Sound Art

3 Space as Score

Space plays a central role in sound art, as it often replaces time as the primary structural frame. Social and pragmatic functions as well as a location’s history provide a significant part of the context in which production and reception take place. Constructed, architectural space with its implicit paths, directions, and perspectives makes up the movement parameters that guide the sequence of listening and viewing positions, of time spent at a particular spot, and so forth. When musical form takes place in time, sound art generates its form from meaningfully sequenced elements of the recipient’s own movements, which are constituted within the sphere of spatial settings and personal choice.

In Drive-in Music (1967/68), Max Neuhaus installed a large number of low-range radio transmitters along a street, which were all to be received through the same frequency. Due to the different sounds and directions of the various transmitters, a driver with a car radio set at the correct frequency could hear individual sequences of sounds that depended on his or her traveling speed and direction. In Times Square this concept was given a permanent form. In La Monte Young’s Dream House (since 1962), movement in space impacts the sequence of sounds. Mathematically harmonized sine tones form a complex spatial pattern of stationary waves. Depending on whether the ear is located in a frequency’s antinode or vibration node, this frequency either can be heard or is silent. Thus, frequency combinations develop that become inert once the listener stands still and that start to flow dynamically once there is movement, much like the complex game of visual lines and proportions that develop as an observer moves through this space.