Sound Art

8 Über-Setzung (Translation—as Transfer)

Transmissions of sensual stimuli from one modality of sense to another are based on a change of media and thus require a transfer that is a transformation somehow linked to the given medium’s inherent obstinacy. This is demonstrated by the singing flames in Andreas Oldörp’s One of Us Cannot Be Wrong (1996). Gas flames produce thermal air movements within two glass tubes, which in turn generate audible air vibrations through interference. What is perceived is the connection between the flame (as the archetype for the source of light and warmth) and sound (as the basic element of music). However, pitch and timbre only marginally depend on the color and brightness of the light. Instead, proportions (tube, space), material composition (tube, walls of the space), and temperature determine the vibrational properties.

In telefunken (2000), Carsten Nicolai also examines technical connections between visual and sound structures. Different synthetic audio signals (e.g., square waves, impulse sequences, white noise) generate visual patterns on a conventional television. However, in this case we do not see in any direct way what sound in itself looks like on a video, because visualizations such as those in telefunken show movements that play a trick on the eye, as they are produced by the interference between the technical values of the audio signal and those of the image system (the refresh rate and the number of scan lines of the television standard). Furthermore, oscillations become audible to the human ear at pretty much the same point (beyond approximately 18 Hz) at which their movement is no longer detectable to the eye, which is why individual images in a film melt into one flowing movement at approximately 18 pictures per second. As a result, audible oscillation processes cannot be immediately followed by the eye. It is only with a slow-motion recording—in musical terms, a transposition—that such oscillations could also be visually observed. For their installation Rigid String Geometry (2006), Ludger Hennig and Hanns Holger Rutz produced such a slow-motion impression in real time through the interference of the scan rate of the television with the oscillations of a piano string in front of the screen. These examples show that a sound-image relationship is not produced by intrinsic correspondence but rather by a specific interaction of a certain technical system with the individual’s perception.

A digitally based form of transfer is produced by Jens Brand, who algorithmically simulates the functionality of a record player’s needle and applies it to a virtual scanning process of the earth’s surface. Brand’s data transfer also represents an example of artistic sonification—a procedure which increasingly is used in contemporary sound art.

Treating topics such as the spatialization of time, interaction, and auditory sensitization up into the 1990s, sound art established itself as a genre positioned between the arts, between the media, and thus between sound and image. Since the late 1990s, the relationship between image and sound has been thematized in an increasing number of medial and artistic contexts. Tools of sound art appear as modules in media art, in net-based works, or in concert installations, or represent one of several aspects within a work of art. Sound art, originally an outcome of the dissolution of boundaries, is increasingly without boundaries itself.