Obviously, sound is invisible, and it behaves in ways different from the physical world that can be seen.  In listening to speech our minds focus, not on the sound of the words themselves but on their content, on their ability to paint concrete images in our mind.  Similarly, when listening to music we listen for meaning, for what elicits a certain desired psychological state or emotional response.  Nonetheless, there are aspects of sound that are tactile and analogous to our visual experience of the physical world.

Sound artist Russell Frehling describes sound as a massless object with the ability to occupy and define space and function in three dimensions.  Sound art is a creative discipline that uses sound as its raw material, and is as diverse as the nature of sound itself.  Sound art has its roots in music and in the development of audio technologies, but the exploration of sound for its soundness, for the experience of its physicality, may be one characteristic of sound art that distinguishes it from music.

Interest in sound art continues to grow among practitioners, art venues and audiences alike, yet it remains somewhat rare and inaccessible, partially because presenting sound art in museums and other visual art spaces is complicated.  It requires specialized resources and an art-form-specific way of thinking about curatorial exhibition design that is slowly taking hold.

In my experience as composer/sound artist and curator, I have witness speedy growth and great diversity in sound art practices.  I have also experienced the practical challenges art museums and alternative spaces continue to face in their attempts to show it well.  This gap needs to narrow for the benefit of the art form, its artists and the development of a wider audience.

The news is that we at SFCA have taken on a new project designed to provide infrastructure for exploring the complexities of sound art and its presentation.  We call this project, @Listening Gallery.

@Listening Gallery (@L) will consist of 24 autonomous sound sources affixed to the façade of ArtCenter/South Florida’s 800 Building, which will work together or independently to broadcast sound art continuously to the estimated 7 million visitors strolling about Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road annually. Some exhibitions will be curated and adapted from works and recordings in SFCA’s sound art collection.  Most importantly, @L will become a venue for our artists to experiment and create new works.

Our goal is to open @Listening Gallery in the summer of 2011.  The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has placed its confidence in this project through a Knight Arts Challenge award, solidifying our commitment to @L by offering to cover half of the funds needed to kick start it. The City of Miami Beach soon responded with a partial match through its Cultural Arts Council’s Arts Gala program.  With additional support from Sennheiser Electronic Corporation and from ArtCenter/South Florida, SFCA is now within a few thousand dollars from our required Knight Arts Challenge match.

In the meantime, we are preparing @Listening S(((o)))UNDAYS, a monthly series of comparative listening discussions at ArtCenter/South Florida to begin in April.

Consider making a donation toward our efforts to make sound art more accessible to all.  We love to be able to say: We’re funded by listeners like you!

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Article by
Subtropics Artistic Director
Gustavo Matamoros