Featured Content: What is Sound Art?

Sound art is art. It is an art form that encapsulates all types of sonic expression—from acoustic, to digital, to sounds recorded in the natural world. Sound art is not an isolated art form; by its nature, it intersects with other artistic disciplines: visual art, dance, theatre, film, concept and installation art, and more.

Explore the nature of sound art and its different forms through the free-to-view chapters below.

You can also explore a range of other topics, artists, and countries previously in focus on the Bloomsbury Music and Sound platform on our featured content archive page.

Bernhard Leitner, Sound Tube, 1972 (Image courtesy of the artist)

Theories of sound art

The relationship of sound and music to the art world cannot be disregarded in the rise of sound art. The Futurist and Dada movements produced several theories about using noise in music, mechanized instrumentation, and spatialized sound; sound sculpture could be considered to a certain extent to be an offshoot of Kinetic art; and sound installation has an aesthetic kinship to Land art. In the twentieth century, there have been numerous examples of sound or music pieces made by visual artists. Following the departure from traditional painting and sculpture toward other forms of visual art and performance that began with Dadaism and Futurism, artists affiliated with Fluxus and early video and performance art in the 1960s also engaged with sound as another alternative medium. Most sound by visual artists is formulated and/or performed as music, although in Conceptual art sound becomes an element in installation works that seek to dismantle the accepted definitions of an art object.

For more on theories of sound art, read Alan Licht on “Sound and the Art World” in Sound Art Revisited.

Sketch of two dancers tethered with the cables of Gametrak controllers, in a piece of choreography designed to mimic the physical restrictions of a dancer's space (Image courtesy of the author)

Sound art in choreography and contemporary dance

Jung In Jung creates sound compositions by introducing interactive technology into dance choreography. In choreographing a contemporary dance piece, Jung simultaneously composes a sonic experience. Dancers are tethered to the cable of Gametrak controllers, which create sound when moved. The motion-tracking technology is used to investigate the aesthetic impact on spectators. Working in conversation with theories on movement put forth by luminaries in contemporary dance, including Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe, Jung incorporates sound technology, making for a collaborative audio-visual project that combines sound and choreography in the making of a composition.

For more on sound art in choreographic practices and contemporary dance, read Jung In Jung on “Sound – [object] – dance: A holistic approach to interdisciplinary composition” in Sound and Image: Aesthetics and Practices.

Text title on film slate and the silhouette of the presenter or female actor in the stage background
What's Your Story? (Photo courtesy bombermoon, iStock/Getty Images)

Cinema and sound

“Cinema is a multisensory form, through which sound is present again and again. Even in the persistently visual aspects, ‘sound often is [so] integral to the imagery’. Beyond its role in individual pieces, the sound is reflective of culture at large. Since cinema, as all other art, is an artifact of its time, the type of sounds / the nature of the audio in cinema is reflective of cultural norms, preferences, and trends.”

Cinema is not dependent on a single medium but is instead an art that exists as “intermedia,” a form that defies categorization. This is due, at least in part, to the overlap between media such as television, film, and radio, as well as books, magazines, and newspapers. In Paul Hegarty’s words, “the machine is not the medium.” In years to come, the technology used to create cinema (and the perspective of the creator) will change, trends will come and go, but cinema itself will exist. From ciné-romans to photo novels, soundtracks to scores, cinema will ever expand into new formats as filmmakers, artists, and storytellers push the art form in new directions and likely in the form of video art installation, the post-medium.

For more on cinema and sound, read Paul Hegarty on “Expanding Cinema” in Rumour and Radiation: Sound in Video Art.

Sarana (Samarinda) x VX Bliss (USA) performing harsh noise at Jogja Noise Bombing Festival, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, January 2018 (Image taken from volume. Photo: Sanne Krogh Groth)

Sound art as a global entity

“The sound art scene is not limited to the Northern hemisphere. Rather, it is globally distributed and has for decades also appeared in various manifestations and constellations in the Global South.”

Sound studies as a field emerges from analysis of several related and experimental art forms, and sound art itself, from Indonesian scholar Sanne Krogh Groth’s perspective, is “noisy, political, subversive, and situated,” but, perhaps, only from the viewpoint of Western aesthetics which define what is and isn’t experimental, what is and isn’t noisy. Efforts at decolonizing art institutions have led to new aesthetic possibilities, such as collaborations between Indonesian noise artists and both Indonesian and German art presenter institutions.

For more on how sound art is not an isolated, but a global, entity, read Sanne Krogh Groth on “‘Diam!’ (Be Quiet!) Noisy Sound Art from the Global South” in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Sound Art.

The four elements as sounding spheres, from Robert Fludd, Utriusque Cosmi Maioris scilicet et Minoris, metaphysica, physica, atque technica Historia (1617–1621) (Image taken from volume. Reproduced by permission of the Getty Research Institute.)

Shakespeare as sound artist

Was Shakespeare a sound artist? So asks Bruce R. Smith in his chapter “Shakespeare as Sound Artist,” in The Routledge Companion to Sounding Art. Sound studies encapsulates not only production of sound by acoustic or digital means, but also looks to analysis of texts – in this case, the sound design and direction in the plays of William Shakespeare – as means to understand what sound art was like – what were its mediums, who were its practitioners – in the period before recorded sound. Analysis of voice in literature allows us to think through “hearing” and “listening” in a text. Literature itself can give us a look at these practices and even “provide a critique of the practices of contemporary sound art.”

For more on this topic, read Bruce R. Smith on “Shakespeare as Sound Artist” in The Routledge Companion to Sounding Art.

Homepage banner image: Catalogue for Für Augen und Ohren (For Eyes and Ears), 1980. Courtesy Seth Cluett, Sound Practice Archive.