by Steve Piccolo
Erratum: what is the place for sound art?
First of all, the term sound art is just too big. Some art made with sound (known as classical music) works perfectly in a concert hall, other sound art (known as electronic or dance music) sounds good at a rave party. Some sounds are at their best only in headphones, in a binaural environment.. But there are very large segments of sonic art that still lack a specific environment for optimum transmission and reception. These include sound poetry, concrete music, electronic experimentation, and more in general what we ERRATUM would like to call "audiography".
Lost of contemporary music has failed to have widespread impact partially due to confusion regardings its ideal place of transmission/reception.
The interdisciplinary drive towards "total art" of the glorious 20th century avant-gardes led to a diaspora of sonic artists away from the world of music into the world of art as a whole, in search of a more receptive audience unencumbered by preconceived notions about music, and because of a perceived need to finally get involved in a debate that went beyond the rather self-referential concerns of the (academic but also commercial) music world.
Nevertheless, the art world's reliance on commodification relegated sound art to a very inconspicuous niche, like the salad dressing on the orgiastic contemporary market/museum menu.
As a result, sound art has been channeled into a situation that is utterly alien and contradictory to its nature: its sounds are often, even usually, broadcast in places that are far from ideal for listening.
As a reaction and in order to survive, sound artists have been forced to package their sounds or accompany them with physical objects, installations, interactive whatevers, sculptures and boxes and mechanisms and sensors that are all very nice but often blatantly declare their nature as monstrous hybrids, all for the purpose of embodying sound inside a marketable, displayable object.
ERRATUM tries to recreate what was once a somewhat ideal sound art diffusion situation: the public library, where one could borrow a record, sit down in front of a turntable, don headphones and spend hours absorbing acoustic events that were not otherwise audible in the world (or in the media).
(Which brings up another interesting point: listening to endless LPs was an extraordinary expenditure of time, seen in today's perspective. Sound, or the possibility of receiving ordered sound from a person who invented it and made it, is an exceptional luxury today: the luxury of time).
However blissful, this condition was remarkably alienating, absolutely precluding contact with other human beings. Lovely on occasion, but far from conducive to the kind of engagement envisioned by the makers of the sounds themselves.
On a conceptual level, ERRATUM suggests that radio was another ideal and potentially realational/social listening situation, which can be taken as a model even in public venues, the gallery, the museum.
Obviously ERRATUM has to make an attempt to reassemble the canon, the legacy of sound art sound poetry performance happenings instructions etc etc that has been so devotedly and assiduously developed ever since the beginning of the era of recording (sound art in shareable form is a relatively recent phenomenon, given the fact that prior to the possibility of recording and playback sounds existed only in the moment of their production-audition).
To connect back and reassemble and divulge the amazingly rich history of sound in art, sound poetry, alternative sonic inventions, verbal vocal instrumental ambient found etc etc
ERRATUM would also like to suggest, as a hypothesis, that the term "audiography" might be useful. The term is applied in the Indian film industry to indicate a professional role, that of the audio engineer seen as a much more versatile figure in Indian filmmaking, covering many different areas of expertise relegated to multiple specialists in Hollywood (recording, editing, mixing, sound design, sound effects, Foley, even music). The word was also used by John Rieger, a Californian radio producer, back in the early 1980s.
Audiography is an interesting term because of its analogy with photography. Both are young art forms, with audiography being even younger due to the relatively recent advent of easy and inexpensive recording/playback devices.
The history of film and the history of audiography are closely interconnected. Our sonic experience has shifted, changing its nature, along with our expectations and our listening abilities. One of the main shifts has been the incredible propagation of unwanted musical wallpaper, the music pollution of our cities that has driven many people to seek refuge inside their own private musical bubbles (from the Walkman to Mp3 and iPod).
As sonic experience has shifted and as the related technologies have evolved, many artists have explored countless aspects of sound. But their research has remained substantially obscure, hard to find, impossible to sell, usually relegated to archival status, on a "sound cloud" or some such place.
The syncretic character of the term "audiography" also seems useful to embrace the growing proliferation of verbal and vocal interaction with other sounds, as well as interaction with language, literature and composition.
When it comes to all these areas of experimentation, a sort of art world limbo exists today, to which those areas have been relegated by the market, and by a lack of study of the ideal conditions for their enjoyment.
What is missing, perhaps, is a real culture of listening... something comparable to John Berger's "art of looking".