This blog is the result of my thoughts on the subject, which Ive now tried to clarify, in my own head at least, prompted by a conversation with composer and musicologist Lauren Redhead
Before I start:
A common definition of sound art (from wikipedia) : “Sound art is a diverse group of art practices that considers wide notions of sound, listening and hearing as its predominant focus. There are often distinct relationships forged between the visual and aural domains of art and perception by sound artists.”
A common definition of music “An often-cited definition of music, coined by Edgard Varèse, is that it is “organized sound” (Goldman 1961, 133)
I’ve chosen the above definition because its the broadest and the most inclusive of all genres.
My thoughts on how the two disciplines (if they are truly two separate disciplines) have such a symbiosis are:
1. Both sound art and music require listening- this sounds statement of obvious but my point is both require a form of production and intent to communicate this to at least one other person- and that production can take many forms; extreme lo-fi to extreme state-of-art hi-fi and everything inbetween but what appears must be considered (even if its content is based on chance, or anything else)
2. Traditional musical instruments can produce sound art as well as music: Instruments taken out traditional timbrel and musical context can produce sound art and used as part of sound art- an example of this might be taking a well-known instrument, reducing its musical content to a bare minimum- one note for example, then concentrating on its timbrel qualities and producing a piece whereby such timbrel effects are showcased and thus replace where notes and other musical conventions may be.
3. Sound art can also be music: with modern technology it is possible to give pitched note values to sounds not made by musical instruments. Before samplers many composers made extensive use of the tape recorder to give non-musical sounds a musical voice, and these techniques have not been restricted to musique concrete either- the early BBC radiophonic workshop made extensive use of recorded sounds, used in a pop context- heres an example of a musical fill-in by John baker, (link here) with the source sound being water poured from a cider bottle!
4. Art demands form: both music and sound art require organisation- composition or improvisation- weather its notated or made on the spot- it requires decisions to be made about whats going to happen or system which allocates chance into a role (or several roles).
5. Form demands intent: Both music and sound art require a reason somewhere- it needn’t be a subject, and it can be a discovery- something that the artist has found and wishes to present- at which point the presentation and it context dictate the form.
6. Both sound art and music can be exploratory in nature- in the writing and the performance and as such can be presented as an experiment and run as an experiment if so required
7. Sound art and music can co-exist in the same piece, at the same time: its entirely possible to add musical content to a sound art piece and vice-versa. This is a tradition going back to the Italian Futurists and back to music drama which contains sound effects as well as music- which has a very long tradition