COOL CLASSES: “Tuning In: Soundscapes, Music, and Audio Cultures”

A writing seminar in which Haverford students explore how sound shapes the human experience.

Class name: “Tuning In: Soundscapes, Music, and Audio Cultures”

Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing John Hyland

Here’s what Hyland has to say about the course:

[This course] is a writing seminar where students explore the ways that sound fundamentally shapes the human experience. Taking its cue from the unnamed narrator of Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man who discovers a “new” way to hear the “unheard sounds” between the beats while he is listening to Louis Armstrong, students in this seminar investigate the ways that sound constitutes the self, community, space, race, gender, history, and politics. “Tuning In” has three units, each of which culminates in an academic paper. This is a discussion-based writing seminar, and we spend a lot of time in class delving into complicated texts and listening to music. In the first unit, students develop a critical vocabulary for the analysis of sound, learning, for instance, about the ways that sound defines space, and vice versa. Students recently spent time listening to what sound theorist R. Murray Schafer calls “soundscapes” (both on and off campus); they then wrote posts for our class blog about their aural experiences. From a capella practice to train rides into Philadelphia to the Gooding Arena, the students’ accounts were wonderfully insightful. For their first paper, students are analyzing the social, cultural, political, aesthetic, and interpersonal implications of listening by developing their own theory of it. In the next unit, we will study the format of the audiobook. Thanks to the help of Jeremiah Mercurio in the Magill Library and Adam Crandell in the Music Library, we will be listening to and comparing different audio editions of Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God. This unit corresponds to a Tri-College conference that is celebrating the 50th anniversary of this landmark novel’s publication. Then, in the final unit, we will analyze the relationship between music, culture, and identity by undertaking a case study of the blues and reading and writing about Gayle Jones’ blues-based novel Corregidora.

My hope is that in this writing seminar students will develop their abilities to critically read difficult texts, learn how to effectively engage complex academic discourses, and become stronger writers. I also hope that, by the end of the semester, they will understand what it means to listen, and feel confident analyzing and talking about the intersection of sound and cultural formations.


See what other Writing Program seminars are being offered this semester.

Cool Classes is a recurring series on the Haverblog that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience.