Sonic artists create ‘invisible presence’ through sound | KALW

Sonic artists create ‘invisible presence’ through sound

Jun 11, 2018


Maybe you were among the lucky visitors to a sonic installation at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center a couple years ago.

In the piece, called “The Forty Part Motet,” forty speakers on stands were arranged in an oval. Each broadcasted a single singing voice, adding up to a choral performance of a 16th century composition that became a kind of sound sculpture filling the room.


The artist behind that piece, Janet Cardiff, and her husband and creative partner George Bures Miller, have returned to the Bay Area with more interactive sound art. Cardiff and Miller have several pieces up right now at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, showcasing the range of their body of work. They include intimate audio commentary to a family-photo slideshow, robotic marionette choreography, and a tribute to the late singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen called “The Poetry Machine.”



"I think that one of the things we're interested in very much is presence and absence. And there's something about a voice coming out of a speaker that has that sense of presence, but it's absent, of course. It's in the past, but you get this real sense of — sort of anthropomorphic in the way the speaker becomes the character."

JANET CARDIFF & GEORGE BURES MILLER, Sad Waltz and the Dancer who couldn't dance, 2015
Credit Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, courtesy of the artists, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and Luhring Augustine, New York

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