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Sound art is an artistic activity in which sound is utilized as a primary medium or material. Like many genres of contemporary art, sound art may be interdisciplinary in nature, or be used in hybrid forms.[1] According to Brandon LaBelle, sound art as a practice "harnesses, describes, analyzes, performs, and interrogates the condition of sound and the process by which it operates."[2]

In Western art, early examples include Luigi Russolo's Intonarumori or noise intoners (1913), and subsequent experiments by dadaists, surrealists, the Situationist International, and in Fluxus events and other Happenings. Because of the diversity of sound art, there is often debate about whether sound art falls within the domains of visual art or experimental music, or both.[3] Other artistic lineages from which sound art emerges are conceptual art, minimalism, site-specific art, sound poetry, electro-acoustic music, spoken word, avant-garde poetry, sound scenography,[4] and experimental theatre.[5]

Origin of term

According to Bernhard Gál's research, the first published use of the term was found in Something Else Press on the cover of their 1974 Yearbook.[6] The first use as the title of an exhibition at a major museum was 1979's "Sound Art" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), featuring Maggi Payne, Connie Beckley, and Julia Heyward.[7] The curator, Barbara London defined sound art as, "more closely allied to art than to music, and are usually presented in the museum, gallery, or alternative space."[8]

Commenting on an exhibition called "Sound/Art" at The Sculpture Center in New York City in 1984 art historian Don Goddard noted: "It may be that sound art adheres to curator Hellermann's perception that 'hearing is another form of seeing,' that sound has meaning only when its connection with an image is understood...The conjunction of sound and image insists on the engagement of the viewer, forcing participation in real space and concrete, responsive thought, rather than illusionary space and thought."[9]

Sound installation

Janet Cardiff's Forty Part Motet (2001) in the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark
Georges Lentz's 43-hour String Quartet(s) at the Cobar Sound Chapel (2022), with loudspeakers in the four walls

Sound installation is an intermedia and time-based art form. It is an expansion of an art installation in the sense that it includes the sound element and therefore the time element.[10] The main difference with a sound sculpture is that a sound installation has a three-dimensional space and the axes with which the different sound objects are being organized are not exclusively internal to the work, but also external.[citation needed] A work of art is an installation only if it makes a dialog with the surrounding space.[citation needed] A sound installation is usually site-specific, but sometimes it can be readapted to other spaces. It can be made either in closed or open spaces, and context is fundamental in determining how a sound installation will be aesthetically perceived.[citation needed] The difference between a regular art installation and a sound installation is that the latter contains a time element, which gives the visiting public the option to stay longer to explore the development of the sound over time.[citation needed] This temporal factor also gives the audience an incentive to explore the space more thoroughly and investigate the disposition of the different sounds in space.[citation needed]

Sound installations sometimes use interactive art technology (computers, sensors, mechanical and kinetic devices, etc.), but they can also simply use sound sources placed at different points in space (such as speakers), or acoustic instrument materials such as piano strings played by a performer or by the public (see Paul Panhuysen).[citation needed] In the context of museums, this combination of interactive technology and multi-channel speaker distribution is sometimes referred to as sound scenography.[11]

Sound structure in sound installations

  1. The simplest sound form is a repeating sound loop. This is mostly used in Ambient music-like art, and in this case the sound is not the determinant factor of the art work.
  2. The most used sound structure is the open form, since the public can decide to experience a sound installation for just a few minutes or for a longer period of time. This obliges the artist to construct a sound organization that is capable of working well in both cases.
  3. There is also the possibility to have a linear sound structure, where sound develops in the same way as in a musical composition. This type of structure can be seen in interactive sound installations like "The Zone," created by the collaborative group Volumetric Units, which explores the phenomenological experience of hyperreal cyberspace[12]

Sound sculpture

Sound sculpture is an intermedia and time-based art form in which sculpture or any kind of art object produces sound, or the reverse (in the sense that sound is manipulated in such a way as to create a sculptural as opposed to temporal form or mass). Most often sound sculpture artists were primarily either visual artists or composers, not having started out directly making sound sculpture.

Cymatics and kinetic art have influenced sound sculpture. Sound sculpture is sometimes site-specific.[citation needed] Bill Fontana's research on urban sound sculpture delves into the concept of shifting ambient noises within cityscapes to produce distinct auditory encounters. Through this approach, he modifies the surrounding soundscape, impacting how listeners perceive their environment while highlighting both the auditory and visual elements of a particular space.[13]

Sound Artist and Professor of Art at Claremont Graduate University Michael Brewster described his own works as "Acoustic Sculptures" as early as 1970.[14] Grayson described sound sculpture in 1975 as "the integration of visual form and beauty with magical, musical sounds through participatory experience."[15]

Notable sound sculptures


See also


  1. ^ Szendy, Peter. Listen: A History of Our Ears, Fordham University Press, pp. 5-8
  2. ^ LaBelle, Brandon (2006). Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art (London and New York: Continuum), p. ix. ISBN 9780826418449
  3. ^ Goldsmith, Kenneth. Duchamp Is My Lawyer: The Polemics, Pragmatics, and Poetics of UbuWeb, Columbia University Press, New York, p. 125.
  4. ^ Brückner, Atelier (2010). Scenography / Szenografie - Making spaces talk / Narrative Räume. Stuttgart: avedition. p. 209.
  5. ^ Kenneth Goldsmith, Duchamp Is My Lawyer: The Polemics, Pragmatics, and Poetics of UbuWeb, Columbia University Press, New York, p. 136.
  6. ^ Gál, Bernhard (December 1, 2017). "Updating the History of Sound Art: Additions, Clarifications, More Questions". Leonardo Music Journal. 27: 78–81. doi:10.1162/LMJ_a_01023. S2CID 57559930.
  7. ^ Dunaway, Judy (May 7, 2020). "The Forgotten 1979 MoMA Sound Art Exhibition". Resonance. 1: 25–46. doi:10.1525/res.2020.1.1.25.
  8. ^ "Museum of Modern Art, Museum exhibition features works incorporating sound, press release no. 42 for Sound Art exhibition 25 June–5 August 1979". No. Exh. 1266. MoMA Archives.
  9. ^ Hellerman, William, and Don Goddard. 1983. Catalogue for "Sound/Art" at The Sculpture Center, New York City, May 1–30, 1984 and BACA/DCC Gallery June 1–30, 1984. [page needed].
  10. ^ Ouzounian, Gascia (2008). Sound art and spatial practices: situating sound installation art since 1958. San Diego: UC.
  11. ^ Brückner, Atelier (2010). Scenography / Szenografie - Making spaces talk / Narrative Räume. Stuttgart: avedition. p. 209.
  12. ^ Batsis, Dimitris; Bitsikas, Xenofon (2022-10-01). "The Zone : A Study of Sound Art as Hyperreality". Leonardo. 55 (5): 508–511. doi:10.1162/leon_a_02256. ISSN 0024-094X. S2CID 250706593.
  13. ^ Fontana, Bill (2008). "The Relocation of Ambient Sound: Urban Sound Sculpture". Leonardo. 41 (2): 154–158. doi:10.1162/leon.2008.41.2.154. ISSN 0024-094X. JSTOR 20206556. S2CID 57558532.
  14. ^ "Claremont Graduate University mourns loss of longtime art Professor Michael Brewster". Claremont Graduate University. 23 June 2016. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  15. ^ Grayson, John (1975). Sound sculpture : a collection of essays by artists surveying the techniques, applications, and future directions of sound sculpture. A.R.C. Publications. p. V. ISBN 0-88985-000-3.


Further reading