Sign in or register
for additional privileges


Daniel Anderson, Author

You appear to be using an older verion of Internet Explorer. For the best experience please upgrade your IE version or switch to a another web browser.

Audio Essay

Create an audio essay that brings together poetry and either 1) personal experience or 2) cultural concerns. First, identify a poem that speaks to an event, change, or experience in your life or to a cultural concern (e.g., consumerism, gender, war, relationships, etc.) You can choose any poem, but you may want to think about sonic elements of the poems you consider as you decide.

If you choose to relate the poem to personal experience, you can make decisions about how personal this aspect of the discussion might be. Think of Steph Ceraso's "A Tale of Two Soundscapes" and the way it discusses her moving from one city to another. There is personal background in the piece, but it is used in the service of discussing the subject of the essay. In the same way, your audio essay can resonate with you personally and provide a story about your life, but the focus should still circle back to the poem.

​If you choose to relate the poem to an aspect of culture, you will want to find a compelling angle--e.g., instead of linking a poem to "gender" you might connect it with "toys for young girls" or some other concrete area of focus. You may want to conduct some research into this aspect of culture, and then try to find ways take the cultural topic and create a "story" that gives the audio essay focus and pulls the listener in.

As you begin planning, you can spend time with the poem, and then think about how you will make use of sound.

You will need to spend some time getting to know the Audacity audio editor. (You can use an altenate audio editor if you prefer.) Take time to read any overviews, help pages, or tutorials that can get you started with the program.

You will also need to spend some time working on your audio composing skills. As you discuss an audio sample, you will need to compose narration that situates, extends, or clarifies rather than repeats what has been said. Be flexible and deliberate as you compose your narration, using your words to help listeners zoom in on specifics in your materials and zoom out to connect with your topic as a whole.

Make similar decisions about the ambient or background noises that you weave into the essay. You can use audio to create a mood, to deliver a message, to punctuate a statement, etc. Recall our listening to Ceraso's piece and the way she used a range of sounds to compose the essay.

Although your project and your audio editor will influence your composing process, you can follow some general steps.
  • Become adept at recording your own voice to narrate the audio essay. Find a quiet environment where you can work. Experiment with your available microphones. (Built in laptop microphones often work fine; affordable USB microphones work well; more advanced microphones might be worth a look.) Try some practice recordings, working with your equipment and software until you get audio that is loud enough to be easily heard and that does not contain undue levels of background sound.

  • Get comfortable with your voice. Experiment with cadences, tempo, and pitch as you begin working. Don’t be shy about trying out new tones or giving your voice presence in your recordings. Use the audio essay as an opportunity to think about how you can use your voice as you communicate and about how you can develop a “voice” in both spoken and written contexts.

  • Learn the moves needed to import audio files into your editor. You may also need to learn something about converting audio files. Experiment with cutting, copying, and moving segments of the audio that you import. Learn to fade clips in and out and to adjust the volume levels of clips.

  • Ensure that you have an outline or plan for developing the essay. Import a clip and begin editing it and adding your narration. Check that you are writing into and out of the clips in ways that clarify and extend your topic.

  • Develop a transcript as you move closer to conducting final recordings. You can draft a script ahead of time, and then revise it. Or you can do some free-form recordings, transcribe them, and then edit the transcript into a final script for the production recordings.

  • Continue importing materials and adding narration. Add background sounds for ambiance as needed. Adjust and polish the composition.

  • Export a draft of the file. Explore your audio editor to learn about file formats for exporting—most likely mp3 format. Post the file to the class Web site or online.

Below find resources to refer to as you work:

You will need to download and install the Audacity audio editor to work with the sounds. (You will also need to download the lame encoder.) I will give you instructions about how to use the program. 

You may also want to collect interview clips. You can probably use the built in microphone on your laptop, or I have some microphones that you can use with your laptop to record people. 

You will also need to gather resources from the net. As you do so, you may need to capture audio from YouTube or otherwise find ways of collecting the sounds you need. We will work in class on any of these tasks that you need help with.

You will also need to record your own voice to stitch everything together. For your interviews and your own voice, you will need to experiment with the audio. Again, if your laptop microphone delivers good sound, that will work, or you can try borrowing one from me. You need to do everything possible to get good quality audio for the project.

This should be a project that raises some new challenges for you. Some will be technical; be sure to save your files often and give yourself time to learn how to compose with audio. Most of the challenges should be conceptual; you'll need to learn to imagine how you can organize a project based in sound, create transitions, convey information succinctly, create a mood through audio, etc. There will also be content challenges. You will be working with a poem so all of the skills you have in engaging literature should come into play. Hopefuly the level of challenges will still allow the project to be creative and fun.

Here are some additional readings and resources:
Some samples for discussion in class.
Sample podcasts..
More sample podcasts.
From Transom, Alex Blumberg's story advice and some short audio profiles
Nancy Updike's writing for audio advice
Sound Portrait's advice on How to Record.

Comment on this page

Discussion of "Audio Essay"

Add your voice to this discussion.

Checking your signed in status ...