Bill Fontana

By Amelia Kahl & Spencer Topel
Jul 27, 2018

Sound installation
Entrance, Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center

Over four decades, Bill Fontana has, in his words, “used sound as a sculptural medium to interact with and transform our perceptions of visual and architectural settings,” from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the desert of Abu Dhabi. By recording, mining, mixing, and amplifying the sounds of the world around us, Fontana allows us to hear them, and subsequently see them anew—broadening our understanding of our environments as they come alive in new ways. In MicroSoundings, the slatted steel structure of Dartmouth’s Life Sciences Center becomes a musical instrument that integrates and expresses the work done inside the building, the influence of the weather, the building’s mechanicals, the interactions of viewers near the structure, and the resonant properties of the structure itself.

In the spring of 2017, Fontana began recording sounds—from water baths to fish tanks—within several labs in the building, in search of rich and interesting sounds. He also visited the building’s mechanical rooms and recorded the machines that circulate the air and water and make the building operational. He then mined these sounds to create the recordings that play on the slatted steel structure, causing it to vibrate. These vibrations combine with those from the weather and pedestrians, and are captured with vibration sensors called accelerometers that play back the finished piece. The steel structure becomes a resonating musical vortex channeling the interesting acoustic energy of the Life Sciences Center.


Bill Fontana (born 1947) is an American composer and artist who developed an international reputation for his pioneering experiments in sound. He has realized sound sculptures and radio projects for museums and broadcast organizations around the world. His work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the Post Museum, Frankfurt; the Art History and Natural History Museums in Vienna; both Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London; the 48th Venice Biennale; the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; the Art Gallery of NSE, Sydney; and the Kolumba Museum, Cologne. He has done major sound art projects for the BBC, the European Broadcast Union, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio, West German Radio (WDR), Swedish Radio, Radio France, and the Austrian State Radio.

The Contributors

  • Amelia Kahl Headshot

    Amelia Kahl is the associate curator of academic programming at the Hood Museum of Art. She runs the museum’s Bernstein Center for Object Study and teaches with the museum’s 65,000-object collection across the Dartmouth curriculum. Her exhibition projects for the Hood have included "Water Ways: Tension and Flow" (2015), "The Stahl Collection" (2015, co-curated with Barbara MacAdam, Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art), and "Emmet Gowin Dreams of Stars" (2014).

  • Topel Headshot

    Spencer Topel creates installations and performance pieces that are immersive experiences, fusing sound, visual components, and interactive expression. Trained in music conservatories as a composer and violinist, he produced work for orchestral and chamber ensembles for over twenty years. In 2011 he collaborated with sculptor Soo Sunny Park on a yearlong installation titled Capturing Resonance, presented at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Since then, Topel’s practice has expanded to include visual art in a distinctive body of work that engages artwork as observer and listener, where installations gain agency in the interactions between visitors and environments.