Sound as acoustical material – Raw Materials

One of the main themes that emerged for me from the readings (specifically the chapter by Cory) is the possibilities that arise from “manipulating sound as pure acoustical material” once the “traditional literary … had been loosened” (Cory, p.354). This brought to mind a piece by Bruce Nauman called Raw Materials, commissioned & exhibited a few years ago as a site-specific installation for the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in London.

The piece takes 22 audio texts from his previous works and using highly directional speakers creates an audio collage (or bricolage) by combining them, along with the voices of the visitors, in a way in which the individual elements assume a more abstract character as their original intent or context is lost.  The range of tonalities, overlapping and sometimes contradictory sounds become more like a metaphor for the huge variety of language & communication.

Another thing I found really interesting is that that despite the fact that the piece is entirely composed of audile material there is an incredible physicality/substance and performative aspect to the piece, akin to what Cory describes as “shifting the focus from language as a medium to language as material” (Cory, p.355). The overwhelming experience is one of volume and of movement, the visitor encounters different seams of sound that run through the hall and can unexpectedly discover and pause in small, intimate audile ‘spaces’ within the overall space.

This video shows how visitors interact with the space and the element of ‘choreography’ that is subtly present.

Extract from interview:

ROBERT STORR: With all your concern for these phrasings and intervals in mind, is this piece really a musical composition to a greater extent than was true of any of the individual parts you’re using to make it?

BRUCE NAUMAN: I’m using these otherwise finished texts as raw material for a whole other idea. What I’m doing is saying: “Okay, forget what the original intention was, just use this stuff as sound that is available and arrange it in some way that makes another kind of sense.” We’ll have all the texts, we’ll have the space and we’ll have enough speakers, and we’ll be able to begin the process. I’ve made a programme of the way I think I want it to work – this one goes with that one, this is the next one – but it may be totally inappropriate when I finally start to walk through it and hear it. I can change things around, maybe delete some and add others. There’s no other way to do it, except in that space. I can guess in pairs here in the studio, but I can’t make the ensemble.

Here are some more clips:

Clip 1
Clip 2
Clip 3
Clip 4
Clip 5


Categories: Reflective Posts


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