Reading Assignment: Sound Art


Seminar Questions

  1. What is sound?
  2. How has it been use in culture and society?
  3. What makes it an art?
  4. How does advancement in audio technology affect our sense?

What is Sound?

Sound is an aural component, where vibrations travel through the air or another medium that can be heard when it reaches a person’s or animal’s ear. Due to a surge in exhibitions at visual arts institutions that focuses on sound, it gave birth to ‘Sound Art’, which refers to ‘anything which has or makes sound’, some cases including those which do not. Sound also has a subset of music. In terms of music, Composer Edgard Varese defined music to include all organized sound, whereas John Cage included silence in its definition.

There are three kinds of sound. Multiplying sounds presents three sounds that are recorded. The first sound recorded is what intended to be recorded. The additional sounds recorded are distortions which are usually accurate enough to be compared to the first version. The second set of sounds are the inadvertent sounds of the environment while recording. These sounds are almost insignificant, yet present a new world to be explored when charted. The third sound is the sound of the recording apparatus. Surface noise and channel noise are audible indications of information being transmitted to our ears, otherwise known as the ‘noise-floor’.

How has it been use in culture and society?

According to the article, sound has been used in exhibitions as music, kinetic sculpture, instruments activated by the wind or played by the public, conceptual art, sound effects, recorded readings of prose or poetry, visual artworks which also make sound, paintings of musical instruments, musical automatons, film, video, technological demonstrations, acoustic re-enactments, interactive computer programs which produce sound, and more. Sound has also come to include popular music today. Other than those qualities, sound has also been used to convey messages, be it through speech or through man-made sounds.

What makes it an art?

Sound enables deeper meanings to protrude when conveying messages to the intended audience. Sounds that have previously been almost insignificant, can give birth to new problems and a whole new world waiting to be explored. Sounds in music can also sought to either make one comfortable or uncomfortable through its various qualities, like the tempo and groove of the instrument. Even the lack of sound can help to create a certain mood which may affect its audience. This leads the audience to think deeper and infer, which is alike patronizing a visual art piece.

How does advancement in audio technology affect our sense?

When the phonograph was created, it created three versions of a recorded sound, which included an original, intended recordings and two other recordings with distortions in them. This confuses our perception about which is the actual recorded sound, yet the difference is small enough for us to neglect.

The recording of sound by the phonograph also inspired Theodor Adorno to come out with a new duty surface noise had; the ‘hear-strip’ is the fragile buzz during a film of recorded silence. It was only present for confirming that the film was still running. Its minimal existence is almost insignificant, yet alerts our senses and knowledge deeply.

Our attention is also caught when the bourdon basses, the quiet repetitive figures and pianissimo trilling give us an illusion of a figurative silence, keeping us alert in expectations of a next sound note. Even though the sound may not be real, we still expect the suspense to be broken.

Finally, in popular music, the way music is created through combining different styles of tempos and beats affects our comfort and adoration for the music. Classical music also lets us appreciate a new, idealized acoustic silence when the music is played, allowing us to enjoy the sweetness of the music. Ultimately, the way popular and classical music are mixed and played can directly affect our preferences and level of comfort.


Sound Art: Interesting Finds


The Wave Organ, by Peter Richards and George Gonzales, Exploratorium artists in residence, 1986.

Example #1: The Wave Organ

The Wave Organ on San Francisco Bay is a wave-activated acoustic sculpture. Inspired by artist Bill Fontana’s recordings made of sounds from a vent pipe of a floating concrete block, it is made of carved granite and marble extracted from a demolished cemetery. This structure includes 25 PVC organ pipes and concrete located at various elevations within the area. The rise and fall of the tides would create different sounds.

I really enjoy this installment, because of its calming quality. It makes use of nature to produce ‘music’ that is halfway unintentional, because of how we cannot control the incoming waves. The only thing we can alter are the positioning of the PVC pipes. This creates a calming and relaxing mood, precisely because of how the sounds created are not pre-planned and hence monotonous in a sense. All in all, this gives us a new human experience which comforts us.


Emerging Paradigm by Haroon Mirza,,

Example #2: Emerging Paradigm

Haroon Mirza hails from London. He sought to challenge the barriers between sound, noise and music by crossing wires and thinking about his work as a process of manipulating electricity. Within his work, he considers both cultural and scientific research. In 2015, he even won the Calder prize after receiving the Nam June Paik Center Prize.

In my opinion, his music is very intriguing. While it is a music which does not enable you to lay back and relax, it is oddly attractive. However, it nevertheless keeps you tensed up and unable to enter your comfort zone. Mirza makes use of sound waves and tempo patterns which would make one uncomfortable due to its uneven and incompatible frequency. After listening for a long while, it becomes overwhelming to absorb and digest as a piece of music. As a result, I can only accept it as its intended Sound Art experiment.


Project 2: Text and Image Final Artwork



A companion for life by Joey, Project 2 Foundation 4D: Text and Image

In this project, I received a packet of NISSIN Sesame Oil Flavoured Instant Noodles.

Some of the words I identified with this product, as further explored in my previous post, are fast, convenient, tasty, internationally-known and inexpensive. Instant noodles, being tasty and requires so much less effort to prepare, would naturally make one happy because of the lack of energy needed to fill their stomach.

I considered the elements of accessibility, tastiness and how it is easily edible by all ages. I hoped that it represented how it is family-oriented and delicious at the same time, which makes it an ideal and convenient meal for all.

The slogan helped me to explain how instant noodles can be a companion for any ages, and how it can accompany one from the point when he/she is young, to when they are old. It is something that does not grow old regardless of how time has passed.

My advertisement had to be angled towards a large population, hence being open to all ages, genders and races. In other words, it had to be internationally relatable. This ensures that the food is wholly inclusive.

However, walls were hit when matters of ethics were brought up; because instant noodles are unhealthy, and should not be consumed frequently. However, my idea tackles how the instant noodles are so delicious, that you will want to eat it every day without being sick of it.

Additional ideas I could have included included

  1. A big steaming bowl of instant noodles, with 3 hands of the 3 generations reaching towards it.
  2. Subtracting the hand and including instead a child’s food bowl, an adult’s bowl, and an elderly’s antique bowl.