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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 7: Listen to His Master’s Voice: Authoritative Acousmatic Voices in an Audio Piece by Hildegard Westerkamp


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Listen to His Master’s Voice: Authoritative Acousmatic Voices in an Audio Piece by Hildegard Westerkamp

Hildegard Westerkamp: Ecological thinking and gender consciousness

Hildegard Westerkamp is not a practitioner usually discussed in an art historical context, since today she is mostly known as one of the main contributors to the discipline of ‘acoustic ecology’. This field combines scholarly, artistic and political approaches to study the relationship of sound with the environment. Such study gained popularity as awareness of noise pollution increased in the 1970s and because of the World Soundscape Project (WSP) in Vancouver, Canada. Activities at WSP also gave rise to an artistic practice that has become known as ‘soundscape composition’. This has made use of ‘found’ sound – recordings, for example, of footsteps, laughing children or passing cars – and instead of isolating those sounds from each other, an emphasis has been put on the way they belong together in a full context or ‘soundscape’. The visual sources of the recorded sounds have also been taken into consideration. Hildegard Westerkamp, in particular, has used the link between the audible and the visual to incorporate her own convictions into ecological thinking – especially feminist analysis. This has come to expression in several of her works, such as Moments of Laughter (1988), École Polytechnique (1990) and MotherVoiceTalk (2008), which have all relayed powerful feminist messages. In addition, Westerkamp has busied herself with schemes such as the ‘Women in Music Project’ at the Simon...

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