The Shape of Sound

by Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud January 31, 2011

Texas Noise and Ambient Environment #2 at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. Photo by Carol Ann Sandin

The role of sound, music, and noises in the visual arts world is a bit of a mystery to me and maybe for others. This term “sound art” seems to have been cemented with the 1983 exhibition, “Sound/Art” at The Sculpture Center in New York featuring artists from far ranging backgrounds all working with some elements of sound. Before there was a name for this hybrid and interdisciplinary genre, musicians and artists have for the longest been concerned with wide notions of sound (See Notes). In recent years we’ve seen more Texas exhibitions devoted to various takes on sound such as: “Benjamin Patterson: Born in the State of FLUX/us”, “Perspectives 163: Every Sound You Can Imagine”, and “Black Light White Noise: Sound and Light in Contemporary Art” at the CAMH and also “Tierney Malone: Third Ward is My Harlem” at DiverseWorks.

Benjamin Patterson sculpture, photo by the author

The experience of interacting with visual artwork at art spaces is often rooted in some kind of materiality. Even in conceptual work, which is devoted to ideas, there is often some form of documentation. As a visual artist, I see the challenge in engaging with sound is that there is often no materiality, nothing to touch or see. But I also see this as liberating because it allows me to have a direct sensation and experience with the sound as sculpture.



“Noise accompanies every manifestation of our life.  Noise is familiar to us.  Noise has the power to bring us back to life…” –Luigi Russolo, “The Art of Noises” (futurist manifesto)

“We are all just instruments in this vast Arkestra called life.” – Sun Ra, “Space Is the Place” (the movie)

“Music is 50 percent sound and 50 percent silence. If you sit down and listen to nothing but silence, it’s very intense. So, when you interrupt that silence with a sound, then they start to work together, depending on how you use the space. I’ve practiced it in lots of different ways.” – Roscoe Mitchell, BOMB Magazine Interview

“It seems that a person hears what he wants to and anything else just doesn’t exist.” – Pauline Oliveros, “The Poetics of Environmental Sound”

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