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Emergency Noises

Sound Art and Gender

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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 2: Sound Art and the Hierarchy of Senses

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CHAPTER 2

Sound Art and the Hierarchy of Senses

Towards a ‘revival of the senses’: The historiography of Sound Art

Musicologists, art historians and others have labelled some of the artistic practices that emerged during the second half of the twentieth century as Sound Art or, in German, Klangkunst. The differences between these terms is not the focus of this book, but it can confidently be said that Klangkunst largely refers to the connection of sound to space, while the English term is defined more broadly and has even been used in reference to experimental music.1 Etymologically, the differences between the terms in English and German may be subtle, but they are crucial. Whereas Klangkunst is comprised of a single word and thus forms a neologism, the idiom ‘Sound Art’ is formed from two existing words, which makes the combination of these two terms look and sound more artificial. Further, as Bernd Schulz, the German curator and director of the Saarbrücken Civic Art Gallery points out, the main variance in translation is that the German term Klang is associated with musical sound in the context of a certain traditional form, whereas the English word ‘sound’ can also refer to noise.2 Thus, the term Sound Art, as Schulz argues, ‘owes much to the dissolution of the border between sound (in the sense of musical sound) ← 27 | 28 → and noise’.3 The cultural influences that divide terms such as ‘music’, ‘sound’ and ‘noise’...

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