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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 4: Noise in Painting: Mary Bauermeister’s Early Practice and Collaboration with Karlheinz Stockhausen


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Noise in Painting: Mary Bauermeister’s Early Practice and Collaboration with Karlheinz Stockhausen

Artist and composer: Mutual exchanges

An opinion that ‘the best woman is she who is silent’ – first put into writing in Ancient Greece – reappears frequently in Western social and cultural contexts.1 Art historical research exploring the continuous subjugation of female identity has famously brought our critical attention to the visual representation of the woman’s body. The aural aspects, however, have remained untreated and unvoiced. In the 1980s Kaja Silverman addressed this issue by exploring the representation of the female voice in cinema. Silverman argues that the female ‘lack’ has been inscribed, not only at the vagina-oral orifice but across the entire surface of the female body. It is at the level of this constructed visual surface that women have had to live a great deal of their cultural existence.2 The emphasis on ‘surface’ is crucial to this, because it brings with it a disregard of what is underneath or within – namely, aurality. The female voice goes unheard in both a literal and metaphorical sense. I take this metaphorical sense of the voice and its suppression as an integral part of female identity. In this chapter, I posit it as a marker of gender differences which appear in the traditional separation between the disciplines of the visual arts and music. There is a fundamental negotiation to be made between the visual and the aural.

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