An Act for the Encouragement of Learning.

Sound Tutorial

by Emily Mellen

Hearing voiced text is a fundamentally different experience than reading it. As scholar Charles Bernstein has noted, poetry performance, or the read word, has been an understudied but essential aspect of that genre. While reading (and inevitably reproducing the text in one’s own inner voice) can produce a sense of intimacy with the words, hearing them can produce a sense of intimacy with the speaker and, in turn, the character or story they embody. In addition, audio clips give us a chance to add sound effects (leaves rustling, the sound of a crowd, etc.), which can enliven or bring clarity to the impressions given by the text. It also gives us a chance to demonstrate musical passages or sounds mentioned so that the reader can experience these aural references, much like including the image of a painting or photograph discussed in the text.

Precisely because of the evocativeness of voiced poetry, we have decided to take down the sonic examples of poetry from New Hampshire that originally would have accompanied this tutorial. As discussed in our about page, our original hope was to feature written and sonic examples of Abenaki poetry in addition to the poetry by Frost. Because of our limited time, this collaboration was not possible. With feedback from Abenaki scholar Marge Bruchac and thoughtful collaborative deliberation, we eventually decided that featuring other voices reading Frost’s poetry did not thoroughly engage the ethical questions at the heart of our project and in fact risked recreating the same violence that our project was designed to respond to. Therefore, we chose not to feature those examples, but to include only this tutorial intended to inspire the use of sound in other digital works.

There are many forms of technology which allow one to attach sound and audio, but I would like to particularly highlight SoundCite. SoundCite is a tool which allows you to attach an audio file to a specific part of the text of a webpage, like so. It is created by KnightLab at Northwestern University and as a piece of free, open-source software, it is in keeping with the ethos of accessibility that guides this project. Further instructions for using SoundCite can be found here.

Unfortunately, sound has some of the most complex and controversial copyright restrictions of all. While sheet music has been included in the main body of works entering the public domain this year (and every year from now on), there is currently no public domain for recorded sound, but soon there will be. As of January 1, 2022 all sound recordings published before 1923 will enter the U.S. public domain and after this date, new sound recordings will be added each year. More detailed information about this and about unpublished sound recordings can be found here.

Public domain sound, like all of the other works we cover here, will be eligible for any kind of intervention. It can be layered, remixed, cut into pieces, and basically utilized however you want. Text works in the public domain, such as New Hampshire, can also be recorded and those recordings used in the same way. Finally, you can use your own sound recordings in any way you see fit.

For further ideas on using sound in your own work, I will end with a list of resources. These resources include conceptual readings about sound (and particularly recorded sound), examples that demonstrate how sound is currently being used in scholarship and digital print media, and, finally, a list of tools and guides to get you started.

Thinking About Recorded Sound and Voice

Using Recorded Sound and Voice, Examples

Using Recorded Sound and Voice, Tools