal Technology Devices
Students may use laptops, cell phones, and other digital devices during class, provided that they do not disrupt other students’ learning. This is not a trick. This course is situated in an increasingly connected multimedia environment. Each student is responsible for his or her own engagement with class meetings, and thus his or her resultant success or failure.
I will likely be communicating with you via email with some regularity. Email is an official means of communication at Wofford, and you are expected to check it daily.
I make a concerted effort to respond to all emails within 24 hours. I typically only answer email between 9AM and 5PM, so if you send an email after hours, I’ll get to it the next day. Weekend response times are likely to be longer.
Some of your work for this course will live publicly on the web within open platforms. If you would like to remain anonymous, I encourage you to use a pseudonym. If you don’t want to include a photograph of yourself, you can upload an avatar to represent you. Think carefully about these choices. We will discuss issues related to privacy and the open web at various points in the semester.
Wofford has a strict and clear honor code, and it applies to all work done for this class. Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated.
For further reading on Wofford’s policies, please refer to the following: http://bit.ly/woffordhonor
Wofford College seeks to provide disabled students with reasonable accommodations needed to ensure equal access to the programs and activities of the college. Support for students with special needs is coordinated through Wofford College Wellness Center/ Accessibility Services. Please let me know how I can best assist you.
Further information can be found at the following:
Course materials adapted with permission from Casey Boyle's RHE 330C