IAS 205: Sound Reproduction Studies
IAS 205: Sound Reproduction Studies
IAS 205: Sound Reproduction Studies
IAS 205: Sound Reproduction Studies
IAS 205: Sound Reproduction Studies
IAS 205: Sound Reproduction Studies
IAS 205: Sound Reproduction Studies
IAS 205: Sound Reproduction Studies

IAS 205: Sound Reproduction Studies

Autumn 2010 (45 students)

Course Site

The Syllabus


Audio Production, Theory, and History Course (designed and taught with the approval of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell)

Full Course Title: “Technologies of Expression: Sound Reproduction Studies”

Course Description

Since the 1850s, sound reproduction technologies—like the ear phonautograph (1874)—have changed over time, with some becoming obsolete as others became cutting edge. In one sense, this course is an opportunity for you to trace that history by studying a spectrum of technologies and their sounds: everything from the phonograph and magnetic tape to the turntable and the computer.

Yet in another sense, the course is a chance to explore how those technologies are culturally embedded. For example, how have artists and writers integrated sound reproduction technologies into their work, and to what effects on other media, such as print? Through advertisements and film, how were certain technologies marketed, to whom, and for what purposes? How are sound reproduction technologies tied to questions of race, gender, class, and sexuality? When, where, and for whom does a sound seem pleasant, a recording appear high fidelity, or an environment become noisy? Or more specifically: why was a human eardrum part of the phonautograph, and what does it say about the use of human bodies for scientific progress and technological development?

No doubt, these questions—open-ended though they are—will keep us curious throughout the quarter. And during our conversations, we will also tap into some theories of listening and seeing. Here, we will unpack how listening and seeing are often situated in opposition to each other, as well as how they are attached to particular value systems. We will also determine how to critically respond to such traditions by conducting in-class listening and discussion sessions focused on various storage media (e.g., vinyl records, phonograph cylinders, cassette tapes, film, and the MP3) and the differences between them. True, we can’t hear like they did back then. But at least they left their stuff behind.

The ultimate aim of the course, then, is for you to walk away with competencies in how to approach sound reproduction as a historical, aesthetic, and political object of inquiry. So in case you are wondering: This is not a class about music. Or radio broadcasting. Sure, we will likely chat about songs, musical instruments, recording studios, live performances, and Lady Gaga. In a class about sound, how could we not? Nevertheless, the emphasis of the course rests in the inscription, circulation, and representation of sound over time.

To put those competencies into practice, each of you will create, gather, and analyze several audio recordings over the course of the quarter and remix them for your final project. I hope this project will be simultaneously fun, informative, and—at times—a challenge.

Learning Outcomes for the Course

By the quarter’s end, students should not only become familiar with some key moments in the history of sound reproduction, but also iteratively compile an audio e-portfolio and produce a remix (between ten and fifteen minutes in duration) of that e-portfolio’s content. Through that e-portfolio, remix, and all of the work in between, they should:

Use audio (both their own recordings and those by others) as a persuasive form of evidence, which effectively appeals to the target audience(s) of their choice.

Articulate, through specific examples, how a certain sound reproduction technology (e.g., the turntable, the phonograph, or the personal computer) has influenced—and been influenced by—the culture(s) in which it is (or was) embedded.

Routinely circulate portions of their e-portfolio for feedback from me and their peers, while also helping others in the class enhance their own e-portfolios.

Explain—in their own words—the media strategies and theory functioning in their e-portfolio, including why audio and listening are central to that portfolio.

Synopsize their work for educated, non-experts, who may be unfamiliar with sound reproduction studies and/or the material of their projects, by writing a 250-word abstract for their e-portfolio and remix.

What I Learned

This course was my first real pedagogical opportunity to blend a sustained inquiry into the theory and history of sound reproduction with audio composition. Of course, the challenge was constantly oscillating between the abstract and the concrete–or theory and practice–in the classroom. Ultimately, I found that students appreciated learning about sound when experimenting hands-on with various genres in audio culture (e.g., the voice-over, the documentary, the field recording, and the remix) and reflecting on how those experiments informed their own assumptions about composition (broadly understood), perception (seeing and listening included), representation (through multiple forms of recording and circulation), and the political and creative potential of sonic expression. I particularly enjoyed listening to the audio e-portfolios the students compiled, especially when they used audio to actively engage, critique, and remix each other’s work. (The media archaeology workshop on creating magnetic tape cut-ups was fun, too!)

Course Evaluations

Available upon request.

(All images on the left are screen shots of the course blog, which I designed.)