Tuning in to the Aural Ether: An Introduction to the Study of German Sounds

I) Warming up the Ear

1) What does your life sound like? Narrate your daily routines in terms of sound and compare your acoustic observations with those of your classmate(s). How do they differ?

2) Auralize a space (an airport, your hometown, etc.) in writing, yet omit the space's name. Share the description with your classmates and have them guess the location.

3) What are agreeable sounds? What are unbearable sounds? Conduct a survey in class. Do these sounds differ in different cultures?

4) According to cultural practices (for example, as heard in children's books or songs), how do animals sound in all the languages you know? Speculate on the reasons for these differences.

5) In earlier times bells called for the men to come from the fields to rest in the shade and eat their lunch. What sounds signal the end of a shift at a construction site in your town today? How are these sounds produced? With which other sounds do they have to compete?

II) Working with the Text

1) Explain why sight is considered the "first sense."

2) What is a soundscape? Describe the soundscape around you right now.

3) What is auditory spatial awareness?

4) What can the study of sound add to our understanding of twentieth and twenty-first century German culture? Why does this approach have to be a transdisciplinary one?

5) What is an "audicle" (as opposed to a spectacle)?

6) How did sirens emerge? What sirens are there today and what do they signify in various contexts? (Feel free to elaborate on the term siren as well.)

III) Further Food for Thought

1) Examine the physical processes at work when we produce and perceive sound. For example, how do we produce speech? How do we hear?

2) Discuss Schiller's Das Lied der Glocke in terms of how the bell structures a community’s and an individual’s life. Make a list of the acoustic markers that structure our lives today. (See Projekt Gutenberg for a link to the poem:

3) Do you agree that the visual serves as a synonym for the objective? Give specific examples of when it does and when it does not.

4) If you were to auralize turn-of-the-century Vienna, Berlin in 1936, or today's Munich, what questions would you pose? How would you go about finding this information? (Suggested reading: Bruce R. Smith. "Tuning into London c. 1600." In The Auditory Culture Reader. Eds. Michael Bull and Les Back. Oxford: Berg, 2003.)

5) Auralize the space researched in question 4 by presenting its detailed sound profile along with the attached meanings. Through auralization, what do we learn about this space that any given history textbook could not teach us?

6) What national anthem was chosen for the newly reunited Germany in 1990? By researching the history of national anthems in East and West Germany (all versions), discuss how and why the national anthem is powerful. Compare to the United States.

7) Watch the beginning sequence of the documentary Berlin Babylon. Decipher sounds and use the Babel metaphor as a backdrop to discuss the many different languages that can be found in Berlin.

8) Different countries now have different-sounding sirens. Schafer states, "North American emergency vehicles rely on revolving disc sirens, whereas Germany has the siren tuned as a perfect fourth, Sweden a minor third, and England a major second" (Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World 166). Why would sirens' sounds be nationally distinct? What can be concluded about these countries when we study their sirens and the sounds they prefer the sirens to make?

9) Define the term "silence." Find John Cage's piece 4'33" on YouTube. Listen closely and write down all sounds you hear, both in the recording and in the room around you. How would you define the concept of silence now?

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