I’ll be teaching my first summer course during Summer Session A (course description below), a Rhetoric R1B on sound theories and technologies. I’m dividing the course into three units: the first on film sound, using the 1998 remastered version of Orson Welles’s 1958 film noir, Touch of Evil; the second on music and remix culture, with some reference to Scratch (2001) and broadcasts from the BBC’s Radio One (especially DJ Kutski on the “Amen” break); and the third on environmental sound, drawing on the Canadian acoustic ecology movement and the study of urban soundscapes. I’m also assigning DeLillo’s novella, The Body Artist, for its puzzling tale of vocal impersonation, auditory hallucination, and performance.

I have always had a musician’s interest in sound, but I have been increasingly turned on to the growing field of sound studies by my colleagues Tom McEnaney (Cornell Comparative Literature, with a specialty in early 20th-century radio), Caitlin Marshall (UC Berkeley Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, with a project on vocal prosthesis), and Tiffany Ng (UC Berkeley Music, my guide to ethnomusicology and professional carillon-playing). I’m particularly interested in new media’s influence on sound design and reception, and I have kept an interested eye on the work of Jonathan Sterne and Frances Dyson, among others.

Record, Rewind, Play: Theories and Technologies of Sound

Rhetoric R1B | Summer Session A – 2011

TWTh 10-12:30 | 79 Dwinelle

Does your iPod contain more hours of music than you could possibly listen to without devoting months of your life to your headphones? Do you still listen to AM/FM radio, or do you prefer to use Pandora or even mix and play your own tracks? Have you been known to belt out a few Beatles tunes or Nine Inch Nails anthems for a night of Rock Band? If so, you might legitimately wonder why so much of contemporary philosophy, science, and art centers on the human faculty of vision. Beyond text, beyond image, there is always our constant immersion in sound, through speech, music, and ambient noise.

This course takes a broad interdisciplinary approach while using sound technology and theory as a unifying heuristic. We will spend most of our time on music—particularly modern remix culture and the influence of digital methods on analog materials—as well as film and television sound: the soundtrack, the transition from silent to sound film, and the voiceover. But we will also explore sound’s role in areas as diverse as animal research, city planning, politics, and videogame design.

Along the way, we will hearken back to the introduction of the telegraph and phonograph, radio, boomboxes and Walkmen, and the mp3. These objects and their cultural history will help us to think through ideas about silence, encoding, public and private, noise pollution, “liveness,” and high fidelity, and about how sound functions in communication, documentation, data visualization, and the very constitution of space, environment, and the self. Expect to read, listen, watch, and play, including selections from Paul Lansky, John Cage, Claude Shannon, Michel Chion, Mary Ann Doane, Diane Ackerman, Frances Dyson, Friedrich Kittler, Jonathan Sterne, and UC Berkeley’s very own Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT).