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Doug Aitken, K-N-O-C-K-O-U-T (Sonic Table), 2005. Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo.

Invisible Music

by Giuseppe Gavazza

1 – Introduzione: Adagio-Allegro

Often people say: “I went to see a concert.” What a pleasure, therefore, to discover an important art exhibit whose title asks that one “Listen to the show.” Finally, sound art becomes visible!

The show, “Silence: listen to the show,” was in Turin, Italy (June 1st - September 23th) at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo ( It offers a good menu: more then 20 hours of sounds by 50 artists--gorgeous to my ears! And, in addition, a complete catalog and CD-Rom with information on the artists, samples of the works (you can download the press release at the website for the complete list).

2 – Esposizione: Andante con moto

Since the visit takes some hours, it is better to go a couple of times: listening to the full “more then 20” hours of sound is quite impossible and ineffective, but even a shorter sampling of listening requires a break.

The visitor, selecting numbers that correspond to works on a telephone-like audioplayer with headphones, can trace his or her own path by choosing what, how much, how many times, and when to listen: it's an art show, not a recital. The experience of listening to this show exists in a micro-temporal dimension. The macro form is all in the guest’s hands: s/he becomes - if not a composer - at least a DJ. It's an experience closer to listening at home than to attending a live concert.

A significant number of works involve visual art--video, sound objects, visual installations--but many are pure, unblended audio works. The exhibition spaces are wide, quiet, and well lighted; the audio player is easy to manage and sounds good. Click on a key and listen to the show. 

3 – Sviluppo: Tempo giusto

Like sound navigators, headphoned people walk, stand, and sit, all across the exhibition spaces: How many of them really follow the whole path and listen step by step? I chose random navigation with the compass of menu & pencil, attempting to trace a worthwhile personal map of works through space and history. The show covers the second half of 20th century, with most of the artists coming from Europe and the USA. Purely acoustic pieces have their own places and it's amusing to see people sitting in front of a label on a wall, pressing a key to listen to just that work, moving from that place only at the end (or at the stop) of that listening. Many more issues than I can manage here are connected with time and space perception in art and music. What is the space for the optimum listening to ....... ? The difficulties begin with the difficulty of constructing a clear, unambiguous definition: sound-art? Audio-work? Reproduced/non-performing/loudspeaker music?

Shows like this provide good opportunities to experience works otherwise not easy to find and know, but it sometimes seems to me like a wallpaper catalog: you have all the information necessary to imagine the whole. At the beginning of the exhibition, there is a good viewing/listening room: a quiet space; discreet, color morphing, diffuse illumination; spacious but intimate (about 25 x 25 feet); a big touchscreen from which to select artists, works, and related information; a quite good multi-channel sound system. Enjoying this place and situation, I thought that any town (University, Music Conservatory, Public Library) should have a similar space to listen to a very important part of music history that is otherwise possible to know only in books or in rare stereo versions. Can you imagine knowing an important part of the history of painting in the last century only through b&w printed reproductions in difficult-to-find books? A listening space like this would be much less expensive to build and to manage than a concert hall, and could literally open new spaces of knowledge of the history of music in the last decades. Why not? We hope it will happen soon.

Until this happy new ears era arrives (John Cage quotation; it is difficult to escape from him in such a territory), shows such as the one at Sandretto Re Rebaudengo are most welcome, counterbalancing art curators’ recurrent deafness about sound. I can recall only one other exhibition in recent years that was fully devoted to relationships among music, sound, and the visual arts: the beautiful “Sons et lumière: une histoire du son dans l'art du XXe siècle” (Sounds and light: a history of sound in the art of XXth Century), at Centre Pompidou in Paris (September 22, 2004– January 3rd, 2005).

Roberto Cuoghi, Mei Gui, 2006. Courtesy: Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo.

4 – Ricercare: Calmo

It would be easier to engage in a blind visit to this show than it would be for exhibitions of visual art: please go, click on a random number, listen, form an opinion, and then - if you want – find out what you just listened to and learn about it. This works best with pure audio-work but it's also an interesting and amusing experience to listen and then try to link the audio experience with its visual consort in the exhibition. 

We know that context is required to appreciate and understand, and we believe that it is essential to know and understand the critics’ suggestions and theories (the banknote needs a banker’s signature). But I trust that a similar outlook will be useful to orientate in our own personal opinions, giving us the way, perhaps, to discover relations between artists and pieces usually said to be unrelated; to be compelled to listen again to a familiar work; to connect different works by the same artist (or similar works by different artists) with renewed feeling and a fresh curiosity to create a personal shape for the ensemble of the artworks you are discovering. In sum, an outlook that permits us to enjoy a living experience of art and music. Don't overdo it, but try it if you can. 

Fugato, un poco adagio e mesto

Our beloved Cage is naturally present, in the title as in the show (and in the CD catalog there is an  excerpt from 4'33'': perfect!) in good company of some essential sound artists (Vito Acconci, John Baldessarri, Christian Marclay) some well known composers (Luigi Nono, Karlheinz Stockhausen) and creative performers like Meredith Monk. There are also some unexpected celebrities like Glenn Gould, (a musician par excellence) and Samuel Beckett (a leading example of a renewed concept of musical theater). By entering a luxury iPod  (the listening room lit in diffused colors) we can listen to our preferred, upgraded electro-musicians like Matmos, Aphex Twin or Pan Sonic; here, more than in many music conservatories, we can hear the lessons of sonic avangardists like Varese, Stockhausen, Schaeffer, Maderna, Risset, Xenakis, Berio, and friends.

Inevitably, some things are missing; a show cannot be an encyclopedia. But looking at and hearing Il muro del tempo (1968) by Mauro Castellani in the main entrance, I thought regretfully of Poème(1962) for 100 metronomes by Ligeti And I miss a room, for example, for the prime I am sitting in a room of Alvin Lucier. And where is Brian Eno, with his ambient music (and other work), or the man-machines of Kraftwerk? Or the early electro visionary groups, like Tangerine Dreams or, why not, Pink Floyd?

I miss just a nod to the sound poetry of Futurism (and all the rich movements still living on the fertile border of the main lenses of celebrity) or the synesthetic utopia of Skrjabin, with his clavier à lumière (light keyboard) in Prométhée (1908-1910). Yes, this is old history, like the just quoted Edgar Varese; but do you realize, for instance, that his Poème Electronique, conceived and realized in 1958 with Le Corbusier, is the mother of all multimedia installations? And, speaking about fecund and organic collaborations between painters and composers, why not the sublime Morton Feldman of Rothko Chapel (1971)? Why not a reflection about the influence of a musical background on a couple of masters of video-art like Bill Viola (he studied music and started as a composer) or Nam June Paik, with his frequent contacts with musical performance? Is it only by chance that video art was developed by so many musicians? 

5 – Finale: Ripresa e ritornello

Here we come back (first theme, movement n.3: Tempo giusto) to connections with time and space perception in art and music. Jumping out of museum and concert halls, I simply acknowledge the fact that standard video editing software has the same structure of earlier audio editing programs, which are themselves digital versions of written scores that provide complete information about performing events organized on a timeline. Notations for Varese’s “organized sound” works add organized images.

The absences in the exhibition are exacerbated, in my opinion, by some useless oeuvres: sound-work repeating and delaying worn avant-garde rhetorical forms, beautiful objects perfect for a home furnishings expo, and video graphics on the level of a raw sketch of iTunes 1.1 visual effects.

Isn't the art show world increasingly becoming a SecondLife version of the web experience? Go to, click and consider. 


Morton Feldman: “In painting if you hesitate, you become immortal. In music if you hesitate, you are lost.”

John Cage: “Art's obscured the difference between art and life.”

Gillian Wearing, Id Like to Teach the World to Sing, 1995.

Silence: Read about the show 50 artists and (more than) 50 works in (2x) 50 lines about “Silence: listen to the show” Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Torino, June-September 2007

by Giuseppe Gavazza


1 - Adel Abdessemed: Talk is cheap, 2006. “A very short video, a microphone crashing down onto a pavement creating an explosion of sound”. Not an explosion of creativity. First but not worst.


2 - Vito Acconci, Five works 1969-1977. Pure sounds, voices, and ideas. Good vintage sound-art, certified by the label: “Courtesy EAI (Electronic Art Intermix) New York.”


3 - Doug Aitken, K-N-O-C-K-O-U-T (Sonic Table), 2005. A beautiful object, this table is like a well-polished African wooden drum. It belongs more at IKEA than in an art museum.


4 - Victor Alimpiev, Summer lightings, 2004. A video with sounds. Finger typing as a summer storm is nothing more then a baby’s game.


5 - Aphex Twin, I care because you do, 1995. The mono twin king of stereo “intelligent dance music.” Well known and creative musician: incredible? Nourished, I think, at Zappa's G-spot tornado school. Warp records star.


6 - Micol Assael, Your hidden sound, 2004. A little bird voice “louder then bomb” of many art's pamphlet. Who is the artist? The bird? The artist? The listener?


7 - John Baldessari, Baldessarri sings Lewitt, 1972. Things were probably easier in California during the Pop era. Good results from nothing: low-fi video, low-fi audio. Another EAI NY certified, good vintage product.


8 - Samuel Beckett, Words and music, 1961. A BBC production. Gave voice to a leading example of a renewed concept of musical theater: thank you BBC.


9 - Johanna Billing, Magical World, 2005. School daily reality assumed as art witness. A Swedish artist, a group of “suburb of Zagreb” scholars, a famous African American song. My concept of art and pedagogy is more intimate.


10 - Marcel Broodthaers, Interview with a cat, 1970. Sometimes my friends the French are really unbearable.


11 - John Cage, 5 CD tracks, 1974. The excerpts of the silent 4'33'' in the CD catalog are perfect: Cage leads the curators out of the cage.


12 - Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Muriel Lake Incident, 1999. “Rhythm: Art: a harmonious sequence or correlation of colors or elements.”(The New Oxford American Dictionary). Finally enhanced rhythm in a music (and not only music) work. A limit of the others?


13 - Enrico Castellani, Il muro del tempo, 1968. György Ligeti wrote his Poeme Symphonique for 100 metronomes six years earlier. It is a masterpiece. Why not present it here?


14 - Martin Creed, Work n. 401, 2005. I don't miss the other 400. Needs the curator's justification to try to convince that it's a piece of art. “Blow raspberries in a microphone (...) banal, squalid sound” in an art gallery in 2005 isn't a urinal in 1917.


15 - Roberto Cuoghi, Mei Gui, 2006. A very Chinese song, voice naturally and electronically modulated. “All that is visible in Mei Gui is the amplification system.” Go to see the show.


16 - Jeremy Deller, Theme Tune for Berlin Biennial by Klezmer Chidesch, 2006. A 7 minutes video of a Klezmer concert. I validated here that the audio player was well synchronized with the images: good tool this audio player.


17 - Sussan Deyhim, Desert equations, 1987. She is an Iranian singer collaborating with composer Richard Horowitz for a dance performance at La Mama in New York. One of the hundreds of quality performances of the last 20 years: Congratulations! She wins the Sandretto extra prize!


18 - Trisha Donnelly, California, 2004. “explores the boundaries of sensorial perceptions”: from what side? ”In this film one can imagine hearing the sounds of turning rings.” Silent rings turn with or without this film.


19 - Ceal Floyer, Goldberg Variations, 2002. “superposes the thirty different versions currently on the market of the Goldberg Variations.” After mp3, the peerless, ultimate music compression algorithm. Good Morning, Mr. Goldberg.


20 - Glenn Gould, The idea of North, 1967. Because he comes next alphabetically, Gould follows the hamburgered Goldberg of Floyer. Gould was an eccentric, full range artist: speaking voices composed in a truly polyphonic music. The Bach lesson lives in a new form.


21 - Henrik Hakansson, The Skylark. From nowhere to somewhere. 2002. One more natural soundscape recording; played with a dj mixing set assume a personality and a relief. The take away vinyl disc a good add-on.


22 - David Hammons, Phat Free, 1995-1999. “The video shows a man kicking a bucket down a New York street.” Go back to n.1.


23 - Terence Hannum, Evocation, (Triptych), 2007. A 24 min video, color, sound in loop of a very noisy heavy metal band's concert. Probably the live concert was a jointed coherent experience.


24 - William Hunt, The impotence of radicalism in the face of all there extreme positions, 2005. Hunt in a live performance sings and plays guitar hanging upside down; a radical, extreme position to make music.


25 - Joris Ivens, Regen, 1929. An old b/w mute film, conceived as a true silent visual composition, appears here with the 1942 Hans Eissler soundtrack. A fine and intelligent example of synergy between music and image. A must for the theme of this show.


26 - Hassan Khan, DOM-TAK-TAK-DOM-TAK, 2005. Multi channel sound installation of a re-recording of six superimposed Shaabi music improvisations. A simple, effective way to show the form of this popular Egyptian music and a good approach to unscrambling musical improvisation.


27 - Louise Lawler, Birdcalls, 1972. An intelligent divertissement made by transforming the names of famous male artists into parrot-like bird voices. A flashy audio placard: early feminism takes care of friend/enemy male artist's advertising.


28 - Arto Lindsay, Treblebass, 2007. A little army of 70's Volkswagen combi vans crosses Bahia, audio equipped as a two-way loudspeaker. From north to south, America's axis: domestic low-power-hi-fi becomes public hi-power-low-fi listening. More amusing then amazing.


29 - Christian Marclay, Mixed Reviews (American Sign Language), 1999-2001; Silver Drip Door (The Electric Chair), 2006. Two fine visual art works as examples of how silence could be burdensome and dense. Contemporary still life strongly that resonates strongly with the title of this show.


30 – Matmos, The Rose Has Teeth in The Mouth Of A Beast, 2006. I love Matmos’s music. This piece presents an interesting puzzle: according to the catalog - Matmos have made musical tracks using the sounds produced by ... (objets trouvés list) – which sounds like a description of early works of musique concrète from the 1950s. What’s the difference?


31 – Momus, Circus Maximus, 1986. Putting Martial, Boccaccio, Rabelais & Dante in pop songs is like putting Giotto, Vermeer or Van Gogh in a cartoon strips. Who need such a melting pot? Ears feel at home, eventually a pleasure.


32 - Meredith Monk, Dolmen Music, 1979. An admirable musical composition. But why here? I mean: why this and not the other hundreds of admirable music compositions of the last 30 years?


33 - Takeshi Murata, Monster Movie, 2005; Cone Eater, 2004. Animated Rorshach blots with hypnotic drumming sounds and no doctor (psychiatrist). I prefer the visualizations iTunes produces: they’re more effective.


34 - Carsten Nicolai, Modell zur Visualisierung, 2001. Light blue light in an aseptic space for pure sinus aseptic sounds and surgery silent blue rays: nothing more then a didactic laboratory experience.  2001: A Sound Odyssey. Please Hal, sing us a lullaby!


35 - Luigi Nono, La fabbrica Illuminata, 1964. A well-known testimonial of the 60's Avant-garde. Noises and voices recorded at iron and steel plants in Genoa mixed with political texts and a score for speaking and singing voices. A meaningful example of new music frontiers from those intense years.


36 - Kristin Oppenheim, The Chase, 2006; The Wolf, 2007. Pure voice and ambient sounds in well composed scores, audio movies capable of telling a story, creating surprise or suspense, resolving questions or situations or leaving them hanging, and stimulating emotions: thank you. Should I nominate you for an Oscar?


37 - Pan Sonic, A, 1999. No concepts, just sounds: essential, bony, fat, physical sounds. Knights of the last electronic frontier, the northern sounds ride the path of experimental electronics of the last half century. See 30.


38 - Diego Perrone, La Ginnastica mi spezza il cuore, 2000. A reality show video on a fragment of the daily reality of an opera singer: vocal gym in a crystal vitrine, a usual street view for unusual muscles. Enchanting chant, for a short while.


39 - Susan Philipsz, There is nothing left here, 2006. Solo voice recording of a sorrowful ballad; a hidden microphone in a lonely woman’s flat. Is this a new era of audio voyeurism? Nothing left here, please don’t come back.


40 - Stefano Pilia, Haikustrings, 2007. Recorded sounds run on three random cd: low cost infinite & eternity. Nature, haiku, life (quoted in catalog explanations) are more serious things. This is nothing more than out of season child’s play.


41 - Mika Ronkainen, Screaming Men, 2004. Men in black choir seriously scream songs much too serious (to be sung), songs like anthems, marches, patriotic songs, giving rise to scandal all over the world. A surprising detector of unsurprising scattered hypocrisy. Revealing.


42 - Julian Rosefeldt, The Soundmaker / Trilogy of failure (Part I), 2004. Definitely an organic audio-video installation. No words to tell a story with sounds and video images on three big screens. High-level production: concept, photo, video, sounds, editing all at the apex.


43 - Anri Sala, Natural Mystic, Tomahawk #2, 2002. High-tech tools supposed to imitate a Tomahawk missile sound whistling in the microphone to “represent the trauma of war.” Another supposedly intelligent bomb, luckily not a killing one.


44 - Tino Sehgal, This is propaganda, 2002. Entering the room, the spectator switches on an unfortunate woman’s voice repetitively singing the title of the work. In my opinion, alienating representations of alienation are more alienating then represented alienation. This is poors paganda (anglo-latin neologism).


45 - Johannes Stjärne Nilsson e Ola Simonsson, Kvinna vid Grammofon (Woman and Gramophone), 2006. Four-minute film of the poetic world of a housewife using a gramophone in a non-conventional way to re-discover her world through the sounds. “The video makes the sounds of life visible”; it also unveils the intense connection hearing and memory.


46 - Karlheinz Stockhausen, Kontakte, 1960. An essential work, probably a masterpiece. But in this context, why not Mikrophonie (same composer, same period)? Much more stimulating and coherent with this show.


47 - Alberto Tadiello, USB, 2007. USB is the acronym for Universal Serial Bus, used by Tadiello to catch the inner voice of the trees. Colored electric cables extend trees’ veins to our ears and consciousness: a good project (but after few minutes I prefer listening to the outer voice of rustling leaves).


48 - Enzo Umbaca, Igor Sciavolino, Metallurgic Sounds, 2007. The video document of an interesting concert - done in an industrial space - mixing an amateur orchestra, professional musicians and recorded industrial sounds. The lessons of La fabbrica illuminata (go to 35) upgraded for our time.


49 - Gillian Wearing, I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, 1995. A gentle, intelligent way to invent a polyphonic video for a simple monophonic folk melody: ordinary peoples blowing bottles become the living pipes of a video-organ.


50 - Artur Zmijewski, Singing Lesson II, 2003. In the wonderful frame of a Leipzig church, a chamber orchestra performs a Bach Cantata (Hearth and Mouth and Actions and Life) with a young deaf choir: music is such a powerful language that it can happen even where seemingly impossible. An emotion difficult to forget.

Giuseppe Gavazza is a composer

who lives and works in Turin, Italy.

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