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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 6: Playful Imagination: A Comparative Study of Gerda Nettesheim’s and Monika von Wedel’s Sound Objects


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Playful Imagination: A Comparative Study of Gerda Nettesheim’s and Monika von Wedel’s Sound Objects

Variations on sound objects: Two distinct approaches from Cologne and its region

Together with sound installations, sound sculptures and sound bodies, sound objects – in German, Klangobjekte – are one of the major subcategories of the works accepted as Sound Art.1 The musicologist Frank Gertich makes clear distinctions between these subcategories.2 First, he classifies works on the basis of their size and their visual appearance in a particular space: sound objects, for instance, are smaller than sound sculptures and have a less monumental appearance. Secondly, he makes a differentiation according to the sound: it may emanate from speakers, providing a background to the visual work, or it may come from the sculpture or object itself. Such things determine whether the sound installation or sculpture or object has flat or immersive qualities, and influence how the audience perceives it.3 These groupings are particularly pertinent in the context of ← 199 | 200 → art exhibitions, since they encompass dominant visual elements and fit in well with the more traditional classifications in the visual arts, such as sculpture and installation. This is why most of the Sound Art exhibitions put on in West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s concentrated mainly on examples or variations of these subcategories.

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