The Sonic Dictionary is a multi-course collaborative experiment hosted by the Audiovisualities Lab at Duke University’s Franklin Humanities Institute. Our goal is to build a digital database of sounds that can be accessed and searched freely as if it were a “dictionary.”
The project was inspired by the lack of reference materials available for students and teachers of wide-ranging sonic material. By experimenting with the form of a dictionary we aim to imagine how audio recordings can be used to enhance understanding of vocabulary related to auditory culture.
Existing music encyclopedias give information about many sounds but contain actual recordings of very few. You would be hard-pressed to find a reference source that could actually inform you of the difference between the way a high hat and kick drum sound. This creates challenges for non-specialist students of music and non-musical sound. Sheet music and descriptive language cannot explicitly communicate what a bassoon sounds like, much less a film projector! With this in mind, this project addresses a void in sound-based reference material.