Sound Art

Sound Art

Sound art is a general category that includes many different types of work. It is mainly used to describe sound based works that are designed for art galleries, museums or public places.

What different types of Sound Art are there?

Sound art is quite a broad category and can be used to describe many different types of work.

Two main catagories of sound art are:

  1. Fixed media

    The work is made in the studio and does not change. It is set up in a special way or in a special place but is simply played back on a long loop.

  2. Interactive

    The work is constantly changing according to how people or things interact with it. Sound output is controlled by some outside changing parameters.

What are Fixed Media Sound Art Works?

Fixed media sound art works play back sounds that do not respond directly to outside influences. However, by moving about the space (getting nearer to some sounds and further form others) the audience can change what it is that they hear and alter their experience of the work.

1958 Philips Pavillion

An immersive sound art installation that also combined film projection and lighting within a custom built building created especially for the 1958 world fair in Brussels.

Two music works were played back over 350 loudspeakers dotted all across the internal walls of the building. The pieces were composed by Edgard Varèse and Iannis Xenakis.

Sounds would travel all around the audience in great sweeps, as well as up and down the walls.


You can experience a virtual reality simulation of the whole Poème électronique experience online here. This allows you to wander through the pavilion, hear the sounds as they travel through the virtual space and view the accompanying images.

Pandemonium – Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller

An installation within a disused American prison, in which objects struck and hit doors walls and objects, creating a cacophony of sound that reverberated throughout the empty prison wing.

Even in the stereo sound recording of this installation you can hear the sounds that are far and those that are near.

Imagine being in this space with the sounds happening all around you.


Many early installations were fixed media because the technology to record and respond to outside interaction used to be very complicated and expensive.

Fixed media installations often make use of the individual characteristics of the space within which they are based. Taking advantage of the natural acoustics and architectural properties of the building.

What are Interactive Sound Art Works?

Perhaps it is helpful to think about a piece of interactive sound art as being a large instrument. One that is set up and then left to be played.

Interactive Installation with Birds! – Celeste Boursier-Mougenot

Celeste Boursier-Mougenot’s installation at the London Barbican Gallery in 2010

In this piece the sound artist has set up the pieces of the installation and left the sound production to the birds!

Score for a Hole in the Ground – Jem Finer

Jem Finer created a piece of sound art called “Score for a Hole in the Ground” which is played by dripping water, slowly falling down into a large hole in the ground.

A recording of Score for a Hole in the Ground

The giant horn amplifies the dripping sounds as they fall and strike the metal chimes within the hole.