Writing with Sound – RHE 330C

Writing with Sound – RHE 330C


GIF of a moving record with indecipherable words in place of audio lines


In our largely screen-based media culture, it’s no wonder why we overlook the pervasiveness of sound. Talk radio, ambient music, mobile device alerts, animal and 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, and the rest of the activities that fill our daily lives.

To better understand how sound affects every facet of our lives, this course will examine sonic possibility by listening, discussing, recording, editing, and distributing sound as a form of writing. In a contemporary world where writing is mostly digital, sound is wedded to writing practices through the music that accompanies video, voice published as podcasts, noise remixed into an ambient art form or as background for daily life. In order to understand the rhetorical effects of sound compositions, this course will read and discuss important works in the field of sound studies and offer an introduction to using 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;
  • Gain familiarity with 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


Additional essays, articles, and podcasts will be provided on the course site.



Reading Responses & In-Class Assignments (10%)

Six written responses to required readings (350-500 words). Responses will be opportunities to critically and creatively engage course readings and case studies as well as provide the starting point for our in-class discussions. In addition to the 6 formal responses, there will be a number of in-class audio exercises designed to be responses to class instruction.

DUE: 3 before mid-term; 3 after mid-term.


Sonic Remediation (15%)

This assignment asks students to select a print-based writing—a chapter not assigned from The Sound Studies Reader—to remediate into a sound essay. DUE: 10/2


Podcast Analysis (15%)

After identifying/subscribing to a podcast, students will script and compose a 3-5 minutes analysis of the podcast series that examines its genre, themes, online distribution, and technical features.

DUE: 10/16


Podcast Series (60%)

This final multi-part assignment will include a short proposal, three podcast episodes of 3-5 minutes, and a brief prospectus that outlines a digital distribution plan.


Ep1:  Oct 30 | Ep2: Nov 22 | Ep3: Dec 15

Distribution Plan & Presentation: Dec 6 or 11


COURSE SCHEDULE (subject to change)

Text Abbreviations:

  • Sound Studies Reader [SSR]
  • Out On The Wire [OTW]
  • Additional Readings will be made available by links or (PDFs) on Canvas

Note: All readings should be read BEFORE the date listed.


Week 1

W 8/30 – Introductions & Expectations

In-Class: Syllabus Overview 99% Invisible “Episode 1: Noise”

Week 2


W 9/6 – Intro to Sound Studies & Audacity

Reading: Sterne, “Sonic Imaginations” [SSR]

In-Class: “The Shape of Sound” & Audacity Introduction

Week 3

M 9/11 – Listening & Hearing

Reading: Barthes, “Listening” [PDF] & Chion, “The Three Listening Modes”

In-Class: Kitchen Sisters – French Manicure

W 9/13 – Listening & Hearing

Reading: Schaffer, “The Soundscape” & Leppert “Reading the Sonoric Landscape” [SSR]

In-Class:Rice, “Inquiry as Telos”& 99% Invisible: “DeafSpace”

Week 4

M 9/18 – Ethics of Amplification I

Reading:99% Invisible: “Sounds Natural”& HowSound – “Tinkering with Sound Design

In-Class: “Pulling Back the Curtain ”& Radiolab – “Making the Hippo Dance


W 9/20 – Ethics of Amplification II

Reading: LaBelle, “Auditory Relations” [SSR]

In-Class: HowSound: Morphing Print Essays into Radio

Week 5

M 9/25 – Remediation I

Reading: Eshun, “Operating System for the Redesign of Sonic Reality” [SSR] & Ways of Hearing “Time”
In-Class: 99% Invisible: “The Sound of the Artificial World”

W 9/27 – Remediation II


Week 6

M 10/2 – Understanding Podcasting

Reading: Sterne et al, “The Politics of Podcasting & You Asked: What are Podcasts? 

In-Class: Assign Podcast Analysis

DUE: Sonic Remediation

W 10/4 – Podcasting and Genre

Reading: Barwashi, “The Genre Function” (PDF) Dirk, “Navigating Genres” (PDF)

Week 7

M 10/9 – Writing Sound Stories I

Reading: Abel, “Amuse Yourself: Ideas” & “Hearts of Story: Character and Voice” [OTW]


Out on the Wire, “Walk in My Shoes” & Idea Mapping

W 10/11 – Writing Sound Stories II

Reading: McPhee, “Structure”

In-Class: HowSound: My Kingdom for Some Structure


Week 8

M 10/16 – Writing Sound Stories III

Reading: Abel, “Keep or Kill: Story Structure”  [OTW]

Due: Podcast Analysis

W 10/18 – Writing Sound Stories IV

Reading: Abel, “Dark Forest”


Week 9

M 10/23 – Writing Sound Stories V

Reading: Abel, “Your Baby’s Ugly: The Edit

W 10/25 – Episode One Workshop


Week 10

M 10/30 – Fielding Stories I

Reading: Helmreich, “An Anthropologist Underwater” [SSR] & Ways of Hearing, “Space”

DUE: Episode One

W 11/1 – Fielding Stories II


How to reimagine Sound in Ten Easy Steps & Ways of Hearing, “Noise”

Week 11

M 11/6 – Sonic Possible Worlds I

Reading:  Voegelin, “The Landscape as Sonic Possible World” (PDF)

In-Class: Cities & MemoryHow to reimagine Sound in Ten Easy Steps

W 11/8 -Sonic Possible Worlds II

Reading: Voegelin, “Sound Art as Public Art”

In-Class: Sonic World Exercise

Week 12

M 11/13 – Editing Workshop: Effects

In-Class: 99% Invisible: The Sizzlen-Class & Sound Function Design Assignment

W 11/15 – Episode 2 Workshop

Week 13

M 11/20 – Circulating Sound I

Reading: Podcasts Need to Move Beyond Sound

In-Class: Accessibility & Transcription

W 11/22 – Circulating Sound II

Reading: Photo Focused“, “Interactive Radio”, & “How We Work


Week 14

M 11/27 – Individual Conferences

W 11/29 – Editing Workshop I


Week 15

M 12/4 – Editing Workshop II

W 12/6 – Presentations

Week 16

M 12/11 – Presentations & Course Evaluations


These are some basic links related to the course and course content. More will be added as the semester progresses.

General Resources











Archived Spring 2015 Writing with Sound course 

Archived Fall 2014 Writing with Sound course 


RHE 330C - Writing with Sound
Casey Boyle | Fall 2017
M & W 11:00-12:15 | FAC 9
Office Hours: M 1-3 & by appt.



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