On the Sound Workshop

In this week’s reading, Lauren Klein teased an important critique of the distant reading method and tools by asking: “what might be hidden in [the corpus we are analyzing]? And are there methods we might use to bring out significant texts, or clusters of words, that the eye cannot see?” Today’s workshop on sound recording and analysis engaged with that critique by presenting the different ways in which we can analyze and present data through sound. “Sound” as a category that relates to sensual perception has longed been overlooked by humanistic inquiry and literature that privileges visual and textual data and analysis. “Sonification” therefore refers to the methods of displaying date through sound. The workshop was led by digital fellow Kelsey Chatlosh who is a PhD candidate in cultural anthropology and an active voice on the Sound Studies and Methods Working Group here at the GC.

So instead of summarizing the entire workshop, I will just share the topics and tools that engaged directly with the approach raised above. I will also share the link to the presentation: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/11dEYJrUepH_75WKgQkDlhwPkp4dCGCegCpCMqvFTCEE/edit#slide=id.p3

First, it’s important that we think about what falls under the category of sound/audio that we want to record, analyze or share. Here we are speaking of music, remixes, oral histories, radio, podcasts, sound art, soundscapes, sound installation/sound walk, sound map, sound therapy, etc.

Second, various scholarly works on sound studies and anthropology have theorized about sound. The most significant contributions in the field are that of anthropologist Steve Feld and composer Muray Schuffer. Feld develops the notion of acoustemology that regards sound “as a modality of knowing and being in the world” (2000). Schuffer introduced the concept of soundscape to treat growing concerns about acoustic ecology and created The World Soundscape Project. Both contributions were widely received and expanded on within their disciplines. On that note I wonder how much and in what ways other disciplines in the humanities may be open to these scholarly approaches.

Third, we were introduced to:

John Barber sound resources archive (he also teaches at the DH Summer Institute)

If you want to share your oral archive or create a website to share it, you can check the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer

Software for (qualitative) coding and analyzing:
Atlas.ti, it’s the software widely used by anthropologists (it’s not open source, but it’s available on the GC PCs)
Trint, open source for transcribing
Jacket, open source for analyzing performative speech

Google speech to text, non-open source for transcribing and requires knowledge of python to operate

High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship, open source audio toolkit for analyzing and preparing audio for machine learning

And finally, my favorite ethnopoetic transcription that addresses an issue I wrestled with when doing the praxis assignment; that is the challenge of representing the semantically loaded spoken words with words on paper.

  • Sound art projects:
    works by artist Zach Poff ; and by Markus Kison who does WWII memorial exhibits of touch echo installations  that help transmit sounds of cities which devasted in 1945 using bone conduction technology

Overall, the workshop served as a great introduction to the sound/audio tools and DH projects that deal with sound. It still seems to me however that most software/tools are designed in such a way to render sound into text that can be analyzable. The reason to that may be related to the nature of sound itself. After all, sound is ephemeral. Even when captured in recording, it can never be grasped in its entirety. What I think this reveal (about us people working in the academe) is perhaps an intellectual anxiety at the challenges raised by the immediate sensual experience and what it engenders at the moment of its unfolding—that I believe what we actually do (writing/text) cannot rightly encompass.

Finally, I hope you find my summary useful!