To continue the Sound Bender experience, we've provided some assignments, class projects and discussion questions that will spark the imagination, fascinate the intellect and force your students to get outside and engage the auditory world in a new way
Please feel free share anything your class comes up with.
In Sound Bender, Leo's father was named Kirk Lomax, and he was an ethnomusicologist, someone who went far and wide to hunt for music from indigenous tribes and forgotten villages across the globe. But you don't have to sail to New Guiniea to find music – it's all around us!
The assignment is to go out into the world and record a song. It can be any type of song. It doesn't even have to be music – a lot of things sound a whole lot like music. But you must record something made by a human or humans – apes and dolphins count, too. This recording will be around after you are, so you must document the recording. After the performance, get the musician's name, the name of the song, and interview him or her for a little bit. Imagine someone two hundred years from now stumbling across your recording – they would be pretty lost without a little information.
In Sound Bender, Leo Lomax is obsessed with sounds most of us ignore – things like garbage trucks backing up and insects scurrying around. Now it's your turn. Find a place you like, or a place that's interesting, or a place that scares you – any place, it doesn't matter – and sit quietly in the place for a few minutes, and just listen. Don't worry about things or daydream. Just listen. What do you hear? With a notebook out, write down every different sound you hear. It's okay if you cannot identify the sound. Just describe it briefly. You will hear tons and tons of sounds you never noticed, and if you listen closely, you might hear something that sounds like music.
Now try this exercise again, but now do it at a much different time of day. If you sat by your window in the morning, try it late at night. Anything different? How so? Would you be able to tell the time of day just by listening?
Did you know that your headphones can be used as a microphone? They can! All you have to do is plug your headphone jack into the "MIC" slot on a tape recorder or your mobile phone (if it has one), and then speak into the headphones. The sound quality will be pretty good, too.
Most of us have to walk somewhere everyday – maybe you walk to school, or from school to the soccer field, or from the corner store to your apartment. Do you really listen when you're taking that walk, or do your ears just hear what they want to hear?
Now's the chance to find out. On your next walk, wear your headphones. But you won't be listening to music, you'll be recording! Plug the headphones into your "MIC" slot and record your entire walk. You'll be recording exactly what your ears would hear if they were machines and not weird flaps of skin connected to your brain. When you play back the recording, write down any differences between what you hear on the recording and what you thought you heard on the walk. The differences will amaze you.
In the 1940s, American artist Bryon Gisen invented something called the "cut-up technique." While reading the newspaper one morning, he noticed that although the paper was folded so that the sentences were out of order, some of the scrambled sentences and phrases made sense in a different and strange kind of way. Together with writer William Burroughs, they began cutting up anything they could find and re-arranging the old text into new poems and stories. William Burroughs also began to make cut-ups from audio he recorded. For instance, he might record all of his friends sitting together in a room, laughing and talking. Then he would take the tape of the recording, cut it up into pieces, and splice it all back together randomly. When he played back the edited copy, he found that it made about as much sense as the normal conversation! It even revealed deep and strange things about the people in the room.
Now's your chance to make an audio cut-up. Record anything you like, such as your friends playing basketball or the street-scene near downtown. Listen to it, then use a free sound editing program like Audacity to cut the recording into bits, and then put them back together in a new order.
When you are re-assembling your clips, try not to force it – don't judge what you are doing or try too hard to have it make sense. It's best to place a limit for how you will edit before diving in – for instance you might decide that every clip will be three seconds in length – and then to simply re-edit without really thinking. It's best to do cut-ups when you're relaxed and playful.
While you are re-editing, think about this: for almost all of human history, we never had the opportunity to record the events of our lives and the world we live in. The only way something lived on was in memories or in artifacts like books. But in this day and age, we can not only record the world around us, but we can chop it up and put it back together again in any way we like!
When you are done with your edit, listen to it. How is it different from the first recording? Does it reveal something new? Are there any new connections? How do you think the people in the recording would feel if they heard it?
In 1977, the spacecraft Voyagers I and II were launched from Earth to explore our solar system, and then beyond. Both craft are now approaching interstellar space, never to return. It is expected that both craft will last in space for more than a billion years. In case any alien civilization ever comes across those floating metal hunks, two golden records were placed inside of each craft. The golden record contained some coded information about our planet and its people, but also contained lots of different music from our planet, as well as whale and bird songs.
The idea to include this golden record was spearheaded by famed astronomer Carl Sagan. He had become fascinated with Dr. John Lilly's (the inspiration for our character, Jay Lylo) work on decoding dolphin language, and thought that Lilly's research would provide a great basis for decoding an alien message, or sending a message to aliens.
Now imagine that your class is responsible for putting together another golden record to be rocketed into space. What would you put on it? What music and sounds do you think would help an alien civilization to best understand our species and our planet? Why? Remember, this journey may last over a billion years, and it could just as long before an alien civilization ever hears it. Our civilization will be long gone by then, and our species might be, too.