a contemporary soundtrack

Amazing Sound Experience at MoMA

Solita Mishaan

The exhibition presents a contemporary soundtrack by 16 artists who explore the subtle, invisible connections that exist between silence, music and noise.


If I were to recommend a good exhibition, you would probably think of a visual display of artworks, and if I asked you to think of sound within a museum or gallery setting, you would likely imagine it as a complement to a visual experience, rather than as artwork by itself. But what if invited you to an exhibition devoted entirely to sound? New York’s Museum of Contemporary, MoMA, has taken on such challenge, breaking with the hegemony of the visual image in the exhibition Soundings: A Contemporary Score, a sensory revision of art.

Soundings: A Contemporary Score
CAMILLE NORMENT. Triplight, 2008.

The exhibit, which opened on August 10 and will continue until November 3, challenges our perception of the concept of “art exhibitions” and offers a contemporary soundtrack by 16 artists who explore the subtle, invisible connections that exist between silence, music and noise. Viewers will find, in the show, artists form a variety of disciplines who experiment with sound. Among them, there are visual and performance artists, architects, computer programmers, philosophers and musicians.

The works include architectural interventions, visualizations of otherwise inaudible sound, an exploration of how sound ricochets within a gallery, and a range of field recordings of everything from bats to abandoned buildings in Chernobyl to 59 bells in New York City to a factory in Taiwan. In addition, the display elucidates how our auditory sense is conditioned by sound, which is the primary principle behind the show. The list of international artists participating includes, Lucas Fowler from the United Kingdom; Toshiya Tsunoda of Japan; Marco Fusinato of Australia; Richard Garet, from Uruguay, and Germany’s Florian Hecker.

Soundings: A Contemporary Score
Installation view of the exhibition.

According to Museum Director, Glenn Lowry, for once we can let our eyes rest and listen until we learn “to visualize sound, a very significant part of the artistic contemporary experience that started several years ago.” Barbara London, curator of the exhibition, has sought to “make sense of the artistic texture of these sounds” and offer a “linguistic, conceptual and musical journey”. London invites us to take off the headphones that keep us isolated from each other and enter into a collective listening experience.

The interventions are quite varied and evocative. Norwegian artist, Jana Winderen, used hydrophones (devices that capture sound underwater) in her installation titled Ultrafield. These unique microphones amplify the sounds emitted by animals that otherwise would be imperceptible to our ears. As a result, we can perceive melodies produced by fish and other marine creatures. “What fascinated me most about this project is that these artists examine our position in the world in a very sensitive way,” says Glenn Lowry.

Soundings: A Contemporary Score
1. SERGEI TCHEREPNINM. Motor-Matter Bench, 2013.
2. JANA WINDEREN. Disco Bay, 2007.
3. HONG-KAI WANG. Still from Music While We Work, 2011.
4. RICHARD GARET. Before Me, 2012.
5. STEPHEN VITIELLO. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010.

Mass Black Implosion, a work by Marco Fusinato, “paints” noise through squeaking lines on a conventional score. The Danish artist Jacob Kirkegaard brings us the sound of the nuclear apocalypse of Chernobyl in his piece, AION. Susan Philipsz from Scotland reinvents a symphony composed by Pavel Haas before his death in a concentration camp. Carsten Nicolai plays with the concentric circles created on water by subtle sound vibrations in his piece, Wellenwanne Ifo. The American artist Richard Garet places a glass marble atop a record player for his presentation of Before Me, and Microtonal Wall by Tristan Perich, uses a total of 1,500 speakers to achieve amazing results.

“With this exhibition we have done an almost scientific effort,” explained the director of the Museum, who recalled MoMA’s continued efforts to “follow the artists wherever they go”. Once again, we heed the call of the arts to experiment with sensorial experiences. With Soundings: A Contemporary Score, we listen to what the artists are whispering in our ears.


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