Constellation Lecture: The Future of Sonic Arts Credo

The Term “Sonic Art” generally designates the art form in which the sound is its basic unit. The Liberal view of Sonic Art would indicate it to be a subset of music. Sonic Art is a new organisation of sounds and is described by Trevor Wishart as “sound that springs from an art aesthetic rather than a music aesthetic”. At first, I wasn’t sure how Sonic Art related to my practice, but a lot of the people who make music and sonic art, make artwork to and take inspiration from Fine Art, Design, Engineering and Architecture.

John Cage was heavily influenced by the Fine Arts. He played his music with household items giving to us a new dimension of sound and music which is very valid. Cage was also a painter and a highly important figure in the fluxus movement. He talked about the “Future of Music” and the organisation of sounds to produce a coherent piece.

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Iannis Xenakis was an architect but was also a composer. He used mathematics and formulas to create his music but he also used this technique for his architecture and graphic design. This is a prime example of how your own skills can be highly multi disciplinary.

I guess you could refer to Pierre Schaffer as a kind of DJ. Back in his day, he was doing things that sounded crazy and many people did not really understand but regardless it has definitely shaped our music today. Karlheinz Stockhausen created new devices to organise the sonic world in his own way, again aiding the progression of musical technologies.

Max Matthews, known as the grandfather of techno was an inventor of all music technologies, he was one of the first composers to use the computer as an instrument.  In the 70′s bands begun using synthesisers within their musical works. The mass production of synthesisers from countries such as China made them readily available to a vast range of people. After the development of synthesisers, composers then moved on to using the studio the worked in itself as an instrument. Brian Eno Ambient came from a fine art background and used his aesthetics as a fine artist to develop his music. He is best known for the production of the Windows Theme tune.

Additive Synthesis involves the addition of beats to an existing piece of music to enhance it, similar to the application of layers to a painting. Subtractive Synthesis involves the removal of beats from an existing piece of music. Synthesis by distortion techniques and the synthesis of physical moulding can be compared with the moulding of clay or similar material in ceramics/sculpture.

Algorithmic composition includes the repetition of sounds and beats using a computer. This is easily done on modern software where the replication of a specific sound is used in many modern music pieces. Nowadays, Computer software makes it very easy for virtually anyone to alter music and create an electronic piece themselves. Even famous bands such as The Prodigy use algorithmic composition and take old beats, rearrange them and add effects to them to make new music.

 Included in more recent examples of Sonic Art we have Michael Waisvisz. An engineer, composer and designer. Waisvisz’s work was not just about sound but also the performance which came to produce the music. Using gloves and technology he can developed a method recording the audience applauding and using the gloves to create sounds and record those to use as raw material in his next compositions. Waisvisz was very much just exploring what sounds and effects he could reach with a new technology rather than worrying what the music sounded like. The work of Michel Waisvisz in ‘Hyper Instruments’ is now being developed further by Imogen Heap in ‘Gloves’ who uses similar techniques today.  In contrast to Waisvisz, Imogen Heaps Sonic Art music is more to please a crowd and sound pleasing to the ears.


A few more recent Sonic Artists include: Peter Vogel who composes pieces that are like sculptures and performs music with the shadow. Nicholas Collins who uses old devices like TVs and gaming consoles, takes parts from them and puts them into context to make sounds.  Cort Lippe who uses the classical/typical instruments but in very different ways and adds computer effects to the sounds they make and Richard Hawtin.

In conclusion, Sonic arts are heavily influenced by Art and Design. There are many examples of composers that also make artwork and their skills cross over into both disciplines. It is an exciting concept, mixing the visual with the audio. Especially when creating installation or a space where someone will experience the connection between the two.


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