#SoundGoals: Bridging Global Divides through Music

How was your day? Think about the question without visualizing anything; just listen. Hear the background drone of the construction on Sheridan, the conversations with your friends or the sizzling pans at Plex.

Source: Center for Global Studies and Communications, Northwestern Univ.
Source: Center for Global Studies and Communications, Northwestern Univ.

Without using any images, you have walked through the memories of your day. The concept of “seeing” through sound may seem foreign, but the soundtrack of our lives as college students is integral to our everyday experience. The concept of understanding life through sound (i.e. Sound Studies) is an emerging field growing right here at Northwestern.
With the introduction of a master’s program in fall 2016, Sound Studies and Industries encompasses a variety of fields, including RTVF, history, communications, engineering and cultural studies.
In response to this growing interest in the field of sound, a guest lecture series titled “The Sounds of South Asia” debuted at the start of the academic year, garnering interest across Northwestern. The series, presented by visiting scholars specializing in sound studies of South Asia, is sponsored by the Center for Global Culture and Communication and organized by departments in both the School of Communication and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
While you might think that a lecture about sound would entail analyzing music with lots of semi-intelligible jargon, this was far from the case.
The guest speakers teach the audience to use their ears, rather than their eyes, to “see” and understand South Asian culture. Touching on fascinating subjects such as the use of lyrics to create politically-charged hashtags, this lecture series helps bridge the gap between the East and the West to analyze non-visual and non-textual trends in global media.
Dr. Jacob Smith, an RTVF professor and a co-sponsor of the lectures, said that one of the primary goals of the series was to “open our ears to a global culture.”
Discussing “South Asian sound culture can spark new inquiries into how we think about sound,” said Smith, especially given that most of the existing work in this field focuses on the West.
To demonstrate how sound can help bridge communities, Dr. Laura Brueck from the Asian Language and Cultures department at Northwestern emphasized the role of sound as a common factor for multilingual population clusters in South Asia. She referenced one of the lecturers, Dr. Aswin Punathambekar, who spoke about the use of Tamil, a South ndian language, words as hashtags throughout all of India, an uncommon occurrence for a country with over 100 languages.
“Sound, unlike text and visual culture, inhabits and transcends linguistic boundaries,” said Brueck.

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