Although there have been entire books, numerous journal issues, and countless articles written about sound art, it remains difficult to agree on a single definition. It is worth initially evoking the idea of a publicly visited artwork; it may help to consider the art gallery setting as one common option, where an artist presents an installation work with a significant sound-based element, awaiting visitors to experience it. Yet we shall see a diversity of practices herein beyond this starting point. For the purposes of this chapter, pieces “performed” from beginning to end with an expectation that the audience remain in the space will be generally exempt from the term, as evoking too strongly the art or rock music concert setting.
Issues of definition arise because of the gradual way sound art has come to prominence. Sound art is as much linked to experimental music in the twentieth century, whether Russolo or Cage, as it is to the exploration of alternative media in the fine arts. Not coincidentally, Russolo's involvement with the futurist movement (he was himself a painter) and Cage's New York drinking sessions with abstract expressionists in the early 1950s point to the inter-relations of music and visual arts. The famous conceptual art pioneer Marcel Duchamp had explored change music in Erratum Musical (1913), while Yves Klein anticipated extreme minimalism in his monotone symphony of 1949. But since the middle of the twentieth century, fine artists, more traditionally associated with painting or sculpture, have taken on work in the medium of sound as a possibility for their work; musicians, too, have found themselves working on installations for gallery settings as they have sought to escape the concert hall. The color music of the experimental film makers or the sound synaesthesic pre-occupations of Kandinsky in his abstract art indicate further early connections.