Sound Art?, as experienced by visitors to …on the boundary of sound…(London College of Communication, 2012), is an audiovisual installation comprising a number of television sets of various types organised in a sculptural group at the entrance of the gallery space. Some of the sets face each other, some face away from each other, some are placed on top of others or of plinths – though each set is placed so as to face at least one other set.
The televisions broadcast a number of interviews conducted by myself with a series of individuals who have different kinds of relationships to sound and sound practices, each set broadcasting a single interview.
In each of the interviews, the interviewee is questioned about the same six items. These are:
• John Cage’s 4’.33”
• Kandinsky’s Composition VIII
• Mieko Shiomi’s Boundary Music
• Marina Abramovic’s Freeing the Voice
• Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Twelve Variations on 'Ah,vous dirai-je, maman'
• An empty glass milk bottle
The interviewees are asked: “How is [item] a piece of sound art?” and “how is [item] not a piece of sound art?”. All the interviews play back simultaneously from their respective monitors and are edited so that each particular question is answered at the same time from each monitor.
As the length and pacing of answers varies, at times the speaking voices create a cacophony of differing opinions, while at times only a handful of speakers are left talking, creating coincidental dialogues and unexpected juxtapositions.
Because of the way the sets are organised in the space, some facing each other in couples, some in groups, and so on, it’s as if the individuals speaking out of facing sets were having a conversation, and this replicates a sort of networking, social situation, where individuals create small conversational groups.
The audience wishing to experience the piece can enter the space occupied by the TV sets at will to experience the cumulative effect and interaction of the voices, but can also choose to approach each individual set or smaller groups of sets for a closer engagement with a speaker’s words.
The work is an investigation of the blurriness of artistic categories, focusing on sound art, and an attempt to obliquely arrive at a definition and perhaps show the usefulness, or otherwise, of such a definition.
As has been my experience in my research as an undergraduate and postgraduate sound art student, in the research I carried out to create my piece, and through the interviews I conducted, there seems to be no absolute consensus as to what might constitute sound art. The only generally recognised criteria might be, perhaps, the presence of some sonic element (whether audible or inaudible, material or conceptual) and artistic intention. But deciding the point at which the sonic and the intention begin or end seems to be up to each individual person.
Most things potentially may contain elements of sound art, under certain circumstances (because most things possess an observable sonic side, be it the absence of sound). However, each person comes to sound art from different perspectives and the definition of sound art is useful in different ways to different people, so it will be applied in ways that suit each person’s purposes.
This is what my piece aims to show, that there are as many definitions as there are people questioned, that a same given object can and cannot in turn be sound art, depending who is considering it and how they are considering it. My aim is to show that it is a complex and blurry issue and to throw up questions and provide start-points for debate, more than provide answers.