readings help us dive deep into the world of digital Audio. First, Doug Boyd gives
a run down on everything we should consider when designing an Oral History project.
Then, Michael Frisch pushes us to reconsider how we use and organize the
audio and video we collect. Finally, Wendy F. Hsu challenges us to think
about sound differently to conceptualize a new
methodological framework of augmented empiricism through Digital Ethnography.
As Boyd points out, conducting Oral History is
a great privilege and the work required to prepare, conduct, transcribe, disseminate,
and relate the oral histories we collect to larger historical narratives is no
small feat. But as they say, with great privilege comes great responsibility. The
choices made in the design of a project influence the its overall success and
development. Boyd thus encourages us to consider the following:
Why are you doing this project and what’s the desired outcome?
Think of a
project mission statement and write it down (consulting and communicating with
project partners where applicable.) This helps oral history project designers stay
focused and on task. A mission statement works as a reminder of why the project
was initiated in the first place. Along with that, will these interviews be
used for broadcast or production? Will they be hosted online or adapted into
another format? Figuring out the answers to these questions will influence
choice made on the equipment purchased and used for the project.
What recording equipment works best for you and what are your budgetary needs?
audio, or video equipment is best for your project? How familiar are you with
these technologies and software? Do you have access to the necessary trainings?
Another way of thinking about this question is to ask who the intended audience of this project is? Thinking about these
questions will point oral historians to the direction of their most suited
project will later be used for production, professional quality equipment will
be necessary and this can add up quickly. Consumer equipment can work just as
well, but this hinges on the project’s needs. You also have to consider how and
where audio or video files will be stored. External drives and servers are also
costly and if a transcription service is hired out to work on these files that’s
another cost to consider as well. You also have to think about project dissemination,
web space, and software
Next, you’ll need to consider your level of expertise.
If you’re unfamiliar
with current audio, video, or computer technologies, you’re going to want to
learn, attend workshops, read manuals, and practice. You’ll want to know how to
use your equipment properly before the
interview takes place. There’s nothing worse than completing an interview and
realizing the recorder was off the whole time.
Your digital storage and archival strategy should also be thought out.
records create massive files and you’ll want to be prepared and have
pre-planned strategy for storage. Consulting your archive partner can help with
this. They should have the means necessary to undertake the expensive and
complex digital preservation and curation of audio and video materials. You’ll
also want to ask them about the work flows, protocols, and release policies they follow.
One of the
biggest questions you’ll want to
consider as a part of your project design are the legal and ethical issues
you might encounter over the course of your project and how you plan to
confront them. As Boyd points out, oral history can be incredibly intimate
and the life stories that interviewees share can have wider implications after
project disseminations. This is something that should be thoroughly contemplated
by the project staff before making interviews publicly accessible with informed
Boyd’s point about the end product of an oral history project is something Michael Frisch has many thoughts on. Frisch encourages users to think about the life of an oral history interview once the recorder is turned off. In many cases, interviews are transcribed, and its meaning and interpretation is derived from the transcript. The layers of meaning found within the context and setting of an interview and the interviewees gesture, tone, body language, expression, pauses, and movements that enrich and fully contextualize an interview are lost. Text has become the go to mode for the life of an oral history due to ease of use and sharing, but Frisch shows that with the digital revolution, we can put the oral back in oral history.
digital age, all data is relatively the same and can be expressed as digital
information that can be organized, searched, extracted, and equally integrated and
instantly and non-linearly accessible Because of this Frisch calls for a “post-documentary
sensibility” for oral history, where digital audio and video are annotated,
cross-reference, and organized by other types of descriptive or analytic meta-data
linked to specific passages of interview content. In doing so the audio or
video itself is the source that is searched, studied, and referenced by
researchers and users, returning the actual voice and embodied meanings to oral
these projects have been approached differently due to scale, Boyd provides several
examples of what this can look like. You can look at the Survivors of the Shoah
Visual History Foundation and work done by the Randforce
Associates to compare. These
projects, and those Frisch hopes to see in the future, can provide accessible,
meaningful, fluid, and non-privileged access to the content of oral history.
Wendy F. Hsu steps out of the oral history framework and thinks about sound a little differently than our friends Boyd and Hirsh. Hsu is an ethnographer who wants to further develop the methodologies of digital ethnography and expand the term’s definition. She looks at digital technology as a platform for collecting, exploring, and expressing ethnographic materials. Her project on Asian American Musicians and independent rock music shows how digital technology can provide new empirical perspectives on space and place to develop new methods of inquiry and visualization.
that the Asian American musicians she studied spent much of their time on
Myspace networking and promoting their music, rather than performing. She then
built a webscraper bot
to extract information on the location of users engaged with these bands. The
bot was able to crawl through the information of more than 2,500 “friends” of
the band which enabled her to physically map their location and thus the
digital environment that these users exist in. This visualization allowed Hsu
to uncover patterns of social behavior and cultural meaning that would otherwise
be inaccessible. Her quantitative findings answered how and what questions
while her ethnographic training helped her figure out the why.
also able to look to the music of these bands directly to uncover new insights
as well. Hsu used digital audio software DAW and Audacity to learn more
about a group of nakashi musicians entitled The Wandering Blind Singers.
Hsu was able to identify that the recordings she had access to were recorded in
mono, a form that was typical to the Taiwan music scene in the 1970s. She
realized that these recordings likely took place in a tv studio which shed
light on the fringe position of these musicians in the music industry and their
lower-class status in society in general.
These are but some of the conclusions and observations that Hsu was able to make using close and distant listening, digital visualization, and other digital technologies. Her work shows that new methodological frameworks are necessary to expand the breadth of digital ethnography and its changing landscapes.
Boyd, Frisch, and Hsu gave us a lot of unpack. There are so many ways to think about and work with sound in the digital age. Share your thoughts about these readings on sound and the digital world below.
 Nakashi is a postcolonial
itinerant music-culture in Taiwan.