Tuning in to Soundwriting

Unboxing Audacity: Mixing Rhetorically with Digital Audio Workstations

by Mathew Gomes

5. Conclusion and Pedagogical Resources

In summary, digital audio workstations (DAWs) like Audacity enable arrangement techniques that soundwriters and teachers can approach rhetorically. These techniques may enable discursive goals—for example, when soundwriters prioritize the audibility of some sounds over others. These techniques also enable nondiscursive effects when used to detail the proximity, location, or quality of sounds used in soundwriting. Beyond the techniques described in this chapter, mixers and DAWs make many other techniques available, including looping, accelerating, decelerating, reversing, and quantizing tracks. Further elaboration upon the rhetorical affordances of DAWs and mixers will contribute to research, teaching, and learning about soundwriting.

In my teaching, focusing on a limited number of techniques has helped students learn some basic yet powerful moves for arranging and styling their soundwriting. Thus, I believe highlighting a few specific techniques for monitoring and arranging noise can help new soundwriters and soundwriting instructors learn to navigate DAWs, which may otherwise have steep learning curves. Focusing on these techniques can also enable practice in multimodal listening by inviting soundwriters to awareness of specific kinds of listener experiences. For example, attention to loudness has helped students in my courses avoid clipping and unwanted distortion.

In the pursuit of practicing both listening and writing, I offer two pedagogical resources: (1) a listening activity and (2) a heuristic summarizing techniques described in this chapter.

Resource 1. Listening for Dynamics Processing, Planning, and Equalization

The resource titled “Listening for Dynamics Processing, Panning, and Equalization" asks soundwriters to listen to "Laila's Wisdom," the title track from Rapsody's 2017 album. Rapsody's album includes audio-engineering work from Young Guru, who mastered the album and whose interview with Red Bull Music Academy opens this chapter. The track also includes production by Nottz, who samples Aretha Franklin's 1972 recording of "Young, Gifted and Black." The use of this sample and the track's production showcase the techniques of dynamics processing, panning, and equalization.

Resource 2. Heuristic for Applying Dynamics Processing, Panning, and Equalization

The resource titled "Heuristic for Applying Dynamics Processing, Panning, and Equalization" summarizes the mixing techniques in this chapter, describes their rhetorical purposes and affordances, and includes prompting questions for soundwriters using these techniques. This heuristic may be particularly interesting for soundwriting instructors assigning soundscape assignments or asking students to arrange nonverbal sonic elements for rhetorical effects.

My hope is these resources will help soundwriting instructors and students with varying degrees of soundwriting experience approach mixing rhetorically. The examples these resources provide, along with others in this chapter, demonstrate how varying arrangements of noise within the space of a mix can contribute both discursive and nondiscursive effects in soundwriting. My hope is these activities and heuristics will help highlight headroom, channel space, and frequencies and, through this, help students and instructors develop as listeners and soundwriters.