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Sound Art 101   05.28.14

We at SPACES are a little intimidated by The Vault guest curator Christopher Auerbach-Brown's cunning wit and musical genius. So, we asked him to break it down and tell us what we should be listening for in the upcoming selection of sound art, Apopheny - Epiphany: What is Random?

Sound Art 101 by Christopher Auerbach-Brown
Sound art (or Audio art, or whatever you want to call it) is, strangely enough, a genre often practiced by...visual artists. This may seem odd at first – after all, don't musicians reign over the world of sound? – so the purpose of this introduction is to explain this quirk while hopefully giving the listener a framework from which to delve into The Vault exhibition.

First, defining sound art is tricky, because it can also be heard as music. But one distinguishing characteristic of sound art is that it simply does not present itself in a normal musical manner. Typically, there are no melodies, no drum beats, no lyrics, no chord changes, no shredding guitar solos. Instead, sound artists utilize any and all sounds as raw ingredients, much like a sculptor shapes his or her materials to gradually 'reveal' their final sculpture. Musicians who double as sound artists often speak of "letting go" of their musical background, "breaking new ground" or "starting over" when working in this medium.

Next, works of sound art are often site-specific in nature. In order to fully appreciate these types of pieces, you need to experience them in the locale for which they are intended. Physically displacing them by listening with earbuds or on a home stereo system ultimately causes the listener to miss out on certain nuances of the work in question.

Given this information, how does one ready him- or herself to listen? It's simple.

Let go.

Wipe the slate clean.

Push aside any preconceptions or assumptions of what it is you will hear.

Now, let the materials and sounds transport you to a new place. The journey has many twists and turns, but the 'sonic path' will reveal itself through patient listening and observation. You will develop your own set of listening guidelines, to be kept secret or shared with others, if you like. But don't worry – it's all there, if you open your ears and mind. Stick with it for at least five to ten minutes. You may become a tad impatient at first, but once you work through this initial mental barrier, your brain will become more susceptible to the content of this exhibition.

Or, to quote John Cage:
"nothing is accomplished by writing a piece of music
nothing is accomplished by hearing a piece of music
nothing is accomplished by playing a piece of music
our ears are now in excellent condition."

Cheers to a fruitful adventure...

Author: Christina Vassallo, Executive Director
Category: History

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