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).
To make Triplight, Norment started with a 1955 Shure microphone—the model used by Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and other legendary jazz singers. Norment removed its original parts and replaced them with a small flickering light. This light casts a shadow, projecting onto the wall what appears to be a luminescent rib cage, evocative of an absent performer.
The title refers to the expression “trip the light fantastic,” which means to dance lightly and nimbly, not unlike the way the light in Norment’s piece bounces off the wall. The phrase was popularized in 1894 in the chorus of the slow waltz song “Sidewalks of New York”: “Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O'Rourke/Tripped the light fantastic/On the sidewalks of New York.” Thus, the piece also functions as a romantic elegy for a New York City of the past, where people waltzed on sidewalks.