Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst. Stills from Play from Memory. 2024

"Music is like the wind. You don't know where it came from and you don't know where it went.”
—Eric Dolphy

Sound has no center. Unlike vision, sound wraps around you, comes and goes, is fleeting. In the online exhibition SOUND MACHINES, seven artists explore the strange world of sound through new technologies. Their works cross optical and aural domains, creating new interfaces between the realms of sound, technology, and art.

The works included in this exhibition connect to the history of modern art and sound, as artists, composers, performers began to hear sound as a new arena for perception, experience, and interaction. In the 1950s and ’60s, electronic and digital technologies radically expanded the definition of sound and music to encompass vibrations—from radio waves to cosmic rays—and noise. Radios, turntables, synthesizers, amplifiers, and computers all changed the way we interacted with art. Suddenly, we were no longer passively experiencing a symphony or a painting. Rather, we were surrounded all the time by waves, signals, and beats, even if we didn’t notice them, or recognize them, or if we had to tune in to hear them. In 1963, Ono’s EARTH PIECE instructed: “Listen to the sound of the earth turning.” Or, as John Cage said, “There is no such thing as silence.” Today, the artists in SOUND MACHINES activate MoMA’s deep history with sound and the sonic, redefining sound once more with technologies ranging from generative AI to blockchains. They come in like music, and go where we haven’t gone before.

Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst, who launched the generative musical instrument Holly+ in 2021, have created the audiovisual work Play from Memory (2024). The piece compares the way we learn music with the methods humans use to train machines to learn music, creating new ways of listening in turn. Yoko Ono realizes her SOUND PIECE V (1996/2024)—a kind of musical score converted into a simple set of prompts—as a digital, on-chain work that builds a living archive of laughter. Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s CANCEL YOURSELF (2024) is a multisensory, interactive video game set to an ambient score that upends the traditional roles of player and played. Another interactive interface is presented in American Artist and Tommy Martinez’s Integrity Protocol/Lower Limb Lecture (2023/24), which invites participants to devise their own soundscape based on the drones and disembodied, synthesized voice of the artist. And 0xDEAFBEEF’s PAYPHONE (2024) will involve a live call-and-response performance, revealing histories of telephony, tokenization, and exchange.


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