Computers and Writing 2011 Proposal

I’m excited to present my first video proposal to speak at a conference. I put this together for Computers and Writing 2011 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. If accepted, my presentation will be called “Sound Composing: Musical Rhetoric in the Ears of Composers.”


For my visually minded friends (me included, ironically enough), here’s the video’s script. The italicized parts are contiguous quotes from Steven B. Katz’s The Epistemic Music of Rhetoric: Toward the Temporal Dimension of Affect in Reader Response and Writing.

Perhaps time, and all it stands for, is the basis of the experience of language as sound, emotion a lump of time caught in the throat.

It’s hard to talk about sound–what exactly it does for audiences, how composers manipulate it. Rhetoricians are well versed in discussing images, fixed in time and graspable. But the question of how composers of sound apply rhetorical principles is less well explored–the temporal, unfixed nature of sound complicates things.

Perhaps it is through time that we can know the affective experience of language as an indeterminate flux and flow.

Rhetorical principles have been applied to music for hundreds of years, especially in Western Baroque and early classical texts on music composition. These composers were taught to use their instrumental music to communicate emotional states that audiences would clearly comprehend, relying on a series of rhetorical musical figures and gestures. More recently, Steven Katz has written on how knowledge is fundamentally emotional, temporal, and musical. Along similar lines, Joddy Murray has drawn attention to the importance of non-discursive rhetoric. And in 2006, Byron Hawk and Cheryl Ball co-edited a  special issue of Computers and Composition, “Sound in/as Composition Space.” [And I forgot to mention the parallel issue of Computers and Composition Online.]

Perhaps it is in time that the essential unity, the oneness that oral cultures experienced in sound, exists.

I want to add to this work by developing a composer-centric rhetoric of sound. I conducted a qualitative study of music composers (students and professionals, practitioners and scholars), using their explanations of their compositional aims as the bedrock of a new understanding of sound’s rhetorical possibilities and functions.

Perhaps we have not lost it. Perhaps it is still in the music of language.

My interviews focused on questions of how music communicates–what kinds of things it can say, how composers plan for their audiences, how they think rhetorically. More specifically, I asked them about influence, emotion, their use of preexisting musical forms, and digital composition, both in terms of composing with electronic sounds and using computer notation software.

Could it be that voice and felt sense, that dissonance and disequilibrium, that harmony and resolution in reading and writing are musical in nature, are the epistemic basis of affective knowledge, are a temporal form of knowledge?

I’ll report on what my participants said about their own work and about music in general, playing clips of their interviews and compositions when appropriate. I’ll also engage the audience by briefly playing selections of music that showcase the problems my participants brought up, inviting the group to consider the different ways that music can mean.

Music Credits (in order)

Image Credits (in order; all with various Creative Commons licenses)



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2 responses to “Computers and Writing 2011 Proposal

  1. Most excellent job, sir! I would accept you if I were in charge. If you still have a chance to make tweaks, I would decrease the music volume relative to your dialogue – I found it hard to hear in places.

  2. Great to see my content being used in this way! Thanks for tagging (cpgmattr)

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