What constitutes music? How can we know the world through listening? What kinds of meaning are attached to sounds? What is the soundscape? How can understanding a place’s acoustic ecology help us understand the social and political climate of a particular society? How can such an understanding influence our own use of sound? How does listening shape who we are? What sounds do we overlook?
This trans-disciplinary course grapples with all these questions and more. As we travel around the globe, listening, we will engage with an auditory culture reading, listening, and viewing list that draws from the fields of anthropology, ethnomusicology, audio documentary, soundscape composition, electro-acoustic composition, and more generally, sound studies. We will learn experientially through listening fieldwork at the ports we visit. This fieldwork will lead to the creation of soundscape compositions, sonic ethnographies, and audio documentaries that are informed by the course material. Most of the time these projects will be collaborative in nature. The projects will utilize portable field recorders and DAW (digital audio workstation) computer software. The course will end with a final “concert” of our creative/scholarly works.
At the end of the course students will leave with an understanding that sounds change physically as they travel through spaces and that they shape, and are shaped by, webs of relationships between people and things across socio-cultural contexts. Students will leave with their ears tuned in to the histories, societies, cultures, and politics of the places we experience. Also, students will leave with a special audio diary of their trip and a basic understanding of how to use sound recording and editing technology. There are no pre-requisites for this course.
Field ClassCountry: Myanmar (Burma)
Day: 2 - Wednesday, 25 February
This field lab will extend concepts and field tasks that we will have explored and developed during the semester. Brandon Labelle, in his book Acoustic Territories, Sound Culture and Everyday Life, says that “The Underground acts as a reverberant space; cavernous and dim, it echoes with sounds and voices to unfold in uncertain yet urgent messages.” With the help of locals, this field lab will be spent exploring the messages and sounds of underground (background) silences and everyday life noises of Yangon. We will start the day with a visit to Thirimingalar Kaba Aye pagoda (The World Peace pagoda). At the compound we will specifically tune in to the The Maha Pasana Guha (Cave) as we think very literally about the underground silent sounds of the Buddhist religion. We will then head to Yangon Central Railway Station to listen in for people as they “connect”, hopefully catching a busker or two along the way. The field lab will end at an underground punk rock show. As we commute to and from each field site we will discuss threads and focus on deep listening tasks. The goal of this field lab is to use sound as a vehicle for understanding the world around us. In preparation for this field lab we will break off into collaborative teams. Each team will be responsible for exploring one of these field sites in-depth. Each team will collaboratively produce a soundscape composition utilizing a DAW, a 6-page response paper, and a 20-minute presentation. Each group’s final project will come together to form a sound study of the underground sounds of Yangon from our different perspectives.