Friday, April 27, 2018

The Sound Studies conference at University of Wisconsin-Madison -- brief summary, reflections

I often judge the value of a conference based on how intellectually stimulated I am and prompted to try new things and move in new useful directions with my work -- in the scholarship and classroom. By that measure, the recent Great Lakes Association for Sound Studies (GLASS) conference that took place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on April 20 and 21, was of immense importance. I'm still excited about all I learned.

The conference, hosted by Jeremy Morris, Jeff Smith, and Neil Verma included presentations on podcasting, software for analyzing the pitch, pace, and dynamism of poetry, the multi-modal practices of blind readers, ASMR YouTube videos, how sound designers translate animated films from one country to another, a recently digitized trove of dictabelts from the Rod Sterling collection, instruction on pronunciation of r's in stage and screen productions, and more.

The information on podcasts were especially plentiful. There were four different presentations about podcasts, as well as a live performance of the podcast Field Notes produced by Craig Eley. He presented an upcoming episode "Reading by Ear" of his podcast, drawing on research by Mara Mills that focused on how blind readers utilized "pre-computer technologies that translated ink print into synthesized tones," making use of "tonal alphabets."

The keynote was by Mara Mills, who discussed impairment, "a central term in Anglophone disability studies," in relation to a number of findings she has made researching connections between "AT&T (American Telephone & Telegraph) and the public health field."

In the abstract for his opening presentation on podcasting, Morris offered a perspective that could have been a kind of guiding idea for the conference. He urged researchers "to consider sound as scholarship and what might be possible" when sonic items and artifacts are "analyzable."

Given all the work I do with audio recordings, it's odd and unfortunate that I have not been part of more gatherings like these where there was so much discussion of sound and audio recordings. I presented on the topic of "why some black poetry sounds boring to black students." My future writings and presentations on the topic will be  better as a result of attending this GLASS conference.

For one, the participants were encouraging me to think well beyond exposing my students to recordings of poetry in my classes. Why not also present, for instance, excerpts from podcasts, audio of actual conversations, and the strange and interesting world of ASMR YouTube videos? In addition, the conversations about the challenges and opportunities for preserving podcasts inspired me to think more about archiving and organizing the various recordings I've collected over the years.

The setup of the conference also worked well. Over the course of two days, there were 7 sessions with approximately 17 presenters, consisting of professors, graduate students, an independent computer scientist, and an audio producer and administrator. There was plenty of time for discussion after each of the presentations. There were perhaps 35 to 45 people in attendance.

A notebook on conferences

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