www.whyville.net Mar 27, 2016 Weekly Issue

Veteran Times Writer

Sound Art

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What is sound art? That's just music . . . right? Wrong. When I brought up the fact that I'm a sound artist in last week's article, there was a lot of confusion around the subject. Seeing as sound art is a fairly unrecognized form of art, I figure I should share with you all what it is.

In short, sound art is using sound as an artistic medium the same as you would use acrylic paint, clay, video, or any other art medium. This is usually a difficult concept for people to grasp. Paint, clay, pencil, ink all have either a physicality to them, a visual element, or both. As soon as you remove that visual element, you have to rely on your other senses to experience the artwork. That is sound art: relying on your sense of hearing to experience the artwork. Sound art can take on many different forms, which is the same as any form of art. For example, in painting you can have representational paintings, and non-representational paintings. The same can be said of sound art. You can have both representation sound art, and non-representational sound art.

Representational sound art encompasses things such as soundscapes, or other sound works where the sound can be easily identified. These works are usually using field recordings (*field recordings: when you record your environment and the sounds you're hearing around you. such as cars passing by, birds chirping, etc). A somewhat abstract example of this can be John Cage's performance 4'33 (the link to his performance is listed at the bottom of this article). In this performance, Cage sits down at a piano as if to perform, but instead does nothing. The room is filled with "silence", but Cage argues that silence does not exist, there will always be something we are hearing. While Cage was not playing the piano, sounds from outside filled the space: the sounds of birds, wind, breathing, everything. There was never true silence, there were still sounds, one only needs only to be aware of what they're hearing. This is how sound artists who work representationally operate, from listening to their environment and recording those sounds. In their final sound piece, they keep the sounds true to themselves and recognizable.

Non-representational sound art is how I usually work. In this case, the artists distorts sounds through the editing process (or sometimes through the recording process) and you're left with unrecognizable sounds. This type of sound art is sometimes harder for people to process because of the sounds being so unrecognizable. People often struggle to identify the source of what they are hearing and are unable to do so. When I work non-representationally, I layer up sounds to create a full composition of abstract sounds. The difference between this and music is that it lacks harmonious elements and is usually a discordance of sounds. In one instance, I did a piece using a single recording of a Bic lighter flicking on. The sound composition was around 2 minutes in length, and the original sound of the lighter was so layered up that one could not distinguish what it was all from the same recording.

In both instances, sound art is used to convey a concept, feeling, or idea. Sometimes the sound will be sculpted in a way to create a specific mood, or will be used to describe a place. And sometimes, it's just used to explore the medium, just as abstract paintings are used to explore the medium. In this respect, it is no different from any other medium. All that is different is the way in which the audience interacts with and experiences it.


Resources: Cage, John. "4'33". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTEFKFiXSx4

Author's Note: The best way to describe sound art is to give you examples to listen to. But for sake of me submitting this article sooner rather than later, I haven't included any. I'm not sure what Whyville's rules would be around me sharing my own sound art from an outside source such as linking you to Bandcamp or Soundcloud (the main websites used to host sound art) so I have avoided that as well. Hopefully this article is sufficient enough.


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