I’ve mentioned before that I’m in the Thematic Option program here at USC, and some of the coolest classes I’ve taken are part of that program. In particular, my favorite one has been the class that I took on aural culture. I genuinely love listening to music so much, and it’s such a big part of my day-to-day life. Music taste, I feel, can really reflect a person’s personality. That said, these were just hypotheses I had made, and I was curious to see if they had any foundation, which is why this class intersted me. I was also able to take this class simultaneously with a Broadway GE class (which I wrote about here).
Aural culture is definitely not something I had thought about before, at least not in depth. I mean, as a CECS major, the extent of my experience studying sound has been limited to digital signal processing. But that’s just a microcosm of what the culture of sound encompasses. In this class, we studied sounds — not just in their most technical form, but also in the ways sounds have been systematized and used as symbols.
We did this via in-class lectures and discussions, (the class size was about 30, and the discussion was half of that), and field trips — my favorite part. I loved to go see “sound art” exhibits as a part of the class, and I loved getting to see Anoushka Shankar perform with the LA Philharmonic, downtown at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. As the syllabus stated, we learned about “sound-worlds” of many cultures and art-forms, both in the past and present. This specific field trip was really cool for me; I read through the program and learned about Anouskha Shankar’s style of mixing contemporary and classical sounds in her performances before the concerto started. The class really trained me to listen in different modes, one of which was “semantic listening,” which is basically casual listening. I was trying to identify how the sitar music combined with the other instruments and how that translated into the performance to become a cohesive whole. I was surprised to find that even with the western tradition integrated with the solo sitar, the sitar was still highlighted in the piece. I don’t listen to much sitar music, but the sitar that I am familiar with is usually only accompanied by tablas – Indian drums. In contrast to that, this performance sounded softer, a departure from traditional Indian music.
I’ve also always had an affinity for languages, so my favorite unit of the class was when we learned about spoken language and its sound. There are so many languages, lesser known ones, that are quickly becoming lost. They’re lost in the sense that there are no other people that speak the language. We got to learn about how much the language of a culture defines it and its people. The modes of communication, the sounds, and the influences are an integral part of people of the cultures’ lives and the traditions they carry on to their kids and future generations.
At the end of the course, we were able to do a project based on whatever kind of sound field we were interested in. I really love food and cooking, so I decided to do a project on how food and the food industry is affected by sound culture. I was particularly interested in figuring out if certain sounds altered the taste of food. I was able to answer questions like why people really like to drink tomato juice on airplanes, and maybe see whether seafood served at open oceanside restaurants actually tasted fresher than the seafood served at other restaurants, even if the dish, food quality, and preparation were the same.
There are literally hundreds of cool classes to take here at USC, and I would definitely encourage that you go out and take all of the ones you have an opportunity to take! Adding these classes to your schedule may seem like “more work” or a “distraction” to some, but in my experience and in all honesty, these classes really give you something in your week to look forward to, and all the work you do for the class are things that you’ll have fun and really enjoy doing!
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