Week 8: Sonic Literacy

How do the authors define sonic literacy

Comstock and Hocks first define sonic literacy as “the ability to identify, define, situate, construct, manipulate, and communicate our personal and cultural soundscapes.” They go on to describe sonic literacy in more technical terms, “as a critical process of listening to and creating embodied knowledge, of understanding our soundscapes as cultural artifacts, of achieving resonance with particular audiences, and of developing the technological literacies involved in recording, amplifying, layering, and mixing sound.”

What do Comstock and Hocks mean by critical sonic literacy

According to Comstock and Hocks, “recognizing both resonances and dissonances as cultural and individual are key to what we consider critical sonic literacy.” It is the “act of focusing on a particular sound” in the “pop video” of modern daily life. In order to critically analyze sound the listener has to create a negative space in order to truly isolate different sounds, like a deep bass or the sound of a particular instrument.

What is analytical literacy?

Analytical literacy is “where one begins to notice sound as structure that includes rhythm, as well as content.” Such sonic structures are created by modern audio mixing techniques that digitally replicate, or mirror, the reality of a certain sound. Analytical literacy is the ability to recognize that frame or structure that holds the mirror or lens to reality, and therefore makes the listener more acutely aware of it. 

The article uses the example of the modern tape recorder, introduced in North America the 1940s. It was apparently referred to as a “sound mirror” in that it “reflects an image of sound to the listener.” In plain terms, it is not the sound itself as we would hear it originally produced in real time. Rather a recording is a representation or a reflection of that original sound that bares its own critical reading; analytical literacy.

What is at least one possible benefit they argue results from doing sound projects? 

Doing sound projects and practicing sonic literacy facilitates better print writing. According to Comstock, writing for narration has made her more aware of tone and pacing. Understanding of one’s own voice can only improve the quality and realism of a narrative. 

They argue that “it’s still rare to hear an adult female voice over in an American feature film” What do you make of this assertion and section?

The assertion is, of course, a true one. When one imagines a stereotypical movie preview, the voice we automatically hear in our heads intoning “In a world” or “One man to save them all” is male. In fact it’s deeply baritone, authoritative and resonant. We seem to equate a male voice with authority. Even in films about women and marketed toward women, such as “Pride and Prejudice” or “Romeo and Juliet,” the voice over is male. In the “Pride and Prejudice” trailer the voice over sounded almost condescending, as if belittling the concerns of the characters in Jane Austen’s most familiar work. The article describes male voices as “dominating” and I would have to agree. Especially in trailers for softer, lighter films the voice of the powerful male narrator is the main focus and the voices of women and children seem muffled by comparison.




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