We must evolve towards a conceptual and accessible sound art

Sound art has an identity crisis. Trapped between experimental music and traditional artistic mediums, it suffers from inaccessibility and from an elitist and academic demand for “entry cost” in order to connect with works from the canon of contemporary art. With the recent death of the sound artist Alvin lucier, the only hope for the future of sound art is to elevate the outliers that drive the creation of new, conceptually entrenched works rather than continuing to reward artists who glorify technology at the expense of providing points. accessible entrance.

Part of the problem is an internal lack of understanding of what media itself is. The works that continue to be considered are works that oscillate on the borderline of technological fetishism and experimental composition. One of the most important genres within sound art is what I call “laptop sound art” which can best be described as experimental laptop ambient music that often incorporates visual programming software called Max.

The laptop sound artist can be recognized by his posture: slumped on mixers perched on foldable picnic tables with threads thrown haphazardly on the floor. They deal with their environment; their expressionless faces lit only the glow of their screens. There is never a shortage of contact mics, transducers or field recordings as the sound artist turns the knobs and uses the feedback to bathe listeners with controlled frequencies, producing a work style. that to fully appreciate, the audience may have to devote as much time as a feature film. If you don’t understand “that” then the assumption is that you don’t have to understand the practice of “deep listening”.

These performances turned into exclusive listening sessions and self-righteousness in basements or lofts open only to the who’s who of the sound arts community and its most enthusiastic apprentices who froth in their mouths for the chance. cataloging a closet full of rotten tapes and audio. material in unpaid internships. These works exist as a form of experimental music and instrument-building worthy of the same recognition that a C ++ code stream deserves for its artistry and progressiveness. That is, it’s the kind of work that can only be enjoyed by a privileged few who understand it.

There is no dearth of white and European voices in the sound art world who are gaining institutional support through their masterful manipulation of technological terms such as “data sonification” and “max algorithm” because How? ‘Or’ What the work that is done unfortunately tends to be more valuable than the work itself. Take for example “Rainforest V (variation 1)” (1973-2015) which was presented at the Museum of Modern Art, in 2019, designed by David Tudor and produced by Composers Inside Electronics Inc. The most obvious absence of the installation was any mention of the real tropical forest. The headlines of the time were replete with information about how the tropical rainforests of Central and South America were burned to enable the extraction of metals used in many of the electronics that make installation possible. . This raises the question of why? What does the listener have to spend so much time experiencing an installation that doesn’t even recognize how its title relates to an ongoing natural crisis?

Elaborate soundscapes presented as performances indistinguishable from the bourgeois sound bath events sponsored by an Equinox gym do not push the middle forward. There is hope for the medium, however. “The instrument of troubled dreams(2018) by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller was presented at the Luhring Augustine Gallery last fall. The installation consisted of a pirated mellotron presented alone, lit by a projector and surrounded by chairs that viewers could sit on. Each key on the mellotron was labeled with descriptions such as “fighting cats” or “nuns” which triggered corresponding samples and field recordings that could be played alongside other melodic keys labeled “cello” or “quartet # 3. “. Anyone without musical skill could sit down and compose a flawless cinematic piece, completely debunking the idea of ​​composition. The placement of everything in the facility (including the speakers) seemed intentional and thoughtful. The visual aesthetics were considered as much as the sonic possibilities, which allowed for a deep interactive experience.

I wish Xandra Ibarra would describe his work “Nude Laughing” (2014) as a sound art performance, if only to raise the bar higher for the medium. Ibarra’s performance begins with a pilgrimage on foot through the halls of a gallery lined with spectators, wearing nothing but stiletto heels and a breastplate while dragging a sinew-shaped bag full of “lady’s accessories.” white ”: shawls, ballet shoes, blonde wigs and pearls. She disrupts the sanctity of the museum by laughing in an explosive crescendo of uninhibited and frightening laughter and wreaking havoc on the expectations we place on how one should behave in the presence of art. About the work, Ibarra says that she wants to “implement a union between sound and gesture that cannot be captured in a painting”. She cannot be categorized as another sound artist using childhood nostalgia as the source material for their maximum patches and transducers. She provokes racial and gender perceptions and explores what it is like to exist in a non-white body struggling with the pressure to relate to white femininity. By “negotiating the simultaneous joys and pains of submission, abjection and personality in public”, she lights a fire in the sacred space of the gallery and reduces it to ashes.

Performance again of “Xandra Ibarra: Nude Laughing” (2016); The tip of her tongue performance series, hosted by Jennifer Doyle at The Broad, Los Angeles (photo: Priscilla Mars, courtesy of The Broad, Los Angeles)

Last week, sound artists Mendi and Keith Obedike denounced their honorable mention at the Giga-Hertz Award ceremony administered by the ZKM Art and Media Center in Karlsruhe. During a rehearsal for the ceremony, a representative of the organization said with pride that they “had to choose between quality and diversity” in order to make the awards the most diverse to date. In response, the artists released a statement saying: “Places where media art, electronic music and sound art are largely white and European by design suffer from a lack of intellect, a lack of intellect. of vision and lack of imagination, and therefore are unable to honor or rank us. I hope that the world’s majority who turn to sound art reject the stereotype of the laptop computer and make way for provocative conceptual works.

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