In this first session of the Sound Lab, Darío Bernal Villegas began guiding us through a process of developing sound interpretations of literary texts with the notion that these experiments can help prepare us to create powerful sound pieces (such as podcasts) with our students. Composing with sound is an under-appreciated and profound area of literacy that our students tend to be more attuned to (as digital natives) than we tend to be (as digital tourists). This institute provided a valuable opportunity for us to re-discover our own childlike wonder at our own ability to compose through sound. This can be a highly pleasurable recovery of one of our most under recognized capacities.
“I’m finding this so relaxing! Kind of feels like we’re at a sound spa!”
We began by reviewing some Zoom etiquette:
Mute: Please keep your volume on mute unless you are speaking.
Video: We encourage you to keep your video on during presentations, activities, and discussions. If you need to turn your video off, please feel free to do so.
View: You can choose the view you prefer by clicking the tile icon or people icon in the top right corner of the ZOOM window.
Name: Please change your screen name to include your pronouns so that everyone in the session knows how to refer to you (i.e. [Name] she/her, [Name] they/their, etc.).
Chat: Use the chat function to participate in discussions, find links for texts and applications we will use, or to ask for technical help.
And Dario explained how to switch to low background noise on Zoom.
The Sound of Rain
Dario worked to expand our thinking about what kind of instruments we have access to for making compelling sound recordings. We experimented with making the sound of rain using only our bodies:
- Rubbing hands
- Snapping fingers
- Patting legs
The Magic of Making Sound
Next Dario introduced us to the concept of “foleys” – the sounds made by devices that are used to create the sound effects in films:
There is a kind of magical leap that comes from seeing what a foley device looks like, and then imagining how differently the sounds that it makes will be heard by listeners who cannot see the device that is being used to produce them. In fact, some actual sounds are less convincing when recorded than the recordings of sounds produced by foley devices (which more closely correspond to our IDEAS about what a sound should sound like).
Example: “If I know I will be using a water bottle, in my mind I will be wondering if it will in fact sound like what I WANT it to sound like (rain).”
Sound Lab Explorations
Dario demonstrated some examples of ways to make the sounds of different types of “steps”:
- Steps in the forest: paper bag
- Big character steps: cushion on the bench
- Tired/old person steps: gloves on cardboard box
- Small character steps: fingers on a table or pineapple
- Steps in a swamp, after the rain: lid on metal bucket
- Robot steps: lids on t- shirt
Conjuring a Forest Into Being
Darío gave out the challenge to the group of creating the sounds of a forest. We brainstormed sounds that would be heard in that scenario:
And then we conjured up that very forest with our sounds! Watch us calling that forest into being:
And now, listen JUST to the sounds we made together, and you will be transported there!
We “hear” quite differently with our eyes than with our ears. Light resonates primarily with our retinas, but Sound resonates with our whole bodies. This characteristic of Sound provides a different range of associations than the bodily experience of Light provides. Sound catalyzes its own set of internal imagery that expands beyond the range of what we see (and think we hear) with our eyes.
We then applied our new skills in creating aural landscapes to the sound interpretation of a piece of text - in this case a selection from the lovely book Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, based on the true story of a musician whose bravery changed the role of women in professional recordings of Latinx percussion.
In breakout rooms, we read the text together, discussed which sounds needed to be created, and for each sound we brainstormed as a group some different ways of making that sound. This was time for “lab work” and experimentation. We worked to free ourselves from switching too quickly into making final decisions. We then returned to the main room and shared some of our findings.
Behind the Curtain: A consistent theme throughout this institute across all the different strands of development (Sound Lab, Crossing Borders, Visual Arts) was the acknowledgement that learners need time to EXPERIMENT with new materials before being expected to work toward final products. We also found that sharing what we noticed and learned from each other’s experimentations was essential to each of our individual growth. To this end, the institute was organized to establish a rhythm between work in the large group and work in more intimate small group breakouts (where we could try things out and learn directly from each other).
We were taken through a tutorial on how to use “Soundtrap” – a wonderful on-line app that allows multiple users to co-create layered sound compositions on-line.
We then set aside time in breakout groups to further experiment with re-representing the Drum Dream Girl text with sound, and finally gathered with the whole group to share some of our new insights into the process, and to look forward to our next session together.
Our students are immersed in consuming and producing multimedia products at an unprecedented, accelerating rate. This session introduced us to strategies for integrating these two impulses in a meaningful way. We were guided through an innovative process for engaging with illustrated texts through the collaborative creation of multimedia versions of books in order to create an opportunity for co-authoring rich reader responses to such works. This practice expands the co-creation of meaning that always occurs between writers, illustrators, and readers, and then places this crucial function within the essential context of social co-construction of knowledge. We worked in small break-out groups, with each group producing an audio/visual version of a different book by the wonderful children’s author Dan Santat.
Modeling Foley Sounds
Darío Bernal Villegas demonstrated the process by having us look at two pages from the Dan Santat book Dad and the Dinosaur:
He talked about what sorts of sounds made sense to him for the narrative of these two pages, described what sorts of foleys he came up with to produce those sounds (which he demonstrated acoustically), and then showed how those foley sounds worked digitally when recorded with the text narrative read aloud.
Project Phase 1
We broke into our work teams and read through our various books, and using Google Slides, we marked up the texts to make sound maps of each book. We then experimented with designing foleys for each of the sounds we were considering recording. Dividing a class into work teams that are analyzing different related texts simultaneously serves to deepen the interpretive skills of each team AND advances the students’ capacity to share thoughtful insights from peer to peer and team to team. A lot more material can thus be covered in depth.
1- With your team, read your book by Dan Santat.
2- Use Google Slides to “mark up the text” to make a sound map of the book.
3- Write on sticky notes in the margins, on the actual text, or add “speaker notes” below.
Dario guided us through a tutorial on how to record and edit multiple, layered soundtracks:
- Narrative text
- Near sounds
- Distant sounds
Project Phase 2
1- Assign various sounds on the sound map to members of your group.
2- Choose narrator(s)
3- Create tracks and put your names on them
(i.e. Darío 1, Darío 2)
4- Experiment with recording each of your tracks.
5- Experiment with editing them by moving them to the correct places matching the narration and adjusting volume.
(note this can be done by a person who is really comfortable with the program)
Dario cautioned us to not overwhelm ourselves by trying to create a foley sound for every good sound idea implied by the text, and to understand that creating a multimedia expansion of a book takes more time than we were able to provide in this introductory workshop.
Supporting our students in deepening their relationships with texts through collaborative analysis and negotiated multimedia creativity opens up whole new pathways for us in expanding our charges’ options for reading the world.
In this last session of this three-session workshop strand, we continued working on our audio/visual interpretations of texts in our work teams, aided by some exercises provided by Dario and Kurt to add more nuance and dynamics to our sound practice. During studio time, we moved more actively from the acoustic creation of foley sounds into the recording and editing and curation of sound production.
The Opposites of Sound
Using cards listing opposite qualities of sound on opposing sides, Dario warmed us up by flipping those cards to orchestrate our production of these opposing qualities with our voices. One of the surprising positive outcomes of having to learn from each other on-line during a pandemic was the rediscovery of our already available “free” tools in our homes. And one of those tools is our own voices.
Divide the narration or leave pauses
Fade your sounds and check your volumes
Create a track for each background sound to keep it organized
Keep it simple
Keeping Time and Tasks Manageable
- Consider choosing a single narrator
- Think recording about one narrative sound per page and no more than one back ground sound per page
- Edit them by moving tracks to the correct places to match the narration
- Keep adjusting volume between tracks
- Try to include at least one person comfortable with managing the technology in each work group
After finishing our projects, we were reminded about the upcoming Final Symposium Celebration where we would present and reflect upon all our work together.