Soundwriting & Its Place in Pedagogy & Instruction: A Book Review
In July of 2019, I signed up for a class titled “The Future of Writing,” not really understanding what it would be about, or its full purpose. The title itself only gave me a generic assumption that it would be related to some form of innovation in regards to the fields of writing and writing instruction. Upon completion of the course and its assigned book (Soundwriting Pedagogies by Courtney S. Danforth, Kyle D. Stedman, and Michael J. Faris), I realized that soundwriting is in fact an innovation, in regards to writing and writing instruction. Additionally, as selfish as it sounds, I became engrossed in how this innovation related to my career goals and plans as a writer and writing instructor. Therefore, I feel compelled to share my new understanding of soundwriting within this context.
Before fully learning about soundwriting and its existence, I assumed that it was simply the audio application of writing, which is almost correct but not nuanced enough to really encompass all that soundwriting includes. After listening to the first chapter of Soundwriting Pedagogies, I realized that soundwriting is more of a production than a reapplication of text into audio form. Courtney Danforth and Kyle Stedman demonstrated through their chapter presentation how soundwriting includes an audio reading of what would traditionally be text, but layers and integrates that reading with music, sound effects, and audio manipulation. They also explained how all of the sounds layered and integrated into a piece can be random but, more often than not, are composed with as much purpose and intent as is expected from a traditionally written essay or story. In fact, the purpose and intent can be more intricate and detailed because it requires the use of more than just words on a paper, in order to play on people’s knowledge, imagination, and experience.
When I look at my career goals – to be both a writer and an instructor of writing – I can see how all of this detail can do two things: on the one hand, it can make my workload more intensive; but on the other hand, that intensiveness can make my creative works more dynamic, and the effectiveness of writing instruction more creative and nuanced. The writing field has become nearly overwhelmed with content and content producers, as technology and the internet make it easier and easier for individuals to publish their work and share it with the world. Being able and willing to create new work – and restructure existing work – in the framework of soundwriting creates an opportunity for my creative writing to stand out and impact more people. As for instruction, it gives me a chance to overcome the boredom that some students may feel towards traditional writing by challenging them with something new and innovative that also involves technologies they may already be exposed to and fascinated by.
In chapter five of Soundwriting Pedagogies, I learned (from the testimonies and presentations of Yanira Rodriguez, Michael Burns, and Ben Keubrich) how soundwriting can be used to incorporate culture and racial empathy into writing instruction. While I did not identify with the desire to teach racial empathy (because of my belief that empathy is a choice that can only be expounded upon), I appreciated the insight into how writing instructors can use the incorporation of popular and underground hip hop music to expose students to another perspective in regards to culture. As it relates to my goals of teaching writing instruction in urban and minority communities, I realized that music can be used to expose students to examples of how people like them use sound and audio expression to solidify, expand upon, and highlight their culture when it comes to creative writing and production.
Chapter three of this audio textbook is probably my favorite chapter because of the insight it gave regarding prose and fiction writing. My experiences as a reader/writer, as well as my studies at the University of North Alabama, have already made clear to me the importance of setting in a short fiction or narrative work. But listening to “The Making of Acoustic Communication” exposed me to the impact of the various sounds in a setting that we take for granted. Hearing the “sound” of Vancouver (metro trains, people talking and running to and fro, etc.) really embedded my psyche into what it must be like to visit or reside in Vancouver. In the same way, this can be used for maximum effect when translating or creating a prose work for the soundwriting setting. I also learned, in this chapter, about soundwalking, which is the practice of silently walking in a specific area in order to absorb and document the experience and noises encountered. The point of doing this is to help a [sound]writer be better able to describe and recreate the experience of a setting for a text or product. This technique can enhance both my written texts and sound texts in the future.
In reading chapter seven, I learned that while soundwriting is innovative, it is not technically new to the twenty first century. In a way, the advent of radio in the twentieth century laid the foundation for soundwriting because it paved the way for the audio production of stories and radio essays. Radio was also integrated into what could be seen as soundwriting instruction, as documented by Bernice Orndorf. One major concern regarding radio was how it could offer an over-influx of information and influence, a concern that exists in today’s technology used for soundwriting. Orndorf responds to this concern by stating it is a teacher’s job to show students how to “distil the good, the beautiful, [and] the true from the array offered them.” I think this philosophy is continually applicable, even for my plans as a teacher. I don’t want to be afraid of the negative possibilities associated with technology, as that fear would limit students’ exposure to it. Instead, I want to teach them how to use soundwriting technology to their advantage, while instilling in them the critical thinking skills needed to decipher the good and the bad from the many soundwriting products and productions they are exposed to.
In chapter two of this digital textbook, I learned that yet another assumption I had about soundwritng was quite wrong. Because soundwriting uses so much of the technology popular with students of today for recreational use, I had assumed that students taking soundwriting courses would find it exciting and easy to use. Instead, this chapter confronted the fact that many students found the idea of soundwriting and its associated technologies to be intimidating. What I realized is that most students are initially exposed to writing in the traditional sense, and I still believe that should always be the case. But this initial exposure can create a sense of comfort and dependency that makes soundwriting and audio production feel out-of-place or fear-inducing. Keeping this in mind, I see that my job as an instructor is to help students overcome any fears they may have, increase their confidence, and push them outside of their comfort zone. It also makes me realize as a writer that my lack of understanding in this area is not unique to my generation or previous generations, but a way that I can create empathy and mutual identity with future students.
Chapter Two was a very layered chapter that came with multiple lessons. One such lesson is that soundwriting can be used to improve traditional writing. This is important to note because of those who may fear that soundwriting is being positioned to replace traditional writing. I believe that the written text is too dynamic to be replaced and fears of its demise are the result of overthinking. In addition, taking a written text and reinterpreting it for soundwriting production is a good practice for identifying weaknesses in a text. For example, words that flow easily in the mind while silently reading may not flow as fluidly when read aloud. Such a consideration can force a writer to consider other ways to say what they are trying to say, to maximize its effectiveness. Finally, soundwriting seems to be something that legitimizes written text instead of replacing it. This was seen in the way that teaching assistants discussed in this chapter were only able to move forward with their soundwriting projects after being reassured that they wouldn’t be expected to forget about written text. Besides, many soundwriting producers still prefer to write a script or outline before jumping into the digital production.
Finally, in Chapter Eight, I learned that soundwriting can have negative side effects as well: (1) it can be seen as a manipulative tool, and (2) it can also be distracting. While the many sound effects, audio additions, and musical accompaniments available for use in a soundwriting piece can be enhancing, there is the risk that readers – no, listeners – can come away feeling manipulated. While writing in and of itself can be manipulative, this manipulation becomes more obvious when listening to a piece that uses music to affect your mood and sense of atmosphere, or sounds that play on your emotions. When used with subtlety, readers may not notice it as much or be bothered by it. But a heavy-handed application can make a listener pay more attention to these manipulations than to the overall piece, coming away with a feeling of annoyance. On the other hand, even if they don’t feel manipulated, they may still feel distracted. Every sound and musical note still interrupts the listening flow in some way. This interruption can be processed as another layer to the experience when used delicately, but it can be perceived as a disruption when overused.
Therefore, when considering all of these lessons gained from listening to each of these chapters, I think my experience with creating an audacity project based on a short story I’d previously written allowed me to enter the project without being overwhelmed by the resources available to me, while keeping a strong consideration of what my goals and intentions were, so that I could still use resources to my advantage. Taking the time to produce a soundwriting work also brought home to me the fact that creating such a piece is not a lazy or thoughtless effort that is removed from my experience with written text. I still had to use features in Microsoft Word – on the review tab – to plan out how I would convert my story into a soundwriting production, and I also used the document to read from when recording the audio narration.
In conclusion, I have come away from this study of soundwriting pedagogies feeling as if I have gained invaluable tools and resources that I can use towards my goals as a writer and writing instructor. As a writer, I am excited about the chance to convert existing pieces into soundwriting products, to create new ones that are purely geared towards the soundwriting genre, and to use my creations as a chance to expose a wider audience to my work. As an instructor, I am excited that I have an avenue by which to take advantage of the technology that fascinates my target age group, while using it to expand their skills related to writing and writing technology.
Danforth, Courtney S., et al. “Soundwriting Pedagogies.” Home / CCDP, Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 1 May 2018, https://ccdigitalpress.org/book/soundwriting/.