Lesson 4

Alas! Lesson 4 was not to be. I'll spare you the graphic details, but let's just say that stomach bugs are Not Fun. Here are the two emails I sent Wednesday, which include instructions for homework – and a description fo the in-class activity I had wanted to do in this timeslot.

———- Forwarded message ——— \ From : Benjamin M. Miller millerb@pitt.edu \ Date: Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 8:58 PM \

Subject: class canceled thursday 1/17

Dear students,

I’m sorry to say that I’ve come down with a pretty bad stomach virus. I was hoping to be back to full health by the end of the day, but if I feel in the morning the way I feel now, I won’t be able to teach effectively – and I don’t want to get any of you sick, either.

My plan for tomorrow, as I’d mentioned, was to take you on a soundwalk: a walking tour of the various sonic spaces in the neighborhood of the Cathedral. Remaining silent for the duration of a 30-minute walk, we would train our ears to notice the ongoing background sounds we often ignore, and the incidental sounds that help us identify each place – the kinds of identifiers many of you noted your blog posts about the reading/listening homework.

In my absence, I encourage you to practice this kind of listening, either alone or in groups. Some spaces I’d been hoping to lead you in exploring include the stairwells that stretch above the fourth floor (the two closest to the elevators); the approach to the Common Room by way of the central stairwells (on the second floor, around the side, near either bathroom); the Common Room itself; the trees outside the Pitt Union; the bus stop by Hillman Library; the Hillman Library stacks; Cup & Chaucer café; the sound of your own footsteps crossing the brick outside of The Porch at Schenley, the grass and gravel next to it, and the frozen grass on the hill up toward Heinz chapel; Heinz chapel itself, perhaps pausing to sit in the pews; the revolving doors on the way back into the Cathedral; the stairs down to the ground floor; the space outside of the Cathedral Café; and the elevators back upstairs. These are not the only fertile grounds for this exercise, of course, but it was a route that I thought would work within our timeframe.

The goal would be to spend 1-2 full minutes in each place – or more, if you’re only able to do some of them – to give yourself a chance to adjust and deepen your perception.

When we get back on Tuesday, I hope you’ll be able to share some reflections on the experience. Again, that is something I would have wanted to do in tomorrow’s class, if I were feeling better.

This message is getting long, now, so I’ll send homework instructions as a follow-up.


———- Forwarded message ——— \ From: Benjamin M. Miller millerb@pitt.edu \ Date: Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 9:58 PM \

Subject: weekend homework

Hello again, students!

The main writing assignment for Tuesday is to post a proposal for your soundscape narrative, including a preliminary chart of sound assets you might want to include. A couple of clarifications:

  1. The term “asset” comes from a reading assignment from the book Writer/Designer (Ball, Sheppard, and Arola, eds). A scan of the relevant chapter is attached to this email; please read it before writing your proposal.
  2. I went back and forth as to where you should post your proposal: the original schedule says the Issue Queue, but the assignment prompt itself says the repository. In the end, since we won’t have the class time to brainstorm and bounce ideas off each other, please do use the Issue Queue: it’s a bit easier to find each others’ ideas this way.
  3. As a brainstorming strategy, tomorrow’s class was going to include some time listing and looping in response to the questions in paragraph two of the prompt. I highly recommend that you use some of your reclaimed class-time (10-15 min) to do this writing:
    • In what places (physical, virtual, or imaginary) could you anchor your soundscape? Make a list. Anything you’re forgetting?
    • Choosing one item from your list you could work with for now, ask yourself: What kinds of stories happen there, and which of them could you reasonably tell within a few minutes?
    • How can you represent that environment sonically?
    • What sounds are relatively stable, or sustained, and what is incidental?
    • What structures or sequences could help a listening audience follow the story?
  4. In addition to the reading and the proposal, please make sure you download and install Audacity, along with the separate download of the LAME MP3 encoder (further down in the same page, under Optional Downloads).
  5. Be sure to bring headphones for the in-class Audacity exercise on Tuesday!
  6. Finally, the original homework assignment included a request that you read the Stanford Overview of Fair Use, which you can find in a series of four webpages beginning here. This text, despite being called an overview, was meant to give you a more in-depth understanding of fair use than the brief introduction in Writer/Designer. In light of our missing class tomorrow, and the catch-up work we therefore still have for Tuesday, I’ve decided to make this reading optional.

Thank you for your understanding. Stay healthy, and I look forward to seeing you soon!

All best, Ben