Over the past couple of decades, Writing Studies scholars have become increasingly interested in exploring aurality and promoting the teaching of writing with sound. The aural mode affords instructors the opportunity to teach writing and rhetoric, and more generally, strong communication abilities.
The following activity has multiple steps: instructors may choose not to do all of them or assign some of the in-class work for homework. In its entirety, the mini-project requires approximately 4-6 hours of in-class time, depending on the class level and students’ previous knowledge, and two homework assignments. The activity, as it stands, assumes students will have already learned about the affordances and constraints of the aural mode and sonic rhetorical strategies as well as how to use basic editing techniques in Audacity, a free audio software program.
Step #1: Ask students to compose an alphabetic description of a personal photograph for homework, then bring the description to class. Explain the mini-project and its purpose. Supply them with a blank version of the below chart; the chart I’ve included here is for instructor reference and includes some of the rhetorical potentialities of the five sonic rhetorical strategies explained in Rodrigue et al’s “Navigating the Soundscape, Composing with Audio.”
1. Establishes tone, atmosphere, and setting
2. Creates mood
3. Evokes emotion
4. Functions as a transition (that juxtaposes and bridges sound)
5. Situates something in a particular culture or moment in history
6. Evokes personal associations
7. Triggers collective cultural and generational memories
8. Captures and preserves personal memories
1. Evokes emotion (on its own or via stark contrast with another sound)
2. Brings awareness or demands attention
3. Allows time for audience to construct meaning, make connections, reflect, think, and ask questions
4. Provides structure (like paragraphs do in an alphabetic text)
5. Indicates shifts in time, location, or perspective
1. Provides information about a scene
2. Serves as a cue reference
3. Assists in mood creation
4. Evokes emotion
5. Triggers memories
6. Denotes an idea
7. Functions as a symbol
8. Works as a transition
9. Provides coherence
1. Juxtaposes sound
2. Creates harmony among sounds
3. Creates emphasis
4. Constructs tone
5. Builds meaning
6. Provides cohesion
7. Creates an environment or denotes place, space, or location
8. Provides transitions between/among rhetorical strategies
1. Conveys emotions
2. Produces different effects based on vocal qualities (for example: vocal tension creates sarcasm; soft and breathy voice conveys intimacy; tense and unwavering voice elicits emotional detachment)
3. Establishes a person’s identity
4. Builds a connection with the audience
5. Denotes a setting
Step #2: Divide students into groups and assign each group a sonic rhetorical strategy. Ask them to return to the reading on their assigned strategy (music, silence, sound effects, sound interaction, or voice) and begin filling in the chart, identifying the rhetorical effects discussed in the article.
Step #3: Voice Analysis and Voice in Sound Writing
- Play excerpts of audio that work with voice in unique and interesting ways. I recommend using Erin Anderson’s “What Hadn’t Happened” and Love + Radio’s “A Girl of Ivory.” (These two examples prompt interesting discussion about voice mixing, voice merging, and giving voice to those who do not have one, and their rhetorical impacts). Facilitate a discussion about how voice functions rhetorically in each example, adding or clarifying the student-identified rhetorical potentialities of voice in the sonic rhetorical strategy chart.
- Ask students to open up a new file in Audacity and begin composing the aural representation of their photograph with voice. Students can use their own or someone else’s voice. They can record using Audacity, a cell phone voice app (voice memo or TapeACall to record phone calls), or provided recorders. Alternately, they can rip audio from the Internet (click here for tutorials and resources). Remind them to be thoughtful about how they are rhetorically employing voice.
- In a free-write or brief discussion, ask students to respond to the question: What did this step in the activity teach you about voice?
Step #4: Music Analysis and Music in Sound Writing
- Play excerpts of audio that work with music in unique and interesting ways. Alternately, you might show them this brief video on the rhetorical nature of music. (Thank you to Kate Artz for introducing me to this resource.) Facilitate a discussion about how music functions rhetorically in each example, adding or clarifying the student-identified rhetorical potentialities of music in the sonic rhetorical strategy chart.
- Ask students to incorporate music into their aural representation, using a song downloaded from Bensound or Adobe Music Loops & Beds. Remind students to be rhetorically thoughtful. Ask them to take notes responding to this question: How might the strategies function individually and together to help you achieve your rhetorical goals?
- In a free-write or brief discussion, ask students to respond to this question: What did this step in the activity teach you about music and sound interaction?
Step #5: Sound Effects/Silence Analysis and Sound Effects/Silence in Sound Writing
- Play excerpts of audio that work with sound effects or silence in interesting ways. I recommend using Danah Hashem’s A Week in March for sound effects and Kate Artz’s “The Conversation” for silence. Again, facilitate a discussion about how sound effects or silence functions rhetorically in the example, adding or clarifying the student-identified rhetorical potentialities of sound effects or silence in the sonic rhetorical strategy chart.
- Ask your students to incorporate sound effects or silence into their aural representation, again reminding them to be thoughtful about the rhetorical effects they’d like to achieve with this strategy. Ask them to take notes responding to this question: How might the strategies function individually and collaboratively to help you achieve your rhetorical goals?
- In a free-write or brief discussion, ask students to respond to the question: What did this step in the activity teach you about sound effects or silence and sound interaction?
- At this point, students should have a complete aural representation of their photograph. Instruct them to save the Audacity file and export it as an mp3 file. Now, ask students to take up their aural representation and do something to alter its original form for a different or the same rhetorical purpose. Students may choose to add, edit, delete, or modify an asset, or remix the project or parts of it. In preparation for this step, I encourage instructors to facilitate Using Play to Teach Writing in efforts to teach students about the value of play in audio composing.
- In a free-write or brief discussion, ask students to respond to the question: What did this step in the activity teach you about revision, play, and experimentation with sonic rhetorical strategies and audio in general?
Step #7: The final step in this mini-project is an alphabetic homework assignment that asks students to reflect on these questions: What did this activity teach you about the affordances and constraints of the aural mode, sonic rhetorical strategies, and rhetoric and writing in general terms? What kinds of insights, questions, or challenges emerged during our collaborative analysis of examples, mini-discussions, and/or the creation of your aural representation? After students submit the homework, I encourage teachers to facilitate a discussion about what students wrote in their reflections.