The Nature of Music: Bill Fontana
Bill Fontana (born USA, 1947) is an American composer and artist who has developed an international reputation for his pioneering experiments in sound. Since the early 70’s Fontana has used sound as a sculptural medium to interact with and transform our perceptions of visual and architectural spaces. He has realized sound sculptures and radio projects for museums and broadcast organizations around the world.
His work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, the Post Museum in Frankfurt, the Art History and Natural History Museums in Vienna, both Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London, the 48th Venice Biennale, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney. His major radio sound art projects include works for the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio, West German Radio (WDR), Swedish Radio, and Radio France among others.
For The Nature of Music series, Mr. Fontana spoke with Charles Amirkhanian on February 15, 2018, and gave a presentation about his innovative sound works and sculptures. He focused on Shadow Soundings, a recent piece he executed in Lisbon based on the sights and sounds of their Golden Gate Bridge lookalike, the 25 de Abril Bridge. He also discussed his work for the International Renewable Energy Agency, Primal Sonic Visions. To see more of Fontana’s work,, click here to go to his website.
I began my career as a composer. What really began to interest me was not so much the music that I could write but the states of mind I would experience when I felt musical enough to compose. In those moments, when I became musical, all the sounds around me also became musical.
I have worked for the past 45 years creating installations that use sound as a sculptural medium to interact with and transform our perceptions of visual and architectural settings. These have been installed in public spaces and museums around the world including San Francisco, New York, Rome, Paris, London, Chicago, Vienna, Berlin, Venice, Sydney ,Tokyo, Barcelona, Linz, Manchester, Istanbul, and Abu Dhabi.
My sound sculptures use the human and/or natural environment as a living source of musical information. I am assuming that at any given moment there will be something meaningful to hear and that music, in the sense of coherent sound patterns, is a process that is going on constantly. My methodology has been to create networks of simultaneous listening points that relay real time acoustic data to a common listening zone (sculpture site). Since 1976 I have called these works sound sculptures.
I have produced a large number of works that explore the idea of creating live listening networks. These all use a hybrid mix of transmission technologies that connect multiple sound retrieval points to a central reception point. What is significant in this process are the conceptual links determining the relationships between the selected listening points and the site-specific qualities of the reception point (sculpture site). Some conceptual strategies have been acoustic memory, the total transformation of the visible (retinal) by the invisible (sound), hearing as far as one can see, the relationship of the speed of sound to the speed of light, and the deconstruction of our perception of time.
From the late nineties until the present my projects have explored hybrid listening technologies of acoustic microphones, underwater sensors (hydrophones) and structural/material sensors (accelerometers). Some of my most recent works I call Acoustical Visions and are explorations of the image that a sound makes and the sound that an image makes.
Video from the Event
Excerpt from the discussion between sound artist Bill Fontana and Charles Amirkhanian, Executive and Artistic Director of Other Minds. Here they discuss some of the techniques Fontana uses to do his work, and methods he might use to archive the work for posterity.
Excerpt from the discussion between sound artist Bill Fontana and Charles Amirkhanian, Executive and Artistic Director of Other Minds. The discussion here covers Fontana’s views on what’s important to him in his work and why sound is so meaningful for him.