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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).


Jacob Kirkegaard

Jacob Kirkegaard. AION. 2006. Photograph, Lambda print on dibond. Courtesy the artist

Kirkegaard’s AION—“infinity” or “eternity” in ancient Greek—was inspired by the groundbreaking sound work I am sitting in a room (1969), by artist Alvin Lucier (American, born 1931), in which Lucier recorded himself saying, “I am sitting in a room, different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice.” He then played these phrases back and re-recorded them. He did this repeatedly until his words were unrecognizable, his voice smoothed into a warbly hum. Kirkegaard has taken Lucier’s action a step further, placing recording equipment in four abandoned spaces inside the exclusion area near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant site (a swimming pool, a concert hall, a gymnasium, and a church), then re-recording the results. In the final recordings, each of these ostensibly silent, empty spaces takes on a very distinct resonance. In effect, Kirkegaard has recorded the voices of rooms.


Jacob Kirkegaard. Concert Room. 2011. Audio work, 7:57 min. Courtesy the artist