Sound essay

For this project, you will create a short (~5 minutes) audio essay in the style of radio programs and podcasts like “This American Life.” In the essay, you may make creative use of sound effects, music, silence, and any other audio tools at your disposal to communicate your ideas. You are free to choose the theme of your essay, and the information can be arranged however you like. These essays should be written to be spoken as opposed to being read—we’ll talk a bit in class about how to make something sound “talky” and performative.

As you are deciding what to do for the sound essay, try to think of stories you can tell, arguments you can make, experiences you can create that rely on sound for a portion of their meaning. If a person could experience your essay the same way in a written format, you probably aren’t utilizing the affordances of sound enough. The goal is sound engineering—unity of medium and message.

If you have any questions about your ideas, feel free to contact me! Consider the information in the McKee and Shipka readings when thinking about how to construct your essay. Also, make sure to use the workshop time provided in class to get feedback from me and from your classmates.

I (or someone) will demo several aspects of Garageband, though you are welcomed to use any audio editor that you feel comfortable with. I will also talk about how to upload your final podcast onto your blog.

Before you actually produce your sound essay, I’d like you to first produce a proposal that outlines your plan. This proposal need not have every word that you plan to utter during your podcast (some, I imagine, will opt for a more open, spontaneous format), but it should outline all major points and include notes on your planned effects/music. Please bring THREE PRINTED COPIES of your proposal to our workshop on the 31st.

We will begin listening to sound essays on February 5th: please post a link to your blog before you come to class. After presenting your sound essay to the class and receiving feedback, you will have the opportunity to further edit it if you like before turning in the final draft, along with the rationale, by midnight on Friday, February 8th.

In your 600–700-word rationale, you will explain the choices you have made and why you feel they are effective (or, alternatively, why they didn’t work as hoped). Further detail on expectations for the rationale can be found on the “On Rationales” page.

As you create your sound essay and write your rationale, bear in mind that as I grade I will be asking myself the following questions:

  • Does the project deploy sound in strategic ways to create particular effects? That is, is it soundly engineered?
  • Does any use of sound effects, music, etc., enhance the listener’s experience rather than distracting from it? Are music and effects well timed, well integrated, and well placed?
  • Is voice used to good rhetorical effect?
  • Does the writing seem to be suited to being heard rather than read? That is, is it easy to follow?
  • If the project mimics a particular genre of sound broadcast, does it effectively use (or, if appropriate, subvert) the conventions of that genre?
  • Is the project well paced?
  • Is the subject matter well suited to the affordances of sound?
  • Does the project feel cohesive, purposeful, and planned?

Also, bear in mind that as I grade I will NOT be asking myself the following questions:

  • Is it perfectly, professionally produced?
  • Almost all of us are new at this, we’re working with no-cost materials, and you have a week to get it all done. Plus, some of us just don’t have talent to equal our ambitions.

  • Is this something I would want to listen to in my spare time? We’re not all interested in the same things, or to the same degree, or with the same level of knowledge. My main concern is that you have a purpose and audience in mind, not that your audience be me.
  • Is this exactly how I would have done this project? Every person brings their own perspectives, strategies, and tastes to the table. Although I may occasionally make suggestions when I feel you could have met your goals more effectively, I endeavor to judge your project by the standards you set out in your rationale rather than by my personal approach.



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