Rhythm Science Sound Sculpture

The Digital Humanities Winter Institute kicked off today at the University of Maryland and the Culture Lab has fanned out into a number of different classes to imbibe and (soon enough) bring back some insights to Penn.

I’m lucky enough to be studying this week with Vicki Callahan and Virginia Kuhn from USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy, a research unit of the School of Cinematic Arts. I’m in a course called “Teaching through Multimedia,” which is the pedagogy course thinking about digital humanities from the front of the classroom.

We kicked off the week by thinking about sound as a vector/register/tool/object of study that we can employ to think through the vicissitudes of using media in the classroom of higher education.

Vicki Callahan generously shared an assignment that she uses in her undergrad classes, which builds to a soundscape that each student puts together from an importantly constrained set of required elements (speech, ambient noise, music, and one “other” element). It’s a brilliantly designed assignment that works on a number of levels: having a clear rubric for grading that lessens the anxiety about how creative work is assessed, using Michel Chion’s types of listening, and building off of Paul D. Miller’s (aka DJ Spooky) notion of a soundscape that “begins as a forensic investigation of sound as a vector of coded language.” The assignment is designed around investigating sound as a rhythm science, a text to be searched and reconstructed. Students work toward a rhythm science sound sculpture.

The progression begins with a simple listening exercise, which is reproduced for you to try yourself below. ENJOY (and send Vicki many thanks)!


Listening Exercise: listen to the following audio clip. It is the opening scene to the film, The Conversation, with a rather extraordinary soundscape by Walter Murch. Please listen to the clip while using a modified variant of Chion’s “acousmatic and reduced listening” exercise as our guide. That is, we will detach the sound from the usual cues of social context and visual referents. What do you hear? Please try to identify audio elements as well as you can with attention to rhythm, tone, pitch, and when possible source (in other words, what do you think certain sounds are). Try to give as much detail to the texture and emotion of the sonic elements and overall soundscape you experience. This is an exercise so definitely give it a try — no cheating by looking at the video via another site 🙂 

AND THEN: Go ahead and watch the images associated with this soundscape, if you’d like.

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Culture Lab @ ASC.

The Culture Lab is a forum for researchers at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania committed to exploring, enriching, and elucidating the contours of culture and communication. We are interested in culture as it is, as it takes shape, and as it is remembered. We are interested, in other words, in culture anywhere that it exists.
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