Sound art

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Sound 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.[1]

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.[citation needed] 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,[2] and experimental theatre.[citation needed]

Origin of the term in the United States[edit]

According 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."[3] It "was used interchangeably with other terms such as sonic art, audio art, sound poetry, sound sculpture, and experimental music (to name a few)."[4] One of the first published uses of the term was in Something Else Press in their 1974 Yearbook.[5]

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. [6] 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." [7]

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."[8] 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.[citation needed]

Sound art in Europe[edit]


The 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.[citation needed]


In Zadar there is the Sea Organ which plays music by way of sea waves and tubes located underneath a set of large marble steps.[citation needed]


Originally 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.[9][10]

The Netherlands[edit]

The Dutch sound art tradition started more or less in the Philips Natuurkundig Laboratorium where Dick Raaijmakers worked in the 60s. Paul Panhuysen and Remko Scha developed many early sound art pieces in the 70s and 80s and set up the Apollohuis in Eindhoven. STEIM. WORM, Extrapool are active organisations that have sound art activities. Polderlicht was a sound art festival running from 2000–2015. Instrument Inventors Initiative (iii) is a The Hague based organisation focused on the creation of sound art pieces. The organisation has an active artist-in-residence program and continuously invites sound artists to make new works at their location. The Netherlands have three academies where you can study in the direction of sound art Institute of Sonology, Art Science at Royal Academy of Art, The Hague and at the Utrecht School of the Arts in Utrecht.[citation needed]


Lydgalleriet (The Soundgallery) is a non-commercial gallery for sound based art practices, situated in the centre of Bergen.[citation needed]


Playing the Building was an art installation by David Byrne, ex singer of Talking Heads, and Färgfabriken, an independent art venue in Stockholm. Elektronmusikstudion is an active organisation.[citation needed]

United Kingdom[edit]

A known sound art pieces in the UK are Blackpool High Tide Organ and Singing Ringing Tree. Although not built as sound art pieces, the UK has several acoustic mirrors along the coastline often explored by field recorders.[citation needed]

Global sound art[edit]

Since 2017, organized by the Museum of Walking and the Made of Walking, a recurring yearly global festival and community event, Sound Walk September, celebrates soundwalks and related sound art pieces. In 2019 organizations and individual sound artists in all inhabited continents and over 40 countries participated.

Sound art organizations and festivals[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kahn, Douglas (1999). Noise, water, meat: a history of sound in the arts. MIT press.
  2. ^ Atelier Brückner (2010). Scenography / Szenografie - Making spaces talk / Narrative Räume. Stuttgart: avedition. p. 209.
  3. ^ Dunaway, Judy (May 7, 2020). "The Forgotten 1979 MoMA Sound Art Exhibition". Resonance. doi:10.1525/res.2020.1.1.25. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  4. ^ Dunaway, Judy (May 7, 2020). "The Forgotten 1979 MoMA Sound Art Exhibition". Resonance. doi:10.1525/res.2020.1.1.25. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  5. ^ Herman, Jan, ed. (1974). Something Else Yearbook 1974. Barton, VT: Something Else Press.
  6. ^ Dunaway, Judy (May 7, 2020). "The Forgotten 1979 MoMA Sound Art Exhibition". Resonance. doi:10.1525/res.2020.1.1.25. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  7. ^ "Museum of Modern Art, Museum exhibition features works incorporating sound, press release no. 42 for Sound Art exhibition 25 June–5 August 1979" (Exh. 1266). MoMA Archives.
  8. ^ Hellerman and Goddard 1983,[page needed].
  9. ^ "Transmediale". Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  10. ^ "About". Transmediale. Retrieved 24 January 2020.


  • Hellerman, William, and Don Goddard. 1983. Catalogue for "Sound/Art" at The Sculpture Center, New York City, May 1–30, 1983 and BACA/DCC Gallery June 1–30, 1983.
  • Kahn, Douglas. 2001. Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-61172-4.
  • Licht, Alan. 2007. Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories (with accompanying compact disc recording). New York: Rizzoli International Publications. ISBN 0-8478-2969-3.

Further reading[edit]