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Sound Installations


A sound installation is an intermedia and time-based art form. Intermedia = art practices that occur between different art genres. For example—drawing + poetry = visual poetry and painting + theater = performance art. This is an expansion on the concept of art installation in that sound introduces the concept of time necessary for listening to the work(s) featured in the installation.


How is "sound installation" different from "art installation"?
The difference between a sound installation and an art installation is that a sound installation includes the time element, which can invite the visitor to stay longer and see how the sound element will unfold over time.

Specifically, a sound installation makes a dialog with the surrounding three dimensional space. Usually, sound installations are site specific, but can be adapted for other, different spaces. The time of the sound encourages visitors to explore the space in which the sound(s) occur, discover their dispositions.

Sound installations can use interactive technologies (computers, sensors, mechanical, and kinetic devices). The sound source is usually speakers, but acoustic music instruments / materials that can be played by visitors can also be used.

Foundational definitions

The name we give to our physical subjective experience of acoustic energy. Sound originates from some source, and moves in all directions as a sequence of pressure variations (waves) from that source and travels through some medium (air, gas, water). If these oscillations are within the range of human hearing (20hz-20Khz) they are "heard" when they reach our ears. See "Resources," below, for more.

A means of capturing, processing, storing, and reproducing sound through an electronic medium. Two kinds of recording: analog and digital. Analog recording uses mechanical devices to convert changing air pressure (sound waves) into changing electrical signals which can be recorded and preserved. On playback, these changing electrical signals cause a speaker cone to vibrate, creating sound waves that match the original source. We "hear" these sound waves. Called "analog" because the signal information is represented by continuously changing quantity of electrical voltage. Digital recording uses discrete binary time and amplitude signals, rather than continuously changing electrical signals, to record and playback sounds. These discrete digital signals (samples) can be corrected, and manipulated later. This is the key to reconstitution of the original sound, and correction of any errors. Digital samples are not susceptible to distortion due to inherent noise in electrical circuits of analog recording systems. See "Resources," below, for more.

Sound sculpture
Sculpture or any kind of art object that produces sound(s)
Is intermedia and time based art form
Sometimes is site specific. See "Resources," below, for more.

Information about Sound Installations

Iturbide, Manuel Rocha. The Sound Installation.
An unpublished academic paper by Manuel Rocha Iturbide in which he explains and details what is meant by sound installation. Useful for the theoretical overview. Available as .PDF download here

Seiffarth, Carsten. About Sound Installation Art. Kunstjournalen B-post, 2012.

Open Sound & Sound Thinking
An annual exhibition of sound installations at the Surrey (Canada) Art Gallery

Example Sound Installations

Music for 18 Machines—Show preview
Reimagines Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich for performance by 18 synstheziers.

Barber, John. Sounds of My Life: A Sixties Radio Narrative

Barber, John. Sound Diary

You Are Listening To Los Angeles

SOMAFM: Mission Control

Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine

Sonic Miniatures

The Conet Project on the Soundcloud website

The Conet Project on the Internet Archive website

Medoff, Liz and Andy SlaterThere Is No Discrete

Wynne, John. 300 Speakers, Pianola and Vacuum Cleaner. 23 May 2014.
An installation by sound artist John Wynne.

Byrne, David. Playing the Building
David Byrne, former singer of The Talking Heads, uses devices placed on a building's structure components to make the building vibrate, resonate, oscillate. The audience can "play" the building through an organ keyboard. Learn more and listen.

Canadian sound artists Janet Cardiff and George Burns Miller used one hundred and twenty six beaters on toilet bowls, light fixtures, and bedside tables throughout the two-story Cellblock Seven at Eastern State Penitentiary, turning the buildng into a percussive instrument for this site-specific sound installation. Download exhibition catalog, as PDF. Learn more and listen.

A Room Listening to Itself
Adam Basanta, 2015

Sounds of Wikipedia edits
This sonification of information plays a different sound each time someone edits a Wikipedia document. Sound depends on type of edit, and amount of text edited.

Project Audio at GitHub
A real time sonification of edits made to GitHub. Like the Wikipedia project, a different sound, depending on the size of the edit, is made each time someone edits content on the GitHub website.

Radio Net
Listeners were invited to call the nearest of five National Public Radio stations around the county. They whistled a continuous tone into the telephone until disconected by the Neuhaus-built answering system. The sounds were mixed and looped through all five radio stations and then to Washington, DC, where it was broadcast across the NPR network for two hours, 2 January 1977. Learn more and listen.

Online Transnational Radio Experience exhibition, developed by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision and Studio Moniker. The Google of Earth's radio stations. Spin the globe and listen to current and historical radio broadcasts around the world, as well as stories and jingles. Learn more and listen.

Remembering the Dead
Both a virtual and physical memorial to victims of gun homicide in America. The virtual portion of the work is accessed at any time at a dedicated website. Learn more and listen.

Nauman, Bruce. Raw Materials
Bruce Nauman used twenty two spoken word fragments from previous works to create a single sound collage that took on new meaning in conjunction with the changing sounds of visitors heard throughout the Turbine Hall in the Tate Modern, London, England. Nauman placed speakers on opposite sides of the Turbine Room, creating bands of sounds through which visitors walked as they traversed the room in either direction. Video walkthrough at the YouTube website. Learn more and listen.

Nehuaus, Max. Times Square, New York
The only sound installation by Max Nehuaus survinging in the United States. Located in New York's Times Square in a traffic median covered largely by mesh metal grates, the work uses the existing architecture of a subway ventillation system to amplify and resonate tones produced by a synthesizer in a tunnel below the grates. Unmarked, dependent on discovery, a new drama is created with each listener. Max Neuhaus Times Square Installation at YouTube website. Learn more and listen.

Neuhaus, Max. Public Supply 1
Max Neuhaus installed ten telephone lines in the broadcast studio and built a rudimentary telephone answering system. Callers, once connected, could contribute whatever sounds they liked. Neuhaus mixed these sounds together and fed the resulting mix to a microphone, which fed the station program broadcast. Learn more and listen.

The Harbour Symphony
An annual event at the St. John's International Sound Symposium. Features original compositions for the homs of ships in the St. John's harbor, St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. The sound reverberates off the surrounding hills and through the streets of St. John's. Learn more and listen.

Cage, John. Water Walk
John Cage, the greatest experimental music composer of the twentieth century, performs his Water Music on the I've Got A Secret television game show, January 1960.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot: clinamen
More than one hundred white porcelain bowls float around a blue pool of water. A they collide as precussive instruments, they create a chiming soundscape. A chance-driven performance event.

Sound Art, Creative Installations
Forty one (41) sound art, creative installations documented in video. Watch, listen, and learn.

Kramer, Mike. Mike Sound Art Installation "Whispering Wall III" at SCHUNCK
Contact microphones listen to sounds in walls that we normally don't hear, or pay attention to. Headphone listening recommended.

Bird Sounds
This experiment in artificial intelligence not only visualizes the waveforms for North American bird songs, but also groups each with the next closest example. Developed using Google open source code.

Sonic Memorial Project, The
Begun shortly after the 11 September 2011 destruction of the World Trade Center in New York, the Sonic Memorial was opened as a site for people to share their stories and recordings of life events associated with the twin towers. Today, this archive and online audio installation of personal and historic sonic traces, artifacts, interviews, and oral histories is valuable to family, friends, historians, archivists, and producers.

12 Sound Artists Changing Your Perception of Art
These twelve sound artists are expanding the way we engage with sound art, whether it is performance, installation, analogue machines, custom instruments, field recordings, or something else.

The View from the Shard
From the observation deck of The Shard, sixty-eight stories above the street, you have a pretty incredible 360-degree panorama of London, England. This website allows you to interact with that view, bringing up points of historical and cultural interest, as well as listening to a continuous soundscape. Note, for example, how the sound(s) change as you zoom in or out of distant views or sounds.

Noteable Audio Drama Installations
I collected information about these sound installations as part of my inquiry into Audio Drama, sound based narratives based on sounds other than the human voice. You might be interested to read through the entire inquiry.

Radio Waves Visualized

There Is No Discrete
by Liz Medoff and Andy Slater

Numbers Stations
Episode 97, 99% Invisible
A podcast about an art installation about radio stations that transmit only numbers. If you like this idea for a sound installation, see Shortwaveology website for more information.

World Listening Project (on Twitter)

Sonic Field (on Twitter)

Reverb: The Evolution of Architectural Acoustics
Episode #236 of 99% Invisible

The Birth of Loop by Michael Peters

Artist Talks From the 20th Century
Artist lectures from the 1960s-1990s available at the Maryland Institute College of Art Decker Library.

Curated by Mark Amerika. A collection of websites using sound in unusual, creative, even provocative ways.

Japanese Game Music Legends Look at the Past, Present & Future of Game Music in "Beep: Big in Japan