Environmental Sound Design and Acoustic Art by Bill Fontana
My work in this field began more than thirty years ago, when as a composer; I became interested in exploring how the everyday acoustic experience of the world is musical. I used field recording as an exploratory and artistic tool to develop a vast collection of recordings from all over the world. These experiences have educated my ear to be literate about the musicality of sounds around me, as well as to understand the acoustic properties of noise in a phenomenological way. This has enabled me to create a body of work that explores the transformation of noise into something aesthetic.
Since the late 80's, I have realized many large-scale public art projects installed in contexts that had considerable urban noise issues requiring creative solutions. In Landscape Soundings (Vienna, 1990), I placed live natural sounds from an ancient Danube wetland inside an urban park that was bordered by busy roadways. My strategy was to create an acoustic curtain of underwater sounds from hydrophones in the Danube along the entrances of this park. This masked the traffic and created an appropriate acoustic background for the wildlife sounds I placed inside of the park. In Vertical Water (Whitney Museum, 1991), I placed the sounds of Niagara Falls on the facade of the Whitney, which masked the Madison Avenue traffic. The success of this inspired me to create Sound Island (Paris, 1994) at the Arc de Triomphe, in which the live sounds of the Normandy Coast "wrapped" the facade of the monument, creating the illusion that the noise from this immense traffic circle was silenced.
My general approach will be to carefully study the existing noise conditions in order to find aesthetically interesting ways of transforming existing noise conditions and to explore ways of creating acoustic zones that have a positive effect.