Sons et Lumières 


– A History of Sound in the Art of the 20th Century (in French) by Marcella Lista and Sophie Duplaix published by the Centre Pompidou for the Paris exhibition in September 2004 until January 2005.

Sons et Lumières, 1st generation, partitur, 2nd generation

As a downbeat coda to Sons et Lumières (Sound and Light), an ambitious and exhaustive survey of relationships between visual and sonic thinking during the 20th-century, it tells you all you need to know about public attitudes to music that goes beyond the conventional ideas of narrative, tone and timbre. Such is the fate of sound as art (as opposed to pure music): generally unloved and unwanted, in comparison with contemporary plastic arts, where a Jackson Pollock or mid-1990s Brit Art retrospective can pull mass audiences.

Curated by the Pompidou’s Sophie Duplaix with the Louvre’s Marcella Lista, the show required a good three or four hours to absorb, with its bombardment of sensory and intellectual input, including painting, sound sculpture, sound/light automata, film and video, and room-size installations. The tangled and complex narrative of contemporary sonics was unpicked and arranged in three sections like separate essays – Correspondences (abstraction, colour music, animated light), Imprints (transformations, syntheses, traces) and Ruptures (chance, noise, silence) – which explored aural currents rippling through more established art narratives. (...)


Literal correspondence between image and sound came in a section devoted to prewar animation. Rudolf Pfenninger, a music scientist depicted in a nerdy pre-Nazi German newsreel, drew wave-forms and oscillation patterns onto the sound strip of film stock to generate pure tones, juddering noise and swooping vibrations when played through a projector. Animator Oskar Fischinger took up the baton once he had fled Hitler’s Germany for Hollywood to make animated symphonies for Walt Disney, including Fantasia (1940). (...) Postwar animations by Harry Smith, the Whitney brothers, Norman McLaren and Len Lye took this sense of four-dimensional concentration into more rarefied zones. (...)


The Ruptures section opened with a blast of the art of noise, with Luigi Russolo’s Futurist instruments, then jumped ahead to the tabula rasa of Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting (Two Panel) (1951) and John Cage’s original score for the 'silent' 4’33” (1952). Cage’s drawings on transparent plastic sheets, overlaid to produce the infinite performance permutations of Variations I (1958), Fontana Mix (1958–9) and other breakthrough works of the 1950s, attempted to reduce compositional consciousness to absolute zero. These graphic scores became Utopian maps, revealing free territories whose pathways were manifested in sound rather than ground. 

(Rob Young)


Source: Frieze Magazine



ISBN-10: 2844262449

ISBN-13: 978-2844262448



Sons et Lumières, 1st generation, partitur, 2nd generationSons et Lumières, 1st generation, partitur, 2nd generation


See this Sound (2009) by Liz Kotz (Author), Cosima Rainer (Editor), Stella Rollig (Editor), Dieter Daniels (Editor), Manuela Ammer (Editor) compiles a huge number of artists, filmmakers, composers and performers, reaching back into the early twentieth century and into the present to survey overlaps between not only sound and art, sound and film, and the metaphor of cinema as rhythm or symphony. Proceeding chronologically, the book takes the early cinematic eye music of Hans Richter as a starting point, noting parallel works by Walter Ruttmann and Oskar Fischinger; moving into the postwar period, the art/cinema/ music experiments of Peter Kubelka, Valie Export and Michael Snow are discussed, establishing precedents to similar work by Rodney Graham, Carsten Nicolai, Jeremy Deller and many others. (Artbook)

Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music Since 1900 (2005) traces the history of a revolutionary idea: that fine art should attain the abstract purity of music. Over the past one hundred years some of the most adventurous modern and contemporary artists have explored unorthodox means to invent a kinetic, non-representational art modeled upon pure instrumental music. (Amazon)



Len Lye: A biography (2001) by Roger Horrock tells for the first time the story of an extraordinary New Zealander, a brilliant artist with an international career who never lost the informality, the energy, the independence of spirit of his South Pacific origins. Len Lye began as an unsettled working-class kid with limited prospects and became a leading modernist artist in London and New York. Roger Horrocks's exhaustive study of Lye has taken many years and is based on interviews with many of those close to the artist as well as on voluminous documentary sources. (Govett-Brewster Art Gallery)

Zürich Chamber Orchestra ZKO: Rollercoaster (2008) by Euro RSCG Group Switzerland, Zürich and produced by Virtual Republic. Visualization of the 1st violin of the 2nd symphony, 4th movement by Ferdinand Ries in the shape of a rollercoaster. The camera starts by showing a close-up of the score, then focuses on the notes of the first violin turning the staves into the winding rail tracks of the rollercoaster. The notes and bars were exactly synchronised with the progression in the animation so that the typical movements of a rollercoaster ride match the dramatic composition of the music. (Virtual Republic on Vimeo)

Iannis Xenakis (1922–2001) was a Greek composer, music theorist, and architect-engineer. He is commonly recognized as one of the most important post-war avant-garde composers. Iannis Xenakis pioneered the use of mathematical models in music such as applications of set theory, stochastic processes and game theory and was also an important influence on the development of electronic music. He integrated music with architecture, designing music for pre-existing spaces, and designing spaces to be integrated with specific music compositions and performances. (Wikipedia)

Screenplay (2005) is one of Christian Marclay's visual scores, in which found materials are collated as a representation of a sound performance to be interpreted by musicians. It is Marclay's intention that his film be viewed by performers as a score. Screenplay is compiled from film footage that Marclay spliced into something of a narrative. In addition, he introduced simple, colorful digital animations of lines and waveforms and big, round dots on top of some of the footage. (disquiet)

Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (1994) by French critic and composer Michel Chion reassesses audiovisual media since the revolutionary 1927 debut of recorded sound in cinema, shedding crucial light on the mutual relationship between sound and image in audiovisual perception. (Colombia University Press)