in Research

Bill Fontana, the Sound Artist

Bill Fontana is a sound artist who works with found sounds found in our natural world. His work, according to Wikipedia, uses the “urban environment as a living source of musical information, all with the potential to conjure up visual imagery in the mind of the listener.” Fontana’s approach to his work involves a variety of techniques, such as transporting live sound from one context into another context. In an interview with Peter Traub from Networked Music Review, Fontana describes this reasoning behind these sound transportations:

In fact all of my sound sculptures are involved with not making random relocations but are carefully considered juxtapositions. For example… the sound of the sea from Normandy sent to the facade of the Arc de Triomphe during the 50th anniversary of D-Day. If one goes through the whole list of projects over the years, all the relocations have a conceptual link to the site. I am interested not only in the acoustic impact that a site has on the relocated sound, but also on the conceptual and psychological effects over time.

Fontana’s approach to sound is interesting. It’s not music that he is interested in creating, but rather sites of experiences that allow an audience to, through the perception of sound, think and feel about the original and transported destinations of the sounds. Fontana describes his objective to make his work happen through sound:

Besides the physical differences between sound in the air and vibrations in solids and underwater, most people find their everyday acoustic worlds hidden by lack of attention, and iTunes. I wish to bring these hidden aspects to the foreground.

What I find interesting about Fontana is how and why he cites Marcel Duchamp as an influence. Duchamp is famously known for his conceptual art that radically challenged the notion of art is and isn’t.

Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain challenged the conventions and definitions of art. (Source)

This is interesting because Fontana is described as a sound artist, not a musician. Like his predecessors, such as John Cage, Fontana has pushed the boundaries of the expectation and uses of sound. But with Fontana, music is no longer a concern for his pieces. It is simply called art, which I find more appropriate and in line with his objectives. The aesthetics of sounds are used in a manner to evoke the listener conceptually.

  1. Good research. I would like to now more specifically what you mean by:

    transporting live sound from one context into another context

    I think this statement needs a bit more specificity, such as shifting a location from one place to another, or superimposing new meaning by transporting the sound from one place to another.

    Good comment about Bill Fontana being thought of as a sound artist rather than a composer, particularly in the way he treats sound in a spatial and visual way.