The Sunday Times (UK) featured an intriguing look at the integration of sound and visual art. Tim Cooper writes:
Remember when art appreciation used to be a simple, straightforward affair? You walked into a gallery, looked at some pictures, or maybe a few sculptures, and that was that. Then came photography, followed by film, the emergence of performance art and all that conceptual stuff... Now, thanks to 21st-century technology, sound art – art for the ears, as well as the eyes – is bringing a new dimension to the art world.Actually, 'art for the ears' has been with us a long time. We call it music. More on this in a minute.
Cooper reports some of the imaginative ways aural and visual elements are integrated:
The full article gives fascinating details about these pieces.
You walk into a white room in a fashionable Oxford art gallery. A fractured, fragmented version of the [Beethoven] Moonlight Sonata echoes from an unmanned grand piano at one end. On the opposite wall is a white-on-white neon display of a telephone number. You dial, then listen. Down the line, you hear a whooshing, splooshing sound. You are connected, live and in real time, to a glacier melting in Iceland.
Meanwhile, at the Science Museum, in west London, displayed on a huge futuristic grid, you can see and hear thousands of messages sent by strangers in internet chat rooms all over the world as they are intercepted, live, in a work aptly entitled Listening Post. And soon, in a warehouse in central London, you will find five grand pianos, insides out, playing on their own over the disembodied voices of William S Burroughs, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Malcolm X. This is the splendidly titled Stifter’s Dinge, created by a German composer called Heiner Goebbels. It, too, is a work of sound art.
Cooper goes on to consider historical influences:
If sound art has a beginning, it seems to lie with postwar avant-garde composers such as John Cage, the start of a line that follows through to Brian Eno’s ambient music, the sound collagists Christian Marclay and John Oswald - forefathers of the “mash-up” - and electronic composers such as the Japanese minimalist Ryoji Ikeda.Edgard Varèse also belongs on any short list of this kind.
Yet most of those are primarily musicians with artistic inclinations.Oops. Gaffe alert.
All musicians have artistic inclinations. This is true by definition. Music is art. Making music is thus making art. The 'artistic inclination' of musicians is thus a given.
It's a tic among visual artists to use the word art as a synonym for only visual art. It is useful enough as a verbal shorthand when talking to other specialists. But it crashes and burns when you step out of the gallery and start discussing aesthetic issues. Here, it doesn't do to let gallery shorthand do your thinking for you. Categories are already understood. Art consists of creations in all sorts of media. Music is a subset of art, just as visual art is.
Here the tic leads to a working definition that is actually irrelevant to the art itself. The text asks us to understand sound art as 'sound structures created by primarily visual artists.' This is in contrast to music, understood here as 'sound structures created by primarily aural artists.' But this focus on the resumes of the individuals cannot be sustained. Where does it leave the work of Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, for example? She a was neither a musician nor a visual artist by profession. Was she making 'sound contemplation' and 'sight contemplation' instead of music and visual art? There is no need to let oneself in for this. Hildegard remains a noteworthy figure in the realm of both music and visual art. But it's not her resume, however we define it, that puts her there. It's the work itself.
Either way, the subject here is sound structures. The arrangement of sound for artistic purpose is music. Music is sound art. Sound art is music.
Rubin, 43, who cites Cage and Marclay as influences, sees sound art as having more distant roots. “In the early 20th century, the Russian futurists were doing orchestras with noise-making machines,” he says. “And within experimental music, there is a tradition of composers doing spatial-installation projects that push far outside what you would consider music, towards what we now consider sound art.”The assumption is that sound structures sufficiently original to 'push far outside what you would normally consider music' are 'not music' for that reason. But this is another distinction that makes no difference. Music does this all the time. The music makers of the world are forever pushing boundaries 'far outside what you would normally consider music.' I could offer many names, but just one closes the case. John Cage.
Music is the art of sound. Where sound is art, music exists. The two are the same.