Analysis vs. Experience; or, Another Written Piece about Sound

I’m not sure that I’m the right person to answer this question.

I mean, look at how the first part of the question focuses on how technology allows “closer critique and analysis of sound.” Yes, sometimes we do need that kind of “closer critique,” as proven by the other posts on this page. (Voice and gender in videogames, analyzed visually with digital tools!? Droumeva, you’re amazing.)

But if I’m honest, I find myself wanting to question the question. I keep saying, “I value sound more for its effects on my body and mind than for what I can learn by analyzing it.” I like the second half of the question, with that beautifully messy word relationships, more than the first.

What’s my problem? I’m thinking of Steph Ceraso’s point that “alongside and in addition to semiotic approaches to multimodality, it is necessary to address the affective and embodied, lived experience of multimodality in more explicit ways” (104).

And I’m thinking of Steven B. Katz, whose book The Epistemic Music of Rhetoric argues for “a phonocentric rather than a logocentric theory of response,” which develops “aural, temporal modes of experiencing and reasoning” (2).

And this, from David Burrows: “Musical significance doesn't depend, as verbal does, on a lexicon of referents. . . . The fact remains that living the sound itself, in all its sectors and over all its time spans, is the root of its musical meaning” (89).

Putting those together: I don’t know how much I want to analyze sound, using technology or not. Or at least, I never want to analyze it in a way that erases Ceraso’s and Katz’s phonocentric theories, where “experiencing” is at least as important as “reasoning.” I never want to analyze sound in a way that erases what Burrows calls “the root of its musical meaning”--that is, “living the sound itself.” I don’t want to try to understand something I’ve never let myself feel.

I know, I know. Analysis and experience often go together--maybe especially often when we’re studying sound and music. And I know that sometimes my experiences of sounds are heightened when I’ve taken the time to understand what I’m hearing. Tom Goldberg makes this point about understanding and experiencing Haydn’s music when he writes, “The pleasure taken in following (or anticipating) a pattern, in catching an allusion, or in associating a present experience with past experiences may be an emotional response, but it rests upon the informed--that is, intellectual--response that makes them possible. Art yields more of its secrets to the knowledgeable ear than to the ignorant one" (55). Yep. Sure. I’ve felt that. I’ve thought that.

And yet. Don’t some of us scholars overemphasize the analysis? Don’t we write words about sound (like those four printed pieces about sound I just quoted, but also here, look at this page, which you’re experiencing on a screen, a screen with multimedia capabilities built in, your browser is literally built for this stuff)--don’t we write about it and sometimes maybe often forget to let the power of sound affect us, slam into our bodies, tickle the hairs in our ears, remind us of everything we’ve ever loved?

That’s why I’m perhaps not the right person to answer the question. Not because it’s a bad question, but because I’m worried about my own writing over the years, how at times I’ve overemphasized the analytical over the embodied and the affective. Increasingly, I’d rather create experiences for people (like a DJ) than explain their experiences to them (like a lecturer). But here I am, another person arguing in print about the importance of sound, like Plato furiously scribbling his frustrations about writing, in writing, ignoring the drumbeats and the echoing declamations that were surely not too far from his open window.


Works Cited


Burrows, David. Sound, Speech, and Music. U of Massachusetts P, 1990.


Ceraso, Steph. “(Re)Educating the Senses: Multimodal Listening, Bodily Learning, and the Composition of Sonic Experience.” College English, vol 77, no. 2, 2014, pp. 102-23.


Goldberg, Sander M. “Performing Theory: Variations on a Theme by Quintilian.” Haydn and the Performance of Rhetoric, edited by Tom Beghin and Sander M. Goldberg, U of Chicago P, 2007, pp. 39-60.


Katz, Steven B. The Epistemic Music of Rhetoric: Toward the Temporal Dimension of Affect in Reader Response and Writing. Southern Illinois UP, 1996.

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