"What's That Sound?"

Sound can be at the center of explosive interactions of art, science, and history. In “For What It’s Worth,” recorded in 1966, Buffalo Springfield sang: “. . . it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?  Everybody look what’s going down.”  The lyrics were inspired by the sounds of a specific demonstration– “young people speaking their minds . . . singing songs and carrying signs”— against an effort to control sound –a curfew that closed music clubs at 10 p.m. The song proved a spark within a potent mix of hope and frustration and became an anthem of a decade of protest. The song’s musical sounds, the art of voices and instruments expressed in the physics of waves and energy, were captured and distributed by the sound recording and broadcasting technology of the day,  which influenced both the quality of the sound and its social reception. Thirty years later Public Enemy sampled the recurring two note theme of “For What It’s Worth” for their song, “He Got Game,” and claimed some of the emotional and political intensity associated with the original to a new message produced by new technology, producing a new sound, and addressing the concerns of a new day.

Through our classwork, visits with artists in residence, field trips, and guest-taught course units, we’ll explore the different ways our community engages sound. We will make our own sounds, and experience sounds made by world-class musicians. We’ll visit the Physics Dept. to explore in a lab setting the basic physical properties of sound. We’ll visit the shop of a traditional instrument builder to see how he chooses and dimensions wood to produce certain sounds, and we’ll use computers to digitize and manipulate sound in a very different technological setting. From the perspective of physiology and psychology, we’ll examine how we perceive and interpret sound, and the impact it has on us. From the perspective of history and politics, we’ll look at the way sound both reflects and influences society. We will shape sound, and explore how sound shapes us. This course fulfills the FYP general education requirement.

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