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  • sammyholmes

Final Reflection on "Sounds of COVID" Project

My final project is greatly influenced by the presentation on Digital Sound given for this course by my friend and classmate, Meranda Gallupe-Paton. Her experiment that accompanied her presentation was exploring a database created by Duke University called the, “Sonic Dictionary,” where every letter of the dictionary has a lengthy list of different sounds that begin with that letter, like the sound of an airplane for ‘A’. (Duke University, 2013) I loved exploring this website, and thinking about the immense quantity and variety of sounds around us in our daily lives. I started to focus on the sounds around me, like that of my every-day walks or the clicking of my keyboard. The one sound that really stood out to me was the inevitable silence of spending the majority of each day alone in my studio apartment. Silence was not unknown to me, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that there was so much more silence around me since the COVID pandemic erupted.

This experience really gave rise to the question that fueled my project: What can be learned from the soundscape of a pandemic? My project is an attempt to glean a little insight into the variety of sounds that mark individual experiences during the COVID pandemic. I reached out to my community (both through social media, as well as individually) to ask those interested to share the sounds that mark their experiences of COVID, whether it be sounds they here every day, to unique, infrequent sounds. These sounds were all given titles by their creators, and were placed onto a Soundcloud album called, “Sounds of COVID.” The album has seventy tracks, created by eighteen different individuals, located both in Canada (ie. Montreal, Quebec and Napanee, Ontario) to the Midwest of the United States (ie. Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan). I also created a website for the project, where the album is accompanied by an explanation of the project, and further contact information.

The album was overall pretty successful, and was very similar to my imagined outcome for this project. I was able to obtain sounds from a variety of people I am connected to, and all the sounds were unique to the individuals who captured them. I also enjoyed that each person was engaged in picking a title for their songs; I wanted to see how people resonated with the sounds they captured by choosing what it would be named. One of my favourite aspects of this project was the way in which it engaged people to listen more deeply within their everyday lives. As Michael Bull and Les Back poignantly stated in their, “Introduction: Into Sound,” to their book, The auditory culture reader, “Thinking with our ears offers an opportunity to augment our critical imaginations, to comprehend our world and our encounters with it according to multiple registers of feeling.” (Bull and Back, 2020) It was apparent that my participants were actively thinking about the sounds around them and how they related to their experiences of life during COVID. When people were sharing their sounds with me, they tended to explain the feelings or emotions that these sounds brought them. The description of the project made my participants more aware of the sounds around them, and they were aware of the emotional reasons why they chose certain sounds to share over others.

Although I do enjoy the final product, I did run out of time to create my own podcast that would have brought all of these sounds together in a cohesive manner. The podcast might have helped potential listeners understand what these sounds tell us about the changes to our environments brought by the COVID pandemic, instead of just listening to each sound as a separate entity. For example, I really enjoyed the various podcasts in the series, “Listening to COVID 19,” created by students in an Introduction to Sound Studies course at University of Toronto, and would have loved to synthesize my findings in a similar fashion. (University of Toronto, 2020) I also feel like I did not have a lot of engagement and outreach with my project in terms of collecting sounds. Despite the fact that I posted about this project three times to each social media platform I belong to, and reached out to various friends to ask for contributions, I did not really get a lot of people willing to participate. I would have enjoyed having more sounds because it would have given the album a larger group of people and experiences to add to this soundscape of COVID. Lastly, I ran into a lot of technical issues because I didn’t choose a specific format for the sounds to be sent to me in. I had sounds in a lot of various forms, like through videos, sent through Facebook and Instagram, voice memos, etc. The variety of formats made the album formation a lot more time consuming than if I had asked my participants to send the audio in a specific format. In the future, if I undertake a project such as this again (or expand this project to reach further participants), I would make sure to focus on time management, so I could make a podcast of the experience, and ensure that I could get a larger group of participants.

I entered this course, as well as the Digital Humanities specialization at large, with this more structured conceptualization of what digital humanities was. Throughout each week, I was confronted with new issues or forms of digital humanities that expanded and changed my preconceived notions. I think that is ultimately a good thing; digital humanities would lose the elements that make it accessible and unique if we try to pin it down as one thing or another. If I was going to pose a definition for Digital Humanities, I think it would be the utilization of technology in an infinite amount of ways to progress the conditions of humanity and our daily lives in this world. Digital Humanities is marked by its interactions with people, so this humanity should always be the back bone of every endeavour.

Works Cited:

Bull, Michael, and Les Back. "Introduction Into Sound... Once More with Feeling." In The auditory culture reader, 1-20. Routledge, 2020.

Duke University. “Sonic Dictionary.” Accessed December 12, 2020.

University of Toronto: Ethnomusicology. “Listening to COVID 19.” Podcasts created by undergraduate students in Dr. Nil Basdurak’s course, An Introduction to Sound Studies.

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