Go back to article: Towards a more sonically inclusive museum practice: a new definition of the ‘sound object’

Events as objects within art history

So, if sound theorists are comfortable with this notion of sound as event rather than object, why insist on retaining the term ‘sound object’ within museology? Beyond the obvious reasoning that the vast majority of museums collect and display things called ‘objects’, there are other reasons to support the notion that museums have firmer ground than music upon which to stand in order to declare sound an object—in fact, there is a precedent within the history of painting for perceiving an artwork as simultaneously an object and an event.

In an article about the origins of the emergence of art forgery, art historian Alexander Nagel traces the beginnings of a shift within the western art world from what he calls a ‘copy culture’ (where copies of previous artworks are viewed as continuations of the previous object because their purpose is merely to educate viewers about what the image represents) to the era of the connoisseur, a period he suggests began in the fifteenth century, when artists began to assert themselves as unique creators possessing remarkable technical skills and aesthetic sense:

When images inhabit a copy culture, there is no room for forgery. Without a cult of the originally produced work, appreciated as a singular and unrepeatable performance – without a conception of the work as an event – forgery has no function… The emergence of art forgery presupposes a culture in which what matters above all is not the content a work of art transmits but the irreducible qualities that make this work an unrepeatable event. Eventually this conception of art would form the basis of a discipline called the History of Art, which devoted its energies to putting each artistic performance on a timeline, and to studying it as the product of an author and a historical moment (Nagel, 2004, emphasis mine).

Museums, those bastions of authentic objects and the aura that surrounds them as first described by Walter Benjamin (and discussed above), have embedded within the origins of their discipline the idea that objects are events and vice versa. In terms of a professional syntax, museums collect and display objects, which are also events – so why reinvent the wheel just because sounds are unseen events? The term ‘sound object’ is already in the aether, but at the moment it is primarily used within a discipline that finds it problematic at best and embarrassing at worst.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170805/007