Since my site-specific piece attempts to give a sound to knowledge production, I have decided to position it near an academic building, namely, in the depression in front of the computer science building (Gates-Hillman) on campus. At this location, passersby will have the option of ignoring the piece, should it interfere with whatever they are doing. Still, it is a visible location, and a person entering Gates from the third floor will likely come into contact with my installation. Should a passerby choose to stop and listen, they will be free to enter the ditch and sit for however long they like. As I see it, broadcasting art from a ditch in front of a science building might say something about how art functions (or doesn’t) at a research university. In terms of content, I will choose sounds that are technological in origin, or are made to sound technological. It might make sense to take field recordings of researchers and programmers at work. In summary, my piece will function as an audible engine room for the vast knowledge production machine that is the Gates building.
(The space appears to be mowed regularly, a fact that will (hopefully) encourage people to stop and experience my project.)
“Site Specific Live Electronic Music: A Sound-Artist’s Perspective” by Marinos Koutsomichalis
Here, Marinos Koutsomichalis describes the characteristics of his art practice, and lays out categories to group similar works. Though Koutsomichalis generally privileges “empirical justification” over “conceptual abstraction”, he relies on three conceptual abstractions – Ekstasis, Gelassenheit and Psychagogia – to explain his strategies for developing a site-specific work. Verbiage aside, his aims are straightforward: to induce a particular emotional/psychological state, and to engulf the work in rich ambiguity (perhaps to generate interest or anticipate a multiplicity of interpretations). I completely agree with this rubric, and especially with Koutsomichalis’ insistence on empirical verification. One other point which resonated with me was his characterization of abstract music as artificial, since “there is no foundational truth behind…systems which only legitimate upon a series of agreeable constancies [instruments, scales] and conveniences [traditional venues?].” I think it is important to keep in mind how arbitrary and provisional our music/sound generating systems are. Reading Koutsomichalis reminds me that no amount of conceptual acrobatics can make up for a lack of aesthetic/visceral impact. Or if they do, this is not the audience or context I wish to target for this site-specific work.
“Site-Specific Sound Installations in the Urban Environment” by María Andueza
In this article Andueza outlines the theoretical concerns of site-specific sound art in cities. She explains how sound art in this context concerns itself which much more than just sound: “in the city, the artists must consider a complex network of social, political and ethical circumstances”. That is, “taking into account the political, social and ethical procedures that manage it [the city].” Since I am neither a sociologist nor an urban planner, I will think about these dimensions experientially and intuitively, rather than intellectually. Besides getting approval for the project and researching the history of the ditch, I must interrogate my own intentions for creating this public work, and more importantly, study people who pass by the ditch. I want to be sensitive to the ways in which people interact with the space, and I don’t want my intervention to be rude or disruptive.
“Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art” by Brandon LaBelle
LaBelle gives a thorough account of Max Neuhaus’ public-facing works. It seems like Neuhaus genuinely sought to transform the urban soundscape for the public benefit by, for example, redesigning the warning signal of emergency vehicles. But in foregoing the rarefied audience of the concert hall for the public on the street, Neuhaus was forced to contend with bureaucratic issues typically left to city politicians and urban planners. In this sense, his work always contained a “shadow” of the political. This reading makes me realize that working in public space is significantly messier than working in a gallery or other authorized space. It is messier in the sense that the artist can make few assumptions about their audience, and it is messier in the sense that multiple entities have stakes in the functioning of the space.