THE ART OF SOUND, ART OF NOISE OR NOISE ART, NOT THE ART OF MUSIC.
by Bob Edrian(curator)*
"For people who are more principled, all forms of manipulation will only pollute the nature of sound as sound. Allowing sound to be stripped of its meaning, association, pretension and manipulation in order to achieve the highest degree of purity." (Priyanto Sunarto, 1979)1
“When art, a new term in our art’s circle was introduced as ‘seni suara’, it can be felt how the local language seems inadequate in describing what sound art is. In order to avoid confusion with, for instance, vocal art or choir, in this exhibition the curator tends to use the term "seni (be)bunyi(an).” (Hendro Wiyanto, 2007)2
The two quotes above were present in the two different eras of Indonesian art, the era of Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru (New Art Movement) and the era of Seni Media Baru (New Media Art). Both writings that were represented by those quotes offered a ‘new’ idea that is arguably intersecting: the meaning or the substance of sound and the term seni (be)bunyi(an) (This term, in Hendro’s writing, refers to the direct translation of ‘sound’ from English by Aminudin TH Siregar as one of the curators of the sound art exhibition in Soemardja Gallery ITB, Bandung, in early 2007).
In Puisi Kongkret = Seni Rupa = Seni Bunyi (1979), (Concrete Poetry = Art = Sound Art), the term ‘sound art’ used by Priyanto did not relate in any way with the sound art term used in the understanding of contemporary art. The term ‘sound art’ meant by Priyanto was olah bunyi (processing sound) that became an emphasis in the creation of concrete poetry referring to Dadaist poems, especially the works of Hugo Ball. If we browse the existing literature of sound art available today, the Dadaist poem (years 1916 –1920) were often used as the reference to the historical development of sound art in general (in addition
to Italian Futurist Movement, in this case Luigi Russolo through his manifesto in 191, and the ideas of John Cage during the 1950s).
Unlike Priyanto’s definition of sound art, Hendro Wiyanto’s article for Kompas daily newspaper’s March 4th, 2007 edition titled Perkara Suara: Selamat Pagi, Seni Bunyi...(The Case of Sound:Good Morning, Sound Art...) used the term according to its understanding nowadays. Hendro considers the term ‘seni suara’ (sound/noise art) unappropriate to describe what sound art is. Instead, he tends to agree with Aminudin TH Siregar, who uses the term ‘seni (be)bunyi(an)’. The language issue in here made it complicated, and at the same time narrowed when Aminudin, in his curatorial text for Perkara Suara: Selamat Pagi, Seni Bunyi... in 2007, stated that that seni (be)bunyi(an), the term he was referring to was
the sound art term that referred to the exponents experiments of the Dada Movement through their concrete poems.3 Seni suara, seni bunyi, seni (be)bunyi(an), seni rupa bunyi, what is actually offered by sound art as a medium of art that it brings a lot of effort regarding its definition, both in and outside Indonesia? The title of this article is intended to question whether Priyanto Sunarto’s writing in 1979, could be one of the clues leading to the definition of sound art in Indonesia? Puisi Kongkret = Seni Rupa = Seni Bunyi..equals to..sound art?
This article is an attempt to understand the exploration of sound elements in the arts in general. It is as if elements of sound, that is often understood as an essential component in the art of music, became into a new study through a new term known as sound art. What are the significant differences between sound art to the art of music? In the context of Indonesia, the city of Bandung is perhaps known for producing high-quality musicians in the country. Does this mean that the appreciation and studies of sound elements in Bandung, particularly in sound art, should be able to grow and thrive better in comparison to other
cities in Indonesia?
“If there are answers to the question of how music will be performed, enacted or experienced in the 21st Century, then some of them will be discovered in the past and future of sound art.” (David Toop, 2002)4
The term sound art was not considered to be something new since the use of word itself started around 20 years ago. Alan Licht, an American composer, contributed to the development of the study of sound art through publishing a book called Sound Art : Beyond Music, Between Categories in 2007. This book is considered to be a proper way of archiving works of art containing the explorations of sound. In connection to the terminology of sound art, in his writing for the journal Organised Sound (Cambridge University, 2009) titled Sound Art: Origins, development, and ambiguities, Licht stated, “The term itself dates back to William Hellermann’s Sound Art Foundation, founded in the late 1970s, which produced a
He then named the three sound art exhibitions that were considered to be significant during the period from the mid to the late 1990s, a period where the term sound art was often used : It gained currency in the mid- to late 1990s, when I first heard it, starting perhaps with the first Sonambiente festival in 1996, culminating in three important shows in the year 2000: Sonic Boom: The Art of Sound, curated by Toop at the Hayward Gallery in London; Volume: A Bed of Sound, curated by Elliott Sharp and Alanna Heiss at PS1, New York; and I Am Sitting In A Room: Sound Works by American Artists 1950–2000, curated by Stephen Vitiello as part of the American Century exhibition, Whitney Museum, New York.6
Moving on from the issue of its terminology, what is actually sound art? Several writers attempted to define this artistic medium through the activities of the Italian Futurist movement, Dada, to Fluxus. These movements as a whole were often used as references to the history of the exploration of the sound elements in art practice. Seth Kim-Cohen in this book In the Blink of an Eye : Towards a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art (2009) mentioned three events in three different places (Paris, Fort Mill and Chicago) in 1948 as the beginning of the change in the understanding the art of music. (which then became an important role in the development of the definition/understanding of sound art). The three events were: the conception of modern art, here in terms of medium-specificity by Clement Greenberg, which led to the notion of musique concrete as well as objet sonore by Pierre Schaeffer (Paris); the composition of Silent Prayer (which led to the notion composition of 4’33’) by John Cage that was ‘declined’ by Muzak Corporation who were responsible for broadcasting environmental music (Fort Mill); and the use of recording technology, in this case the development of recordings that utilized electronic instrument technology,
microphones and amplifier (Chicago).
Cohen’s historical explanation, in reality, led to a form of appreciation of sound art that emphasised a contextual aspect (Cohen used the sentence ‘the beginning is never the beginning’7 as an effort to be suspicious of the idea of work beyond its perceptual aspect). Brian Kane, in his essay Musicophobia, or Sound Art and the Demands of Art Theory (2013) calls Cohen’s emphasis as a form of sonic idealism 8, where the work of sound should be appreciated from various perspectives: socially, politically, and culturally. This notion, according to Kane, is contrary to Salome Voegelin’s idea in his book Listening to Noise and Silence: Toward a Philosophy of Sound Art (2010) in which he referred Voegelin’s comprehension as sonic phenomenology 9. Voegelin proposed a form of appreciation to sound art through perceptual aspects where the experience of facing / live experience with the sound of art is emphasized than thinking the contextual aspects of the work.
Sound art is an area of exploration as well as an appreciation for elements of sound in art that owns a spectrum of history as well as a complex understanding (read: hybrid and interdisciplinary). The categorization and presentation of a work of sound art could involve a mixture of variations of art mediums or disciplines (with an emphasis on elements of sound), examples include sound installation, sound performance, soundwalk, to conceptual sound. However, no matter how complicated the effort was in defining leading to the understanding of sound art, this medium slowly became a global phenomenon. As expressed by Barbara London, the associate curator of one of the first major sound art
exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in Augu st 2013, Soundings: A Contemporary Score: Artists brought sound into their work a long time ago. Yet, working with the ‘material’ of sound as an art form and its conceptualization has recently expanded dramatically. In New York, as well as Stockholm, London, Milan, Kobe, Melbourne and Delhi, art center known as ‘alternative spaces’ emerged and for decades have supported the
*Bob Edrian | An independent curator with a focus on the development of sound in the arts and media art, he was awarded the 2016 Curatorial Research Grant funded by Selasar Sunaryo Art Space and the Sidharta Aboejono Martoredjo (SAM) Fund for Arts and Ecology. Additionally, he was selected as a participant in the Para Site Workshops for Emerging Art Professionals 2018 in Hong Kong. His recent work has been featured in "The Bloomsbury Handbook of Sound Art" (2020), published by Bloomsbury Publishing, London. He has been acknowledged as one of the thinkers for Apollo Magazine's "40 Under 40 Asia Pacific" in 2022.
1. Sunarto, Priyanto. 1979. “Puisi Kongkret = Seni Rupa = Seni Bunyi”, in Jim Supangkat, Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru Indonesia, page 82. Jakarta: Gramedia.
2. Wiyanto, Hendro. 2007, 4 Maret. Perkara Suara: Selamat Pagi, Seni Bunyi.... Kompas, page 29.
3. Siregar, Aminudin TH. 2007. “Seni (rupa) Bebunyian dalam Good Morning: City Noise!!!”, in exhibition catalogue Good Morning: City Noise!!! Sound Art Project. Bandung: Galeri Soemardja.
4. Toop, David. 2002. “Humans, are They Really Necessary? Sound Art, Automata, and Musical Sculpture”, in Rob Young, Undercurrents: The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music. New York: Continuum.
5. Licht, Alan. 2009. “Sound Art: Origins, development, and ambiguities”, in international journal Organised Sound, 14, page 3. Cambridge University.
7. Cohen, Seth-Kim. 2009. In the Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art, page 3. New York: Continuum.
8. Kane, Brian. 2013. “Musicophobia, or Sound Art and the Demands of Art Theory”, in Art and Humaniora Journal Nonsite.org, page 2. Emory College of Arts and Science.
9. Ibid, halaman 6.
10. Delany, Ella. 2013, 4 Oktober. Sound and its power as new art form, The Global Edition of the New York Times, page S3