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Visual means of communication have often dominated modern culture. Audio has long been perceived as an esoteric medium in a world dominated by visual works. However, with technological advancements, there has been a demand to create experiences that enhance our multi-sensory experience of the world.
In this aspect, Audio Visual Design refers to the ‘exploration of kinetic abstract art and music set in relation to each other’. In art, it refers to designs that employ image and sound as similar elements. Recently, digital technology focused on the manipulation of audio-visual materials has become easily accessible which has led to the emergence of a new wave of artists to continually redefine its scope and possibilities. Audio-visual design is a powerful artistic genre that traverses visual music, abstract film, sound sculpture, audiovisual performances, and installations.
For many artists, audio-visual design has replaced canvas and brush as the physical means of expression. In terms of communication, designs that are expressed by means of visuals and sound simultaneously can be more easily absorbed by the audience. Using audiovisual design improves communication by heightening the awareness of your audience’s senses, particularly their sight and hearing. Audiences who use more of their senses can remember the art for a longer period of time. It is a powerful artistic technology that helps to emphasize the artist’s point of view in order to engage the audience and create excitement.
The amount of modern art that has been created with multimedia technology is increasing with every passing day. It has allowed the bridging of boundaries between media and art forms. Let’s look at a few of them:
1. Sound Art:
“While a picture might be worth a thousand words, a soundscape is worth a thousand pictures” – Bernie Krause, American musician
Sound Art is a hybrid form that bridges visual art and experimental music. Because of its vast diversity, there is often a debate on what exactly an artwork needs to be, in order for it to qualify as sound art. Conversely, experiencing a sound work with no visual element can sometimes feel unapproachable. However, anything that uses sound as a channel for creative expressions can be part of an artwork. It includes sound sculpture, sound poetry, and even ASMR.
It is often difficult to differentiate between sound art and music, but they are indeed separate forms of expression. While both involve the manipulation of sound to create an artistic expression, sound artists often raise important questions through their expression and can be differentiated because of their unique reference to sound and space.
Sound art is an aural experience, but visual elements can coexist with sound. Artists can now create visual images in response to sounds and control the art through pressure pads, sensors, and voice activation. Some notable sound art artists and their art include Carsten Nicolai’s ‘Reflektor Distortion’, Christine Sun Kim’s ‘Game of Skill 2.0’, and Susan Philipsz’s ‘Lowlands’ among many others.
2. Sound Sculpture
While most sculptures are intended to be viewed – some strive to stimulate other senses. Any sculpture that can produce sound and is inspired by sound tones is a sound sculpture. Sometimes, it refers to the opposite – ‘a sound that creates a work of art’. There is a source of sound that causes the sculpture to produce tones and percussive noises. It is entirely based on the principles of audio-visual designs: vibration, amplitude, and frequency.
Sound sculpture is often considered the earliest form of sound art. A few notable works include Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu’s ‘Panopticon: The Singing Ringing Tree’, Harry Bertoia’s ‘Textured Screen (1954), Liam Curtin and John Gooding’s ‘The Blackpool High Tide Organ’ and others. While most sound art is site-specific, they are also found in museums and in modern settings, such as office buildings, where the audience can interact with it. With such diversity, there is no arguing that sound sculpture is having a moment right now in contemporary art.
3. Video art
Video art is an important part of modern art history and relies on using video technology as a medium of artistic expression. The relationship between art and television has had a profound impact on video art. Although it takes a similar form to a movie or experimental film, it is considered a distinct art form. Video art does not usually utilize a concrete narrative or plot line, and disregards the conventions of traditional movie-making. A video artist is more focused on exploring the medium itself through three main elements: moving images, sound and time.
Video art is often site-specific and can stand by itself in installations at art galleries. Installations are the most common form of video art and often employ different facets of audio technology. Although video art has been around since the 1960s, with the advancements in digital technology, and the flexibility of the medium, it continues to reinvent itself. Some notable video artists and their artwork are Andy Warhol’s ‘Empire’, Peter Campus’s ‘Baruch the Blessed’, Bruce Nauman’s ‘One Hundred Live and Die’, and others.
4. Sound Installations
The deeply emotional and vastly expressive nature of the sound makes it a powerful art form. Sound installations are an expansion of an art installation and are a ‘time-based’ art form. The main difference between a sound installation and a sound sculpture is that the former focuses on space, volume, and time, thus allowing the audience to envelop in the space of work. Today sound installations have started incorporating experimental music, jazz, electronic music history, underground music, and non-Western music.
Sound installations often feature interactive elements where the audience can directly influence the soundscape. As such they are not only site-specific but can be readapted to other spaces and can be used as permanent artwork for interior and exterior design. Installations are features objects as well as lights, sound, and projected imagery. Some notable sound art installations are Florian Hecker’s “Event, Stream, and Object”, Anders Lind’s ‘LINES’, Tim Murray-Browne’s ‘Cave of Sounds’, Janet Cardiff’s ‘The Forty Part Motet’ among many others.
5. New Media Art
With the exponential rise of new media, the aural possibilities are infinite. New media art is an umbrella term for artwork produced, modified, and transmitted using new media. The form continues to expand with digital advancements as it encapsulates many kinds of art forms. This includes digital art, computer animation, internet art as well as virtual art and gifs. The assimilation of new media art into contemporary art practices is an ongoing process.
New media art is closely related to communication as it enables interactive processes. It is one of the main characteristics of new art that differentiates itself from other art genres. The internet has enabled new media art to reach a large section of the audience that was previously inaccessible. Some notable digital artists in the audio-visual discourse are Adriano Abbado’s ‘Slabs’, Jack Ox’s ‘Ursonate’, and Yasunao Tone’s ‘Musica Iconologos’among many others.
Many artists from traditional art genres are slowly exploring the possibilities of this genre, and it is expected that the popularity of this movement will only increase with time. Because of the democratic character of new media and the fact that it offers never before available tools for artistic expression, new media art is at the frontier of contemporary art.
6. Film and Media Projection
Among the most popular forms of audio-visual designs in recent decades are: films. Films are visual art based on ‘the art of moving images that can be used for artistic expression’. Just like a good painting, a film is a synthetic medium that assimilates imagery, the spoken word, and sound effects into a single entity. Films relate to the audio-visual design mostly to form a narrative.
Film and media projections rely heavily on using video and audio mediums and include documentary, fiction or experimental, commercial, and even animation and are composed of various elements: films, maps, photographs, graphics, music, etc. With such a great diversity of elements, it is no surprise that this genre is somewhat saturated with excessive audio-visual production. However, art can intervene to bring out the quality of audio-video design.
To conclude as we saw, the plethora of artistic works that can be crafted with the help of audio-visual design is not at all uniform either in terms of content, form, or media used. Technological advancements in the field have allowed for further advancements in the genres.
While audio-visual designs are at the forefront of contemporary art, it is interesting to note that not all museums and art galleries are designed with acoustics in mind; hence specific focus should be given in the planning stages to support sound words, such as reducing unwanted reverb, background noise, and reflections. Many artists have taken note of these factors and today, audio-visual designs and art have evolved mutually and benefited from bespoke venues designed exclusively for the experience of listening. These venues often express understanding of the behavior and apprehension of sound for the perfect experience of artistic expression.
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