SOUND is a traveling sound art exhibition—curated by Gustavo Matamoros with the assistance of David Dunn—originally organized by iSAW in celebration of Subtropics 20 at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach. SOUND is one of the most comprehensive exhibitions to focus upon the rich and varied body of creative and historical sound work created in past and recent decades. Unlike most traveling exhibitions, SOUND is not a static show with fixed content. It involves a flexible format that is site-specific in response to individual programming needs and available architecture. SOUND draws upon a unique and large collection of much of the most significant works from the sound art tradition to custom design each individual presentation for specific exhibition venues. The curators are not only well-established figures in the experimental music and sound art communities but also professional audio engineers and sound designers.
At the core of the exhibition is a pre-curated set of sound installation works operated by a central computer and routed to a multi-channel sound system. Additional sculptural pieces are also choreographed to integrate with the sound installations. A flexible selection of satellite pieces is available for curatorial selection. These augment the reach of the show and can occupy multiple gallery spaces. The principal curators decide the selection of these works in collaboration with the presenting organization during a preliminary site visit. Performance related elements can be included into the show in order to generate additional exhibition pieces and lower shipping costs. *
SOUND presents an in-depth experience of a tradition that has evolved, in parallel to and in interaction with, the more familiar aesthetic paradigm of 20th century music that has emphasized music as emotional communication. While not rejecting this concept, the sound art tradition has also sought to create aural experiences that emphasize the ephemeral materiality of sound, the act of listening, increased sensitivity to our aural environment, exploration of physical space, perceptual processes, socio-political engagement, and the nimbus of complex communicative interactions possible in the overlap between language and music. Some of these works can be squarely placed within a more familiar musical framework but many represent a conspicuous challenge to long-held assumptions of musical form and function.
SOUND emphasizes these creative strategies for auditory creation that draw attention to the structure of auditory perception itself and/or issues of sound as an organizing factor in both human and non-human living systems. It presents acoustical artifacts and processes, interactive installations, time-based compositions, and real-time performance events, through a site-specific design philosophy that solves many of the problems previously associated with the exhibition of sound art: sonic bleeding between individual works, incompetent installation and/or lack of appropriate acoustical knowledge, and inferior auditory delivery technologies. In addition to an ongoing sponsorship between the exhibition organizers and Sennheiser Corporation—ensuring access to some of the most sophisticated sound technologies available—the collective expertise of the organizers amounts to over 60 years of professional experience at presenting sound in space.
SOUND is an extraordinary blend of aesthetic and scientific knowledge that is dedicated to providing a deeper understanding of how sound and our sensory modality of hearing are unique organizing forces within human culture. Not only is this evidenced by the emergence and solidification of artistic genre that emphasize aural experience but also by a diverse array of scientific disciplines that have grown in parallel to these artistic ones: bio-musicology formalizes thinking about the biological origins of music, bioacoustics studies the auditory behavior of non-human living systems, psychoacoustics studies the biological and perceptual processes of human hearing, data sonification makes streams of computer data experiential through sound, and acoustic ecology examines how sound is an integrative principle in human and natural environments. Throughout its curatorial decisions, SOUND connects unique artistic creations to all of this scientific knowledge base in ways that provide for ample educational opportunities and community interactions.
SOUND provides a distinct exhibition event that is both deep in its intellectual implications and physically stimulating. It is also an experience that can be repeated indefinitely by visitors because the time-based nature of many of the works—and overall sensorial richness—ensures that new experiences will occur with each visit. It is almost impossible for anyone to experience everything with even multiple visitations. Each presentation venue will also have a distinct combination of exhibition events and artifacts that are custom selected and matched to the acoustic and physical properties of each venue space. They will also be carefully automated so that there is minimal interference between individual works. Additional performance events can be added to the overall exhibition from a near inexhaustible international network of the most original creative minds in the fields of auditory art and music. SOUND can be understood to be a dynamic conduit between the exhibition world and this largely untapped resource of amazing sonic and artistic phenomena. Most importantly, SOUND is an occasion for these kinds of fascinating events and artifacts to be experienced in the way that their makers intended them, with exacting standards of technological, acoustic, intellectual, and aesthetic clarity.
The inaugural presentation of this exhibition took place at The Bass Museum of Art, Main Exhibition Gallery, and attracted the support of The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The City of Miami Beach, among other funders, and was sponsored by Sennheiser Corporation.
*Example: Music for Piano No. 5 by Toshi Ichyianagi consists of an abandoned upright piano that is prepared as a target for dart throwing. The presenter provides the piano for preparation and the finished piece can remain as part of its permanent collection.