Sound Studies with Dr. Mary Ingraham – curious arts

Dr. Mary Ingraham is a professor of musicology here at the U of A and director of the Sound Studies Initiative. Although Dr. Ingraham is part of several Sound Studies research endeavors, her main project is Resounding Culture with Dr. David Gramit, which aims to create a digitized library of sound recordings. You can find the office for the Sound Studies Initiative and all of the unique items featured in this article on the third floor of the Old Arts Building!

Moses and Francis Asch Collection of Folways Records that the U of A received as a donation from Moses Asch

What is sound?

I suspect this question probably sounds extremely elementary, I mean, we all know what sound is right? But “sound isn’t just a note played by an instrument [or just] what we would call music.” Sound is anything and everything we can hear in the world around us, from the buzzing of the lights to horns blowing during rush hour traffic. In fact, some things we would never associate with sound have musical qualities, like ultrasounds.

Why create an initiative focused on just sound?

Because sound is such an integral part of our day to day life, whether or not we realize it, the research projects under Sound Studies have a variety of important applications. For example, we don’t normally consider going to the doctors to be a sound intensive experience. However, a healthy body sounds completely different from an unhealthy body. So, if a doctor listens to your lungs, they have to be able to tell the difference between these sounds in order to diagnose you.

Sound can also tell us a lot about nature and how it is changing and evolving. Researchers have been looking at the sounds of birds that reside in the oil sands regions of Alberta. They have discovered these bird songs have altered over time, demonstrating that human development is having an effect on the natural world.

As you can see, sound is a unique element that spans several disciples here at the university including education, engineering, rehabilitation medicine, ecology and, of course, music. By creating an initiative, like Sound Studies, it provides these groups a place to work where they are introduced to new ways of studying sound

How is this important to more than just the people who study sound?

Well, this depends on the application of sound and the research subject. The Resounding Culture project, for example, aims to digitalize sound records and create an online database to make up for the current disconnect between information regarding sounds. Presently, if you wanted to learn about Chinese Canadian music you might find a website about it and start learning. Then, if you wanted to learn about Indigenous music, you would likely go ahead and do the same thing. However, at the end of these studies you end up with two pieces of information which contribute to Canadian historical fabric with no way of linking them together. Therefore, you are getting an incomplete picture because sounds don’t exist within their own little isolated bubbles. The Resounding Culture project aims to create links between different sounds to better depict the “rich ethnic heritage” of Canada.

Moreover, sound has been affecting us for an extremely long time, specifically through the politics of sound; who gets to be heard and who is silenced. Sound has always been policed by several factors that contribute to which sounds we hear and what gets censored. Therefore, by digitalizing historical Canadian sounds we can better understand which groups were affected by this censorship throughout history.

Want to learn more?

Excellent! The community plays a large role in the Sound Studies Initiative! Every Wednesday during term, Sound Studies holds public events at the university, as well as two larger events over the year! Also, they will be showcasing a workshop at Edmonton’s Folk Fest this summer!

For more information check out the Sound Studies Initiative at their website:

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