The Year of Sound

Author: Lisa Marie Patzer

Each year, Penn’s Provost office sponsors a series of events around a theme chosen by faculty, staff and students.  The theme for 2013-2014 is the Year of Sound, a topic that can be further explored by nearly every area of academic study.  In conjunction with the yearly theme, a book is chosen for the Penn Reading Project (PRP), an initiative designed to introduce incoming freshmen to academic life at Penn.  Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop by Adam Bradley will be the text for the 2013-14 (PRP).


As a film student and visual artist, I have a keen interest in the pairing of moving image with sound.  As David Lynch said, “Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound. Sometimes sound even overplays the visual.” The influence of sound design in film is perhaps one of the more common examples of how auditory experience impacts our understanding of things.

Less well-known is the use of sound in works by artists and avant-garde composers such as John Cage  (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992). Cage wrote music for film and also modern dance performances but his most notable works were those that dealt with chance and sound.  In 1952, Cage composed the piece that became his best-known and most controversial creation: 4′33″.


The score instructs the performer not to play the instrument during the entire duration of the piece—four minutes, thirty-three seconds—and is meant to be perceived as consisting of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed.  Highly controversial at the time of Cage’s original performance, 4′33″ has since become a hallmark of the avant-garde and has been performed worldwide.

The Slought Foundation, located at 4017 Walnut Street, showcases a unique interactive installation by Cage. In 2010, with the help of the John Cage Trust, The Slought Foundation installed  “How to get Started”, featuring a rarely heard performance by the artist.  The visitor listens to a monologue by Cage and is then invited to contribute to the installation by recording their own “realizations”.  This site provides instructions for how to prepare:

1. familiarize yourself with Cage’s realization

2. get out ten index cards and write down ten topics of interest

3. practice extemporizing on each topic, in random order

4. notice that Cage never spoke for more than three minutes on a single topic

5. visit Slought Foundation and schedule a session

The topic of sound can be explored in many interesting ways and I look forward to the programming for this year.  Visit here to find out more about the Year of Sound and how you can get involved.


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Filed under Film, Fine Art, Lisa Marie Patzer, The Arts, The Arts at Penn, Uncategorized

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