Fall2014 Writing with Sound Course

Archived Course – Taught in Fall 2014

Writing with Sound – RHE 330C

Casey Boyle 

Abstract rendering of a sound wave.

In our largely screen-based media culture, we often overlook the pervasive presence of sound. Talk radio, ambient music, mobile device alerts, animal sounds, human voices, and random noise all combine to form an ever present sonic backdrop with and through which we engage our media ecologies. Alone and together, these sounds help write our experience of an entertainment event, a political campaign, an educational venture. Towards understanding the rhetorical effects of sound compositions, this course will examine recording, editing, and distribution of sound as a form of writing. We will be especially keen to explore and examine those writings that are produced and circulated in digital environments. In addition to reading and discussing important works in the multidisciplinary field of sound studies, the course will offer an extended introduction to and continued practice in using readily available and open source digital audio editing tools for writing with sound.

Course Outcomes

At the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Identify various sound genres and their rhetorical effects
  • Understand the technical and practical affordances for producing sound
  • Compose effective digital podcasts and audio essays

Note: This course will be organized as a project-based workshop (especially in the second half of the semester). In addition to readings and discussions, several of our class meetings will be opportunities for hands-on practice with digital audio tools that will involve your classmates and the instructor. Please be advised that such work demands regular attendance and requires active participation.


Texts and Materials

Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism & Production, Jonathan Kern

The Book of Audacity: Record, Edit, Mix, and Master with the Free Audio Editor, Carla Schroder

Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture, edited by Paul D. Miller

Sound Studies Reader, edited by Jonathan Sterne

Additional essays and articles will be provided on the course site

Audacity – Open Source Audio Editing Software



[Full Assignment Sheets will be given for each assignment]

Reading Responses (20%) Due: Throughout Semester

8 written responses to required readings posted to our course site (300-500 words posted in Canvas). Responses will be opportunities to critically and creatively engage course readings and case studies as well as provide the starting point for much our class discussion. In the first week, I will provide a more detailed assignment sheet for how to organize the responses.

Podcast Analysis (15%) Due: Oct 1

After identifying/subscribing to a podcast, students will script and compose a 4-5 minute analysis of the podcast series that examines the themes, genres, online distribution, and technical dimensions to the serial program.

Sonic Remediation (25%) Due: Oct 27

This assignment asks students to select a print-based writing–a short essay or article from/related to our course readings–to remediate into a sound essay.

Podcast Series (40%) Due: Dec 3

This final assignment will include a short proposal, three podcast episodes, and a brief prospectus that outlines a digital distribution plan. Of your three podcasts, one will include a site recording, one an interview, and one studio recording.



Another Abstract Rendering of A sound wave

Text Abbreviations: Sound Studies Reader [SSR]; Sound Unbound [SU]; Sound Reporting [SR]; Book of Audacity [BoA]; PDFs [Canvas]

Note: All readings should be read BEFORE the date listed

section one: sound studies

Week One: Course Overview

Wed Aug 27: Introductions and Expectations

In-Class: 99% Invisible “Episode One: Noise


 Week Two: Introduction to Sound Studies

Mon Sep 1: Labor Day | No Class

Wed Sep 3: Sterne, “Sonic Imaginations” [SSR]; Sterne et al, “The Politics of Podcasting”; In-Class: This American Life, “Mapping

Recommended: Mitchell, “There Are No Visual Media” [Canvas]


Week Three: Learning to Listen

Mon Sep 8: Idhe, “The Auditory Dimension” [SSR]; Barthes, “Listening” [Canvas]

Listen: RE : SOUND “The Hearing Show”;  In-Class: MIT Researchers Can Listen Via Video

Wed Sep 10 : Chion, “The Three Listening Modes” [SSR]; Berland, “Contradicting Media” [SSR]; In-Class: The Distortion of Sound


Week Four: Soundscapes

 Mon Sep 15:  Schaffer, “The Soundscape” [SSR]; Leppert “Reading the Sonoric Landscape” [SSR]

In-Class: Thompson, “The Roaring Twenties”; Stedman, “How Music Speaks“; Rice “Inquiry as Telos

Wed Sep 17: LaBelle, “Auditory Relations” [SSR]; Cox, From Music to Sound: Being as Time in the Sonic Arts [Canvas]

In-Class: Cities and Memory Podcast; Sounds of Street View;  How to Sound Map a City: Part One  & How to Sound Map a City: Part Two


section two: (re)shaping sound

Week Five: Learning Audacity

Mon Sep 22: CH1 “Audacity from Start to Finish” [BoA]

In-Class: “Pulling Back the Curtain

Wed Sep 24 : CH2 “Building a Good Digital Sound Studio on Cheap” [BoA]

In-Class: Roman Mars, “You are Listening to & Radio Net


Week Six: Recording Techniques

Mon Sep 29 Kern, CH4 [SR]; Updike, “Better Writing through Radio, Part I”; CH11 “Audacity Plug-ins for Special Effects” [BoA]; Kern, CH16: “Commentaries” [SR]

Wed Oct 1 – CH12 “Fix-Its ad Cleanups”; CHA Audio Hardware [BoA]

In-Class: Stereo PublicThe World’s Quietest Room

DUE: Podcast Analysis


Week Seven: Layering

Mon Oct 6: Miller, et al. “Freeze Frame” [SU]; In-Class: Visit and Discussion with Zach Richards from Big House Sound

Listen: 99% Invisible, “The Sound of Sports

Wed Oct 8: Workshop

In-Class: On The Media, “Orchestrating Reality


Week Eight: Remix

Mon Oct 13: Miller, “In Through the Out Door” [SU]; Blaauw-Hara & Putman, “Remixing the Personal Narrative“; Workshop

In Class: Various, “William S. Burroughs Teaches Writing”

[Site TBD]

Wed Oct 15: Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence” [SU]; Davis, “’Roots and Wires’” [SU]

In-Class: Noise


Week Nine: Interviewing

Mon Oct 20: from “Radio: An illustrated Guide” [Canvas]; In-Class Interviewing Exercise

Wed Oct 22: Editing Workshop

DUE: Sonic Remediation


section three: writing with sound

 Week Ten – Crafting Stories

Mon Oct 27: Kern, CH1 “Sound and Stories” [SR]; CH 7 “Creating Podcasts” [BoA]

Wed Oct 29: Kern, CH 3 “Writing For Broadcast” [SR]; from “Radio: An Illustrated Guide (Canvas)

In-Class: NPR’s Serial

Due: Podcast Proposal


Week Eleven – Editing Stories

Mon Nov 3: Kern CH 6 “Story Editing” [SR]

Wed Nov 5: from “Radio: An Illustrated Guide” (Canvas)

In-Class Workshop

DUE: Podcast One


Week Twelve – Looking at and Sharing Sound

Mon Nov 10 – CH8 “Becoming an Online Star” [BoA]

In class: Analyses of Podcast Distribution

Wed Nov 12 – “Photo Focused”; “Interactive Radio” ; “How We Work

Due: Podcast Ep 1


Week Thirteen Podcast Workshop

Mon Nov 24: Project Workshop

Wed Nov 26: Project Workshop

Due: Podcast Ep 2


Week Fourteen – Podcast Workshop

Mon Dec 1:  Project Workshop


Due: Podcast Ep 3 & Final Docs



[further resources to be added as semester progresses]

Audacity Manual

 Audio Tutorials

Creative Commons Audio


Free Sound Project

Making Field Recordings

Sounds of [Google] Street View

Sonic Visualiser