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Soundings: A Contemporary Score
August 10–November 3, 2013

MoMA's first major exhibition of sound art presents work by 16 of the most innovative contemporary artists working with sound. While these artists approach sound from a variety of disciplinary angles—the visual arts, architecture, performance, computer programming, and music—they share an interest in working with, rather than against or independent of, material realities and environments. These artistic responses range from architectural interventions, to visualizations of otherwise inaudible sound, to an exploration of how sound ricochets within a gallery, to a range of field recordings—including echolocating bats, abandoned buildings in Chernobyl, 59 bells in New York City, and a sugar factory in Taiwan.

The diversity of these works reflects a complex and nuanced field. Yet the exhibition posits something specific: that how we listen determines what we hear. Indeed, the works provoke and evoke—both in the maker and the museumgoer—modes of active listening, and a heightened relationship between interior and exterior space. At a time when personal listening devices and tailored playlists have become ubiquitous, shared aural spaces are increasingly rare. Many of the artists in the exhibition aim for such realities, and the sound they create is decidedly social, immersing visitors and connecting them in space. In many of the works, links are drawn between disparate topographies and subjects, giving rise to new understanding and experiences.

The artists in the exhibition are Luke Fowler (Scottish, b. 1978), Toshiya Tsunoda (Japanese, b. 1964), Marco Fusinato (Australian, b. 1964), Richard Garet (Uruguayan, b. 1972), Florian Hecker (German, b. 1975), Christine Sun Kim (American, b. 1980), Jacob Kirkegaard (Danish, b. 1975), Haroon Mirza (British, b. 1977), Carsten Nicolai (German, b. 1965), Camille Norment (American, b. 1970), Tristan Perich (American, b. 1982), Susan Philipsz (Scottish, b. 1965), Sergei Tcherepnin (American, b. 1981), Hong-Kai Wang (Taiwanese, b. 1971), Jana Winderen (Norwegian, b. 1965), and Stephen Vitiello (American, b. 1964).


Hong-Kai Wang

Hong-Kai Wang. Still from Music While We Work. 2011. Multi-channel sound and two-channel video installation. Courtesy the artist

Wang’s work investigates the ways in which sound and listening can play pivotal roles in shaping social space. For Music While We Work, Wang assembled a group of retired workers from a Taiwanese sugar refinery in the small industrial town of her childhood. She and her collaborator, the political activist and composer Chen Bo-Wei (Taiwanese, born 1971), led a series of recording workshops for the retirees and their spouses. They then returned to the factory, where Wang asked them to “paint a world composed by their listening.” The video installation is a document both of their collective learning process and of the resulting compositions.

Words from the artist:

The Broken Orchestra Live in Stockholm uses the Austrian modern composer Arnold Schoenberg's famous quip “My music is not really modern, just badly played” as its formal performative directive, by inviting several professional musicians on different instruments to respond to and reinterpret a childhood recording of Bach’s ‘Ave Maria’ as performed by my brother and me.

The work shares an impromptu discussion, rehearsal, and performance as the audience witnesses the entire process unfolding.


Hong-Kai Wang. The Broken Orchestra Live in Stockholm (Iaspis, Stockholm, Sweden). 2013. Recorded audio composition, 8:05 min. Courtesy the artist. Maria Arnqvist, alto saxophone; Anders Bryngelsson, electronics; George Kentros, violin; Robin McGinley, cello; Cecilia Österholm, Swedish keyed fiddle; Robert Spångberg, piano. Recorded by Erik Rosshagen