Sound artSound art is an artistic discipline in which sound is utilised as a primary medium. Like many genres of contemporary art, sound art may be interdisciplinary in nature, or be used in hybrid forms. Sound art can be considered as being an element of many areas such as acoustics, psychoacoustics, electronics, noise music, audio media, found or environmental sound, soundscapes, explorations of the human body, sculpture, architecture, film or video and other aspects of the current discourse of contemporary art.
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 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. 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, and experimental theatre.
Origin of the term in the United StatesAccording to Dunaway's paper on the history of Sound Art, the term "began to be used loosely in the avant-garde scene in the 1970s." It "was used interchangeably with other terms such as sonic art, audio art, sound poetry, sound sculpture, and experimental music (to name a few)." One of the first published uses of the term was in Something Else Press in their 1974 Yearbook.
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 Maggie Payne, Connie Beckley, and Julia Heyward. The curator, Barbara London defined the term thusly, "'Sound art' pieces are more closely allied to art than to music, and are usually presented in the museum, gallery, or alternative space."
Later, in 1983, the art historian Don Goddard would expand on this, writing about an exhibition called "Sound/Art" at The Sculpture Center in New York City in 1983 "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." Sound art always takes place in an acoustic context, which may influence interpretation as much as if not more than any associated imagery. Installations of sound art rely on the acoustics of the spaces and reproduction technologies employed as can be exemplified by current practitioners such as Chris Watson.
Sound art in Europe
BelgiumThe Klankenbos (Sound forest) of Provinciaal Domein Dommelhof is the biggest sound art collection in public space in Europe. In the forest there are 15 sound installation pieces by artists such as Pierre Berthet, Paul Panhuysen, Geert Jan Hobbijn (Staalplaat Soundsystem), Hans van Koolwijk, and others. Yearly in Kortrijk there is the sound art festival Wilde Westen (formerly known as Happy New Ears). In Brussels there are QO2 and Overtoon, two organisations that run artist-in-residence programs and organize events. Logos Foundation from Ghent is a sound art org run by Godfried-Willem Raes. Also Ghent based is aifoon, an organisation active in the field of sound and listening art, making artistic productions and participative projects.
CroatiaIn Zadar there is the Sea Organ which plays music by way of sea waves and tubes located underneath a set of large marble steps.
GermanyOriginally from Amsterdam, but moved to Berlin is Staalplaat, a record label focused on sound art and experimental music.
Transmediale is a yearly festival focused on media art, covering many sound art performances and installations.