Now Hear This: Sound Art Has Arrived

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Installation view of Tristan Perich’s Microtonal Wall, 2011, at the Museum of Modern Art. JONATHAN MUZIKAR/©2013 MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK/COURTESY THE ARTIST AND BITFORMS GALLERY, NEW YORK

This fall, for the first time in its history, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is presenting a work of contemporary art at the Cloisters. Located in the serene Fuentidueña Chapel, the artwork, on exhibit through December 8, is not a sculpture or a painting, but a sound installation,The Forty Part Motet (2001), by Janet Cardiff. The 14-minute work plays continuously a composition by 16th-century Tudor composer Thomas Tallis with individual voices coming from each of 40 loudspeakers. Visitors are encouraged to walk among them and hear the solo performances or step back and listen to the total choral effect.

Inviting museumgoers to use their ears as well as eyes is becoming increasingly common at arts institutions around the country. In August, the Museum of Modern Art opened “Soundings: A Contemporary Score,” an exhibition intended to introduce “sound art” to a new generation of viewers and listeners. Throughout November,Performa, New York’s biennial of performance art, is presenting several sound-art events, including Florian Hecker’sC.D.-A Script for Synthesis, which features music emitted from auditory objects and theatrical props, and Tori Wrånes’s works in which she struggles to stay in tune as she is being bound or suspended, accompanied by a musical ensemble.

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