Courses in Acoustic Communication



Instructor: Norbert Ruebsaat, K-8653, 778-782-3099, email:


Texts: B. Truax, Acoustic Communication, 2nd ed., Ablex 2001. (QC 225.15 T78)

R. M. Schafer, Our Sonic Environment and the Soundscape: The Tuning of the World, Destiny Books, 1994.

B. Truax, ed., Handbook for Acoustic Ecology, CD-ROM edition, Cambridge Street Publishing, 1999.

Projects: Project and Assignment details will be discussed at length in tutorials. Attendance at these is mandatory because a lot of project work will be done there.

Grading will be by letter grade average of the following projects:

Introductory Earplug Commentary, not graded
Three Listening Projects, 20% each
Sound Journals, 30%
Tutorial reports & Participation, 10%
Terminology quizzes, not graded

The School expects that the grades awarded in this course will bear some reasonable relation to established university-wide practices to both levels and distribution of grades. In addition, the School will also follow Policy T10.02 with respect to "Intellectual Honesty," and "Academic Discipline" (see the current Calendar, General Regulations Section).

Lecture Topics and Readings:

Note: All Readings are to be done for the date listed. AC refers to Acoustic Communication, 2nd edition; SS refers to Our Sonic Environment and the Soundscape: The Tuning of the World.


Week 1


Week 2

Listening I

SS: Intro, chapters 1-3
AC: intro

Week 3

Listening II

SS: chapter 4-6, 14
AC: chapter 2

Week 4

Acoustic Space/Place

SS: chapter 7

Week 5

Acoustic Community I

SS: chapter 15
AC: chapter 5

Week 6

Soundmaking & Voice/Language I

AC: chapter 3

Week 7

Soundmaking & Voice/Language II

SS: chapter 10

Week 8

Noise I

SS: chapter 13
AC: chapter 6

Week 9

Noise II

SS: chapter 5-7

Week 10

Acoustic Community II

SS: chapter 16

Week 11

Soundmaking & Voice/Language III

SS: chapter 11

Week 12

Acoustic Design I

SS: chapter 17
AC: chapter 7

Week 13

Acoustic Design II

SS: chapter 19




Choose a place you are interested in listening to and take an hour to carry out the following sequence of activities.

10 minutes: Relax. Become aware of yourself in the soundscape, and of the soundscape which contains you. Finish this section when you are listening attentively and well.

5 minutes: Monitor all the sounds in the environment and note the major types on a sheet of paper. At the end of this period, take a sheet of paper and draw a graph where the horizontal line represents time, and the vertical line represents amplitude of sound types. Identify sounds by using a legend.

15 minutes: Listen attentively to every sound that occurs during this period and mark it briefly on your graph. Do not spend a lot of time writing or drawing: spend most of it listening and noting the sound quickly.

15 minutes: Repeat the same kind of listening, but this time don't mark the sounds down but concentrate, rather, on your reactions and attitudes to the sound you are hearing. Listen for spatial variation in them, the volume, their qualities, duration, rhythms, frequency, etc. Decide which sounds you like best and least.

15 minutes: Complete your graph by filling in the sounds you were not able to plot in earlier, and provide more graphic detail. Write notes on what you experienced during the second 15 minute listening period.

Later: Write five to seven pages (1200-1500 words) of analysis which answers as many of the following questions as you can answer: Are you, after this listening exercise, more interested or less interested in the sounds and in the soundscape you chose? Why/why not? Would go back and listen to it again? What made you choose this soundscape? What did you imagine you would hear, and how was what you heard different than or the same as what you imagined? What was the ratio between human, natural, mechanical and electrical sounds? Were these relationships pleasing or not pleasing? Was this listening experience enjoyable unpleasant? Why? What keynote sounds, sound signals and soundmarks did you hear? Choose two sounds you liked and two sounds you didn't like, and discuss why you liked them/didn't like them? Was it the sounds themselves, or their associations which caused you to like or dislike them? How did the amplitude, duration, frequency, timbre, rhythm, envelope of the four sounds you liked/disliked influence your likes and dislikes? How did the relationships between the sounds influence your likes/dislikes? Was the soundscape, in your opinion, balanced or unbalanced? Was the soundscape, in your opinion, well designed or poorly designed? Why?


Take a soundwalk (see Handbook) in a location you consider acoustically interesting. Check out the route beforehand to familiarize yourself with the keynotes, signals, soundmarks and other important sounds, and plan a route. Then walk for about twenty minutes, listening discriminately to all sounds you hear. Sit down afterwards and record the sounds by type, duration, intensity, acoustic horizon and space and identify sound events, etc. in your notebook, then draw a map of your route and locate the sounds in them. Examples of past soundwalk maps are available for your perusal. Write five to seven pages discussing the sounds and the soundwalk: identify sound memories and sound romances which you experienced, discuss relationship between sounds you heard, sounds you remembered, sounds you invented and sounds you made on your walk. Discuss whether the soundscapes your walk traversed were balanced or unbalanced, and mention the acoustic communities you think might be defined by the soundscapes you heard. Note: if, for your first listening project, you chose a hi fi soundscape, choose a lo fi one for this project; if, for your first listening project, you chose a lo fi soundscape, chose a hi fi one for this exercise.


Choose and study a Sound Event (see Handbook) in which human voices play a strong role. Listen closely and discover the extent to which the voices (it should involve at least three people) create, influence, or are secondary (accompaniment) to the event. Think about your event beforehand, and choose it on the basis of that thought. The group might be a group of friends, your family, the people you work with, a public event (sports; theatre; dance class; university class; nightclub, etc.). Write, again, 5-7 pages discussing your findings; pay special attention in this write up to how the voices shape the temporal envelope of your event, and pay attention to the relationship between the voices and other sounds, both environmental and electroacoustic (media sounds). Identify, by drawing a map, the acoustic spaces and horizons generated by each person involved in your event and the acoustic space and horizon composed by the group as a whole. Discuss also the relationships between these acoustic spaces and those generated by the others sounds in the soundscape in which your event takes place. Write a conclusion in which you discuss the extent to which, in your opinion, your event composes/fails to compose an acoustic community for the persons involved.



Each week in tutorials we will be telling Sound Stories. These are stories about our encounters with sounds during the semester, our encounters with readings and talk about sound, and our encounters with memories and ideas we might have as a result of the other encounters. The purpose of these reports is to bring into aural awareness those things about which you are writing in your Journals and Listening Assignments, and those things which pop into your head and about which you would otherwise not speak because people so rarely listen to each other talk about their sound experiences. They are also intended to familiarize yourself and others in the tutorial with the sound of your voice and its powers and potential powers. Attendance in tutorials is thus mandatory.


Keep a regular sound journal throughout the semester. A sound journal is journal in which you record and reflect on your listening, reading and thinking experiences with the materials in this course. Write one two-to-three page entry per week a week, beginning week 2, and in each entry make reference to material in the week's lecture, in the week's reading from one of the two texts, and relate these, and your thoughts about them, by way of a sound story. A sound story is one in which listening to sounds leads the narrative: in other words, what happens is acoustically, not visually-or tactilely or olfactorily, etc.-motivated. The story can tell of a sound experience or a sound memory or a sound fantasy, or a sound dream or combinations of these. Since, in each week, we will be introducing acoustic terms (which you can reference in the Handbook) your stories should include these terms. Try, when you are describing sounds, to make us, the readers, hear them, not have to imagine them. We will be giving you specific journals assignments periodically in lecture or in tutorials. Journals are due week 5, week 9 and week 13.