Sounds of the South

From Sounds of the South:

Lingold envisions a searchable archive of sound open to all. Wonder what a cicada sounds like? Search under “c.” Need the difference between the “d” and “b” strings on a 5-string banjo? Check the [sonic] dictionary. “There are a lot of reasons why someone might want to know what something sounds like,” said Lingold, who grew up in Texas. “It may be useful for teachers. Or a poet or author may want to describe something—like the cutting of a tobacco leaf—but they’ve never heard it done so they can’t describe it accurately.”

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the New Media in American Literary History Symposium (hashtag #nmalh), where many of the projects and conversations engaged with notions of “the old” and “the new” as they historically relate to media production and consumption. Mary Caton Lingold’s “sonic dictionary” project strikes me as something that would have fit in nicely at the conference as an example of how some of the longest-held fantasies about sound recording—”the captivity of all manner of sound-waves heretofore designated as ‘fugitive’”1—can be enacted in a decentered and collaborative way via “new” media technologies. I’ve been lucky enough to virtually “meet” Mary Caton through the SoundBox Project at Duke, and reading about her work here has given me a bunch of ideas for assignments I would like to try out in my class on “The Nature of Sound / The Sound of Nature.”

Not unrelatedly, this item came across my desk via my good friend Brian Johannesen, who makes some sweet Southern sounds of his own.

  1. Thomas Alva Edison, “The Phonograph and its Future,” The North American Review 126.262 (May - June 1878):527-536.

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