“As a term, ‘sound art’ is mainly of value in crediting site or object-specific works that are not intended as music… Much like rock and roll, a purist view of sound art becomes very narrow, and much of what is called or categorized as sound art can be just as easily viewed as a hyphenated fusion of sound art with an experimental music style.”

— Alan Light, 2009


Many critics tend to agree with the definition of ‘sound art’ as an artistic discipline which uses sound as the primary medium. However, its ambiguous nature often misleads the audience into deciding whether this practice counts as ‘music’ or something else altogether. With this in mind, I have come to the agreement that ‘music’ counts as a form of ‘sound art’: in addition to using sound as the primary, if not only medium, ‘music’ can map our “reality through metaphors of sound”, akin to “a parallel way of thinking” regarding “the visually dominant metaphors of our speech and written symbols” (Dunn, 1997).

Because the notion of ‘sound art’ is hard to define, it is thus capable of taking in many shapes and forms; this is comparable to the way ‘music’ can take on many different genres. ‘Sound art’ does not have to encompass the subject making the noise: occasionally the medium is appropriated from the subject’s surrounding environment, as illustrated by such works as “Hummingbird Clock” by Lawrence Abu Hamdan which utilizes sound as a surveillance device by recording the different buzzes in the electrical grid. Alongside this, ‘sound art’ can sometimes cross over with other art disciplines, as demonstrated in “Game of Skill 2.0” by Christine Sun Kim, in which sound and interactivity work together to create an experiential moment; here the audio is dependent on the audience’s movement along the allocated path. In addition to this, there are even occasions in which sound becomes the subject of the work, rather than the medium, as illustrated in “Studies” by Samson Young.

Arguably one of the most important principles in ‘sound art’ is the harmonious relationship between ‘density’ and clarity’ – that is, all of the sounds are “happening at once”, and yet they would be “heard distinctly” (Murch, 2005). When executed effectively, ‘sound art’ can lead the audience into “a transcendental or virtual domain of sound”, and thus shed new light on the concept of ‘music’ as a whole (Cox, 2009).

It should be duly noted that this interpretation of ‘sound art’ is not concrete and is subject to further research. Despite this, one can learn a lot more about various media art disciplines by looking deeply into the medium.




Murch, W. (2005). Dense Clarity – Clear Density. Transom Review, 5(1), pp.7-23.

Cox, C. (2009). Sound art and the sonic unconscious. Organised Sound14(01), pp.19-26.

Dunn, D. (1997). Nature, sound art, and the sacred. Music from nature. Ed. by D. Rothenberg. Terra Nova, 2(3), pp.61-71.

Licht, A. (2009). Sound Art: Origins, development and ambiguities. Organised Sound, 14(01), pp.3-10.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan. (2016). Works. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Oct. 2016]. (2016). game of skill 2.0 : Christine Sun Kim. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Oct. 2016]. (2016). Studies – Samson Young. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Oct. 2016].


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