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Emergency Noises

Sound Art and Gender


Irene Noy

Art history traditionally concentrates on the visual. Sound has either been ignored or has been appreciated in a highly selective manner within a different discipline: music. This book is about recent attempts by artists trained in (West) Germany to provoke listening experiences to awaken the senses. Their work is revolutionary in artistic terms and in what it reveals about human relations, especially concerning issues of gender.

The main focus of the book is to explore a gendered reading of the unity between the visual and the aural, a strand most prominently expressed within sound art in the period from the beginning of the 1960s to the 1980s. The book juxtaposes sources that have not been considered in conjunction with each other before and questions sound art’s premise: is it a separate field or a novel way of understanding art? The study also opens up sound art to gender considerations, asking if the genre possesses the capacity to disrupt conventional, gendered role models and facilitate alternative possibilities of self-definition and agency across genders. Emergency Noises brings to light the work of underrepresented female artists and explores new intersections of sound, art and gender.

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Chapter 1: Sound Art or Sound in Art: What Matters?


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Sound Art or Sound in Art: What Matters?

Post-war decades: If you look at art, open your ears

‘Sound saturates the arts of this century’, states the art historian Douglas Kahn, referring to the twentieth century in one of the most influential publications yet issued on the topic of sound in the arts.1 Though advances were already afoot at the end of the nineteenth century, they became especially evident in the decades following World War II. New trends, found, for example, in Fluxus, performance art and multimedia installations called into question the silence and fixity of visual art. Artists such as Robert Morris, Yoko Ono, Charlotte Moorman, Michael Asher and Bruce Nauman started incorporating live and recorded sound into their works from the 1960s on. Though a great amount of scholarly art-historical attention has since been devoted to their visual practices, their other sensory outputs have passed almost entirely unnoticed. Practices concerned with sonic, olfactory and tactile elements in art, have only recently been investigated as challenges to the ocularcentrism of twentieth-century art-historical criticism.2

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