Sound and Documentary in Cardiff and Miller's Pandemonium

Volume in an Expanded Field

Pandemonium drew its force out of the specific, spatial environment of cellblock seven. The work’s uncompromising site-specificity, along with the representational quality of its sounds, embed it in the late-twentieth-century phenomenon of sound art. Sound art encapsulates a diverse field of artistic practices that engage sound as material, medium, or concept and yet remains resolutely intermedia, fusing elements that “fall conceptually between media that are already known.” [143] While incontrovertibly a fluid and dynamic category, sound art is best understood as distinct from experimental music due to its sustained involvement with postminimalist concerns around site-specificity and sculpture in an expanded field, as well as the body’s centrality as a medium in action and performance art. [144] These medial considerations become socially charged in sound installations like Pandemonium that use the material of sound to investigate relationships between sensing bodies and their aggregation in physical environments. 

The term sound art has a suite of origin stories pointing to the genre’s codification in the 1980s and institutionalization in the 1990s. Canadian electroacoustic composer Dan Lander is credited with coining the term in the mid-1980s, as is American composer William Hellerman with the 1984 exhibition Sound/Art at New York’s Sculpture Center. [145] Sound art exhibitions proliferated in the 1980s and 1990s, with a spate of high profile shows around 2000, as Cardiff and Miller completed their training and emerged as professional artists. [146] Sound art garnered especially robust scholarly and public attention in Germany, and Berlin, where Cardiff and Miller lived part-time since Cardiff received a DAAD grant and residency in 2000, was elevated as a world center for making and experiencing work in this mode. [147]

Sound art’s pre-history typically charts a course, much like the one tapped by Pandemonium, from the work of modern composers to free jazz and minimalist music, from dada poetry, futurist noise, and phonography to musique concrète, culminating in the work of Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928–2007), and their fluxus offshoots. [148] Sound art also has important extra-musical dimensions related to minimalist practices. [149] Motte-Haber designates sound art as a confluence of concerns related to installation, sculpture, and public space and insists that it be defined as much by visual as by auditory aspects—“Klangkunst ist zum Hören und zum Sehen bestimmt.” [150] Sight and sound converge in a holistic interplay of the senses triggered by sculptures and installations that use the traditionally durational material of sound to investigate architecture, environment, and the body. [151] 

Sound art’s emergence as a category in the 1980s consolidated experiments in sound sculpture and installation begun in the late 1950s. [152] Carsten Seiffert, who founded Berlin’s Singuhr Sound Gallery in 1996, explains: “In my understanding, the term sound art primarily covers sound installations and sound sculptures that can be experienced in a unique physical space . . . Space itself becomes a medium of creation, and due to an artistic engagement with it and in it, turns into a place.” [153] Composer Alan Licht locates the earliest sound installations consonant with this site-specific definition in the Corbusier-designed Philips Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair: Varèse’s Poème électronique and Iannis Xenakis’ (1922–2001) Concret PH[154] The term “sound installation” appeared around 1971, when artist Max Neuhaus (1939–2009) applied it to his own spatial sound works beginning with Drive In Music (1967). [155] 

Crucially, sound art dispenses with the musical priority to dissolve sound’s references to the meaningful world. Lander describes sound art as a diverse field of practices united first and foremost by an interest in sound’s capacity for signification. [156] “Ripe with meaning and content distinguishable from the meaning and content of musical expression,” Lander argues, sound art “[confronts] the meaning(s) of the noise we produce.” [157] Sound art differs from music in its articulation of space and its concerns with the social meanings of sounds, which it refuses to accept as pure or abstract. [158] It explores sound as “intrinsically and unignorably relational.” [159] Sounds transmit according to the acoustic character of the particular place in which the artwork is situated, and each percipient experiences them there according to her distinct physiology and position. [160] Curator Bernd Schulz defines sound art as an extension of Rosalind Krauss’s logic of sculpture in the expanded field: “an art form . . . in which sound has become material within the context of an expanded concept of sculpture . . . for the most part works that are space-shaping and space-claiming in nature.” [161] Volume is a useful concept with which to integrate these discourses:

Volume: measure of a space, and volume: amplitude of sound. Consider volume as the variability of that space in sound. Consider volume as something within but wholly separate. Consider volume as the invisible and unmarked presence of sound. Consider volume as the intertwine [sic] of the spatial and the sonic . . .  [162]

Sound art, to summarize, is relational, sculptural, volumetric, semantically engaged, and socially charged. 

Pandemonium belongs unequivocally to the sound art context, so much so that it insists we not misunderstand the work as a soundtrack added to its site. Rather, the building itself transmitted Pandemonium’s message that sonic force belongs to the sentient body and is meaningful in structuring its relations. Percipients were unlikely to recognize every musical reference in Pandemonium (Cardiff and Miller appropriated so thoroughly that the present analysis can suggest only some of its key trajectories), but their message transmitted through its sheer, affective accumulation of noise strategies. Pandemonium investigated its subject—the stabilized ruin of a real place and its implications for ongoing sensory relations in the world—using noise as a powerful concept and concrete, physical material. Pandemonium depended on the social histories and architectural volume of Eastern State Penitentiary, both its serial repetition and the sublimely reverberant scale that could give itself over at any minute to immersive cacophony. Pandemonium awakened that space with a century of allusive noise to trigger a concrete experience of the present. 

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