Energy, Art and Sound

A lecture by Douglas Kahn and a listening session with Peter Blamey’s Five Fertile Exchanges

Wednesday, 27 June 2018 - 7:30pm

Free, until full capacity is reached

Sabatini Building, Auditorium
English, with simultaneous interpretation
José Luis Espejo
Organised by
Museo Reina Sofía
Complementary material
Kahn, Douglas and Whitehead, Gregory, Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio and the Avant-Garde, Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 1992
Kahn, Douglas, Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts, Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, MIT Press, 1999Kahn, Douglas, Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts, Berkeley; Los Angeles; London, University of California Press, 2013
"Sea Orbit Operation", U.S. Navy, 1964. Photo: NNAM
"Sea Orbit Operation", U.S. Navy, 1964. Photo: NNAM

Since 2000, certain universities, chiefly in the English-speaking world, have developed multidisciplinary studies, which include visual studies and others with the generic title Sound Studies. Initially, the specialised historiography in this field analysed the presence of sound and music in the arts, before focusing on vibrational force, broadening its field of analysis to literature, painting and, naturally, music. In the latter, the work of Linda Dalrymple Henderson on early avant-garde artists and Shelley Trower’s work on literature and science in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are both worthy of mention. 

Yet most theorists and historians have ignored the role of energy, paying no heed to its presence and influence on much of many artists’ work. This, however, can no longer be disregarded, particularly in art’s reading of the impact of energy produced and transformed by people in the environment, tangible in the pollution of seas and global warming and equally worrying in less visible spectrums such as electromagnetic radiation.

Thus, Douglas Kahn, a pioneer in studies of this ilk, presents his explorations into the relationship between energy, art and sound in the Museo Reina Sofía by way of a lecture accompanied by a listening session centred on Five Fertile Exchanges, by Australian artist Peter Blamey, the subject of a chapter in Kahn’s latest book. The piece was produced in October 2016 in Bogong village in the Victorian Alps in Australia and concentrates a large part of the hydroelectric production of the Kiewa region. Outside this mass production, Blamey’s work explores the responsiveness of certain devices used to extract energy from the natural environment — tiny amplifiers powered with solar panels, basic turbines, etc. – and their ability to grant us different sound experiences through their various reactions with environmental factors.

Douglas Kahn is a professor at the National Institute for Experimental Arts, University of New South Wales, Sydney (Australia). In 1999 he published Noise, Water, Meat: a History of Sound in the Arts, possibly one of the first and best-known histories of sound in art written in English, and in 2013 Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts, an analysis of the use of electromagnetic energy in art, with a sharp focus on Thomas Watson, Henry David Thoreau and Alvin Lucier. Kahn is currently working on Energies in the Arts, expounding the discovery, understanding and evaluation of the potential and the consequences of the presence of energy in art.