creating sound art

In the creation of a sound piece, I’m looking for an imaginative use of the raw material, the chosen sound sources, or prescribed themes at work. This involves hearing the inherent rhythms, textures, melodies within a sound, and then listening even closer to hear the sounds within the sound. That’s where creative intuition takes over – how can i manipulate that sound, that sample to express the musical idea i have in mind? Here’s where the real work begins. Being able to translate those ideas into the world for an audience. For this, I rely on my background musical knowledge, and experience with effects pedals, synthesizers and the like to morph each sound into its new form, into a melody, rhythm, texture that fills the appropriate aural space, playing its role with and against the other sounds at play.

I recently began reading Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art by Salmoe Voegelin. In the book’s introduction, she suggests:

“An aesthetic and philosophy of sound art is based on a discovering drive…. bringing with it the uncertainty of a fleeting understanding. Such a listening does not pursue the question of meaning, as a collective, total comprehension, but that of interpretation in the sense a phantasmagoric, individual and contingent practice. This practice remains necessarily incomplete in relation to an objective totality but complete in it subjective contingency. Sound narrates, outlines, and fills, but it is always ephemeral and doubtful. Between my heard and the sonic object/phenomenon I will never know its truth but can only invent it, producing a knowing for me.” 

Further on, she refers to listening “as an activity, an interactivity that produces and invents and demands of the listener a complicity and commitment that rethinks existing philosophies of perception.” With this idea, experiencing sound is a temporal relationship, “the relationship is not between things, but is the thing, is sound itself.” 

“The listener is entwined with the heard.”

Sound and music are a realtime experience. Experienced, perceived, and interpreted in your own personal manner, and station in life. Each experience is unique. The piece I’m listening to now will not affect me the same way in two days as it is at this moment. I’ll have memories of what I felt, and possibly try to recreate them, but they will only be a reimagining of those feelings.

So how can I as a sound artist best convey my intent through a form that is at it core temporary?

Voegelin suggests a few themes to focus on while creating and/or experiencing sound art: subjectivity, objectivity, communication, collective relations, meaning, and sense making.

The creative process is a constant balancing act between specifically representing an idea, and suggesting its emotional and narrative content. In our visually obsessed world, it’s all too easy to directly represent or describe events. This is where Walter Murch’s thoughts on ambiguity when designing sound for film stick with me:

Murch - Ambiguity (1)

Reading the following article gives a wonderful insight into how Murch balances sound in his work, and verbalizes an approach that sound artists of any ilk can work with as a framework for their endeavors.

Walter Murch – Dense Clarity, Clear Density

Connecting the above thoughts of Murch and Voegelin is the underlying question posed by Peter Szendy in his book Listen:

“Can one make their listening listened to?”

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