This experimental interdisciplinary course will explore soundscapes as cultural, historical, and social constructs through which one can investigate the relationship between humans and the spaces they design and inhabit. Historically, spatial analysis has privileged the visual modality, often relying on the use of visual representational tools such as maps, photographs, and diagrams. In reducing the experience of the built environment to a visual enterprise, this approach (popular in geography, social studies, and urban theory) articulates the relationship between humans and their environments as unidimensional. Our class aims to shift attention from the visual to the aural domain and to interrogate what can be learned by analyzing instead the geographies of sound that organize human life.

Soundscape, a central, contested concept in the development of the emerging interdisciplinary field of “Sound Studies,” will constitute the primary field of interrogation. Scholars such as Jonathan Sterne, Steven Feld, Emily Thompson, etc. have debated the operational and methodological implications of the term, especially in its relationships with advancements in the fields of anthropology, ethnography, cultural and media studies. Our class will bring forth these debates in order to reveal the nuances involved in a sonic ethnography of urban spaces.

This course will engage remote campuses through Bard’s Network. Following the syllabus and the assigned weekly readings, students will work asynchronously to develop projects that will be shared online. This course is developed in collaboration with Prof. Natalia Fedorova at Smolny College of Liberal Arts and Sciences St Petersburg State University (St. Petersburg), Professor Emilio Distretti at Al-Quds Bard College of Arts & Science (Palestine), and Professors Maria Sonevytsky and Olga Touloumi at Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY).

Course Goals:

  1. Sound as an Analytical Tool. Fusing ethnographic and artistic methodologies, spatial thinking and the analysis of sonic forms, students will acquire the vocabulary and creative tools to address the question of sound in their understanding of the built environment and the communities that inhabit and shape it.
  2. Thinking-through-Doing. With assignments such as soundscape composition, soundwalk design, sound collage, sonic artifact interpretation, etc. students will learn how to utilize their creative faculties so as to respond to, challenge, and enhance theories and histories of space and sound.
  3. Sound Studies. Readings and weekly assignments will expose students to the nuances of the emerging field of Sound Studies, equipping them with the necessary background to address sound within their respective field of inquiry.
  4. Collaborative Learning. Bringing together students and faculty from the Hudson Valley, Saint Petersburg, and Palestine, students will delve into an intense exchange of their experiences of how sound and space function in particular urban and rural environments, complicating assumptions regarding the universality of one’s experience.