Sound Art

7 Sound Art as Media Art

Mechanical, electronic, or digital media are used in most works of sound art. They serve the need for time-bridging storage, spatial transmission, structural modification, or the synthesis of sounds. These media forms enable the long running times (days, months) and the process-oriented character of sound art, thereby replacing the closed work of art with the open form. Here, media technology is only rarely used as a pure means, as one (almost always) speaks of air as a medium to propagate sound or of the loudspeaker as a means to transform electric signals into airborne sound. To different degrees, an observation of second order is intended which reflects the relationship between the perception of reality and of media and thus also the relationship of image and sound.

Bill Fontana’s Landscape Sculpture with Fog Horns (1982), for example, uses sophisticated transmission technology to bring together in real time and in one space the sounds of places which are far apart. He therefore raises the questions of to what extent media can deform spaces and how image and sound interact in the encounter of current experience and memory. In his performance Mechanical Sound Orchestra (1990), Matt Heckert employs computer-controlled machines as orchestra instruments. They resound in groups, tutti, or solo and develop themes and motifs just like in a symphony or other large musical group. Symbolic language, the orchestration of light, and the aesthetics of sounds of machinery furthermore serve as system references for the medium of film and for the science-fiction genre. Heckert’s crossover between different technical media, artistic environments, and contexts of performance draws attention to how the combination of set elements from auditory and audiovisual culture generate new meanings.

In Janet Cardiff’s Münster Walk (1997), one walks down a street while listening to events through a headset that integrates the real environment into a fictional narration. An acoustic fiction superposes real sounds and real images, enabling a consideration of how the eye and the ear intermesh on one side and how the real world and the world of media intermesh on the other. Christian Marclay combs through the context of consumer goods and technical media which are associated with music (e.g., records, tapes, sheets of music). Through his exhibition of these items (The Beatles, 1989), we begin to grasp both the importance of the textual and visual context with respect to the acoustic primary level and the intensity of their interaction.