Tuning in to Soundwriting

Soundscapes: Rhetorical Entwinements for Composing Sound in Four Dimensions

by Kati Fargo Ahern

6. A Concluding Entwinement

While it may stand to reason that soundscape composition involves a highly refined sense of arrangement or dispositio, I have argued that soundscape design also draws particularly on notions of doxa, copia, and saphes (in its sense of location), which are made more concrete and complicated through the process by which students assemble soundscapes sound by sound.

Web design, hybrid spaces, posthumanism, ubiquitous computing, and wearable technologies have all occasioned different relationships to composing and rhetoric. Tuning in to soundwriting need not be at the expense of our commitments to inclusion, our constraints, or our students' needs. If the main goal of composition is to allow our students to experience opportunities with being rhetorically adaptive in complex situations, then soundscape design calls on students to compose with high levels of complexity among four dimensions. The title of Stephen Dobyn's (1996) collection of essays on poetry, Best Words, Best Order, alludes to Coleridge's famous definition of poetry as "the best words in the best order." Like poetry, soundscape design pushes even further to ask students to consider the "best" sounds in the "best" order, simultaneity, and sense of space.

Soundscape design should not be considered only in upper-division electives or exclusively within the purview of soundwriting courses. To compose a soundscape is to ask students to balance rhetorical entwinements along four dimensions and engage in an assignment that, while seeming only productively "strange," experientially teaches a heightened sense of adaptive response to a complex composing environment. It is in this way I suggest that soundscape design not only embeds within it rhetorical entwinements along four dimensions but also forms such an entwinement with the composing process itself. Soundscape design becomes entwined with many of our overarching values in teaching writing: process, experience, attention, revision, collaboration, audience, context, and a sophisticated understanding of the rhetorical situation. The design of soundscapes may seem like a digital writing trend only situated within an ever-expanding sense of the object of rhetoric and composition, but really soundscape design gets at our very essential notions of communicative expression, choice, and difference.

In other words, in this piece I have aligned each dimension of soundscape design with a concept in ancient rhetoric, and one that I believe is useful to students of composition. However, these are not the only possible entwinements, and this does not yet fully explore what is accomplished through soundscape design as a sum of choices within these dimensions interacting with one another. To fully think through what the choices in each dimension mean together is to ask students to layer in an even more sophisticated notion of what they hope to accomplish and what a reader, listener, or participant in their soundscape will experience as the soundscape's communicative potential, noting also that those experiences will be different based in part on the audience's own embodiment. After engaging in any experience with soundscape design, I believe it is very difficult to abandon a richer sense of what it means to select, arrange, and situate compositional material to reach an embodied, emplaced listener/reader/participant.