CODA, or

Article by
Michael Maizels

In and Out of Phase:
An Episodic History of Art 
and Music in the 1960s

It’s all sound, sound and more sound. Sound that will live longer than the people who once voice it. Sound that lacked substance.

—Ouyang Yu, Loose: A Wild History(1)

In the four decades since the last collaborative project between Bruce Nauman and Meredith Monk, cross-pollination between artists and composers has become one of the most highly visible strands of exploration.(2) Picking up the threads elaborated in Monk’s multifarious works in the 1970s and 1980s, per- formers such as Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno established reputations that spanned the New York arts underground and the nascent world of alternative media celebrity. Others, such as Maryanne Amacher, John Zorn, and Christian Marclay drew on the acoustic effects and sampling techniques developed by the 1960s avant-garde in productions ranging from live music to immersive multi- channel installations that prefigured the current explosion of social-media- friendly art experiences.(3) The borderland between art and music became increasingly ripe in the 1990s and 2000s, with a profusion of new forms visible (and audible) in Nick Cave’s sound suits, Terry Adkins’s sui generis “recitals,” and Guillermo Galindo’s haunting found-object instruments.(4)
Ouyang Yu, Loose: A Wild History (Wakefield Press, 2012), 192.

Monk and Nauman reprised their work at the Whitney Museum (heretofore Nau- man’s first and only live performance) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1975. See Christopher Knight, “What Is an Artist? Peter Plagens’ ‘Bruce Nauman’ Illumi- nates,” Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2014, (Link︎︎︎)

See, for example, RoseLee Goldberg, Performa: New Visual Art Performance, ed. Jennifer Liese (Performa, 2007), 215.

See, for example, Ira Dworkin, Congo Love Song: African American Culture and the Crisis of the Colonial State (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 199; Brian Droitcour, “Review: Guillermo Galindo at Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery,” Art in America, June 2018, (Link︎︎︎)

While the contemporary idiom of “art as experience”—buoyed by a florescence of international art fairs and a resurgence of community-based art spaces—promises to continue to seed experimentation, the institutional acceptance of hybrid art/music crossed an undeniable threshold in the first part of the 2010s. In early 2013, Columbia University announced the launch of its master of fine arts in “sound art,” a new offering that bridged the gap between its Computer Music Center, made famous by Milton Babbitt, and its highly regarded visual arts program.(5) Later the same year MOMA mounted Soundings: A Contemporary Score, the final exhibition produced by Barbara London, a pioneering curator who had helped bring time-based media into the museum’s collection in the 1970s. Although Soundings was far from the first museum survey dedicated to work done in the interstitial space between art and music, its international scope and status as a headline exhibition at MOMA signaled a kind of museological arrival of art with an audible dimension.(6)
See Columbia University School of the Arts timeline, accessed April 2, 2019, (Link︎︎︎)

For more on the international explosion of museum exhibitions dedicated to sound art in the immediate wake of Soundings, see Ella Delany, “The Power of Sound as an Art Form,” New York Times, October 3, 2013.

Beyond the now incontrovertible institutionalization of this mode of practice, these ventures at Columbia and MOMA also demonstrate something important about the ways in which this new field would construct its history. Namely, the concepts of sound and sound art have become nearly ubiquitous as the interpretive frame for projects that cross between the worlds of art and music. Although the progenitors of sound-based visual art can be seen in examples such as Lazlo Maholy Nagy’s The Sound ABC (1932–33), the contemporary usage tracks back to the ascendance of John Cage’s compositional ideas. In the early 1950s, Cage set out on an incredibly bold compositional gambit: to dissolve the bounded history of “music” (so conceived by Western standards and conventions) outward into the seemingly endless universe of sound. Cage’s intervention must be understood as part of a larger exploration—also taken up by his visual artistic collaborator Robert Rauschenberg—to erode the boundaries between sanctioned “high culture” and the mass-mediated world of everyday images and quotidian detritus. But Cage’s compositions, such as 4'33", seem to cut deeper than Rauschenberg’s combines; Rauschenberg presents a kind of art that has climbed off the pedestal, whereas Cage seems to almost promise the erasure of music as such.

One of the most pronounced effects of Cage’s efforts to construe an infant’s cries in the concert hall as a part of the same ontological stuff as the “music” being performed onstage was to blur the distinction between the kinds of projects realizable by those with, and without, traditional musical training.(7) This question of deskilling, which has its corollary in the rise of painted abstraction in the early twentieth century, raises a hornet’s nest of issues around the accessibility of such training and the maintenance of power hierarchies within both cultural and political spaces. This “Coda” cannot seek to treat this enormously complex, and loaded, territory with sufficient depth. The issue, though, is important to flag because it points to a key feature of the historiography of this new (inter)discipline. One of the virtues of “sound” (as opposed to “music”) is its capacious nature. It can be applied with equal ease to works produced by those who consider themselves artists or composers, and to those working within or beyond the traditional parameters of “high” culture frameworks. Soundings, for example, juxtaposed comparatively esoteric deconstructions of complex musical scores with environmental installations centered on aquatic field recordings. All is sound, and sound applies to all.
See, for example, Paul de Man, Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski (Minneapolis, 1996).

The rise of a porous Cagean “sound” paradigm marks the gap between the world of young Meredith Monk and the universe inhabited by today’s practitioners. Thus, analyzing the works of the extremely recent past presents a different methodological challenge than that faced in the preceding chapters. Whereas before the historiographic issue was often to make “parallel sense” of ideas—stillness and electricity or “tactile process”—and how they fit in two different but interconnected disciplinary trajectories. Now the issue is to do justice to an explosion of interest in a mode of working that, as part of its intellectual underpinning, seeks to collapse the distance that the figures of the 1960s struggled to bridge.

Given the volume of both experimental practice and interpretive literature that has accompanied the institutional ascendance of sound art, this concluding note provides neither a comprehensive overview nor a seamless temporal through line. Instead, what follows is an additional selection of (much shorter) case studies that between them provide a kind of cross section of contemporary work across the boundary of art and music. These case studies have been selected to meet four criteria. First, they prioritize a diversity of working methods, those to which the newly pervasive appellation of sound art applies and those to which it does not. Second, they aim to illustrate a range of the ways in which the ideas and investigations analyzed in the preceding pages had returned to forefront of the art world. Third, they demonstrate the diversity in background and subject position of prominent artists picking up the threads elaborated over the prior decades. Finally, they demonstrate the depth of the sea change that has occurred over this interval—a change legible in the configured relationship between these artists and the perceived developmental trajectory of the world writ large.


Although Soundings generated considerable critical interest, the MOMA exhibition did not have a monopoly on the soundscape of the art world in the fall of 2013. Several miles to the north at the Cloisters museum, the collaborative pair Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller were presenting a new installation of one of their most iconic works, the 40-Part Motet. Completed in 2001, the Motet is comprised of a forty-channel audio installation, with each of its speakers reproducing a choral part of composer Thomas Tallis’s forty-part Spem in alium (c. 1570), the title of which derives from an eponymous refrain translated as “In No Other Is My Hope.”(8) Cardiff’s motivation for the piece grew out of her frustration with the way stereo recordings inevitably flattened the spatial structure of Tallis’s motet. Tallis wrote the piece for a chapel with eight different alcoves, each of which would host a minichoir of five voices, with the vocal parts responding to and resonating with each other across the expanse of the church.(9)
For details, see the Metropolitan Museum’s announcement of the installation, “Janet Cardiff: The Forty-Part Motet,” accessed November 20, 2015, (Link︎︎︎)

Meeka Walsh, “Pleasure Principals: The Art of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller,” Border Crossing 42 (May 2001), (Link︎︎︎)

Although they are deeply engaged with questions of sound design, the 40-Part Motet is an unusual piece for Cardiff and Bures Miller insofar as it so boldly foregrounds a musical element. Rather than music, Cardiff and Bures Miller’s sound work tends to draw primarily on recorded speech, and thus the Motet may be thought of as the spatialization of a harmonious poem as well as a musical composition. Their collaborative practice began after they met in art school at the University of Alberta, where Cardiff was a graduate student printmaker and Bures Miller an undergraduate painter. Their art grows out of their shared interest in the vocabulary of experimental cinema but translated into the idiom of a site-specific installation. Their first immersive multichannel audio installation was the 1991 Whispering Room, in which each of sixteen speakers, mounted on stands dispersed throughout the gallery, reproduces a quiet voice relating narrative fragments. The fragments relate to a looped film projection—a mysterious woman in a red dress, a drive in the countryside, a broken coffee cup—and suggest a partial repression of a traumatic memory.

Significantly, the moments of oneiric transition in Whispering Room are not governed by predetermined directorial choices but rather arise out of the physical mobility of the listener/spectator in the gallery. This wandering of the spectator as the driving force of a narrative became the basis of the Walks through which Cardiff and Bures Miller first achieved international recognition. Although the artist Max Neuhaus also created guided field trips with recorded sound, Cardiff developed this direction independent of a moment of specific inspiration.(10) She held a residency at the Banff Centre in 1991—the same year in which Whispering Room was completed—and had taken a walk to a nearby graveyard to record the names for potential use in an artwork. She accidentally hit the rewind button and was struck by the doubling experience of listening to her voice overlaid with ambient sounds played back in the same site in which they were originally recorded.(11)
Licht, Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories (Rizzoli, 2007), 23.

Josette Feral, “How to Define Presence Effects: The Work of Janet Cardiff,” in Archaeologies of Presence, ed. Gabriella Giannachi, Nick Kaye, and Michael Shanks (Taylor & Francis, 2012), 41.

The resulting work, Forest Walk (1991), became the paradigm for Cardiff and Bures Miller’s subsequent walks, which include instructions such as “go towards the brownish green garbage can. Then there’s a trail off to your right” intercut with narrative composed of highly cinematic auditory fragments. Sound effects of walking, crows squawking, and train horns form the background of a mysterious script, only partially revealed. In one illustrative section, Cardiff’s voice, recorded in situ, relates, “It’s so beautiful in the forest at night... it’s kind of spooky though,” with this exact phrase doubled by an unidentified man. This doubling is intercut by a studio recording of Cardiff saying “I just want to be with you.”(12) In the Walks, the alternation between the diegetic and nondiegetic modes of Cardiff’s voice doubles the auditory slippage between the prerecorded ambient sound and the actual soundscape of a place, producing an eerie blurring of narrative and reality.
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, “Forest Walk,” accessed November 20, 2015, (Link︎︎︎)

Cardiff and Bures Miller have since been working to incorporate video in the Walks, with participants watching site-specific video. In Ghost Machine (2005), viewers encounter the video through the playback mode of a handheld digital camcorder, heightening the confusion between the live setting and the prerecorded narrative action. Ghost Machine takes as its setting the turn-of- the-century Hebbel Theater in Berlin, with the action moving on the labyrin- thine backstairs and the main stage. The twist ending—which reveals the piece to have been itself a work of theater witnessed in absentia by the viewer—adds an additional layer to the interweaving of physical and diegetic space.(13)
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Ghost Machine, accessed November 20, 2015, (Link︎︎︎)

But, unlike the ethos of the 1960s, Cardiff’s work is oriented toward a kind of specificity of both the narrative related and the experience engendered in the viewer. In different ways, the figures of the 1960s attempted to thematize a common denominator, from the optimistic attempt to tune in to the new electric heartbeat of the world (La Monte Young) to the comparatively bleak attempt to imagine “the functional (functioning) mechanism of an (organism) (system) person” (Nauman). Even for Monk, whose formal approach and subject matter—open-ended works of theater with strong, mysterious female protagonists staged in a series of different physical sites—most closely resembles Cardiff’s, the aim was to think through a transhistorical mode of feminine creation based closely on the body. By contrast Cardiff’s art turns on immediacy between the individual site—of the Walk or the setting of the Motet—and the experience of the viewer. Unlike Nauman, who sought to predictably determine spectator responses to his installations, Cardiff is interested in the contingency of the viewer’s experience, a contingency that arises from both the unique biography of the viewer and the chance occurrence of the physical site.(14)
Atom Egoyan, “Janet Cardiff.” Bomb (April 2002), accessed August 11, 2019, (Link︎︎︎)


Much as Janet Cardiff’s art turns on a poetic, technological mediation of the absented presence of the artist, Ken Ueno’s work is often charged, even haunted, by the residue of his voice. Ueno’s monumental voice animated his recent Jericho Mouth(FIGURE 1) Ueno is seen growling into a megaphone and pacing along the roof of the Inside Out Museum in Beijing in 2014, producing a string of guttural, almost otherworldly vocals. These vocals were recorded and then played back, booming through speakers implanted in the hollow walls of a freestanding structure contained within the larger museum complex. The playback is governed by an algorithm that Ueno created in Max/MSP, which shuffles the order, duration, and channel output of a variety of sound clips recorded from Ueno’s performance.(15)
Zhou Yi, “Jericho Mouth: A Sound Installation at Inside-out Miniature Museum,” Inside Out Museum project archives, accessed November 20, 2015, (Link︎︎︎)

The piece grew out of a residency that Ueno completed at the museum in 2013 and responds to what he perceived as the stark, existential quality of the concrete built environment. The title of the work is a straightforward reference to the biblical walls of Jericho, which the Israelite leader Joshua brought down with his trumpet, and Ueno’s subtone vocals were designed to capitalize on the hollow configuration of the miniature museum—which he likens to the resonating body of a cello—in order to physically disrupt the museum’s architecture. The piece was designed, in Ueno’s words, “to shake the building, [to] make it roar.”(16)

The foundation-rattling Jericho Mouth foregrounds Ueno’s substantial vocal repertoire, which includes the ability to produce subtones, overtones, and multiphonics, by means of techniques such as throat singing and circular breathing.(17) These extended techniques, especially when mobilized for site-specific performances that capitalize on the specificities of a museum’s architecture, recall the pioneering performances of Monk. But whereas for Monk these techniques served as a means of tapping into a deep history, Ueno’s appeal is synchronic rather than diachronic. Rather than providing a way to access a prelinguistic or precultural mode of expression, Ueno’s subtone singing attests to his connection to the soundscape of heavy metal vocals, which often encompass piercing screams, screeching moans, and guttural growls.(18)
See Ueno’s YouTube demonstration of his vocal techniques, accessed November 20, 2015, (Link︎︎︎)

Author interview with Ken Ueno, April 1, 2015.

The desire to draw on widely dispersed stylistic and conceptual referents has also pushed Ueno to compose works that incorporate elements from both the Western classical tradition and his own Japanese heritage. This dual lineage particularly animated a pair of works produced in 2004 and 2005. The first, Kage-Uta (Shadow Song), is a composition that combined Ueno’s signature throat singing and an elaborate electronic infrastructure. Exploring ideas that would return in Jericho Mouth, Ueno’s Kage-Uta begins as a live performance and is then recorded and dispersed through Max/MSP program into a spatialized speaker array. The performance continues with Ueno attempting to sing back to his own recording, resulting in a confounding of the live and recorded elements. Kage-Uta, and the subsequent Kaze-no-Oka (2005)—a commissioned tribute to the legendary Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu—both function within the aesthetics of sawari, an overtone buzzing associated with traditional Japanese instruments.(19) Ueno “speaks of the prioritization of sound in Japanese traditional music in contrast to the emphasis on harmony and the elimination of noise in Western music.”(20) Ueno maintains that there is an intellectual and cultural dimension to this acoustic sensibility, that sawari multiphonics function as the aural equivalent ideograms: complex, singular instances irreducible to simpler significations.
E. Michael Richards and Kazuko Tanosaki, Music of Japan Today (Cambridge Scholars, 2008), 70.

Ken Ueno, Kaze-no-Oka (2005), “Performance Notes,” accessed November 20, 2015, (Link︎︎︎)

Among the most complex works that Ueno has realized in this live/ recorded vein is Liquid Lucretius (2013), which was designed for the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City (MUAC). The museum maintains a space dedicated to sound art, with an impressive twenty-four-channel speaker array. The possibilities of this array encouraged Ueno to look to sonic events with an unusually large number of participating “voices,” and he was inspired to returned to his student days in Boston, revisiting the delicate tapping and clicking sounds that flocks of geese would make with their beaks as the rested near the Charles river.(21) Ueno realized that this sound became more emotionally resonant when it emerged from the flock as a totality, a realization that suggested how particulate, granular sounds ping-ponging off one another could open a rich metaphorical space capable of evoking both mystery and memory.
Author interview with Ken Ueno.

The soundscape of Liquid Lucretius is also punctuated by hidden sounds that offer clues to the piece’s meaning. The first of these is a clearly audible recording of Ueno drawing a breath, and the second, which occurs with extreme infrequency, is Ueno, in his signature growled mumble, uttering the phrase “stars like sibilants.”(22) Sibilants—consonants such as the Z in zip—are characterized by their sawari-like vibrations and suggest a counterpoint to the story of divine Logos giving rise to the universe. Rather than the clearly annunciated Word delineating the beginning of form, an aesthetics of noisy vibration brings listeners back to the universe of stars and planets in all its disordered, unauthored magnitude.
Author interview with Ken Ueno


© 2020 KEN UENO



© 2020 KEN UENO