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Browse Exhibits (9 total)

Sounds of the South

Corn shucking, banjo picking, and a tractor engine starting are among the sounds contained in this exhibit. The three categories of "music," "leisure," and "agriculture" seek to provide a diverse sampling of the iconic sounds one would hear in the American South, though the lines distinguishing these are often blurred. By combining existing audio files from the internet, excerpts from personal music collections, and unique field recordings, this exhibit contains both spontaneously collected sounds and ones that are stereotypically southern. The students who assembled this dictionary did so in the wake of discussions of classical southern works of literature like Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Jean Toomer's Cane. While some items have escaped the touch of time (crickets chirping), others have changed significantly (manual vs. mechanical agriculture) or become possible (Southern rock) because of technological advances. We encourage you to consider the time period of each sound recording as you engage the sounds of the South represented in our dictionary.  

Learn more about our course by visiting our website.

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Sound as North Carolina Politics

The Moral March in February, 2014 in front of the State Capitol in Raleigh attracted more than 80,000 people and reflected the political issues that the residents of the state are most concerned about. This exhibit presents the issues with sounds collected from various sources and the fictional viewpoint of a college student at the rally. Some of the sounds were recordings from speeches, songs and interviews at the rally. Some were recorded from every day scenarios such as pencil tapping and water dripping. We encourage you to engage with the sounds to experience the Moral March and to think about the political issues of North Carolina.

Overheard at Oberlin

Oberlin College and Conservatory was established in the year 1833 and is well known for its academic and musical excellence. It is a place where people hear and listen in on the world from diverse perspectives. As such, there are many sounds that make up Oberlin College. "Overheard at Oberlin" is a sonic exhibit curated by sound students in the First Year Seminar titled "Soundscapes: Listening the Past/ Hearing the Present."  "Overheard" showcases the aural cultures that define the people who live, work, and learn at Oberlin, both the institution and the town.  By resourcing, researching, and curating the sounds that distinguish our political, social, and environmental soundscape, this exhibit participates in projects that seek to challenge the predominance of visual culture in our society.

Our exhibit includes five individual collections: Oberlin Music, Oberlin Learning, Oberlin Labor,  Oberlin Leisure, , Oberlin Activism. These collections include the voices and vibrations emanating from the Conservatory, the clicking of fingers on keyboards at Mudd Library, the whirring of a blender at Cowhaus Creamery, the spinning of a potter's wheel at the ceramics studio, and voices raised in protest throughout Oberlin history. We invite you to embark on a sonic journey through the sounds heard and overheard, past and present, at Oberlin.

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Captivating Voices

This exhibit considers how specific voices command listeners’ attention and compels their response. In so doing, each voice becomes captivating. We include collective and solo voices in a wide variety of contexts like spoken word poetry, motivational speaking, sporting events, and musical styles like opera and blues. Some of the vocalists make their statements compelling through what they say (the referentiality of language), while for others paralinguistic features are especially artfully employed (that is, how they use their voices). While there is no one model or one combination of factors that makes a voice captivating, one recurring theme is that these are voices that prompt multiple interpretive angles. Furthermore, these voices often elicit a response because they deviate from the norm of a particular cultural context; thus, the notion of “captivating” is largely dependent on the context of a voice and on the ears of the listener. Each section of the exhibit examines a particular voice and provides five sound excerpts exploring the voice’s sonic aspects.

Student Soundscapes: Life as a Listener

The purpose of this exhibit is to develop an understanding of the sonic makeup of the spaces that students at Oberlin College inhabit. We began with the following definition of a “soundscape”: the organic and inorganic sounds that shape a physical environment, as well as the ways in which the physical environment allows for the production of certain sounds.

The sounds and collections that follow are animated by some of the following questions: What sounds do we associate with certain spaces? In which ways are soundscapes crafted? And in which ways are they organic? And, finally, what happens when we actively listen to the soundscapes that we usually relegate to the background noise?

The exhibit is divided into three collections: Natural Sounds, Commercial Sounds, and Institutional Sounds. These divisions allow us to categorize and classify these sounds in terms of the spaces in which they are generated; however, there is overlap between all three of these imposed subsections. For instance, the “Arb” is categorized under Natural Sounds but it is a space that was designed by the College in 1892 as an outdoor space for women, and today the sounds of traffic on Professor Street are an inseparable element of this soundscape. Similarly, in a small college town many commercial spaces are shaped by and intended to cater to students, faculty, and university employees. For example, “DeCafe” is a convenience store owned and run by the College thereby making it a commercial space that is controlled by the institution. And as the examples above suggest, the sonic and situational influence of “the Institution” pervades the many soundscapes collected here.

As you explore the following exhibit we invite you to think of these sounds both within and outside of the conditions in which they were recorded, to imagine yourself as a student at Oberlin and as member of a small midwestern town, and to begin life as a listener into your own soundscapes.


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Water Acoustics

Aquatic soundscapes are quite different from ordinary soundscapes in air, as the propagation of sound in various mediums is rather different. Underwater acoustics are interesting, as the sonic environment involves interactions between the water and inanimate objects as well as the marine life underneath. Human disturbances would also be worthwhile to investigate as they help shape the underwater soundscape. This project presents collection and qualitative analysis of the sounds of water from around the United States. The collection takes form in an exhibition on the Sonic Dictionary website and serves as a foundation for others interested the acoustic property of water to expand. The qualitative analysis takes form in modified, edited and overlaid tracks from the original collection and descriptive analysis based on the past work of experts in the field and observations of the original and edited recordings. By documenting these underwater soundscapes we can begin to piece together a sound map of several aquatic environments, which can help us observe changes and trends in underwater acoustical settings over space and time as more recordings are continuously added to the project. Through this process we can begin to discover the uses, properties, and roles of sound underwater and how alterations in the natural soundscape, such as anthropophonic sound and sound barriers, affect the marine environment. While noise pollution has been studied effusively, and received legislative backing since 1972, very little of those regulations apply beneath the surface. In order for this to change we must first document these environments.


For more detailed information about this project, analysis, and pictures of recording locations, please visit this site:

Sonic Signatures of Trauma in Haiti

This three-pronged exhibit was created by students in Trauma and Global Mental Health in Haiti, a course co-taught by Deborah Jenson and Bonnie Kaiser at Duke in fall 2015. The course explores the genesis of the diagnostic rubric of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its relationship to local cultural context, with Haiti serving as a case study. Bridging global health, medical humanities, and literature, students read fiction and prose by Edwidge Danticat to bring historical and contemporary risks, ramifications, and co-morbidities of traumatic stress in Haiti into focus.

Working in teams, students collaborated on three mini-exhibits. One group chose to focus on sound from the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, known in Kreyòl as as “Goudou Goudou.” Another group illuminates the myriad sounds of Danticat’s memoir Brother I’m Dying (2007), while the third group focuses on her novel, The Dew Breaker (2004), which chronicles the Duvalier era in Haiti.

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"Soleful" Impacts

In the field of athletics, there are many elements that go toward shaping a sports experience, for both the athlete and the spectator.  A large part of this experience is sensory: visual, tactile, and even olfactory in some cases.  But sports would be nothing without their auditory component: sounds, and specifically, their impact sounds.

An impact sound is that which arises from the collision of one object with another; for the purposes of this project, it is specifically a sound that arises from the collision of an athlete’s body with a sports surface, in any form it may present itself.  The majority of these impact sounds result from contact between an athlete’s foot and the sports surface, and in these situations, shoes act as a meditator between the two. 

The goal of "Soleful" Impacts is to showcase the numerous and assorted array of sounds that sports shoes can make when they come in contact with a specific surface that cannot always be captured through writing, as well as articulate the sonic differences between the different impacts that sports shoes make on their respective surfaces.