Editing Modernism in Canada


June 17, 2014

The Sounds of the Sound of Digital Humanities

I was pleasantly surprised to see Katherine Wooler’s “DHSI Word Cloud” post on June 12th. After Victoria, I certainly do feel “better equipped to create and motivated to co-create with others.” As Katherine’s cloud predicts, “community” and “collaboration” are the terms I want to use to write about my week in Dr. John Barber’s “The Sound of Digital Humanities” class at DEMiC at DHSI 2014.

On the first day of class students were introduced to sound studies and talked about the implications of sound and technology in scholarship and human experience. Each student was given the opportunity to introduce their research interests and describe what they were hoping to take from the class. (This was important because it allowed me, in retrospect, to see how my current project had changed over the course of the week). Later that day we were given tutorials in audio software applications (GarageBand and Audacity). We learned how to sample, mashup, and remix sound files, and spent the rest of the day putting our newfound skills to use, creating sound installations in hopes of generating new ways to think about our research interests (or just make really awesome sounds). Some students worked with recordings they had made themselves (interviews, found sounds) while others worked with recorded materials downloaded from online databases (poetry archives, YouTube). The results were outstanding, and it was unanimously decided that we would start working on a collaborative sound piece to share with the DHSI community at the wrap-up gathering in the MacLaurin auditorium on Friday.

We returned on the second day with energy and inspiration. Despite sunshine flooding the classroom, each student seemed eager to resume working on his or her contribution to the class project, and to discover new ways of thinking about his or her research. While Dr. Barber weaved theoretical information into our discussions (sound and meaning, auditory culture, aural / oral history, sound distribution, sound performance, copyright and fair use), the course had turned (organically) toward creativity, and day three was mostly dedicated to refining our editing skills and using them to rethink our collaborative sound piece. In other words, we were making some pretty cutting sound art. On day four, however, we hit a roadblock. How exactly were we going to present our sounds in the auditorium? Would there be a performance aspect to it, or would Dr. Barber simply press play? Our original idea was to have each student stand up in the auditorium (we would be scattered throughout), laptop in hand, and play his or her file, letting each piece overlap until the whole thing built into a crescendo. While many of us liked the performance aspect, there were a number of problems with it. First, would our laptop speakers be sufficient in a room of that size? Second, would a crescendo turn our sounds into noise? After a lengthy talk we decided to transfer our files onto Dr. Barber’s computer and make a single sound file. We would then be able to use the auditorium’s audio system and give our sounds the volume they deserved. We would lose the performance aspect, but could be sure of a reliable delivery. Alas, there was a third problem. How were we supposed to squeeze fifteen sound files ranging from forty-five seconds to two minutes into a seven-minute presentation? We knew from the start that length was going to be an issue . . . but the crescendo approach would have allowed us to ‘stack’ our sounds and thus decrease the time of the performance. In the end, our sound editing skills (and Dr. Barber’s expertise) gave us a way out. We used GarageBand to import our files, arrange them in what we agreed was the most aesthetically pleasing way, and pare the final product down to an appropriate time.

So here are the fruits. As mentioned, it was played on Friday, June 6th in the UVic MacLaurin auditorium, which most of us missed due to breakfast. Special thanks to the creators: John Barber, Annalisa Butticci, Liza Flum, Deanna Fong, Alice Huang, Penny Johnston, Justin Kroeker, Catherine Kroll, Laura Larsen, Cole Mash, Emily Oliver, Karis Shearer, Robert Stibravy, and David Weston. Thank you for sharing your minds. Lastly, thanks to each and every one who attended DEMiC at DHSI 2014. Thank you for your conversation, encouragement, and kindness. I look forward to our paths crossing again. These friendships will last.


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