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A Dictionary for Your Ears

Student Beth Fraser recorded sounds from the Shi Center to contribute to the collection.

Sure, you could watch steak sizzling in a pan or ravens communicating in the wild – but those moments come alive when you experience them with your ears, not just your eyes.

This past spring semester, 23 Furman students contributed to a digital dictionary that you can hear online. You can read it, too, but this collection is all about sounds, from the steak and the ravens to a lightly clicking keyboard and a musician’s outdoor soundcheck.

The Furman exhibit, “Humans vs. Nature? Breaking the Dichotomy,” was created as a project for the English course, Literature and the Environment. It’s featured on The Sonic Dictionary, a growing collection of more than 800 sound recordings created by university students.

Mitchell Freyermuth ’18 compared the recordings to photography, in that they can share an experienced moment with the world. But while a monument can be photographed over and over, a specific sound in a single moment can be more fleeting.

“That sound might not happen like that ever again,” Freyermuth said.

Michele Speitz, professor of English literature, asked her students to research the sounds they collected, providing written narratives that would ground the recordings in philosophical or scientific theory. She doesn’t want listeners to merely enjoy the sounds or mourn them – she wants them to think.

“I wanted the students to have to strive and reach a little bit higher, so they really were getting a chance to educate future audiences,” she said. “It’s not preachy and it’s not naïve.”

Claire Pullen ’18, who spent most of her growing up years in Aiken, wanted to find a sound that would capture the impact of nuclear weapons production along the Savannah River.

“Can the sound of years of pollution be summed up in the sound of a receptionist sending and receiving emails about the latest cleanup?” Pullen said. “Hopefully it’ll help people continue to ask those types of questions.”

Click here to listen to “Humans vs. Nature? Breaking the Dichotomy.”

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