The City Wears a Slouch Hat

1942, 31:25 min.
John Cage

John Cage was 29 years old when he received this commission from the Columbia Broadcasting System for their popular and surprisingly experimental radio program, the Columbia Workshop. Cage’s assignment was to compose a radio play with sound effects for a text by American poet Kenneth Patchen. Patchen’s surreal text is about the wanderings of a main character called The Voice. Cage originally created a 250 page score* for the piece –his idea was to create a score entirely out of sound effects – using sound effects not as effects but as musical instruments. When the radio engineer saw the score he said it would not be possible to do, so four days before air time, Cage wrote a whole new score. The resulting new score made use of tin cans, muted gongs, woodblocks, alarm bells, drums and bongos, cowbells, maracas, a foghorn, a thunder sheet, an audio frequency oscillator, electric buzzers, and some sound effect recordings. - Described by Wave Farm Radio Artist Fellow 2019/2020, Karen Werner.

*The original 250-page score that included Cage’s imagined sounds and instruments is still at large. In a 1984 interview, writer Richard Kosetelantez asked Cage if the first score for Slouch Hat still existed somewhere, to which Cage very shortly responded, “No, I don’t think so.” - Excerpted from The Curious Case of John Cage’s Slouch Hat By Joshua Figueroa, Story Seeker.