Steph Ceraso



In my book Sounding Composition, I discuss student work in each of the interchapters, or what I call "Reverberations." Reverberation is an acoustic design term that refers to the persistence of sound in an environment after the original source of the sound has ceased. It can occur in large, resonant spaces like cathedrals or caves, and it is also possible to create the effect of reverberation with technologies like digital audio editing tools and guitar amps or pedals. The lingering sounds of the recorded electric guitar strums in the sound clip below exemplify this phenomenon. Similarly, the assignments and student examples I write about in the interchapters represent the persistence and blending together of ideas from the chapters that preceded them. With my students' permission, on this site I share some of the media associated with their example projects. This media is intended to give readers a fuller sense of the student work I examine and should be considered in relation to the commentary provided in the book.  

A stainless steel "Reverb" nob on a guitar amp.

A stainless steel "Reverb" nob on a guitar amp.

[Image: A close-up photograph of a stainless steel "Reverb" nob on a guitar amp. There is a tiny circular outlet for a microphone to the right of the nob.]




The "My Listening Body" project asks students to design a piece of autobiographical digital media or a performance about a past sonic experience that made them very aware of their bodies. Their challenge is to recreate that experience in a multimodal composition. The aim of the project is to gain a critical awareness of how sound shapes and affects bodily experiences in particular contexts. 


"Marco Polo"

In this video (a rough iPhone recording I shot during class), Meghan attempts to recreate the immersive sonic experience of a "Marco Polo" game in our computer lab. In her performance, she uses the computers and the physical space of the lab to perform the directional sound that is a crucial feature of playing the pool game. You can read more about her project in the Reverberation for Chapter 2. 

Transcript for "Marco Polo"



David created this short video that explores his use of sound as a coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety. He is interested in the notion that making sound can be used, at least to some extent, to control one's bodily responses to situations. In this case, he uses rhythmic sounds to diminish the stress he is feeling during a timed test. You can read more about his project in the Reverberation for Chapter 2.  

Transcript for "Rhythm"




I often use sound mapping projects in my classes to attune students to how sound influences the ways that we experience and make sense of place. As I discuss in the book, "SoundCities" is a useful digital platform for launching sound mapping projects. Click on the image below to go to the "SoundCities" website, then click "Baltimore" to view and listen to the sound map my students created for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). You can read more about this project in the Reverberation for Chapter 3.  

A screen shot of the "SoundCities" interface.

A screen shot of the "SoundCities" interface.

[Image: A screen shot of the "SoundCities" interface. The blue navigation bar at the top allows you to click on "info," "map," "database," "projects," "submit," "feeds," or "help." Below the navigation bar is a list of different cities you can click on to see the map associated with a particular city. "Baltimore" is highlighted. Under the list of cities is an aerial image of UMBC's campus, filled with little light blue triangle icons that indicate where sounds have been recorded and uploaded. To the right is a pop-up box that contains textual descriptions of the sounds.]




This collaborative project invites students to design a "sonic object," or any material thing that employs sound strategically to enhance users' overall experience. Students are required to develop a prototype and create distinct sounds for their object using a digital audio editor. The aim of this project is to learn to approach sound as a mode of composition that is always shaped by and connected to other sensory modes and materials.


"Sonic Journal"

This student team decided to design a sonically-enhanced notebook to motivate writers who prefer writing by hand (as opposed to writing with computers). The notebook comes with a book light and companion smartphone app. The book light is equipped with speakers and a digital scanner, and users can control the settings with the smartphone app via Bluetooth (e.g. the app enables writers to set a timer for their daily writing, choose customized sonic notifications, scan digital photos of notebook pages, and document writing progress). The sounds are intended to augment the pleasurable experience of writing. You can read more about this project in the Reverberation for Chapter 4.


 Design Ideas:

A messy and largely illegible  handwritten page of design ideas for the "Sonic Journal."

A messy and largely illegible  handwritten page of design ideas for the "Sonic Journal."

[Image: A messy, handwritten page of design ideas for the "Sonic Journal." A rough drawing of the journal is located in the top left corner. Other (difficult-to-read) preliminary notes fill the page. One idea is scratched out and other bulleted lists look unfinished. Two fingers holding down the page for the photo are seen at the bottom of the image.]

An illuminated copy of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."

An illuminated copy of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."

[Image: A copy of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" is being held open (facing the camera) in a dark room. The white pages with black print (the left page contains a map, the right page contains text) are illuminated by a small reading light that is meant to serve as a model for the "Sonic Journal" light feature.] 


Designed Sounds:

[Description of "Opening Sound": A soft acoustic guitar strum followed by the smooth plucking of several strings. A hopeful sound.]

[Description of "Closing Sound": Three different, confident-sounding guitar chords played in succession. Gives a feeling of temporary completeness but not quite finality.]

[Description of "Time Notification Sound": Two ascending notes, the first low and the second slightly higher. A subtle "alert" sound on acoustic guitar.]

[Description of "Timer Sound": A rapid, oscillating guitar sound. The guitar equivalent of someone playing two piano keys–back and forth quickly, several times in a row.]

[Description of "Notification Sound": A low note followed by a high note. The guitar mimics the motion of someone's head perking up because something has caught her attention.]


"Sonic Car Seat" 

This video features the prototype and designed sounds for a car seat that uses sound to amplify its safety features. The student team responsible for the design imagined that the car seat would have sensors to sonically alert the driver when potentially dangerous changes occur (e.g. when the child unbuckles the safety belt or harness). The car seat also offers a fun experience for children that feels like a game or amusement park ride. You can read more about this project in the Reverberation for Chapter 4.


This video provides a demonstration of the different sonic features of the "Sonic Car Seat." The sounds associated with each feature are described below. 

"Seat Buckled": Bright, digitized horns play. They sound like the equivalent of someone singing "TA DA!"

"Seat Unbuckled": A male voice says "Uh oh. Seems like somebody unbuckled their seat!" while three successive beats play twice. The beats sound similar to the video game sound effect that indicates that you cannot move any further (like you've hit a wall but you keep trying to get through it). It's kind of a bouncy, "thunk, thunk, thunk." 

"Harness Secured": Another digitized horn sound that plays four ascending, upbeat notes. It feels victorious. 

"Harness Unsecured": A male voice says "The harness is loosening, the harness is loosening" while a series of notes move quickly up and down the scale. The sounds have a child-like, video game quality and give the feeling of being dizzy or out of control.

"Car Seat Un-leveled": A male voice says "Woah! Looks like we're in for a bumpy ride" while what sounds like a recording of driving over gravel plays. The sound is static-like and is meant to indicate turbulence. 

"Car Temperature Too Hot": A male voice says "Whew! Feels like it's getting really hot in here" while the sound of a smoke alarm beeps loudly. The beeps are followed by a video-game-like, fast-moving scale of notes that goes up and then back down. 

"Car Turns Off": A series of punctuated, irritating beeps are layered on top of what sounds like a creepy musical phrase from a xylophone that repeats over and over (as I discuss in the book, students pointed out that this effect sounds like it is from a horror movie).