The glossy art mag Art Monthly Australia has its latest issue out, devoted to Australian sound art. It’s guest edited by noted US arts writer Douglas Khan (who is doing a speaking tour of Australia in support of the edition) and has been ably coordinated by curator Sarah Last. As Sarah explains in her editorial:
A major aspect of recent media arts theory has been the emphasis on the need for media arts to be considered within its interdisciplinary intercultural contexts, rather than the traditional modernist functions and methodologies applied to historicisation and canonisation in art history. Douglas Kahn has been an international leader in contextualising auditory practices within 20th century arts theory, and more recently an underlying thesis of his work has been … one that rewrites the history of communication. With such a sustained and rigorous focus, together with the respect Kahn’s writings have already demonstrated for Australian practitioners, it is entirely fitting that we utilised Kahn’s influence as a guest editor. Far from being a parochial editorial process, this publication amplifies many distinctly different viewpoints from Australian and New Zealand writers and artists.
Without blowing my own trumpet too loudly, I have an article in the issue, looking at the work of Australian sound artists and experimental composers Joel Stern, Lloyd Barrett, Robin Fox and Anthony Pateras. Here’s a taste of what I’ve written:
In a series of interviews conducted with the artists during 2009, a picture emerges of a small, inter-connected and vibrant Australian artistic community, fertile with cross-collaboration amongst artists significantly engaged with the work of their peers.
The work of the four artists examined here shows a spectrum of sonic practice. Anthony Pateras, for instance, is primarily engaged in compositional practice from a western art music perspective; in contrast, Joel Stern and Lloyd Barrett are much more interested in the sonic textures of their experimental practice; Robin Fox sit somewhere in between. Even so, there are some important commonalities amongst these four artists’ work. All the artists examined here cite a strong commitment to performance in their practice. In varying degrees, all had significant contact with the principles of western classical music before becoming interested in different types of sonic expression. Finally, it can be argued that all share a commitment to what might be termed “pragmatic experimentation” – an artistic experimentation which moves their work beyond what Robin Fox calls the “game of nomenclature” that tends to arbitrarily divide music (whether it be experimental or classical), from art (whether it is sonic or visual), to a practice which draws on both traditions in novel ways.