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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).


Carsten Nicolai

Carsten Nicolai. wellenwanne lfo. 2012. Metal, glass, acrylic glass, mirror, audio equipment, water, light, sound. Room installation, dimensions variable. Exhibition view, Echigo-Tsumari Triennale 2012. Photo by Osamu Nakamura. Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin and The Pace Gallery

In this work the artist demonstrates the impossibility of achieving true silence. Rippling through the piece are visualizations of inaudible, low-frequency sound waves. Through the shifting, concentric patterns on the water's surface, the piece renders visible what would otherwise exist beyond our range of perception. Nicolai is interested in exploring if and how these frequencies might affect us, despite their inaudibility.

Words from the artist:

The installation wellenwanne lfo was especially designed for the Echigo-Tsumari Triennale 2012. It uses principles from optics and acoustics, demonstrating the polarity of the elements chaos and order, movement and stagnancy. A two-channel composition of sub-frequency sounds is transmitted onto the surface of a specially designed water pond via four exciters through variations in air pressure. Each sound continuously creates concentric circle waves, causing interference patterns when they meet. By means of synchronizing the sound waves with a stroboscope, the wave patterns can be made visible on a display screen. Depending on the original frequencies induced on the water surface, the interference patterns can be either regular or irregular, hence creating orderly or rather chaotic visual results that cannot be entirely controlled. In this context the installation can be perceived either as a scientific means of analysis or a resource of meditation, reflecting on natural phenomenona on an almost philosophical scope.