Sunday, June 22, 2008
why listen to sound art?
Richard Lerman "Border Fences" installation
Note: This is partially written for people who are not very familar
with sound art and will hopefully spark some interest for further
investigation. I consider this an article in progress, so it is by no
means finished and will undergo periodic editing.
After the article is a short list of links for further research.
Thank you very much for your time.
With all the intense events that we read about in the news,
it seems apparent that basic survival remains the number one
priority for most humans, even in a world where it seems like so
many advances to alleviate such a concern have been made.
Granted, in many cultures where such advances have somehow
elluded them, they "make do" with what they have, which is all
any of us can do anyway, yet it must be noted that "advances"
for one culture don't always mean the same thing for another.
For those of us who have access to certain technology, and the
means to obtain it, we also have access to a staggering variety
of "personal inspiration resources" at our disposal as well. One
kind of resource that many of us turn to is music. That being
the case, one would have to wonder why a current era individual
would want to limit themself to just one or two types of music.
Fortunately, there has been a steadily growing number of people
who are tired of the old "music = commodity" paradigm and
have found themselves wandering far outside the societal box
in search of something that speaks to them in different ways
and in turn, opens their minds to alternative possibilities that
they never knew existed. Somewhere along the way, one will
eventually run into what is sometimes refered to as "sound art".
Other terms such as "avant-garde" or "experimental music"
have been used as well.
To clarify, I will paraphrase Wikipedia with the following
description: Sound art is a diverse group of sonic art practices
that considers wide notions of sound, listening and hearing as
its predominant focus. This might require a shift in perception
for a listener because at first it might seem very strange and
alien from what they were raised to think of as "music".
What the Wikipedia definition points to is a mindset that
considers all sound has having the potential of being enjoyed
as music (whether it's organized by humans or not). In this
light, anyone trying to proclaim that particular sounds are
"not music" are expressing an entirely subjective opinion.
As with visual art, there are many different levels of sound art
which can range from people recording and assembling sounds
in their bedroom, to people writing music for academically
trained ensembles to perform. It is not my intention to go into
the history of sound art. Instead, what I would like to bring
attention to is why people listen to sound art, and for those
who have not yet delved into much of it, briefly discuss why
one would even want to listen to some of it.
The reasons for listening to sound art are more numerous
than one might realize. It can provide a particular "spice" to
our personal atmosphere, a "soundtrack" for various aspects
of our lives - our moods, imagination, creativity, and leisure
activities (i.e. reading, hobbies, etc) that no other type of
music might do. Of course, some artists reading this might
cringe at this utilitarian line of thought, but they should
understand that artists can't expect everyone to have time
to drop everything they're doing and sit inside a sound proof
room to completely focus on an artist's work. One beauty of
sound is that it doesn't have to prevent people from doing
other things while they are experiencing it. In fact, some of
my best listening comes when I am doing graphic design work,
and it obviously inspires what I'm doing as well.
So sound art should not appeal only to art professionals and
CD / record collectors. Nor should it go ignored by people
who've been raised to believe that anything without a beat
and melody is not music. In fact, some sound art does have
these traits, and many have used this as an entry point to
delve into more challenging work later. As a curator of a
recording label myself, it's been a personal mission to help
open people's minds and ears to listen to a wider variety of
sound than that which is officiated, sponsored and promoted
by corporate and academic establishments, and this goes
the other way around as well. Artists (or anyone else for
that matter) shouldn't feel embarrased to admit that they
pull out a Madonna CD right after listening to Francisco Lopez.
In fact, the semi-regular "office ambience" list that I post on
the a/O MySpace blog clearly illustrates what I'm talking about.
Bottom line: It's all good. It's all sound.
UBU Web: http://www.ubu.com/sound/
What Is Sound Art? - article and interviews: