What is Sound Art?

What exactly is sound art? But what exactly is sound art? We ask Programme Manager for Music Technology, Camilo Salazar, to explain.

What is Sound Art?

Well, depending on who you ask the definition of Sound Art can be very different. Sound art or sonic art is an art form that focuses on sound as a fundamental (literal or implied) element. Its definition is constantly changing as more and more established and emerging genres are now covered by the umbrella of sound art or sonic art.

Ten years ago sound art was a term primarily associated with fine artists who were creating sound sculptures and sound installations which were exhibited at museums, galleries or commissioned spaces. At the same time artists with more traditional musical backgrounds were creating electroacoustic, acoustic, algorithmic, computer and noise music, which were more commonly performed in traditional concert settings. In recent years this division has become less defined and the term sound art is used widely by both fine artists and musicians.

What is the difference between sound art and music?

One could argue that some sound art works are also musical works. This has been an on-going debate between experimental and traditional musicians for many years.  My opinion is that the definition of music should not be limited to the discussion and inclusion of traditional parameters such as harmony and melody. I consider music the organisation of sound objects (call them notes, pitches, frequencies, recorded or synthesised sounds, etc.) in a three-dimensional space throughout a set period of time. 

Where does sound art fit within the spectrum of more traditional art forms?

One of the interesting aspects of sound art is the possibility of combining sound with more traditional art forms such as sculpture and painting, and in addition to this there is the possibility of working with digital and interactive media.

What was the impact of Susan Philipsz winning the 2010 Turner prize for the sound installation Lowlands have on the art form?

The recognition of a sound art piece in such a prestigious competition was an excellent milestone for the genre. Even though this art form has been around and established for a couple of decades now the prize helped raise its awareness to the general public.

Can anyone try creating a sound installation or do you need a musical background?

It is useful if you have a musical and/or fine arts background. However, I have worked with students in the past who are very creative and do not necessarily have any traditional artistic or musical background.


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