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At Sound Arts Richmond, workshops explore the creative side of audio, acoustics and everyday sounds

Students who attended the “Synthesized Sound: The Art of Beeps, Blips, and Twisting Knobs” worksh...
Students who attended the “Synthesized Sound: The Art of Beeps, Blips, and Twisting Knobs” workshop working with instruments. (Photos by Matthew Pittman, University Relations)

Vaughn Garland, Ph.D., a Virginia Commonwealth University adjunct professor, approached his colleagues with the idea of a summerlong festival exploring sound art. After hearing the idea, his colleagues in the School of the Arts knew immediately they needed to be a part of the venture.

“I saw [the festival] as kind of a built-in audience that would be good to test the waters of workshops as continuing education,” said Stephanie Thulin, associate professor and assistant chair of the kinetic imaging department.

Sound art is a broad practice that involves sound or sound functions in various forms. Garland’s festival, Sound Arts Richmond, launched in March and runs through October. It helps connect the kinetic imaging department to a bigger sound art community, Thulin said. She and colleagues in the School of the Arts are hosting summer workshops through June as part of the festival.

“If we were going to be involved we [thought we] should be involved in an educational capacity because that’s who we are,” Thulin said.

The workshops, which range in topic from creating podcasts to building your own speakers, are held at The VCU Depot Annex, The Anderson and James Branch Cabell Library. Thulin wants people who attend to leave with an appreciation for an art form that has the ability to provide a different type of experience.

“What we are finding is there are people who already have an interest in sound art but don’t know a lot about it,” Thulin said. “They come in with a little bit of knowledge but want to learn a specific thing.”

Master of Fine Arts alumni, faculty, staff and adjunct professors developed and teach the workshops.  Sessions include Capturing the Sound: James River Walks, Podcasting 101, Improvisation, DIY Invisible Speakers and Synthesized Sounds.

Some instruments used in the “Synthesized Sound: The Art of Beeps, Blips, and Twisting Knobs” workshop.
Some instruments used in the “Synthesized Sound: The Art of Beeps, Blips, and Twisting Knobs” workshop.

Garland teaches Capturing the Sound, which focuses on environmental soundscape and acoustic ecology, while artist Kelsey Sheaffer teaches Podcasting 101, a free course on the basics of starting your own podcast.

Josh Rodenburg, equipment and operations manager in the kinetic imaging department, led the first class. In “Synthesized Sound: The Art of Beeps, Blips, and Twisting Knobs,” students learned how to make different beats using platforms such as a keyboard, Garageband and a sound module. They experimented with various instruments provided in the small computer lab behind The Depot. At the front of the lab, two speakers emitting a faint noise were connected to all of the instruments on a table.

“It was really awesome being able to play around with the actual tactile instruments and have a real person teaching the class to keep you accountable,” said Alison Height, who attended the workshop.

Rodenburg described the three-hour workshop as more a conversation than a lecture because of the hands-on training.

“It’s cool because you hear these people who saw something really interesting that was specific to what they wanted to learn about, and so they came directly to us instead of getting this giant combination of education over the course of four years,” Rodenburg said.

If all goes well, Thulin said, the department would be open to scheduling more summer programming.

“We had thought … it was kind of a way to test the waters to see if there is interest in the community for sound arts-like things and maybe the other things that we do, too, in terms of video animation, virgin media,” she said.

Rodenburg is excited to see where the series could go.

“It’s challenging to start up something fresh and to breathe energy into it, and it’s always easier the second time,” he said. “I hope that we can continue to do a similar project for people who are not naturally inclined to be in the arts.”

A keyboard used in the “Synthesized Sound: The Art of Beeps, Blips, and Twisting Knobs” workshop.
A keyboard used in the “Synthesized Sound: The Art of Beeps, Blips, and Twisting Knobs” workshop.