Organised Sound

Research Article

Sound Art: Origins, development and ambiguities

Alan Lichta1

a1 148 Conselyea St. #3R, Brooklyn, New York 11211, USA E-mail:


This article provides an overview of sound art, encompassing its history and artistic development, and the complexities of the term’s use as a categorisation. It starts with various definitions employed and the ways that recent museum exhibitions have left the genre’s parameters seemingly open-ended, as well as the problems to be faced in finding a ‘frame’ for sound in an exhibition setting. The article then lays out the roots of the form’s aesthetics, including the disjunction between sound and image afforded by the invention of recording, musique concrète, and spatialised composition through the centuries. Sound art’s relationships to the 60s art movement Earthworks, ambient music, sound by visual artists, architecture, sound sculpture, surveillance, sound design and sound ecology are explored to contextualise its significance not only to different disciplines within the arts to but sound’s place in contemporary society. At the conclusion, two recent works by D.A.M.A.G.E. and David Byrne, which loom somewhere in-between music and sound art, are considered in light of the increasingly fluid interpretation of sound art’s identity.