..or Sonic Arts for Dummies (a work in progress). How do you describe Sonic Arts? What is it, how does it work? What do you do with it? Trevor Wishart might have coined the phrase and wrote the book, but shadows persist.

[ref]Wishart, Trevor. 1996. On Sonic Art. New and revised edition. Contemporary Music Studies 12. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers. This is a great book with a lot of information on Wishart’s techniques and is also interesting for the snapshot of what it was like to work with computers in the 1980’s (the book was first published in 1985).[/ref] It seems that the easy definitions include rock/pop/electro-anything and splashes in a little producing for good measure. This would work if we lived in a mono-dimensional world with history starting a few decades ago. Defining Sonic Arts around pop music with electronics is like defining contemporary as today’s popular music or defining classical music as any music that is old and played by orchestras. Wishart defines Sonic Art:

To avoid getting into semantic quibbles, I have therefore entitled this book On Sonic Art and wish to answer the question what is, and what is not, ‘sonic art’. We can begin by saying that sonic art includes music and electro­ acoustic music.
(Wishart 1996: 4)

That would have been great, if he had stopped there. But then he breaks it up in two groups (text-sound and sound-effects) and before long we are in a world that can be as exclusive and hermetic as pop music with electronics.

I’m working through the problem. I’ve played around with some mind mapping for fleshing out something that should be as exclusive as it is inclusive (having borders is fine and sometimes necessary, but not everywhere and not all the time).

Defining Sonic Arts Mind MapOh, Sonic Arts, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

  • Computer programming is a central skill, part of the craft developed in the art
  • STEM connections are both explicit and implied
  • A composer wants to add amplification to an instrumental ensemble for a special effect , room acoustics and psychoacoustics are in play
  • A scientist develops an analysis/re- synthesis technique to morph phonemes for speech research, composers may use the same technology to morph instruments
  • A composer creates an series of harmonic progressions from a spectral analysis of one note played on a contrabass
  • Audio to MIDI technology is used to develop compositional material from field recordings
  • A theatre director wants an actors movements to trigger sound (or light or video)
  • A dancer wants to use her movements to control a complex algorithm providing music and image creation and manipulation during a performance
  • A biologist wants to know what the life cycle of an infected cell sounds compared to a healthy cell in researching an advanced warning system
  • A game designer wants to develop an immersive environment that places acoustic space atthe centre of the game’s strategy
  • An installation artists wants to use sound as the driving force of an interactive sound and video piece in a gallery
  • A museum wants individualized sound to be used to project audio in a eliminated space only
  • A performer needs to condense many effects into a more compact space
  • An music editor (or composer) needs to transcribe out of date technology to more viable means of performance
  • Technology developed to wirelessly connect many machines to both simplify performances and create new possibilities of performances
  • Customizing the utilization of DSP for a work of art
  • DSP becoming the work of art
  • The ability to combine many technologies into one work of art (interactivity, audio analysis, synthesis, realtime audio treatments, score and/or gesture following, VR and game tracking technologies)
  • I have, as a sonic artist, assisted and collaborated with composers, performers, stage directors, scientists, engineers, programmers, teachers, visual artists, choreographers anddancers, museum directors, and gardeners

Sonic Arts

What’s in a name?

  • The use of sound in art
    • Collaborative art
      • Performance art
        • Systems design
        • Interactivity
      • Concert music with a computer music designer
      • Theatre
        • More elaborate multimedia works involving interactivity and sound design
        • Music theatre in all its forms: from Cirque du Soleil to Forum Neues Musiktheater Staatsoper Stuttgart
        • Composition and sound design integrated into a work of performance in both artistic and technical areas in the forms of
      • Film
        • Sound Design
        • Experimental use of sound and image
        • Foley
        • Basic techniques for putting sound to film
      • Interactive art
        • Video or motion-tracking sensors used to trigger or create sound
      • Installation art
        • Integrating sound into unusual spaces (garden, museum, gallery, etc.)
      • Sound art or the art of sound
        • Production
          • The art and technique of recording, mixing and creating an end product in a current media format
          • Simple mixing to more involved collaboration between artists
          • NB Does not include the mastering process
          • NB Does not include sound engineering as a vocation (concert or studio)
        • Sonic Art of Music
          • The study and application of sound in relation to music
            • Analysis
              • Resynthesis -> spectral manipulation -> resource for harmonic/rythmic/formal devlopment
            • Composition
              • CAC, algorithmic composition
            • A focalization on the importance of sound as treated or synthesized with or without the intervention of a performer
              • Electroacoustic, acousmatique, live instruments with electronics
            • Composition (by extension includes COMPUTER ASSISTED or aided COMPOSITION)
              • Open Music,
  • Sonic art of research
    • Sonification
      • Data
        • Sensor information
          • Handmade interfaces
            • Arduino, Raspberry Pi, etc
            • contact microphones, hydrophone, other “listening” devices
          • Medical
            • Data sonification (EEG)
              • Using medical imagery to hear damaged cells (a project in development with biologist,  Ian Kill) through image analysis and data mapping
            • sensors and interface output (Myo band (https://www.myo.com)
          • Gesture
        • Using computer algorithms to make music but also to “hear” the algorithm
          • robotics
          • Machine learning
        • Real World Outcomes

Potential areas of research and development

  • Prizes for work to stimulate research
  • Funded by industry actors
  • Funded by local community
  • Sonic arts and research in technology
  • Wearables (noise canceling shirt?)
  • 3D printer for prototyping interfaces and new instruments
  • VR and AR sound design collaborations within the university and industry
  • Urban sound design (some nice ambient textures to distract you from the sound in the adjacent toilet stall?)
  • Acoustic design and research from earphones and speakers to living spaces and concert halls
  • Field Recording as an art form
  • Applied research with experimental technologies
  • Connections with innovative industries
  • Neural Networks, AI, automation, VR, AR

Written by : Carl Faia