Hybrid Sonicscapes'06

In an attempt to explore how the creative use of sound complicates the neat categories of sound...
Hybrid Sonicscapes
KHOJ Studios, New Delhi
Sunday, 22 January 2006

In an attempt to explore how the creative use of sound complicates the neat categories of sound /art /visual art /music /science /engineering’. KHOJ organized a one week intensive sound workshop between Jan 16- 22, 06. At a time when the mainstream engagement is moving increasingly towards the visual, the pilot workshop explored the nexus between technology, soundscapes and creativity. KHOJ played host to sonic practioners from diverse backgrounds and provided a discursive space where diverse practices, engagements with technology and approaches to ‘new media’ could be sensed, exchanged and engaged. This workshop was a seminal attempt by KHOJ Studios to foster sonic arts within spaces and contexts generally reserved for visual arts.

A short note on the early history of Creative Sound

Futurist Luigi Russolo is perhaps the first artist and theorist of creative sound. With the publication his manifesto L’arte dei Rumori (The Art of Noises) in 1913,sound art begun to have a impact on the creative art practices.." http://cotati.sjsu.edu/spoetry/folder6/ng632.html .In a quest to capture “symphonies of ever day life”, Russolo invented intonarumori (noise instruments) which could produce many synthesized timbres over a range of pitches.

From the field of music, composer Edgar Varèse began an attempt towards "liberation of sound" in his compositions. Varèse’s works were a bold attempt to occupy the subliminal space in the tangential areas of modern music. Walter Fähndrich, (whose Music for a Quarry is located in the Natural Bridge State Park in North Adams), largely takes on from Varèse’s experiments. Fähndrich describes his work as music, but music "created for particular spaces and times of day," qualities it shares with sound art.

Sound came to occupy a fundamental role-space in modernist artistic praxis in the works of the Dadaists during the 1910s. Marcel Duchamp’s visual and conceptual art, for example, often involved sound. He proposed that "a line of identical sounds could turn around the listener in arabesques (on the right, left, over, under)," creating, for example, "an immense Venus de Milo made of sounds around the listener." Duchamp’s interventions had a significant impact on the generation of conceptual artists working in the 1960s and '70s, many of whom used sound and referred to their work as 'sound sculpture'. http://eamusic.dartmouth.edu/~kov/soundArt/index.html, http://www.audium.org/intro.html. Other significant Dadaist interventions in sound can be located in the in the works of Hugo Ball, founder of the Dada movement in Zurich, created the poème simulatane, or simultaneous poem, first presented at the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916 with a high-energy, performance-oriented ‘cacophony’ of whistling, sighing, grunting, coughing, and singing.

The Russian modernists like Wassily Kandinsky and Aleksandr Scriabin, entered the domain of creative sound in their explorations of links between viual and aural perceptions. Early leads into public sound art projects can be found in the interventions Arseni Avraamov. The Russian artist directed several monumental sound spectacles in commemoration of the Bolshevik Revolution. Performed for the fifth anniversary of the revolution, his Symphony of Factory Sirens contained "a huge cast of choirs (joined by spectators), the foghorns of the entire Caspian flotilla, two batteries of artillery guns, a number of full infantry regiments (including a machine-gun division), hydroplanes, and all the factory sirens of (the port-town of) Baku."

Composer, artist, and philosopher John Cage’s questionings of cultural and artistic practices have largely determined the direction of contemporary sound art. Cage’s intervention is pivotal in the history of creative sound, temporally and conceptually bridging the early experiments of the Futurists and Dadaists working in the 1910s and '20s and the concerns of artists working today. While artists working in the early twentieth century generally reveled in the new, harsh noises of industry and machinery, Cage and many later artists listened for the subtle harmonies that were generated by chance in the natural and built environment.

Following Cage, 20th-century composers have experimented and dismantled the near cartographic boundaries between music, sound and noise. With Edgar Varèse's experimentations with electronics and Pierre Schaeffer's coinage “musique concrète", to describe music made from found sounds such as birdsong or traffic - the line between what was music and what was simply noise became increasingly blurred. Often, recontextualisation has been a key tool. Just as Marcel Duchamp's urinal had become art by virtue of being placed in a gallery, so could the roar of cars - or a two-minute silence - if presented as an object of aesthetic contemplation.

Over the last decade “Sound walking” and “radio art”  has emerged as important interventionist measures, as sound artist have discovering that the democratic potential of sonic arts are being increasingly marginalized as galleries, museums and recording houses increasingly commodity sound .



Rahul Bhattacharya

Locating creative sound

The roots of sound art can be traced to the early decades of the last century, when new sounds and mechanical devices radically expanded possibilities in the visual arts and music. This radical expansion seems to have been facilitated by certain key technological advances at the turn of the 20th century which provided both the fundamental tools of sound art (such as the radio and phonograph) and the modern concept of noise, which arose in tandem with the machine age.

Sound art has since emerged as a new media art which challenges the defined categories of sound /art /visual art /music /science /engineering. Creative experiments with sound play on the fringes of our often-unconscious aural experience in spaces at a time when the mainstream engagement is moving increasingly towards the visual. These are not strictly music, or noise, or speech, or any sound found in nature, but often includes, combines, and transforms elements of all of these. Common creative techniques include collage and cut-up, repetition, spatial manipulation, and electronic generation and signal processing.

However, sound art and sound culture, while emerging as a new media art has also become appropriated by mainstream gallery and critical practices. Increasingly sound art ends up in the heavily culturally coded environment of the art gallery or increasingly finds that it needs to be tied to an object (so that it can be visually documented, given a monetary value, given a value of authenticity and singularity, etc.), thereby, (yet again) being enslaved to the regime of the visual. While it is not true that all sound art pieces are dominated by the visual - the pieces which attain the position of highest importance in the hierarchy usually have a strong visual presence. Disembodied works, on the other hand, existing only as sound on tape or CD in the same contex are often marginalized.

In a post-Cagean world, if sound art is performed in front of an audience it can too easily be perceived as music or theater. If sound art happens on radio it becomes radiphonics or, again, music (?). But even that is not enough, sound theory which had begun its journey as an a cross disciplinary area encompassing branches of musicology, acoustic science, linguistics, cultural studies, philosophy, film theory, anthropology and history, often trying to bridge the gaps between these disciplines has now shown tendencies towards a reduction of its scope, moving towards a perceived purity or essential idea in an attempt to define itself in stricter terms. These directions threaten to be not only limiting but dangerous.

Rahul Bhattacharya