Mapping the Studion (Fat Chance Matmos): Sonic Culture, Visual Arts and the Mediations of the Artist’s Workplace – Jérôme Hansen

Artistic praxis in media worlds is a matter of extravagant expenditure. Its privileged locations are not palaces but open laboratories.‘ — S. Zielinski (2006: 276)

I. The cacophony of a construction site

‘Sociology and art do not make good bedfellows’, said Pierre Bourdieu (1993: 139), who nonetheless spent most of his early career on the subject. Adding to this already troubled couple the variable of sound might seem as inappropriate as suggesting a ménage à trois to a partner who is just about to leave you. However, it is not my purpose to ‘explain’ sound in the arts, or sound as art, using the canonical toolbox of critical sociology: structure of capitals, habitus, field, illusio, etc. The various artistic practices commonly gathered under the compound term of sound/sonic arts deserve better than to end up as yet another means of validating a theoretical model. I have preferred a more exploratory framework to engage a dialogue between sociologies of art and what has been tellingly described as the ‘acceptance of sound work as an element of visual culture’ (Lovejoy, 2004: 292). The word acceptance supposes the existence of more or less explicit terms and conditions, which in turn imply negotiations between elements from both cultures – negotiations still very much in process, despite, or rather because of the increasing presence of sound pieces within buildings traditionally devoted to visual artworks. During an online panel discussion organised by Tate Modern, art historian and sound artist Douglas Kahn mentioned the event of:

a major sound art show…that self-destructed because the institution didn’t know how to handle a number of sound works in close proximity to one another, due mainly to a curator in a land grab for glory who alienated the community of sound artists who could have lent their collective wisdom on the matter.1

This brief anecdote could serve to remind those who would conceptualise sound art in terms of a smooth blurring of aesthetic boundaries, that sound-based productions are intertwined with wider ‘auditory cultures’ (see Bull and Back, 2003). Compared to the art world, these cultures not only privilege a certain model of sensory intelligibility, but also exist through distinct networks of mediations. As a result, sonic cultures are still relatively alien to the collectives giving shape to the visual arts institutions, and to the modes of experiencing art they have established – I am thinking here about curators and other specialised workers as much as the physical organisation of museal spaces. To the extent that the ensuing tensions, if not aptly negotiated, could put at risk the very existence of the sound artwork. With his enumeration of the actors and their involvement, or lack thereof, in the drama of setting a sound exhibition, Kahn perfectly illustrates what Bruno Latour (2005: 88-89) wishes to convey when applying the metaphor of the ‘construction site’ to his sociological perspective. As will appear more clearly in the following sections, this discussion of sound art practices in relation to sonic and visual cultures owe a great debt to the sociologists who have translated Latour and his colleagues’ ideas from science and technology studies into the domain of artistic production and diffusion (Born, 2005; Heinich, 1998; Hennion, 1989, 1997; Marontate, 2005; Yaneva, 2003).

As it proliferates and gains strength, sound art’s construction site also uncovers previously uncharted or neglected strata of practices and discourses – Futurists’ tactical use of mimetic noises, works appropriating optical soundtrack technology, musique concrète‘s first experiments with vinyl records and tape recorders, etc. – which art archeologists have since arranged into consistent narratives (e.g. Kahn, 1999; LaBelle, 2006; Toop, 2004). This depth of focus is essential in order to contextualise the unequivocal process of legitimation enjoyed today by ‘sound objects’ and the artists working with them. Far from entering fully formed into the art world, sound practices are intrinsically bound up with the (reordering of) material and symbolic mediations of auditory and visual cultures. The artist’s studio imposed itself as a key site from which to examine these two networks intersecting, converging, and consequently expanding the circulation of sound as art beyond its habitual spaces of reception. But before making more explicit the function of the studio as a ‘real allegory’ – to use the subtitle of Gustave Courbet’s painting The Artist’s Studio (1855) -, I will first examine how a sociology interest in the mediations of art could challenge and/or complement existing perspectives on the subject of sound in contemporary art.

One way of explaining the potency of sound art is through the properties of its medium. Sound, after all, is air vibrating. David Toop has suggested that the cultural relevance of sound art ‘seems to grow as the material world fades to the immaterial, fluid condition of music’ (2000: 107). Yet, this kind of reductive ontology of sound paints only part of the picture, so to speak. In order to be experienced as immaterial, music, like any other art form, presupposes ‘as sine qua non, the existence of an intense technical reproduction’ (Hennion and Latour, 2003: 94). Christian Marclay has built a large part of his oeuvre on the premise that music is indistinguishable from the chain of material intermediaries necessary for its production and diffusion: score sheets, instruments, tape recorders, loudspeakers, vinyl records, album covers, or promotional posters (see Ferguson et al., 2003). The limit case of John Cage’s 4’33” illustrates the same point, as it discloses – while arguably trying to escape it – the entire ‘life support’ without which silence could never become music: the score written by the composer, the musician, the piano lid marking the different sections of the piece, the rows of seats, etc.2 Neither pure performance nor pure object, music is an ‘immaterial and material, fluid quasi-object… It favours associations or assemblages between musicians and instruments, composers and scores, listeners and sound systems – that is, between subjects and objects’ (Born, 2005: 7). Accordingly, a sociological exploration of sound art should start by researching the specific associations that support it.

But how pertinent is this project in an art context increasingly reliant on digital technology? It could be argued that decades of technological innovations and their successive incorporation within creative processes have rendered earlier attempts at setting clear aesthetic boundaries inoperative. Multimedia artists such as Atau Tanaka, Ryoji Ikeda or Carsten Nicolai, whose productions rely on the (metaphorical) synaesthesia enabled by digital devices, provide evidence to back up this argument in favour of a ‘post-media aesthetics’ (Manovich, 2001). Now that they can share the same computational spaces, on the hardware or software level, visual and sonic forms of expression are effectively ‘translatable’ into one another (Kittler, 1999: 1-2). If the cross-disciplinary category of sound art merely reflects the workings of deeper technological determinisms, is there still a need to differentiate between the mediations of auditory and visual cultures? As Manovich concedes, this explanatory model cannot escape wider sociological issues, due most importantly to the degree of stability of the art world compared with the tempo of technological change:

The assumption that artistic practice can be neatly organized into a small set of distinct mediums has continued to structure the organization of museums, art schools, funding agencies and other cultural institutions – even though this assumption no longer reflected the actual functioning of culture. (2001).

Art photography’s tortuous path towards legitimacy is instructive here; despite its popularity, the photographic medium underwent a series of technological and aesthetic self-limitations before being granted cultural authority. In the case of avant-garde music, Georgina Born’s ethnographic study of the IRCAM studios in Paris (1995) highlighted a similar tension between innovation on the one hand, and this institution’s ‘aesthetic stasis’ on the other. By emphasising the need to treat art ‘symmetrically’, i.e., as a field of social practices, but one whose internal values, discourses and ways of operating sets it apart from other domains of social life, sociology of mediations proposes an alternative to the reductions of both internalist (aestheticism) and externalist (sociologism or technological determinism) discourses of art (Heinich, 1998: 11-21). Under these terms, the trio of sociology, art and sound may well consider sharing the same bed again.

II. The studio and the value regimes of art

Each discipline attached to the production of art has fashioned its own particular map for navigating within the artist’s studio. Whereas sociologists tended to focus their attention on the inherently collaborative nature of artistic practices (e.g. Becker, 1982), thereby diluting art within wider issues of social production, art historical accounts were understandably more reserved in their uncovering of the realities of studio environments. More than the expression of divergent analytical viewpoints, this tension between individuality and plurality is in fact constitutive of the entire functioning of the art world, which requires paying attention simultaneously to what Heinich has termed the ‘singular’ and ‘communal’ value regimes of art (Heinich, 1998; also Gielen, 2005). Recently, art historians and sociologists found more common ground regarding the importance of the artist’s workspace, partly under the joint influence of science and technology studies (see Latour and Woolgar, 1986) and their emphasis on the ‘black box’ of laboratories as a crucial site in the construction of scientific facts. Contrary to those who have judged the laboratory-studio comparison to be ‘strained and tedious’ (Hughes, 1990: 34) when pursued beyond the metaphorical level, I would argue that this analogy finds a new resonance in the context of contemporary (visual or sonic) artists working with digital technologies.

Following in the footsteps of laboratory studies and the discipline known as ‘actor-network theory’, Hennion has described the recording studio as a social and material microcosm where experiments are conducted on a basis of trial and error:

The studio is impermeable to systems; it dissolves obligatory associations; it undoes rationalizations. Inversely, all connections are permitted, whether or not they are specified in the user’s manual. The studio is an apparatus for capturing raw material by extracting it from the structured networks along which it circulates in ‘normal life’ (1989: 410).

If this depiction of studio practices is still largely relevant today, the technologies which have entered the recording environment in the last decades nonetheless impose a reassessment of the entire network of humans and non-humans gathered in the production of sound works. Developments in multi-track recording techniques, possibilities of compatibility and real-time composition allowed by industrial standards, wider availability of hardware and software for sampling and processing sound digitally, more powerful and portable computers, without saying anything of internet-based communication and its decentralised modes of collaboration: the list of new actors encountered in the contemporary ‘studio-network’ could go on forever.3 Digital technologies also operated a ‘remediation’ of the studio space, from the obligatory passage point it once was for a majority of artists, to a more compact, mobile, and thus more effectively mobilised socio-technical assemblage. Sound works no longer require to be produced exclusively in large and costly studios, as the presence of laptop devices in both performance and recording environments has lead to a compression of these two stages. Under these conditions, contemporary sound artists are more likely to amalgamate the work of previous mediations, and increasingly occupy the position of ‘producer-creator’ (During, 2003: 45). For these reasons, the recording studio’s ‘digital octopus’, to update one of Hennion’s metaphors, appears as the privileged vantage point from which to understand the artistic phenomenon of sound art.

In order to translate the technology-driven shift observed in the (home) studio – or, on a smaller scale, within the circuitry of the producer-creator’s laptop – to the opening up of art institutional mediations (museums, galleries, public art institutions, funding bodies, etc.), we need to combine the dimension of ‘studio-network’ with the studio as a discursive trope in the modern constitution of the visual art world. The set of values that have come to structure art’s regime of singularity developed from changes in the repartition of roles between the artist’s studio and the spaces of public reception; both spaces functioning ‘in tension’ with one another (Rodriguez, 2002). This is to say that notions of individuality, originality of vision and unmediated authorship accompanied the purification process from the open, multi-function atelier of the craftsman to the specialised and isolated painter’s studio. As a result of this strong historical and discursive connection between studio space and the values of an autonomous field of art came what Jones (1996) calls the ‘romance of the studio’, a powerful narrative that still informs the conditions under which art objects and their producers are mediated through the art world. This is not to say, of course, that visual artists themselves have not consciously challenged, in their practices or writings, the symbolic regime attached to their situation, for example by developing a reflexive ‘post-studio’ aesthetics (e.g., Buren, 1979). Yet, as Jones further argues:

Even if we locate the isolated studio as a willed trope within early modern artistic production, and distinguish it from some other kind of historical condition, we must acknowledge that current uses of the term “studio” are burdened by this sense of isolation, and by further efforts…to inscribe studio within the frame of individual genius’ (1996: 4).

Having recalled this mythical trope of the studio in the context of sound art, it now becomes possible to reformulate the tensions mentioned above between technological shifts and institutional stability. Sound artists, ‘sculpting’ or ‘painting’ with sounds – and sometimes even fashioning their own tools – in the confinement of their creative environment can be perceived as less part of a collective process, and more as an individual creator.4 The sound artist’s workspace corresponds now more than ever to the constituting symbol of art’s singularity regime: the (isolated) painter’s studio. As successive innovations in recording technologies entered the studio, musicians, electro-acoustic composers, and sound engineers started to refer explicitly to the conditions of visual artists when describing their relationship to the sound object and the apparently ‘unmediated’ control it allows. Amongst others, Brian Eno reflected upon the new possibilities for playing the studio like any other musical instrument:

You are working directly with sound, and there’s no transmission loss between you and the sound – you handle it. It puts the composer in the identical position of the painter – he’s working directly with a material, working directly onto a substance, and he always retains the option to chop and change, to paint a bit out, add a piece, etc. (Eno, 1979/2004: 129).5

As Hennion already noted, the shift that operated in the field of music and sound from ‘work-as-performance’ to ‘work-as-object’ took place as the visual arts were witnessing a turn in precisely the opposite direction, towards a ‘musicalisation’ of their practice (Hennion, 1997). The fact that digital technologies have now made sensorial data correspond at the level of codes further intensified the connections between visual and sonic cultures. But in order to fully comprehend the modalities under which sound travels across recording studios, music venues, museums and galleries, it is important not to underestimate the discursive mediation of the artist’s isolated studio and its regulating influence on the value regimes of arts. Seen from the studio, the phenomenon of sound art looks less like a generalised blurring of aesthetic boundaries than like the potential extension to sound practices of a system of values promoted by the institutions of the visual art world: isolated artist, individual creativity, fixed work, and, at the end of this symbolic chain, contemplative reception. This final section will be devoted to the ways in which sound and visual artists map their own studio, and how this representational level might interact, reinforce or conflict with the two dimensions of studio-network and studio as art historical trope.

III. Studios on display: Nauman and Matmos’s laboratories

The black box of scientific or artistic laboratories can be explored using different methodologies. However, the most effective way to make sense of what is happening in those notoriously hermetic environments would be to open them up and, as Latour repeatedly advised, ‘follow the actors themselves, or rather that which makes them act’ (2005: 237). In an ethnographic analysis conducted during the staging of an installation by Carsten Höller, Yaneva (2003) recorded what she terms an ‘affluence’ of actors – artist, curator and support workers, small details and huge structures, informal conversations and rigid procedures; an ever-shifting collective which generates (while at the same time being generated by) the work that visitors will eventually encounter as a stable object. Needless to say, the characteristics of ‘art in action’ highlighted through this method of investigation varies sensibly from that of traditional disciplines of aesthetics: ‘[i]nstead of being situated in a single artistic mind, in the imagination of a genius, the artistic process is…seen as distributed within the visible collective’ (Yaneva, 2003: 118). But what if the object constructed through this collective act of staging was the studio itself, or at least a representation of how artists experience it? I am not talking of the very postmodern trickery that consists in ‘reconstructing’ à l’identique the workspace in which the great masters have once worked.6 Alongside this popular curatorial trend, a number of contemporary artists have also reactivated the traditional theme of the ‘artist at work’, albeit in the more self-conscious and intertextual fashion characteristic of today’s art world (see Wood, 2005).

When turning his own working environment into an aesthetic motif, the great painter generally took care in complying with the normative discourse of the studio as isolated site of individual genius: ‘[t]he studio may, on occasion, have been teeming with people. But what is represented as the studio experience is a solitary’s view’ (Alpers, 2005: 11-14). Already referred to above, Courbet’s The Artist’s Studio famously digressed from this rule and provided instead a much more ambiguous commentary on the artist’s physical and symbolic space of production. Without expanding on this particular example, I find it significant of the complex status of the studio in the context of digital arts that, when asked to produce a new work in response to any of the paintings on display at the Musée d’Orsay, video artist Tony Oursler chose to ‘remix’ Courbet’s painting.7 My aim is to provide a sociological reading of two closely related installations in which the artists Bruce Nauman and Matmos, using video and musical performance respectively, restaged their studio practice in a museal space. I have chosen these two examples of ‘exhibited’ studios on the basis of their shared themes and the fact that they both give a large place to sonic elements, but most importantly, because they allow me to navigate simultaneously between three dimensions of the studio: (a) as network of mediators where people and things are linked in the act of creating an artwork, (b) as discursive trope standing for authorship and individual creativity, and (c) as aesthetic motif typically reinforcing a value regime of singularity. Interpreted symmetrically, I believe both works provide valuable ideal types for assessing the interplay of sonic and visual cultures (as well as their corresponding value regimes) in the contemporary art world.

III.1. Nauman: emptying the studio

Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage) is a multi-screen, audio-visual installation produced in 2001 by video art pioneer Bruce Nauman. Running for almost six hours, selected from forty hours worth of material, it was composed exclusively from views of the artist’s studio, shot at night using the infrared function of a digital video camera, and accompanied by elements from its ambient soundscape: ventilation system, Nauman’s cat meowing, distant dog barking and trains passing, etc. Beyond the pun on John Cage’s favoured mode of composition, the soundtrack in itself testifies to Cage’s influence on the way Nauman has come to think about sound.8 Although self-contained, Mapping is also part of a series of pieces derived from the initial work, and including a version using different colour filters and rotations of the images, as well as condensed Office Edit versions. Here is how Nauman, in typically unassuming fashion, described the catalyst for this piece: ‘I was sitting around the studio being frustrated because I didn’t have any new ideas and I decided that you just have to work with what you’ve got’ (in Kraynak, 2005: 398). Whatever the reliability of that statement, it is important to replace this project within the artist’s oeuvre and its recurrent themes.

At the beginning of his career, Nauman had started to record himself, using either film or video while conducting odd, ritual-like activities in his studio. One of these documented performances, Stamping in the Studio (1968), showed him disappearing and reappearing in the frame while the sound of his steps was shifting in tempo and loudness. In this collection of early pieces, we can already perceive one of the dominant themes explored all through Nauman’s career, i.e., the artist’s private activity versus the public’s perception of what an artist does, or should be doing.9 Hence this constant tension in his oeuvre between ‘the amount of information given to focus the public on the piece and Nauman’s fear of exposing himself too much’ (Van Bruggen, 1988: 19). The artist’s first proper sound installation, Get Out of my Mind, Get Out of this Room (1968) is another good illustration of how he has exploited the public-private dichotomy by combining sonic interventions and a metaphorical use of space. More than just another loosely-related piece, Mapping thus comes to light as the latest, and arguably the most achieved, in Nauman’s long-time use of the studio motif as ‘a double self-portrait’ (Auping, 2004: 16), but also further evidence of his interest in sound and voice as semiotic registers capable of disrupting visual representation and challenging the viewer’s attention. In that respect, Nauman’s oeuvre, as seen from the viewpoint of Mapping the Studio, illustrates perfectly what art anthropologist Gell (1998: 232-251) called the play of ‘retentions’ and ‘protentions’ that distribute the meaning of a single artwork across time, that is, across previous and future works.

It is not only with regards to Nauman’s career that this installation should be understood as a ‘distributed’ work; it is also through the ‘affluence’ of other human and material agents involved in the process of ‘making’ the piece. The example of the recent staging of Mapping the Studio II at the Tate Modern, extensively documented for educational purposes on the gallery’s website, makes this more tangible.10 The passage from Mapping I to the coloured and more complex version exhibited at the Tate necessitated a further stage of digital image processing: ‘Dennis Diamond at Video D…did the colour shifting and the flip, flop…and all the editing with Bruce and that was just an AVID process’ (see note 10). Equally crucial to the installation, the sparse yet disturbing soundtrack took a lot of adjustments in order to enter its new environment. About this stage of the artistic process, the person in charge of this project said:

Bruce and I went through the flip book where there are indications of certain sounds happening and, knowing the piece and knowing which sounds are going to be really loud…finding those places and just setting the levels so that that’s the loudest you’re going to hear (ibid.).

It appears from these two moments that the setting of audiovisual installations of this kind involves a number of stages of production that displaces the artist and the work-in-progress from the confines of his or her studio, and re-place them within an heterogeneous network of people, objects, tools and procedures. One could say that the studio itself has become decentralised, as the workplace travels with the artwork towards its more or less temporary destination in a museal space.

But what does this studio-as-artwork retain from the collective of actors involved in its production – artist, support personnel, AVID technology, exhibition room, etc.? In other words, is it really the same decentralised studio that Nauman has chosen to ‘map’ and offer to the visitor’s contemplation? Commenting on this piece, Kahn points out that Nauman, in order to play on the viewer’s expectations to see the genius at work, successfully appropriated a visual language rendered familiar by CCTV culture, which tends to produce vast quantities of ‘nothingness’ (Khan, 2004; 87). Yet, in Mapping, we are still left staring at a strangely familiar representation of the studio; a space in many ways closer to the romantic myth of the individual painter than probably even Nauman intended. Abstract Expressionist painters, according to Jones (1996), represented an extreme case of the modern continuation of the studio myth. And in the workspace as represented in Nauman’s act of mapping, there is more than a little echo of Philip Guston’s portrayal of an ’emptying studio’:

When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas – all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you’re lucky, even you leave’ (cited in Jones, 1996: 11).

By choosing not to turn his camera on himself or on the collective that made up this work as it is experienced by the viewer, Nauman ends up reactivating a view of studio that the art world has never completely abandoned. For what could best convey the individual artist’s unmediated authority over his or her work than an empty studio, purified from all external influence?

III.2. Matmos: staging the collective

In 2003, the San Francisco Yerba Buena Center for the Arts offered a residence to the duo of electronica musicians/sound artists Matmos. In response, the band literally established residence in the gallery space, where they relocated most of their home studio equipment, along with some apartment furniture. They spent the next seventeen days (ninety-seven hours in total) performing and improvising during the gallery’s opening hours, using a wide range of instruments and machines, also inviting friends and local artists to participate. For Matmos, a band commonly associated with so-called ‘glitch’ aesthetics in contemporary electronic music (see Cascone, 2004), this restaging of their studio was a first occasion for, as they said, ‘dipping our toe in the art world’.11 Influenced in equal measure by popular music genres (punk, disco, techno) and by the experimental works of Pierre Schaffer and his colleagues at the GRM, Matmos’s music reflects what Toop has called their ‘fascination with the implications of object as thing in relation to object as sound source’ (2004: 225). This means that, although stricto sensu ‘instrumental’, their compositions rely primarily on their recording and digital manipulation of the noises produced by a selection of objects or object-oriented activities – from balloon-stretching to plastic surgery operations, depending on their guiding theme – which they then rearrange into a consistent, and sometimes song-like, structure.12

Deliberately or not, the project’s title, Work Work Work, corresponds, one extra ‘work’ notwithstanding, to the name of a video installation created by Nauman in 1994. As with Nauman’s Mapping, this performance of the studio explores the discrepancies between the band’s actual creative process and its public perception. At any moment during the performance, anyone could enter the studio space, ‘cross the proscenium and wander about on stage, contemplating the actors’ make up and props’ (Morse, 1990: 158). By interviewing the first visitor every morning, then using his or her recorded voice as the basis for a new composition, Matmos’s intention was to bring ‘people in the process and show them how it’s made…And I think it’s a good thing because too much of the electronic music people have a tendency to act as if they’re splitting a fucking atom or something’ (see note 11). If this active involvement of the public in the installation space clearly evokes Cagean principles, it is tempting to read into the presence of a coyote pelt in the studio-exhibition room another form of homage – Joseph Beuys’s extreme performance, I Like America and America Likes Me (1974), for which the artist secluded himself in a small room for three days, with only a coyote for company. The fact that Matmos members Martin Schmidt and Drew Daniel are partners in both the romantic and the professional sense of the word only adds to the installation’s confusion between ‘home’ studio, domestic space, and exhibition space.

Following Matmos and the sounds they carry with them throughout their creative process would take us far beyond the material and imagined space of the traditional recording studio. In that respect, the performance does not constitute a finished work that can be isolated from previous or future creations. Instead, the artwork is a truly distributed assemblage, as is their studio. At the moment of entering the gallery, the band’s laptops already contained a hard disk full of isolated noises and rhythmic sequences, unfinished sketches as well as fully formed tracks from their then latest album, The Civil War. The liner notes for this record informs us of the range of sound objects, people, events and locations that the band has managed to capture by transporting their studio-network across space.13 And if we still try to track the band’s sounds after the performance of Work Work Work, some of the pieces created whilst improvising in the gallery resurfaced (doubtlessly after being edited and mixed some more) on different websites as freely available downloads, then again, more recently, as an album distributed through Matmos’ own micro-label. Other sounds might have ended up on later albums, while more are probably still hidden within one of their laptops, waiting to be re-used, re-mixed or simply trashed.

How different is this representation of the studio experience compared to Nauman’s? And what can it tell us of the value regimes privileged by the sonic and visual arts’ cultures?14 The studio as mapped by Matmos demonstrates a total equivalence with the artists’ actual creative process. In Work Work Work, people and objects, human and technological actors, equally populate the studio-network (how it is made) and the studio-motif (how it is re-presented) in a long and convoluted collaborative chain. Whereas nothing of the social and material agency that has transported Mapping the Studio II to the Tate found a place within the multi-screen installation. Moving from Nauman to Matmos, one level of the studio has been abandoned, and that is the mythical studio as site of individual genius, from which visual artists have historically claimed total authorship over their production. On the contrary, in the sound artist’s studio, or rather ‘post-studio’, we encounter an object ‘rendered provisional, its finitude or openness a matter of pragmatics… The conceptual dualism of authenticity or artificiality is obsolete; there is no original and no copy, only rapidly proliferating, variant versions’ (Born, 2005: 28).

The advent of digital arts and the consequent expansion of collaborative processes beyond a fixed studio space have not necessarily put an end to visual art culture’s traditional regime of values. Isolated workspace, individual creativity and unmediated authorship still form part of a symbolic chain that structures the discourse of legitimacy within art institution and gives it its stability in the face of technological innovations. The artistic phenomenon known (but for how long?) as sound art is a mixture of practices, technologies and discourses. But it is also a network of mediations that has reached beyond its previous territories, to places where sound had for long been prohibited. Some artists have expressed unease at the sight of sound being integrated so readily within museums and galleries. Others, like Matmos, have seized this opportunity to turn the gallery into yet another place where they could engage in collaborative activities, extend the network of their studio, and reveal the ‘relayed’ nature of their creative process.


I am grateful to the organisers of the SoundAsArt conference (University of Aberdeen, November 2006) and the Media & Film Research in Progress seminar series (University of Sussex) for allowing me to present this research in a friendly and supportive environment. Also, many thanks to the two anonymous referees for their helpful comments and suggestions.


1. ‘Sound at Tate’, online panel discussion, January-March 2005: thread.jsp?forum=43&thread=2471&tstart=0&trange=15 (viewed 15 March 2007).

2. Latour (2006: 105-107) utilises the term ‘life support’ after Sloterdijk to illustrate the fragility of what could be taken as ‘natural’ arrangements, but which are in fact deeply fragile technological systems, such as the earth’s atmosphere.

3. Here, I should dispel the possible confusion between recent examples of ‘network studios’ discussed by Théberge (2004) and my description of the studio as network. Whereas the former refers to the linking of distant studio locations through internet-related technologies, I use the term ‘studio-network’ as a shorthand for the affluence of heterogeneous actors assembled in the process of producing the work; in that sense, an artist’s studio is always a social and material network, whether or not it is technologically ‘networked’ with other studios.

4. Let us only mention the case of musicians David Shea and Markus Popp, who both designed their own composition softwares (see Van Assche, 2002: 12), or, more specifically connected to the domain of sound art, the photosensitive system developed by Stephen Vitiello for his oft-cited residency at the World Trade Center (see Lovejoy, 2004: 203).

5. As Sterne (2003: 215-286) convincingly argued, there has never been a clear-cut distinction between recording technologies and musical instruments. Recording has always been a ‘studio art’: active mediation rather than more or less faithful reproduction of a preexisting performance.

6. Bacon and Brancusi are only two of the examples of this trend discussed and evaluated in Wood (2005).

7. For more details on Oursler’s updated version of Courbet’s The Artist’s Studio, see his interview with Jacqueline Humpries: (viewed 15 March 2007).

8. The subtitle for Mapping the Studio finds its origin in a previous exhibition of Cage’s scores to which Nauman participated: ‘Cage was an important influence for me, especially his writings. So I sent…a telegraph that said “FAT CHANCE JOHN CAGE”. D’Offray [the exhibition’s curator] thought it as a refusal to participate, I thought it was the work…’ (in Kraynak 2004: 400).

9. Other film and video works produced by Nauman during this period include: Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a SquarePlaying a Note on the Violin While I Walk Around the Studio, and Bouncing in the Corner, No. 1 & 2.

10. See: (viewed 15 March 2007). The interview with Michael Short from which the two following quotes are extracted is available at the same address.

11. Interview with Matmos: (viewed 15 March 2007).

12. The members of Matmos have said that their initial impulse to produce electronic music came after listening together to Pierre Henry’s concrète masterwork, Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir (1963). See: (viewed 15 March 2007).

13. As a good illustration of Matmos’s playful modus operandi, see the credits for the Civil War track ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’: ‘May contain the following Harvard seminar participants: Han Yu (leather coat),…Jesse Aron Green (bicycle pump), Jascha Hoffman (sink)’, etc., etc.

14. Another question at this stage might be: is Bruce Nauman a valid representative of the institutional art world? Yes, at least if we were to believe’s rather opaque Artists Ranking, which places Nauman in a surprising third position (only behind Warhol and Picasso!) in terms of ‘recognition in the eyes of professionals (i.e. curators, gallery owners)’. See: (viewed 15 March 2007).


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