How site-specific sound artworks can act as a compositional interface between experiencer and place – developing performative strategies


Presentation for the Darmstadt Global Composition conference

July 2012

This short paper takes an overview of a portfolio of sound works devised during a four year research period, 2008-2012 elaborating on my associative approach to the notion of a site, and the responses and processes employed as compositional methods for making a sound art work.

The concern in the practice, and in this paper is with the disquieting effects that are produced when site-specific artworks, especially those involving sound, are experienced outside of their expected contexts. At this relatively early stage in the development of sound art, one could ask: can sound art be said to have any ‘expected context’ at all? If, however, as Henri Lefebvre maintains, no space is neutral, then it follows that every space has some sort of an agenda that can be drawn on for the purposes of reflection and sonic production.

My own soundworks are actions or interventions that take place outside both the auditorium and Brian O’ Doherty’s so-called White Cube exhibition spaces, and attempt to challenge these expectations of contexts and spaces. An established example of this kind of sound work, as an interruption of a public space, is perhaps in the work of Max Neuhaus, although his work differs in his use of recordings from a site, as his working material, placed back into the site as a finished work. In Times Square, New York, 1977, for example, he takes his listeners by surprise with sounds emanating from a ventilation grill at a busy street crossing – involving them in questioning whether they are indeed, imagining or ‘hearing things.’

The contexts for my work are many and varied. I draw on the site-specific in the visual arts, with roots in conceptual and performance art of the 1960s, on ideas of performing place, stemming from site-specific theatre, from event scores and musical compositions in alternative spaces and from discussions and descriptions about what constitutes sound art in space, as a relatively new form of practice.