News at Princeton

Monday, July 21, 2014

Multimedia: Featured

Video: Freshman Seminar: 'Silence, Noise, Sound and Music'


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Princeton music professor Barbara White leads a freshman seminar dealing with the elusiveness of quiet and blurring boundaries between everyday life and art. Read more.


Video Closed Captions

[crowd murmuring, soft gong]

Barbara White:
Several years ago, I found myself confronting
a number of health challenges at the same

Barbara White:
time, and one of the results of that was that
I found myself becoming sometimes "allergic"

Barbara White:
to music, which is a very strange experience
because it is my vocation and also my passion.

[gong]

Barbara White:
I ended up writing an article called, "In
Search of Silence," and later started writing

Barbara White:
pieces of music that had quite a lot of silence
in them. Eventually, this led me to think

Barbara White:
about a freshman seminar which would deal with
the elusiveness of quiet and then the things

Barbara White:
that aren't so quiet, such as noise, sound and music.

Barbara White:
One of the things that's interesting and appealing
about the freshman seminar experience is that

Barbara White:
it's a shared experience by a small group
who all have something in common. They're

Barbara White:
all relatively new to Princeton. I expected that
the students would be less interested than I am in silence,

Barbara White:
but I found that a lot of them are craving it.

[layers of sounds]

Barbara White:
For the first creative project, Katie chose
to make recordings of a number of different

Barbara White:
sounds and layer them on top of one another.

Katie Welsh:
I recorded myself walking through autumn leaves;
I recorded myself sneezing; I recorded myself

Katie Welsh:
talking, humming, playing piano.

[layers of sounds]

Katie Welsh:
So, I was inspired to do this project because
I made this observation during the class that

Katie Welsh:
silence was something we could move towards.
It was something that was buried beneath layers

Katie Welsh:
and layers and layers of sound.

Katie Welsh:
It was meant to imitate the order in which
I kind of strip away sound when I move toward

Katie Welsh:
silence in my routine. My first step, typically,
would be to go inside, take away the leaves

Katie Welsh:
outside, take away the cars going by.

Barbara White:
It ends with sounds that are very quiet and
very compelling. One is sneezing and one is breathing.

[sneeze]

Katie Welsh:
This project conveyed the concept that silence is something
that we can't attain. We are living beings.

Katie Welsh:
We are meant to create sound.

Barbara White:
It's exciting to me to see how thoughtful
the students are. It's also exciting to see

Barbara White:
the creative spark emerging in the class.

Joshua Taliaferro:
... and she loved a little boy.

Damir Golac:
Light a match and wait for it to go out.

Barbara White:
Damir chose to do what we might call a performance
or realization of a score by Yoko Ono in

Barbara White:
which the performer is instructed to light
a match and wait until it goes out.

Damir Golac:
Light a match and wait for it to go out.

Barbara White:
One thing that's interesting about it is that
there's a lot of repetition that we might

Barbara White:
find not to be so artistic, but if we look closely,
we see that there's a lot of variation between

Barbara White:
each instantiation of the lighting of the match.

Barbara White:
Since the students aren't necessarily required
to have any artistic background, one of the

Barbara White:
things we are doing is playing a bit with the notion
of what art might be and who might be an artist.

[yelling]

Barbara White:
It's also valuable to look at what's right
in front of us. There's this notion of looking

Barbara White:
at things and making them special through
considering them to be art, but then there's

Barbara White:
also the idea of accepting the grit of everyday
experience and making sure we pay attention

Barbara White:
as it races by.

[layered sounds]

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