10 summer readings about sound and art

IDEA: Use your summer holiday hammock moment to read about art and sound.
WHAT: A reading list of books about sound and music in art.
WHY: You finally have the time.
BY: Those Who Make Waves

The Tone of Our Times: Sound, Sense, Economy, and Ecology, Frances Dyson
(MIT Press)

In this wide-ranging book, Frances Dyson examines the role of sound in the development of economic and ecological systems that are today in crisis. Connecting early theories of harmony, cosmology, and theological doctrine to contemporary media and governance, Dyson uses sound, tone, music, voice, and noise as forms of sonority through which the crises of “eco” can be read. The sonic environment, Dyson argues, is fundamental to both sense and sensibility, and its delimitation has contributed to the “senselessness” of a world now caught between spiralling debt and environmental degradation.

Dyson draws on scenes, historical moments, artworks, and artistic and theoretical practice to situate the reverberative atmosphere that surrounds and sustains us. From Pythagoras’s hammer and the transmutation of music into mathematics, to John Cage’s famous experience in the anechoic chamber, to the relocation of the stock market from the street to the computer screen, to Occupy Wall Street’s “people’s microphone”: Dyson finds policies and practices of exclusion. The sound of Pythagoras’s forge and the rabble of the market have been muted, rearticulated, and transformed, Dyson argues, through the monotones of media, the racket of financialization, and the gibberish of political speech.

Informed by contemporary sound art, philosophy, media and sociopolitical theory, The Tone of Our Times offers insights into present crises that are relevant to a broader understanding of how space, the aural, and listening have shaped and continue to shape the world we live in.

Get your copy of ‘The Tone of Our Times’ here.

The Hatred of Music, Pascal Quignard

Throughout Pascal Quignard’s distinguished literary career, music has been a recurring obsession. As a musician he organised the International Festival of Baroque Opera and Theatre at Versailles in the early 1990s, and thus was instrumental in the rediscovery of much forgotten classical music. Yet in 1994 he abruptly renounced all musical activities. The Hatred of Music is Quignard’s masterful exploration of the power of music and what history reveals about the dangers it poses.

From prehistoric chants to challenging contemporary compositions, Quignard reflects on music of all kinds and eras. He draws on vast cultural knowledge—the Bible, Greek mythology, early modern history, modern philosophy, the Holocaust, and more—to develop ten accessible treatises on music. In each of these small masterpieces the author exposes music’s potential to manipulate, to mesmerise, to domesticate. Especially disturbing is his scrutiny of the role music played in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Quignard’s provocative book takes on particular relevance today, as we find ourselves surrounded by music as never before in history. 

Get your copy of ‘The Hatred of Music’ here.

A Brief History of New Music, Hans Ulrich Obrist

Following the success of Hans Ulrich Obrist’s A Brief History of Curating, this publication gathers the influential curator’s interviews with some of the foremost musicians and composers of the 1950s–1990s. It brings together leading avant-garde composers of the early postwar period such as Elliot Carter, Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen; pioneers of electroacoustic music such as François Bayle, Pauline Oliveros, Iannis Xenakis and Peter Zinovieff; minimalist and Fluxus-inspired artist-musicians such as Tony Conrad, Henry Flynt, Phil Niblock, Yoko Ono, Steve Reich and Terry Riley; and figures that have moved between classical/experimental realms and more pop terrain, such as Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Howie B., Arto Lindsay and Caetano Veloso.

Obrist’s interviews map the evolution of the new music in Europe and America across all of its genres, from musique concrète to the recent hybridisation between pop and avant-garde, as techniques from both realms cross-pollinate. A Brief History of New Music is an ideal introduction to the experimental and new classical music of the past half-century. 

Get your copy of ‘A Brief History of New Music’ here.


Sound Art: Sound as a Medium of Art, Peter Weibel, (MIT Press)

This milestone volume maps fifty years of artists’ engagement with sound. Since the beginning of the new millennium, numerous historical and critical works have established Sound Art as an artistic genre in its own right, with an accepted genealogy that begins with Futurism, Dada, and Fluxus, as well as disciplinary classifications that effectively restrict artistic practice to particular tools and venues. This book, companion volume to a massive 2012-2013 exhibition at ZKM | Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, goes beyond these established disciplinary divides to chart the evolution and the full potential of sound as a medium of art.

The book begins with an extensive overview by volume editor and ZKM CEO Peter Weibel that considers the history of sound as media art, examining work by visual artists, composers, musicians, and architects alike. Subsequent essays examine sound experiments in antiquity, sonification of art and science, and Internet-based sound art. Experts then survey the global field of sound art research and practice, in essays that describe the past, present, and future of sound art in Germany, Japan, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia. The texts are accompanied by hundreds of color images drawn from the ZKM exhibition.

Get your copy of ‘Sound Art: Sound as a Medium of Art’ here.

Art or Sound
(Fondazione Prada)

Art or Sound examines the rich overlap and areas of ambiguity between musical instruments and works of art. Looking at examples spanning the seventeenth century to the present, this gorgeously produced book, with its thick vinyl cover, offers a fascinating reinterpretation of the musical instrument and the ways in which it can become a sculptural-visual entity (and vice versa). 

It opens with instruments made from precious materials in the seventeenth century, eighteenth-century musical automata by Pierre Jaquet-Droz and various customized instruments from the Victorian and early modern eras. Research in the field of synesthesia is presented along with works from the historical avant-gardes, such as Luigi Russolo’s celebrated Intonarumori (1913).

Also included are scores by John Cage, works by Robert Morris and Nam June Paik, sound installations such as Robert Rauschenberg’s Oracle (1962–65) and Laurie Anderson’s Handphone Table (1978).  Examples of artistic appropriations of musical instruments (by the likes of Arman, Richard Artschwager and Joseph Beuys) and hybrid instruments by Ken Butler and William T. Wiley are considered alongside the more recent research of artists such as Christian Marclay, Janet Cardiff, Martin Creed and Doug Aitken, and a younger generation, represented by Anri Sala, Athanasios Argianas, Haroon Mirza, Ruth Ewan and Maywa Denki, among others. Esteemed writers, musicians and scholars such as Christoph Cox, Douglas Kahn, Alan Licht, David Toop and Rob Young contribute contextualizing essays.

Get your copy of ‘Art or Sound’ here.

Sound, Caleb Kelly
(Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art)

The “sonic turn” in recent art reflects a wider cultural awareness that sight no longer dominates our perception or understanding of contemporary reality. The background buzz of myriad mechanically reproduced sounds increasingly mediates our lives. Tuning into this incessant auditory stimulus, some of our most influential artists have investigated the corporeal, cultural, and political resonance of sound.

In tandem with recent experimental music and technology, art has opened up to hitherto excluded dimensions of noise, silence, and the act of listening. Artists working with sound have engaged in new forms of aesthetic encounter with the city and nature, the everyday and cultural otherness, technological effects and psychological states. New perspectives on sound have generated a wave of scholarship in musicology, cultural studies, and the social sciences. But the equally important rise of sound in the arts since 1960 has so far been sparsely documented.

This volume is the first sourcebook to provide, through original critical writings and artists’ statements, a genealogy of sonic pathways into the arts, philosophical reflections on the meanings of noise and silence, dialogues between art and music, investigations of the role of listening and acoustic space, and a comprehensive survey of sound works by international artists from the avant-garde era to the present. 

Get your copy of ‘Sound’ here.

Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art, Salome Voegelin

Listening to Noise and Silence engages with the emerging practice of sound art and the concurrent development of a discourse and theory of sound. In this original and challenging work, Salomé Voegelin immerses the reader in concepts of listening to sound artwork and the everyday acoustic environment, establishing an aesthetics and philosophy of sound and promoting the notion of a sonic sensibility.

A multitude of sound works are discussed, by lesser known contemporary artists and composers (for example Curgenven, Gasson and Federer), historical figures in the field (Artaud, Feldman and Cage), and that of contemporary canonic artists such as Janet Cardiff, Bill Fontana, Bernard Parmegiani, and Merzbow.

Informed by the ideas of Adorno, Merleau-Ponty and others, the book aims to come to a critique of sound art from its soundings rather than in relation to abstracted themes and pre-existing categories. Listening to Noise and Silence broadens the discussion surrounding sound art and opens up the field for others to follow.

Get your copy of ‘Listening to Noise and Silence’ here.

The Sound Studies Reader, Jonathan Sterne

The Sound Studies Reader blends recent work that self-consciously describes itself as ‘sound studies’ along with earlier and lesser-known scholarship on sound from across the humanities and social sciences. The Sound Studies Reader touches on key themes like noise and silence; architecture, acoustics and space; media and reproducibility; listening, voices and disability; culture, community, power and difference; and shifts in the form and meaning of sound across cultures, contexts and centuries.

Writers reflect on crucial historical moments, difficult definitions, and competing accounts of the role of sound in culture and everyday life. Across the essays, readers will gain a sense of the range and history of key debates and discussions in sound studies. The collection begins with an introduction to welcome novice readers to the field and acquaint them the main issues in sound studies.

Individual section introductions give readers further background on the essays and an extensive up to date bibliography for further reading in sound studies make this an original and accessible guide to the field.

Get your copy of ‘The Sound Studies Reader’ here.

Sound: An Acoulogical Treatise, Michel Chion

First published in French in 1998, revised in 2010, and appearing here in English for the first time, Michel Chion’s Sound addresses the philosophical, interpretive, and practical questions that inform our encounters with sound. Chion considers how cultural institutions privilege some sounds above others and how spurious distinctions between noise and sound guide the ways we hear and value certain sounds. He critiques the tenacious tendency to understand sounds in relation to their sources and advocates “acousmatic” listening—listening without visual access to a sound’s cause—to disentangle ourselves from auditory habits and prejudices. Yet sound can no more be reduced to mere perceptual phenomena than encapsulated in the sciences of acoustics and physiology.

As Chion reminds us and explores in depth, a wide range of linguistic, sensory, cultural, institutional, and media- and technologically-specific factors interact with and shape sonic experiences. Interrogating these interactions, Chion stimulates us to think about how we might open our ears to new sounds, become more nuanced and informed listeners, and more fully understand the links between how we hear and what we do.

Get your copy of ‘Sound: An Acoulogical Treatise’ here.

Background Noise, Second Edition: Perspectives on Sound Art, Brandon LaBelle

Background Noise follows the development of sound as an artistic medium and illustrates how sound is put to use within modes of composition, installation, and performance. While chronological in its structure, Brandon LaBelle’s book is informed by spatial thinking – weaving architecture, environments, and the specifics of location into the work of sound, with the aim of formulating an expansive history and understanding of sound art.

At its center the book presupposes an intrinsic relation between sound and its location, galvanizing acoustics, sound phenomena, and the environmental with the tensions inherent in what LaBelle identifies as sound’s relational dynamic. For the author, this is embedded within sound’s tendency to become public expressed in its ability to travel distances, foster cultural expression, and define spaces while being radically flexible.

This second expanded edition includes new chapter about the future of sound art, revisions to the text as well as a new preface by Brandon LaBelle. Intersecting material analysis with theoretical frameworks spanning art and architectural theory, performance studies, and media theory, Background Noise makes the case that sound art should be at the core of contemporary culture.

Get your copy of ‘Background Noise’ here.

via SOLO Music Gallery

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