An artful earful

The integral difference between music and sound art is the difference between a symphony and the repeated slam of a closing door. Both are an auditory experience but each is unique in its utilization of the sense of hearing.

AudioFiles, an exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum, features three sound art pieces by some of today’s most daring and recognized artists: Celeste Boursier-Mougenot, Christian Marclay and Stephen Vitiello. The pieces take up the discussion of sound as such, its creation, visualization and reception.

An explanation of sound art is due here, as its separation from music is one of its most distinctive features. The underlying concept is the exploration of sound itself, all sound and any sound, whether natural, mechanically altered or experimental. The sounds, however, are not a composition, with a beginning and an end, but rather an infinite array of noise, reverberation, vibrations, etc. Whereas music is a highly theorized medium, sound art is an auditory experience without a clear tonality, harmony or rhythm.

Whereas music and speech, the two most popular forms of auditory experience, are only restricted domains of sound, sound art encompasses the entire field of sound without clear distinctions. It’s this non-musical sound that the entire exposition explores.

Marclay’s “Fluxmix” utilizes 16 TVs, each displaying a different set of noise-making, everyday objects, such as boxes, tapes, books, paper. Handled with anonymous white gloves each TV projects, visually and aurally, a unique sound created by the objects, which, combined with the other 15 TVs create a subtle cacophony of rustling, slamming, crinkling, tapping and murmuring. The TVs are set up in a circle, facing each other and, as the images change, the viewer experiences an almost countless amount of auditory images. The use of TVs highlights today’s inability to escape the visual, but giving hope that even the most mundane can become an exhilarating auditory experience.

Of the tree pieces Vitiello’s “Wind in the Trees” is the most visual representation of sound, focusing on the visible vibrations of 12 eight-inch speakers rather than on the almost inaudible sound they produce. The speakers – only the internal resonating part – are suspended in air, the sound waves reverberating, producing kinetic energy.

While the TV images in “Fluxmix” serve to illustrate the piece, “Wind in the Trees” is visual in the idea that sound is what you see. The artist chooses to accentuate the idea that vibration is the essence of auditory production and reception. This transition from one sense to the other, one could compare it to tasting colors or smelling shapes, is the poignant comment on the evolution of the auditory experience. I

n “Harmonichaos,” a five year old piece, Boursier-Mougenot uses 13 silent vacuums which send air through harmonicas. Set in a small room, the vacuums are spatially separated but connected through attached tuners which, detecting a certain pitch inside the intimate room, turn each vacuum on or off. What results is a somewhat random orchestration of 13 notes, as each harmonica is tuned differently. The complexity of the piece lies in its infinite continuity. The CAM exhibit is the premiere of “Harmonichaos” in America.

CAM’s ability to attract such a prominent exhibition to USF is an attempt to bring cutting edge art to an area which lacks it, an arduous task worth acknowledging. The exhibition will stay open until Oct. 21.