Acoustic Ecology and Sound Art
Course number: HONR 370
Dr. Thomas Ciufo
Office: CA 3098
Acoustic Ecology is often defined as "the study of the effects of the acoustic environment or soundscape on the physical responses or behavioral characteristics of creatures living within it" (R. Murray Schafer). The field of Acoustic Ecology is particularly concerned with how we create, interpret and interact with the sounds around us and how imbalances in the soundscape may have adverse effects upon human health and the natural world. Through critical inquiry and creative practice, we will engage historical, conceptual, and aesthetic aspects of sound as a cultural, environmental, and artistic medium.
Course Description and Rationale
Through reading, discussion, listening sessions, independent research and writing, hands-on projects and critiques, we will examine the broad interdisciplinary fields of Acoustic Ecology and Sound Art. We will engage historical, conceptual, and aesthetic aspects of sound as a cultural, environmental, and artistic medium, with an emphasis on listening, psychoacoustics, soundscape studies, field recording and soundscape composition. We will question predominate ideas regarding the relationships between location, environment, sound, silence, music, and noise, and test these ideas through individual and group research as well as hands-on sound art projects.
* introduce and explore acoustic ecology and sound art; history, research and practice
* integrate various overlapping fields of research, creative, and contemplative practices
* explore historical precedents, influential concepts and emerging trends
* develop technical knowledge and basic skills with a range of audio hardware and software
* engage conceptual and aesthetic issues through critical reading, writing and creative projects
* increased interdisciplinary analysis and research skills
* new appreciation for the possible relationships between scientific and artistic practices
* improved written, oral and sonic communication skills
* engagement with student-centered, experiential, and reflective leaning approaches
* increased awareness of and appreciation for our shared sound environment
* acoustic ecology and sound within a social, cultural, and environmental context
* basic sound perception, acoustics, psychoacoustics, and listening strategies
* interrelationships between environment, place, sound, silence, noise, music, sonic art etc.
* history, practice, and techniques of sound art and soundscape composition
* field recording, sound production and mixing, interactive and computational sound techniques
Design / Structure
This course will combine historical context and primary sources with additional critical / theoretical readings, seminar discussions, independent research, listening sessions, technical labs, and hands-on projects. Ongoing dialog and exchange will be extended through a class blog. There will be in class tech labs that will contribute to the development of core technical skills, as well as prepare students for individual or collaborative creative projects.
Our weekly readings will draw from a wide range of sources and will be available on the course web site or in the University Library. You are expected to read the materials at least once and will occasionally be asked to post reading comments to the blog. Please post to the blog at least 24 hours before the reading is due so that we can all read the blog posts prior to class. For selected readings, you will be asked to volunteer to facilitate our in-class group discussion. This will require posting discussion topics or questions to the blog at least 24 hours prior to class, and also helping to guide the in-class discussion. We will consciously work together to involve everyone in these exchanges - give and take will be necessary to allow all voices to be heard.
Labs and Projects
We will have tech labs during class (every week or so) as needed. These will be brief tutorials on a given hardware or software tool or technique, and will be followed by hands-on projects. Project one will be a multistep soundscape recording project. You will start by making simple on location field recordings and progress towards a more constructed soundscape composition. Your second project will build on the first, but will explore more extended techniques (editing, layering, sound processing and transformation) within the domain of sonic composition. You will do a short group project dealing with soundscape recording that will investigate particular locations and their sonic signatures. This project will be in conjunction with the Baltimore Soundscape Project which you will all contribute to. There will also be a final project of your own choosing that you will propose, design, develop, and present in class. While the general domain of the projects is described, you will be given considerable freedom and encouragement to discover and develop a personally meaningful engagement with the projects. All projects will be discussed in class, and you will have the opportunity to present ongoing work in progress. While we will devote class time to project work, substantial time outside of class will also be required.
If you don't already have a portable hard drive or USB flash drive, you may want to purchase one, since file storage is your responsibility. A variety of production equipment is available through the University and these options will be listed on the course web site.
Online materials and posting
This course will have no printed materials - all information regarding the course will be distributed on the course web site, course blog or directly through email. It is your responsibility to stay connected to all three sources. You will need to join the blog and also join the sound sharing site SoundCloud (instructions on the 'schedule' page of the web site).
Attendance and active participation (both in class, on the blog, and on Sound cloud) are absolutely necessary for this class to function. Unexcused absences will directly impact your grade, as well as indirectly affecting the quality of your work. Allowances will only be made for official excused absences presented to me before the absence or for documented emergencies. Students are permitted one unexcused absences without a grade penalty. Beginning with the second unexcused absence, the final course grade will be reduced 3% for each additional absence. Since all assignments are submitted digitally, assignment deadlines remain regardless of attendance. If a class is missed, it is your responsibility to contact me and make-up any missed work.
Your grade will reflect both your participation in the class (discussions, reading responses, blog contributions, collaborative efforts) and the energy you put into the research and creative projects. It is sometimes difficult to evaluate creative projects, since we all bring our own unique background and experience to our work. This course is open to students with widely different backgrounds, and each of you will explore territory that is new to you. In this regard, I am most interested to see an active, committed, and energetic engagement with the projects. The grade for each project will reflect critical thinking, conceptual engagement, as well as aesthetic and technical engagement. Experimentation, effort, development, work in progress showings, and risk-taking will also be considered (and encouraged). You will never be graded down based on aesthetic choices that you make - I am not interested in forcing my personal aesthetic on you, but will encourage (and challenge) you to reflect upon and explore your own ideas and develop your own personal 'voice'.
All assignments are due on time; this class moves fast, making it very difficult to catch up if you fall behind. All assignments, projects, and presentations must be completed in order to pass the course.
Project Grade Description:
F Unsatisfactory overall performance; indication of lack of commitment, lacking critical engagement; incomplete submissions.
D Unsatisfactory overall performance; minimal commitment, lacking critical engagement; partially incomplete submissions.
C Satisfactory; consistent effort and on-time completion; meets basic requirements and shows some progress.
B Good to excellent; indication of progress; creative and critical engagement with fundamental issues; good technique / execution.
A Excellent to outstanding; work displays significant effort and progress; developed and insightful; creative and surprising solutions to assignments; excellent technique, clear communication and good presentation.
Grading percentages will be as follows:
10% Class participation (both in class and online)
10% Reading responses and reflections
5% Discussion facilitation
40% Tech labs and creative projects - including work in progress showings
10% Baltimore Soundscape Project
25% Final project, including written proposal and work in progress showings
The grading scale is as follows: A (93-100) A- (90-92) B+ (88-89) B (83-87) B- (80-82) C+ (78-79) C (70-77) D+ (68-69) D (60-67) F (0-59).
Any questions regarding grading must be raised within one week of receiving the grade.
Academic Integrity, Courtesy and Respect
While general collaboration, exchange and peer learning is encouraged, each student is responsible for their own work. Towson University has a defined Student Academic Integrity Policy, which will be followed in this course.
This class will include discussion and differences of opinions. While critical and thought provoking exchange is expected, courtesy, respect and civility are essential. We are part of a learning community where open mindedness, curiosity, and a wide range of opinions are encouraged. Out of respect for our shared time together and to maintain engagement in the classroom, the use of cell phones, text messaging, facebooking or e-mail is not allowed. Laptops maybe used, but only if they are directly relevance to the classwork at hand. Please also refer to the COFAC civility code.
If you have any unique or special needs, please talk them over with me. I will make every effort to make this course as accessible as possible. Students with disabilities should register with the Office for Students with Disabilities. Students with University-certified disabilities, in the event that their disability prevents completion of a course requirement, may be offered alternative assignments. Students with University-certified disabilities are required to discuss accommodations with me at the beginning of the semester.
Students may not repeat a course more than once without prior permission of the Academic Standards Committee.