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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).


Jana Winderen

Jana Winderen. Disco Bay. 2007. Field photograph, Greenland. Courtesy the artist

Travelling to remote corners of the earth to make her field recordings, Winderen uses hydrophones (sensitive underwater microphones) to collect sounds inaudible or inaccessible to unassisted human ears. She makes her compositions and installations from the material of her recordings. “The pieces,” she has written, “develop by listening again and again and slowly, slowly collaging things together, more like sculpting than writing.”

To create Ultrafield, Winderen worked with sounds in the ultrasound range, which is above the hearing capacity of humans but in which many mammal and insect species communicate. The artist recorded the sounds made by certain species of bats, fish, and underwater insects and pitched these transmissions down to the human range, allowing us to experience sonic realities that are otherwise out of reach.


Jana Winderen. Ultrafield. 2013. Sixteen-channel ambisonic sound installation, dimensions variable. Surround-sound audio software and installation consultancy by Tony Myatt, Professor of Sound, University of Surrey. Collection the artist