This post is from my an assignment in my recent Pedagogy of Sound class.  Since one of the sounds that we had to identify is the sound of a lightsaber, I thought a picture of Shaak Ti would be fitting.  The jedi robe she’s wearing is one of my first experiments with dynamic clothing models.  There will be more on that in later entries.


For my Pedagogy of Sound course, I was recently asked to identify seven sounds, and then to answer a few questions about my experience with them.

What is your musical background?

Music was my life in high school. I was a drummer for 3 years, and studied for 4 years in a cappella choir and 4 years in jazz choir (yes, I wore the tuxedo and white gloves and danced around a stage). I was also twice a member of the all state choir.

Can you identify how and where you learned any sounds? Does your relationship to the source influence your knowledge and or meaning of the sound?

In each of these cases, my relationship to the sound influenced my knowledge of the meaning of the sound.

Star Wars Sounds: At one point, Star Wars was the background music if my life, so the sounds of that film series are burned into my brain. The meanings of those two sounds were very clear to me.

Dr. Who: I didn’t immediately associate the sounds with Dr. Who (I’ll turn in my geek card now), but I think my occasional viewing of the show and shows like it made it easier for me to identify the general application of the sound.

Rimshot: At the time that I first heard it, I thought of the rimshot-using comedian in the old text-based video game, Leisure Suit Larry.

Upon reflection, however, the image changed. I frequently listen to Dennis Miller’s radio show, and one thing that he discusses frequently is the comedy business. Early on in his show, he had to crack down on his production team to let them know that they are never, never permitted to play a rimshot on his show. It’s the sound that a bad comedian would use on himself and that a condescending jerk would use on guests to the show. With that in mind, the image that forms in my mind is a pair of eyes rolling.

Fog Horn and Bee buzzing: Two of the other sounds required a bit more though for me. The introductory questions that asked about my musical background set up an expectation for musical sounds. For this reason, when I heard the foghorn, I simply heard a wind instrument playing a natural E note. The only description I could provide was that it must have been a wind instrument, and not a string instrument, because it didn’t have the “uptake” sound that often comes with strings.

The bee buzzing adjusted its pitch regularly enough that I couldn’t tell if it was an insect or a dirt bike on an off-road track. The only thing I can say about that description is that I’ve heard the sound of dirt bikes much more than I have heard the sound of bees.

How big an influence do you think sounds have on our understanding of the aural world.

These sounds helped me to discover the incredibly artificial nature my sound experience. I have been inundated with the sounds of science fiction films and games, and most of the answers that I gave in the quiz came from television and/or films.

What types of sound-based learning did you identify through the quiz? What questions do you have? What are you impressions of the survey? Were there any surprise interpretations or meanings of any of the sounds?

I didn’t experience any surprises, but I would have liked to have had an MRI attached as I went through the sound quiz, to read my mental reactions to the sounds.

None of the sounds were completely foreign to me; while there were some that I could not identify right away, was able to identify their general nature. The two Star Wars sounds (lightsaber and Chewbacca) and the rimshot immediately triggered responses for me, and I’m certain my brain underwent a chemical reaction that simultaneously corresponds to recognition and satisfaction. The two sounds that I have since learned were from “Dr. Who” were not immediately identified, but their intended use was familiar to me.

I think the most interesting MRI results would have come from the bee buzzing and the fog horn. In each of these, I listened to the sound 3 or 4 times to try to work out the exact source of the sound. The concentration involved with identifying the sounds that I could just barely identify was much greater than those sounds that I outright did not know.