Readings, and Related Inspirations

Don’t Forget the Sound


Reading through Cynthia Selfe’s article, “”The Movement of Air, The Breath of Meaning,” I am reminded of Cheryl Ball’s essay, “Show Not Tell” because both articles apologize for not reflecting the mediums about which they are writing. The part I thought was most interesting though, is that Selfe incorporates links for listening. This was a really cool addition.

I have to admit, sonic aurality is not something I had ever heard of before Computers and Composition class. I saw it on the syllabus and thought, “what could that possibly be about?” My brain went to physics: vibrations. Would we be studying vibrations? And if so, Why the heck would we do that? I mean – I get it – rhetoric is interdisciplinary. But physics? Really?

Turns out that when we talk about aurality, we are talking about how sound factors into composing, especially in multimodal composing. If someone had told me a few years ago that I might be considering incorporating aurality into my beginning composition course, I would have told you you are crazy. What does aurality have to do with composition?

But then I think about all the areas of my life that are filled with sound. When I get out of bed in the morning, I stream National Public Radio to listen to the news since Atlanta seems to have something against decent member stations. When I ride the train, I often listen to my iPod, sometimes music, sometimes podcasts with more news. At school I listen to people talking. I listen to my students. I listen to my colleagues. And they all listen to me (and I talk a lot). On my way home, I often listen to my iPod again. At home, sometimes I watch movies, or listen to Pandora on my computer as I’m working. I am surrounded by sound constantly. Why wouldn’t I think this is a completely acceptable focus for a composition course?

After reading the Comstock and Hocks article, “Voice in the Cultural Soundscape: Sonic Literacy in Composition Studies,” I thought about assignments I might make using aurality. Actually – first I went online and found Mary’s 2009 album and listened to it. And then I thought about what I might teach.

I am a musician. I think about it like people think about alcoholism. Even though I don’t play anymore, I’ll always be a musician. Here’s something really embarrassing that I just need to share:

That’s me on the left. That’s my trumpet – not my principle instrument. I was about seventeen in that picture. Music was a HUGE part of my life. But composing it was not something I was good at. I tried once or twice, but it’s MUCH harder than it looks.

So I thought about how there could be the coolest FLC (Freshmen Learning Community) where music students all compose a piece for an actual English assignment. Then I thought: disaster.

Watching and listening to the clips incorporated into our readings helped. I really enjoyed most of them. I’m not a big fan of poetry slam (coincidentally, a poetry slam just started right behind me), so I would probably avoid assignments like this. However, podcast creation would be awesome. Or digital video creation with focus on the narrative. Or even music for students who want to give that a try. This allows us to break out of our traditional notions of composition andย  focus on the fact that composition is so much bigger than writing.

This leaves me with 2 questions:

1. How do we assess these assignments?

2. If speaking and listening are roommates, what is the difference between Orality and AUrality?


4 thoughts on “Don’t Forget the Sound

  1. You are so right that sound is everywhere around us – sometimes it inspires our thinking, other times distracts it, but it’s always there. Even silence can be loud at times. Like you, though, I wondered how it would relate to composition studies. I’m only just scratching the surface now, but it is fascinating to me. Will you share the details of MH’s album? ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Nevermind – I see the link here (wasn’t in the email alert I received).

  3. I would never have guessed that was you in the picture. I am glad you shared. This class has certainly given us a lot to think about as teachers of composition. The senses are certainly important.

  4. Thanks for this thorough and personally invested response. And as we musicians usually say from the stage, thanks for the plug for the album. Surely there’s a better metaphor than plug ๐Ÿ™‚

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