Posted Monday, April 27, 2020 - 11:09 AM

Students Use Immersive Sound Design to Share Personal Stories of Life in a Pandemic

Image from Nicole Schiulaz's
Image from Nicole Schiulaz’s “Coronachles: My Story” (via Soundcloud)

“Before everything happened with the coronavirus, my routine was very set in stone,” Claire Mason, AOS Game Design and Interactive Media ‘21, begins in her audio story. She would go to the gym, visit the cafeteria, take the subway to class. “Then Wednesday’s class happened and every single thing changed.” The gym was closed, classes were canceled, and she could no longer casually hang out with friends in the cafeteria or take the subway without the fear of infection. “Everything was different.”

That shift in students’ day-to-day lives is the focus of the “Coronachles, My Story” project in the Immersive Sound Design class, part of the Game Design curriculum in Pratt’s Associate Degree Programs. Each student wrote a script for their voice-over and then made note of what words could be turned into sonic matter that would in turn illuminate their COVID-19 situation. The recording, editing, and mixing took place over the following two weeks. “The main message I convey to my students in this class is that sound paints a picture and sound tells a story, it creates a mood,” said Associate Degree Programs Visiting Instructor Pat Noecker. “In video game design, we tell stories through movement, narrative, and sound that create a world all their own.”

In the upheaval of COVID-19, Noecker identified that there was a way to continue achieving these learning outcomes while recognizing the radical changes students were facing in their lives. Some, like Mason, meditated on the adjustments in their daily experiences; others grappled with their struggles to be hopeful in a climate of uncertainty. Candy Zhu, AOS Game Design and Interactive Media ‘21, shared how her life had changed, with the temporary closure of her family’s business, the challenges of online learning, and, as someone who is Chinese, the way she experienced stigma: “They would stay away from me when walking on the streets even before we had to quarantine ourselves,” she says in her story

The move to remote learning came at the same time the class had been scheduled to start a weeks-long sonic narrative project, and the students were prepared with what they had already learned about storytelling, sound design, and production during the first part of the semester. As an opportunity to apply this knowledge, the “Coronachles” further offered time for self-reflection.

Nicole Schiulaz, AOS Game Design and Interactive Media ‘21, shares in her story the experience of what it is like not to go outside. “The only contact I have outside is with the birds chirping and the airplanes that pass over our apartment,” she says, with sounds of her current world transporting listeners into that space. Nikolai Glukhov, AOS Game Design and Interactive Media ‘21, layered music and sampled sound in his story to develop a haunting mood, over which he speaks: “I wake up to this pandemic every day and I can’t remember what was yesterday like, because yesterday was practically today.” Still, it ends on a hopeful note, with a clip from President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address calling for togetherness and public service.

Without their usual hardware on campus, the project challenged the class to be adaptive and innovative with the resources available, such as the voice notes app on a smartphone or a copy of GarageBand on a home computer. “The students are engaged in a constant process of improvisation and problem solving,” Noecker said, adding that “they are actively and positively addressing these feelings by creating moment-specific work that reflects their Pratt program while also engaging with the social dynamics of this situation.”

The project has also allowed students to hear each other’s stories, helping them to feel like a collective even as they continue their studies apart. Listen to all of their stories.