The City Wears A Slouch Hat

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Overview | Significance | Background | Plot | Cast | Resources | Notes

Overview

"The City Wears A Slouch Hat" is an OTR drama combining a script written by Kenneth Patchen with live and recorded sound effects composed by John Cage. Every scene in Patchen's drama, narrated by "The Voice," is accompanied/interpreted by Cage's percussion / sound effects, creating an aural imagery that permeates every aspect of the imaginary city.

Significance

Both Patchen and Cage were major influences for the American avant garde movement. This work follows Patchen's experiments incorporating jazz music into his writing. For Cage, "The City Wears A Slouch Hat" was an experiment creating music from noise. Although a failure, it lead to further experimentation regarding the technological future of music and the use of noise as sound source.

Background

John Cage was the most influential and controversial American experimental composer of the twentieth century. Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972), an American poet and novelist, was an important inspiration for the San Francisco Renaissance and the Beat Generation.

Beginning in 1937, Cage promoted the use of noise to make music. "The City Wears A Slouch Hat," commissioned by The Columbia Workshop, was an opportunity to demonstrate his ideas. [1] Cage's original 250-page score was written exclusively for electronic sound effects utilized as musical instruments.

Told his score was impossible to produce, Cage scaled back his vision to five percussionists, and live and recorded sound effects. Instruments included tin cans, muted gongs, woodblocks, alarm bells, tam tam, bass drum, Chinese tom tom, bongos, cowbells, maracas, claves, ratchett, pod rattle, foghorn, thundersheet, sound-effect recordings, etc. Script available here.

Plot

"The Voice" wanders around a city, encountering surreal circumstances, characters, and their conversations in thirteen separate scenes.
Scene 1: "Opening Stroll," "The Voice" strolls about the city on a rainy day overhearing passing conversations.
Scene 2: "Hold-Up," "The Voice" is robbed by a man with a gun, who is surprised to find a photograph of himself in "The Voice's" wallet.
Scene 3: "Nightclub," "The Voice" briefly visits a nightclub where he overhears more surrealistic conversations.
Scene 4: "Eavesdropping," back on the street, "The Voice" listens to two boys talking about horses and dogs.
Scene 5: "Along the River," has "The Voice" talks with a man about people working in a distant creamery.
Scene 6: "Followed," "The Voice" answers a phone in someone's apartment and tells the caller that the person he wants, along with his family, will all die in a car crash in ten minutes. "The Voice" also causes bullets in the guns of three thugs to disappear.
Scene 7: "Walk in the Sky," "The Voice" sees someone/something in the clouds and imagines it trying to say something to him. Loud thunder ends the scene.
Scene 8: "Woman in the Rain," "The Voice" talks with a woman who says her face was disfigured in an accident. When he realizes she is lying to him the woman says she knew it was useless to talk with him.
Scene 9: "Kidnapped," "The Voice" is forced into a car and driven away. One of his kidnappers starts to sing and wakes a baby, who begins to cry.
Scene 10: "The Mirthogram," "The Voice," returned to the place where he was kidnapped, sees a crowd standing around a machine making it laugh.
Scene 11: "Street Poetry," "The Voice" recites poetry to a murmuring crowd.
Scene 12: "The Movie House," "The Voice" hears disjointed conversations from characters in the movie and members of the audience.
Scene 13: "The Rock," "The Voice," now at the ocean, decides to swim to a distant rocky island where he talks philosophically with a man. "The Voice" concludes the drama saying,"I am coming into your house with my hand outstretched. I am your friend. Do not be afraid of me."

Cast

Les Tremayne (narrator)
Madelon Grayson, Forrest Lewis, Jonathan Hole, Frank Dane and John Larkin (actors)
Xenia Cage, Cilia Amidon, Stuart Lloyd, Ruth Hartman, Claire Oppenheim (percussionists)
John Cage (conductor)
Les Mitchell (director)

Resources

John Cage Trust
Official John Cage blog. This post, "1942 America Speaks (The City Wears a Slouch Hat)," provides lots of information, and listener reactions.

Notes

[1] James Pritchett. The story of John Cage's The city wears a slouch hat