The American Soundscape

None at Living Room

Tue, Jul 23 at 7 p.m.   |   90 minutes

This Olio is all about expanding our ability to listen and appreciate nuance in sound. We'll listen to organic sounds in a few listening exercises; and we will discuss sounds in American poems and books written before sound recording technology.

What did Walden Pond sound like when Henry David Thoreau built his cabin in the woods over 150 years ago? Today there are many new sounds at Walden: planes fly overhead, yellow school bus groups visit in droves, couples play music from their phones on shoreline picnics, and cars honk at a nearby intersection. The soundscape was changing in Thoreau’s time as well. The “smoke and steam and hissing” of the steam engine train, or “iron horse,” rumbled the fish in the pond and quieted local song birds and belching bullfrogs. Thoreau knew his surrounding environment and his furry and feathered neighbors by their sounds; this vibrant soundscape contributed to his democratic impulse—we must all participate as the crickets do with their relentless chirping—and it bolstered his nonconformist spirit to challenge what he called “the broad, flapping American ear.” Sounds have always played a part in shaping national identity, from the “howling wilderness” to “the bombs bursting in air” in our national anthem. Yet our wild soundscapes are rapidly disappearing.


In this Olio, we will listen to sound recordings of birds singing, insects humming, amphibians croaking, and industrial noises; we’ll expand our hearing to attend to the nuances of organic sounds in a few listening exercises; and we will discuss sounds in American poems and books written before sound recording technology. As we become more attentive earwitnesses to our local soundscapes, what music will we hear? How different will New York City sound to us compared to Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing”? Will it sound as democratic and melodious? Is it a song with room for nonhuman animals? How might we establish and share sonic territory differently in and near our homes and our communities, in our local environments, and on our daily commutes? Let’s take our earbuds out for a moment to listen and find out.

*This Olio will take place in a Williamsburg living room off the L train to Graham Avenue stop. Address will be sent upon rsvp*

Teacher: Christina Katopodis
Venue: Living Room

What is Think Olio?


Think Olio is here to put the liberation back into the liberal arts.

Classically, the liberal arts, were the education considered essential for a free person to take an active part in civic life. To counter a humanities that has been institutionalized and dehumanized we infuse critical thinking, openness, playfulness, and compassion into our learning experience.

Read more about our mission, our story, and how we are doing this.

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If Friday night lectures, museum field trips, and living room salons sound like your kind of thing, then you've found your people. We can't wait to welcome you to the Think Olio Scenius. More info


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Olio: A miscellaneous collection of art and literature.