Resonant Spaces: Sound Art at Dartmouth

Posted on October 11, 2017 by Alison M. Palizzolo

This fall, sound takes over Dartmouth College with large-scale commissions for an exhibition project featuring internationally renowned artists. Resonant Spaces: Sound Art at Dartmouth is the first exhibition of sound art presented by the Hood Museum of Art, and more widely, one of the largest group commissioning projects of sound art to date. It represents a crucial step in the creation of sound art through a diverse set of new, site-specific work located on the Dartmouth College campus, offering visitors a glimpse into the highly varied and imaginative world of sound art.

As malleable a medium as bronze or oil paint, sound can be recorded from the environment or produced from an object, sculpture, instrument, or living being. It can be responsive to installed spaces or autonomous, continuous or intermittent, loud or soft, imagined or realized. We invited artists in part for the compelling ways they explore sound through conceptual, visual, and architectural contexts. Resonant Spaces encourages visitors to experience each site as sound transforms it.

Several emergent threads run through the different works created and selected for the show. These include ideas concerning the relationship between musical instruments and objects, boundaries of visual and sonic perception, earth both as sound source and as medium, and organization around grids and lattices. More broadly, an undercurrent in their work collectively is attention to and specificity of source, be it sampled from the world with microphones or accelerometers, synthesized from circuits, or purely as a product of the sonic imagination as both touch and sound. Each artist strives to reveal or illustrate ideas through objects and architectures in strikingly different, yet profound ways.

Visitors to Hood Downtown will experience the work of Jess Rowland and the late Terry Adkins, as well as an overview of the complete exhibition. Both Rowland and Adkins’s work is rooted in the structure of music and invites the viewer to literally or imaginatively “perform” each work. Interactivity continues in Julianne Swartz’s Transfer (objects), making the visitor complicit in the production of sound in the soundrestrictive environment of the library to produce a private listening experience that echoes the pleasures of reading.

In contrast, Bill Fontana turns the Life Sciences Center into an instrument performed by the machines and people inhabiting it in concert with the ambient sounds outside of the building. Installed on and around the steel structure in front of the stairway windows at the south entrance, Fontana’s interactive sound sculpture responds and adapts over time. Earth plays a significant role in works created by Alvin Lucier and Jacob Kirkegaard. Lucier creates an underground, and therefore invisible, piece for the Bema, an outdoor amphitheater, drawing the visitor to experience the fusion of the physical space with the sounds created from buried sound sources. Kirkegaard considers earth on a geological level, by mapping subterranean and surface recordings of unique rock formations in Utah and Arizona onto the multistory atrium of the Fairchild Physical Sciences Center, offering the architecture a new sonic identity rooted in nature.

Connections to the natural world continue in Laura Maes’s work, with grids of solar panels that translate sunlight into a cluster of clicks on the ceiling of the entryway to Cummings Hall in the Thayer School of Engineering. As light patterns change on the façade of the building, so does the sonic mapping inside the building, thus bringing the visitor into a liminal space between the light and acoustic energy. The grid is likewise a structuring feature of Christine Sun Kim’s The Grid of Prefixed Acousmatics, which uses earth (clay) as a way to fix the concepts of sound in the visual world—a kind of visual dictionary of specific sonic contexts.

Together these works provide a snapshot of eight multigenerational contemporary artists who place sound at the center of their practices. Their work is as diverse as the ideas embedded within, and each challenges us to perceive sound and the spaces we inhabit differently. In essence, it is sound taking form.

Spencer Topel
Assistant Professor of Music, Dartmouth, and Guest Curator

Amelia Kahl
Associate Curator of Academic Programming


Written October 11, 2017 by Alison M. Palizzolo