by Tanya K. Rodrigue

This webtext provides a comprehensive resource for the learning and teaching of sonic rhetoric. Teachers can draw on this text, and students from high school to graduate school can directly engage with it in an effort to:

  • build a vocabulary of sonic rhetoric
  • learn about sonic composing processes
  • understand the importance of learning and activating rhetorical and genre knowledge
  • engage with contemporary scholarship on sonic rhetoric

Below I provide recommendations for how students and teachers might work with “Navigating the Soundscape, Composing with Audio” in courses that incorporate audio analysis and production.

A Vocabulary of Sonic Rhetoric

The teaching of audio from a rhetorical perspective demands a shared sonic vocabulary for students and teachers. In the context of a writing course, this language should not be too technical or complicated yet should be robust enough to encompass the complex meanings that infuse each term. Our Sonic Strategies section offers descriptions and sophisticated investigations of five common rhetorical strategies—music, silence, sound effects, sound interaction, and voice—used in audio compositions. These pages provide students with an understanding of each strategy and its rhetorical potentialities, and specific examples that enable students to hear how a strategy is used to achieve a particular effect. Equipped with a vocabulary of sonic rhetoric, students will have strong tools for both analyzing and composing sonic work.

The use of Sonic Strategies for a course reading is practical because it provides nuanced definitions of sonic rhetorical terms in one centralized location. This webtext provides an overview of how scholars in various disciplines have discussed aurality and consequently pieces together an existing vocabulary of sonic rhetoric that emerges across scholarship. Furthermore, the composer reflections provide depth to the meaning of terms and work to expand this vocabulary.

Sonic Composing Processes

The Sonic Strategies and Audio Projects sections provide glimpses into the unique composing processes of nine first-time audio composers. Students who engage with these sections have the opportunity to experience the creation of a project from its inception to its completion. The composers offer detailed reflections and descriptions of their processes, including their rhetorical moves and choices. As a result, students studying sonic rhetoric can gain an understanding of how audio composers work to construct meaning and achieve their rhetorical goals within a particular genre.

Student engagement with the composer reflections can be potentially beneficial in several ways. The reflections: (1) demystify the process of creating sonic work; (2) provide a model of how a student might approach the construction of a sonic text; (3) demonstrate the careful thought and consideration that audio projects demand; (4) reveal the importance of possessing and drawing on general knowledge of rhetoric and genre and sonic rhetoric in particular; (5) provide a guide for how to use a vocabulary of sonic rhetoric and how to employ sonic rhetorical strategies; (6) provide insight into using productive habits of mind such as flexibility, play, metacognition, and experimentation; and (7) reveal how reflection aids in learning and understanding.

Genre and Rhetorical Knowledge

Audio Projects offers students a wide range of audio genres situated in different rhetorical contexts to explore and engage with including audio drama, non–fiction audio drama, oral history, audio poetry and prose, audio journal, audio memoir, and audio essay. In looking at these genres in relation to each other, students can learn how sonic rhetorical strategies function differently in different situations, and how rhetorical situations and genres act on, shape, and inform the creation of an audio project. Subsequently, these projects have the potential to teach rhetoric broadly and to also introduce, enhance, or develop students’ rhetorical and genre knowledge.

In addition, teachers in various disciplines such as literature, history, creative writing, education, and communication can all find value in using Audio Projects as a pedagogical tool, as genres common to these areas of study are represented. Teachers can draw on this webtext to explore disciplinary writing, both to discuss these genres and teach students strategies, methods, and approaches for composing in these genres. For example, a history teacher who assigns an oral history project may ask students to conduct a genre analysis of Bennett’s "Beneath the Ashes" and Rand’s "Hit and Run" in preparation for composing their own oral histories.

Sonic Rhetoric Scholarship

Finally, this webtext functions as a comprehensive resource for interdisciplinary scholarship on and related to sonic rhetoric over the past couple of decades. The Introduction situates sonic rhetoric within the broader field of writing studies; the Sonic Strategies landing page and individual pages synthesize scholarship on sonic rhetoric; and the Pedagogy landing page provides a brief literature review on the teaching of digital writing in general and teaching with audio specifically. Perhaps most importantly, this webtext seeks to extend and contribute to these scholarly conversations by offering new ways to think about sonic rhetoric, specifically in Sonic Strategies and the Pedagogy sub-page Professor–Composer. Due to its brevity and accessibility, students can quickly gain familiarity with the subfield of sonic rhetoric through reading these portions of the webtext. Conversely, teachers can use this one webtext rather than several texts to provide students with a general overview of contemporary scholarship on sonic rhetoric.

Final Remarks

While the authors of this webtext did not intentionally seek to position it as both scholarship and a pedagogical resource, we are excited it turned out this way. As a teacher of undergraduate and graduate digital writing courses, I have used “Navigating the Soundscape, Composing with Audio” as an assigned reading and have drawn on it to teach some of the aforementioned concepts. I hope other instructors will find it as helpful as I have in their quest to teach sonic rhetoric and prepare students for composing with audio.