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Sound essay questions

You are encouraged to develop your own essay question – provided it’s based on an aspect of sound covered in this module. You also need to include an element of original research from primary sources (e.g. archives, official documents, programmes, newspapers, diaries, field-observations, interviews, high-quality online resources, etc.), which will form a ‘case study’ at the heart of your paper. Listed below are the questions from which those studying this module in its 15-credit form have to choose. You may choose one of these, adapt them, or define other questions entirely.

  1. Can our understanding of the impact of sound on everyday experience be properly informed by science – whether that means neuroscience, psychology, or acoustics?
  2. Is sound better thought of objectively or subjectively? Why?
  3. Is there still any value to Murray Schafer’s concept of the ‘soundscape’?
  4. In what ways might we claim that space in the modern city is ‘defined and moulded’ by its inhabitants’ subjective experience of sound?
  5. Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong are among those who have seen history as a series of shifts in the ‘ratio of the senses’. Is this a useful way to understand the relationship between seeing and hearing over time?
  6. Can we know what the past sounded like? And is it possible – or even desirable – to recreate it?
  7. Why was anxiety over noise on the rise in the late 19th and early-20th century?
  8. Why does there appear to be a fascination with silence in contemporary life?
  9. Can noise ever be regarded as a positive social phenomenon?
  10. What makes sound – and listening – political?
  11. How might a focus on sound help us to understand more deeply the lives of oppressed or marginalised peoples?
  12. Is there a convincing relationship between voice and personality?
  13. Are there any reasons, beyond the purely aesthetic, for us to be interested in the sounds of animals?
  14. Focusing on either one or two films, analyse the role of sound in creating cinema’s sense of drama and meaning.
  15. How has silence been used creatively in cinema’s sound era?
  16. Focusing on either one or two films, analyse the role of the musical soundtrack in creating a sense of drama and meaning.
  17. Lewis Mumford wrote about cities as theatres of social action. If so, how might we reconceive cities nowadays to make the action within them more sociable and humane?
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