in Notes on Sound Art



Alexis Bhagat & Lauren Rosati, 2011


Formal Problem:

A fundamental problem of “sound art” is that it is non-essential. There is nothing intrinsic to the term. It is simply a useful umbrella term for a variety of practices using sound as material, disparate practices which may incorporate various concerns such as acoustics, psychoacoustics, spatialization, sculpture, language, poetry, narrative, communication, transmission, etc… This absence of essence and disparity of tradition leads to


Institutional Problem: Because of this formal problem, it is difficult to provide support for sound art. It must be admitted that great great strides have been made in the past 10-15 year to address the institutional problem, partly as a consequence of the development of curricula and even degree programs in Music & Technology an Sound Art or Audio Art. More importantly, there have been the dedicated efforts of arts organizations to support sound art. Through the past decade, Phonurgia Nova, a French organization founded 25 years ago by Pierre Schaeffer himself and free103point9, a “transmissions arts” organization in upstate New York, both deserve special mention for the work they have done to address the institutional problems that plague sound art.


Because sound art isn’t “something in particular” it is a challenge for arts institutions to support new work. The easiest way for institutions to support sound artists is to establish concert series: the simplicity of this solution acts like a kind of gravitational force, pulling sound artists to the safe surface of the table at the front of the room, to plug in their laptop and sit in front of a roomfull of people, reciting like a pianist, whether or not that makes sense for their work or their concern. This is related to



— Technical Problem:

Every work of sound art depends upon a container. This container could be, variously, a sculpture, a score, a computer, a recording medium, an arrangement of microphones and filters, etc etc. Works also require a platform. With works that are directly acoustic—which either produce what acoustic ecologists would call “original sound” by striking or otherwise resonating their container, or which work as an acoustic filter for the found sound of their site—the container doubles as platform. An acoustic ensemble could also be a platform. But most often, the platform is basically a play-back set up, a mixer-amp-speaker machine, something that the artist can plug into. The plugging of that container into a platform is the techincal problem.

Technical problems are easily solved. But the Institutional Problem added to the Technical Problem together lead to–


The Situational Problem:

One concert after another. Because institutions understand “concerts” and because there is not a standard acoustic platform for artists to “plug into”, it is often required for artists to travel to an art center to set-up a platform themselves, to “perform” their works, to interpret and modulate the playback of their compositions to account for technical and acoustic variations in different sites. Artists who compose with recordings are forced to “perform” because it is impossible for someone to just “press play.”

((audience)) proposes making use of the standardized platform of the cinema hall as a way to simply “Press Play.”


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