Sound Art
Artweek
by Radel Davis

The custom, of course, is for an introduction to assemble and collect, marking boundaries of inclusion and exclusion—to move, in short toward some definition.  Why, the propose an opposing trajectory? One reason, obvious enough, may appear to be conditioned solely by pragmatics; as SoundCulture 96 immediately suggests, the formidable array of events offers, if nothing else, the difficulties assumed by an encompassing specification. 

 

Considered alone, however, the challenge differs in neither principle nor practice from that of any large festival or exhibition.  Witness the critical frenzy surrounding the installment of the Venice Biennale, Documenta or the Whitney Biennial, each the occasion for the hermeneutic orgy inseparable from the event itself, often overshadowing (not always for the worse) the art.

SoundCulture and sound culture—as a proper noun, the festival conducted during the late spring in venues throughout the at Bay Area, and as field of artistic production—poses questions which, I think, are deeper, and not merely quantitative.  Indeed, as SouldCulture 96 offers the near-paradoxical situation of a name which nonetheless marks no clear identity it accurately embodies the radical heterogeneity of the field. 

 

Sound art has proven notoriously resistant to definition, and it is not intention—as my title fails to promise, or more accurately, promises to fail—to propose some notional corrective.  Quite the opposite, actually, as I suggest that it is precisely this elusiveness which compels attention. 

 

If critical consideration of sound art is difficult, it surely is not for obscurity of origin.  Precedents proliferate—as developments continue—in and across a rage of disciplines.  Yet there remain oddly mobile, resisting coherence into clear paths, the cogent and linear whole our historiographies so value, and condition us to expect.