Sound studies: listening & creating between the material, medium and metaphor

Course Description: 

Sound studies describes the various ways in we can know the world through sound, understand sonic phenomena or practices, and explore how sound extends the contours of academic knowledge production. Highly interdisciplinary and often undertaken in cooperation with those outside academia, from musicians to professionals, the field of sound studies is increasingly diverse, daring and exciting.
This co-taught course will explore the cultural, social, philosophical, political and material dimensions of sound and listening. We will explore questions such as: how do race and ethnicity intersect with listening? is our pristine natural sonic environment increasingly ruined by industrialisation and urbanisation? how do states seek to regulate sound and noise? how does podcasting change academic knowledge production? how can we know the world through sound? what's the importance of sound design in documentary film? what does the advancement of literacy do to cultures of orality? how does technology mediate sonic knowledge and musical production?
Taking sonic mediums seriously, the course also includes practical sessions in which students will learn how to create audio materials relating to the topics and theories explored in class.

Learning Outcomes: 

The aim of this course is two-fold: firstly, to interrogate some of the key debates in sound studies, secondly to acquaint students with some of the different skills needed to undertake research through a sonic lens. Touching on some of the most important moments in the development of the field, as well as contemporary debates, 9 of the 12 sessions will be used to help students situate their thinking within a body of scholarship that is seemingly in a constant state of emergence. The remaining 3 sessions will involve practical learning and hands on engagement within and outside the university. It will push students to experiment with different ways of listening and researching.

Students will:

  • develop an understanding of the possibilities sound studies offers for research within and across disciplines
  • become acquainted with some of the key debates in the field
  • learn how to do field recordings
  • learn how to make a podcast
  • learn about transducing images into sounds
  • experiment with applying sound-derived theoretical and analytical insights

Outcomes and Assessment

1. Read, listen and come to class with critical questions or comments: The classes will include lectures, but there will also be lots of input from students. You will be required to discuss, debate and interrogate the readings and listenings during the class. Some weeks are a little heavier on readings, but on some weeks there is not much to read at all – it evens out over the semester. Some weeks there are also podcasts, radio shows or videos included – listening is as important as reading, so please treat them as you would a text. 

(10 % of final grade)

2. Presentations: You must present once on a case/sonic phenomena linked to (at least) one of the readings on the syllabus and the topic of the class. You should not present the text. You should introduce a relevant case/phenomena/idea into the class that enhances and complicates our discussions. The presenting students should contact the instructor at least three days in advance (i.e. the Tuesday before class) to discuss the content of the presentation. Please copy in Ian to the correspondence even when he is not the instructor. Please note, there may be more than one of you presenting per week and, if so, you must coordinate amongst each other to ensure there is no repetition of cases. You can present on a similar topic to your final assignment. Some weeks there will be no presentations.

(25% of final grade – students will be graded on how well their case enhances to the topic(s) of the week, the clarity of their presentation and originality of application or argument. 

3. Midterm research plan: By the end of Week 7 you need to have decided upon your final research topic and begun to think about what concepts or theories you want to think the topic through. You must submit a circa 500 word research plan that:

  • Introduces the topic (i.e. the sonic phenomena or case that can be explored and understood through sound)
  • Suggests the concept/theory/approach that you think can best shed light on the topic and tells us why you think it might work
  • What medium you think will best work for your final assignment and why (i.e. one of the options below)

(15% of final grade)

4. Final assignment: You have to take a case/topic and apply a concept/approach/theory that we have covered in the course to your case/topic. You have three choices as to how you realise the assignment:

  • Option One: Field Recordings. Using the collaboratively produced pool of field recordings made in the field recording class along with any independently collected recordings, produce a circa 10 minute audio piece. High quality pieces will be eligible for airing on the London based radio station Resonance FM or Resonance Extra. The piece must be accompanied by a theoretically informed circa 1200 word essay using at least one concept covered in the course.
  • Option Two: Podcast. This must include one or more sound clips relating to the topic (of varying lengths); context – circa 800-1000 words of scripted narration that introduces the case study and/or the theoretical or other debate you are addressing (7-10 min); an interview with a relevant person (10-15 minutes); analysis – circa 500-800 words of scripted argumentation (5 minutes). High quality podcasts will be published within CEU’s podcast library.
  • Option Three: Essay. Inspired by the theories, debates and concepts covered in the course produce a circa 2500 word essay on a sonic case or phenomena. You may integrate audio and visual material if you wish. Refer to at least two concepts or ideas covered in the course.


(50% of final grade - work will be assessed on understanding of key concepts and theories, the application of theories to a case study, originality of approach and clarity of presentation, including production quality)



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