Monday, November 22, 2021

Essential books on sound art

This is a reading list of essential books in the field of sound art. The term is provisionally defined to include non-narrative, non-performative works in a gallery context. This definition excludes experimental music in the main, since that field is well-served by a century of robust literature. 

As a term, sound art is only as old as 1990, though it has been applied retroactively to a body of prior work. Further debates on categories will be deferred to the following volumes, each of which deals with this thorny issue in its own way.

Lander + Lexier - Sound by artists

Lander, Dan and Micah Lexier, eds. 1990. Sound by artists. Toronto and Banff: Art Metropole and Walter Phillips Gallery.

The original and definitive book, long out of print, but available on Monoskop.

Lich - Sound art revisited

Licht, Alan. 2019. Sound art revisited. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

An illustrated historical overview that revises his 2007 book Sound art: beyond music, between categories.

Kelly - Gallery sound

Kelly, Caleb, 2017. Gallery sound. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Useful historical overview.

The following books go further afield, providing useful contextualisation.

LaBelle - Background noise

Brandon LaBelle. 2015. Background noise: perspectives on sound art, second edition. London: Bloomsbury.

This overview begins with John Cage and musique concrète with sections on sculptural forms, the voice, locational listening, soundscapes, and telematics.

Kelly - Sound

Kelly, Caleb, ed. 2011. Sound. London: Whitechapel Gallery.

A primer on sonic concepts, noise and silence, the listener and acoustic space, broadcast works.

Voegelin - Listening to Noise and Silence

Voegelin, Salomé. 2010. Listening to noise and silence: towards a philosophy of sound art. London: Continuum.

The focus here is on the phenomenology of listening.

Sterne - The sound studies reader

Sterne, Jonathan. 2012. The sound studies reader. London: Routledge.

These 45 chapters focus on theory, history, culture, and technology.

Cox + Warner - Audio Culture

Cox, Christoph and Daniel Warner, eds. 2017. Audio culture: readings in modern music, revised edition. London: Bloomsbury.

An excellent reader for those wanting a musical context. The revised edition is more diverse and greatly expanded (69 chapters).

Two websites can anchor your research. Monoskop is an art and theory wiki that also acts as repository for rare works. The sound index on UbuWeb can be used to locate specific works.


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