by Bill Fontana
"What ambient sounds does the museum generate? San
Francisco–based sound art pioneer Bill Fontana has spent more than forty
years investigating the musicality of the natural and built environment.
He is fascinated by the hidden acoustical worlds of structures such as bridges,
which are alive with sounds that are normally inaudible. Commissioned by
SFMOMA in honor of the museum’s 75th anniversary, Sonic
Shadows uses a network of high-tech vibration sensors and speakers to
transform central features of this building into musical instruments, creating
a live acoustic translation of the architectural space surrounding the fifth-floor
Speakers installed in the ventilation holes above the bridge are paired with
moving ultrasonic speakers below whose narrowly focused audio beams reflect
off of the surrounding surfaces, creating what the artist describes as a transparent,
acoustic wall drawing in which “the shapes of the architecture become sound.”
As visitors cross the bridge their footsteps contribute to the live composition.
Exploring the internal resonance of structural elements, the piece mixes real-time
recordings of sounds produced by the bridge, the walls, and the pipes in the
boiler room hidden behind the opposite wall. Whereas some of the artist’s past
sound sculptures integrated recognizable sounds from nature or urban locations,
this site-specific piece transforms more abstract, mechanical noises into an
ever-changing dreamscape complemented by shifting patterns of sunlight and
shadows. Fontana activates this transitional, non-gallery space, producing
an immersive sensory experience of the museum itself".
Rudolf Frieling, Curator of Media Arts