A pleasant way to start the week with a video that treats text as a visual equivalent.
There is a Jewish proverb which says that “the other’s material needs are my spiritual needs;” it is this disproportion, or asymmetry, that characterizes the ethical refusal of the first truth of ontology–the struggle to be.
… The ethical situation is a human situation, beyond human nature, in which the idea of God comes to mind. In this respect, we could say that God is the other who turns our nature inside out, who calls our ontological will-to-be into question.
Now that the first batch of artists commissioned for the Riverwalk expansion has been announced (there will be others as the expansion proceeds), I wanted to highlight the most historically significant artist selected, and the most interesting one to me personally: Bill Fontana. I missed the reception for him at Artpace earlier this week, so if you attended feel free to let us know how it went in comments.
Fontana studied at the New School for Social Research in New York, graduating with a B.A. in 1970. From 1972 to 1978 Fontana showed several sound sculptures in galleries, but it was in 1976 that he began producing the large-scale sound installations for which he has become known. Fontana’s work follows directly from the thought of John Cage, who was the most prominent inspiration for the early sound artists:
I began in the late 60s, when I was a student in New York and had taken a John Cage course at the New School, and was really beginning to experiment a lot with sound, found sound, recording sound and playback. The very first sound installation I made was in the very early seventies called Sound Sculpture With Resonators, in which I took some resonant objects, like large bottles that someone had made wine in, and placed them on the roof of a building in New York and put little acoustic microphones in them, and transmitted the sounds to the gallery space below. So you’d hear the object which became this very musical, filtered noise of the city. That’s probably one of the earliest works for me. [source]
In his work, Fontana chose to focus on the idea of musicality being a state of mind more than a characteristic of the sounds themselves:
I began my artistic career as a composer. What really began to interest me was not so much the music that I could write, but the states of mind I would experience when I felt musical enough to compose. In those moments, when I became musical, all the sounds around me also became musical. [source]
One thing that has distinguished Fontana from other sound artists (such as Max Neuhaus) is that throughout his career he has kept working with ambient sound, and never moved into electronically generated sound. He has often worked with types of sound displacement in installations such as “Sound Island” (1994) which allowed people at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to hear ambient sounds from the coast of Normandy and from various locations in the city. This work, which is in a sense extremely minimal, has a number of historical and philosophical implications.
In “Harmonic Bridge,” on the other hand, Fontana deals not simply with displacement of sound, but with revealing the relationship between environmental sounds and the acoustic properties of objects within those environments. By applying microphones the London Millenium Foot Bridge, and amplifying sounds “hidden” in the bridge, Fontana reveals a “music” created from wind, foot traffic, etc., engaging with the resonant structure of the bridge itself. As with “Sound Island,” this piece has a number of social implications lurking just below the surface. A recording of “Harmonic Bridge” can be heard below.