|Rebecca Coyle, Curator
SOUND IN SPACE comprises an exhibition, performances, talks and screenings exploring the elusive medium of sound. The core of this series of programs is an exhibition of installations positioned in and around the Museum of Contemporary Art. The works are designed to invite listeners into the space, call for attention, engage aural and visual senses, and stimulate the intellect. They range from those which integrate sound with a visual component, to purely aural forms which evoke visual images and sensations by audio triggers. Visitors to the installations become participants in the artists' conceptual explorations as they interact with these various components. In creating a depth of sensory experience, the selected works encourage audiences to move beyond the general perception of sound as being transitory and intangible (and thus insignificant).
The exhibition's title 'Sound in Space' in one way states the obvious. All sound occurs in space, since sound, as a physical phenomenon is simply vibrations in air. These vibrations are transmitted to the ear, where the eardrum responds with its own vibrations, stimulating nerve ends which send messages to the brain. The physical definition of sound, however, cannot encompass the powerfully affective qualities of aural experience - the sound of a lover's voice, fingernails scraping chalkboard, hypnotic rhythms and riffs. Sound in Space attempts to understand the subjective, as well as the objective characteristics of sound, thereby characterising a medium, which communicates beyond the physical and physiological. The works in the show occur in particular spaces-ranging from created sculptural spaces within the gallery to auditory space claiming listeners' attention. All the works can be described by their mode of production, use of sound technology' and sound phenomena, but these parameters cannot describe the subjective experience of the works on emotional and sensory levels. It is the interconnection and mingling of so-called objective and subjective sound characteristics that is explored in Sound in Space and in this essay.
Sound in Space also attempts to analyse and explore a space' for sound art itself. The exhibition challenges perceived definitions of sound an (as merely experimental music or performance, for example), through presenting a variety of contemporary engagements with this art form. In Australia, sound art practice reaches into fields of multi-media an, sculpture, experimental and new music, performance, sound poetry, radiophony, and sound design. But sound art offers a dimension of experience inadequately described by these labels. The primary conceptual motivation in any sound artwork is the sound. Neither visual nor tactile, allusive rather than expository or descriptive, sound art requires the visitor to listen rather than merely hear, and to 'read' allusions from a series of sonic signifiers and sensations. Sound artworks therefore represent the original 'virtual' medium, regardless of their links to visual components.
In this essay, I discuss my curatorial approach in developing Sound in Space, referring to the local contexts and conditions that gave rise to the exhibition. I will draw directly on works by Australians-particularly installations in the exhibition-and comments solicited from artists themselves, to generate debate1. Thus I will not be considering Australian sound artworks and practices as the result of key international projects and influences. I also discuss sound an as a concept and as a set of practices. Any exhibition of Australian sound aft necessitates debates about the nature of sound an, the defining features of Australian practice and, indeed, whether or not such discussions are at all valuable. These debates comprise the subject of what follows.