Bill Fontana (Image: Ariane Koek)


“Noise is a sound you don’t want to hear.”

“Listening is not a passive activity. Listening is a form of composition”
And so started my experience tonight at the Whitney at Altria. The sound performance/installation by artist/composer Bill Fontana opened tonight and can be experienced in the public forum in the lobby of the building on 42nd street and Park Avenue. The project, which started in 2003 is a complete 12 hour loop of recordings of the time keeping mechanism called Big Ben. Three microphones were set up to record the voluminous sounds of the clock. The sounds were then projected in the collomade of the Palace of Westminster. Which leads to the question, what is real sound? Does distance and position in space alter the reality and purity of a sound in a simultaneous situation? These questions were presented and then the first installment of the recording was played. The resonence of the sounds trasversed the space through 8 speakers.

The tick of the clock as a tap, drum drumming layered into itself thrown in a cylidrical pattern. My instinct is to turn my head in everywhich way, to follow the sound. But instead I sit still. I’m reminded of water dripping and hitting a metal bucket or someone walking wearing heavy metal jewlery, each step an awkward shake. Suddenly the quarter hour strikes! Bells! A Train! Click Click buzzzzzzzzzzzz bike chain pull. Pause.

Sound and the act of listening. The idea of composing sound in a public space and having the power to alter public perception when something is taken out of context and then fed in a setting where it is least expected. I was pleasently surprised by the overwhelming sensation of sound in corralation with memory and imagination. And Bill Fontana’s idea of that “Silence is listening more carefully, more precisely to every element of sound.” Based on the projects of John Cage, when faced with the project of finding/experiencing silence, the sound of life becomes louder. Blood pumping through veins, breath inhaling and exhaling through nostrils = the fact that silence cannot exist.

Very interesting indeed.
I proceeded after the fact, to work my way towards the 6 train. Very aware of the sounds around me, as I put my iPod buds into my ears and proceeded to listen to Antony & the Johnsons, a homeless man who raved and asked for change, and the sqeal, chug chug, eeeeeeeeesh of the subway, as it made its way uptown.