PRINT March 2001

Sound Art

SAUL ANTON: Audio has been digital for some time, so why did you decide to include a section in “BitStreams” on sound and music?

DEBRA SINGER: We thought it was important to acknowledge the myriad ways digital technologies have transformed electronic music and sound art. Recent advances in digital technology give composers newfound control over what types of sounds they use and how they combine them. Artists today not only compose with sounds in new ways but compose the sounds themselves. Almost anything, even visual images, can be digitized and transformed into sound. Using various software programs, it can then be broken up and reconstructed to create virtual sounds that have no physical corollary in the real world.

ANTON: Do you think this propensity to synthesize sounds—a kind of post-instrument condition—is the most important aspect of your exhibition?

SINGER: Many people have debated the distinction between sound art and experimental music. The arguments turn on varying definitions of music itself—whether it is useful to think of any type of organized sound as music. For “BitStreams,” we used both terms, “sound art” and “experimental music,” for pragmatic reasons: Different artists refer to their own work in different ways, and we're respectful of those viewpoints. Also, some of the work is language-based and not musical at all.

ANTON: It's interesting that the demand for social relevance is almost never extended to sound art or music. Is there a real separation between sound art and more broadly defined art at work here?

SINGER: Sound artists and visual artists using digital technologies share many conceptual and philosophical concerns. Privacy, perception, communication, identity, alienation, and authorship, are all relevant here. For instance, in Age Breaker, 2000, V. Michael (The Spacewürm) creates sound pieces that allude to the vulnerability of individual privacy by using fragments of captured cell-phone conversations. By contrast, Gregory Whitehead's language based sound collages-like Mister Whitehead, Are You Here?, 2000—address the search for self and community in a world where a broader culture of alienation persists.