Sound art: space, time & Johannesburg

Engelbrecht, B.J.
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This thesis begins with a chronological overview of sound and aurality. It focuses quite strongly on music and on how elements key to the emergence of sound art are present in the history of music. Some of the key themes are: space as a composed element in music, the use of non-musical sound and sound recording and playback. This is followed by a discussion of the emergence of sound art in the latter half of the 20th century and a critique of the definition of sound art based on Tierry de Duve’s aesthetics. Thereafter, the thesis provides a detailed look at the physical properties of sound and the biological mechanisms of hearing. Here, particular attention is paid to air and how a variety of physical and biological variables influence our perception of sound. The underlying theoretical claim is that one of the functions of sound art is to place the ordinariness of sound in context where a new awareness is created by ‘making it strange’ – sound art consciously connects us to our perception of the environment, time and particularly the ‘becoming’ of the present. Thus, the chapter that follows attends specifically to notions of auditory experience as evoked within the context of the soundscape of Johannesburg. Three variants of the soundscape of Johannesburg mediate the discussion: the city, the residential areas (leafy suburb and township) and the industrial zone. This is then followed by a series of case studies intended to suggest new ways of studying the soundscape of Johannesburg. In the final chapter, I provide an survey of sound art in Johannesburg and conclude by returning to the question of sound art and the experience of space and time itself.
A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the Faculty of Humanities, School of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2021