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Hong-Kai Wang, Music While We Work, 2011, multichannel sound and two-channel digital video installation, 39 minutes 17 seconds. Production still. Photo: Chen You-Wei.

“Soundings”

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

Hong-Kai Wang, Music While We Work, 2011, multichannel sound and two-channel digital video installation, 39 minutes 17 seconds. Production still. Photo: Chen You-Wei.

THE ENCOUNTER between sound and listener is widely held to be uniquely ephemeral, ineluctably tied to real time and immediate presence. Yet long before anyone heard the first tone in “Soundings: A Contemporary Score,” the Museum of Modern Art’s survey of recent acoustic practices in the arts, the show’s actual content had nearly been drowned out by a din of speculations and pronouncements about the museum’s role in promoting “sound art.” Although many exhibitions garner advance publicity, the proleptic assessments of “Soundings”—including Blake Gopnik’s New York Times preview, the considerable Internet commentary it attracted, and anxious blog posts by sound-art scholar Seth Kim-Cohen—were such that its reception can be said to have preceded it, rendering the critical conceit of an innocent eye (or ear) more fraught and fraudulent than normal.1 One is thus compelled to

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