Tone Home (2003)

TONE_HOME (2003)

Coti, K., Dimitris Charitos, Voltnoi, Thanos Evgeniou


A journey from the familiar towards the unfamiliar, during which the spectator experiences her relation to the familiar objects (appliances, white goods) and places of a home - the refrigerator or the mixer, the bathroom or the armchair – in a different manner. A journey within the wonderland of a house. Several elements and activities shape the new experience: sounds, images, the presence or absence of another spectator, playing with the exhibits and investing meaning or feeling on them. As with every journey, this may invoke the enthusiasm of discovery as well as all kinds of fears or childish nightmares.

In contemporary audio-visual culture, individual art genres merge without clearly defined boundaries and people who produce art do not come from clear-cut - regarding their skills and artistic methods – areas. Rather they come from extremely diverse and interacting areas and we can suggest that the dimensions of visual arts have expanded so widely towards every direction that we can hardly use this term.

Yet the illusion according to which the visual element is stronger than the auditory one still exists. Indeed, the visual element may have largely dominated, through the power, vigorousness and easily communicated charm of the image and through its potential for being directly exploitable as information.

However, sound is omni-present, determining space and volume in the urban landscape, bringing about emotional tension in all kinds of soundtracks, an easily recognisable accompaniment-signifier in signified product "trademarks", a subjective companion in our most solitary and intimate experiences – even in the utmost darkness and silence one would be impossible to dispose of the sounds of one's body.

Yet again, in the battle between these two cultural aspects, each may have appropriated each other's force: the image has taken on the force of sound effects while soundtracks and music have utilised the image's potential for fascinating the viewer. Appropriate examples of these suggestions can be provided by the audio part of a TV commercial and by a video clip. The object of this struggle is, of course, our attention, our intellectual and physical-bodily "space" – and all its economic and political consequences.

Space conceived in every possible manner, the way that sound may relate to space and image, our own perception of these relations and of individual elements of space, image and sound as well as the potential for utilizing this perception, are the main concepts that the three artists who have created the TONE_HOME installations focus on. Space, politics and economy are the main issues that dominate the discussion regarding audio art, all over the world. As far as these issues are concerned, TONE_HOME is in tune. TONE_HOME differs though in that the spectator does not experience the conflict of sound and vision, but their mutual fascination.

The spectator's experience is bound to include the fascination that home appliances exert on the artists: the strange sounds, the electronic sounds, the frequency tones, the extreme images, playing – hence the notion of "interaction" – the metaphor of the familiar space as the body of the person who occupies it. This latter aspect is the most emotional element of the installation. Yet TONE_HOME remains open to emotional investment for its visitors and spectators as much as it is for its creators: As they get actively involved in playing with objects and images they familiarize themselves with the environment and gradually a personal bodily and emotional space, where things are still at stake, is revealed through the interactive aspect of TONE_HOME.

Talking of sound as the building block of a work of art, one must necessarily consider technology, and through that, production, transmission and communication. The possibility of reproducing a work of art through technology has been one of the determining factors in theory and practice of 20th century art. Even after Duchamp's "ready-mades", visual arts maintained a distinction between the "work" and the "copy", based on uniqueness – or at least on the limited number of copies produced by the artist himself. As Walter Benjamin put it, it is this unique production process that up to an extent imbues a work of art with its radiant aura. Although the developments in technology are often employed in the mechanics of reproduction, the concept of reproducibility of a work of art remains (from the point of view of visual arts) a quality towards which artists and the system that supports them are more or less defensive. Yet, in audio-art, things are exactly the opposite: the possibility of reproduction and the technological developments in this area provide the material that artists work with.

The practical aspect of an audio installation presupposes the use of electronic devices which often represent the state of the art in sound technology as well as familiarity with the whole series of developments that led to them, since sometimes earlier analogue devices can be used for different purposes than recent digital ones. The creators of TONE_HOME have used anything, from digitally processed sound and the latest software and hardware for manipulating and transmitting it to simple reproduction devices and hand-made tone generators. In some of the works, visual aesthetics are determined by the fascination exerted on the three artists by certain sound appliances as objects.

Incorporating interaction of these appliances with visual parts of the installation, as well as obvious influences from architecture, contemporary experimental music and cinema, are clues that place TONE_HOME between a series of works spanning the 20th and the early 21st centuries. Being well aware of the fact that such contexts always carry the risk of arbitrarily and unjustifiably charging a work with a historical weight, we would still like to mention the most outstanding examples of this historical line of descent, starting with "Intonorumori" by futurists Luigi Russolo and Filippo Marinetti in the 1920's, coming all the way to the latest developments in technology enabling control over the sound texture itself and creating virtual sonic environments – virtual in the sense that they do not exist in nature. The same imaginary line brings together the frequency experiments of Croatian Nicola Tesla and John Cage's exploration, regarding the social function of sound and its relation with the environment, musical research on frequencies by Pierre Schaeffer and Edgar Varese in the 1950's, Nam June Paik's installations in the '60's, architect and composer Iannis Xenakis' research in the 1960's and '70's, and, of course, the minimalist music scene of the '60's, from John Cage and Steve Reich through Kraftwerk in the '70's. All the way down to Brian Eno's preoccupation with sound synthesizing technology in the '80's and '90's, which applies the random principle in sound transmission in order to create audio experiences through constantly redefined sounds, and to Laurie Anderson who used all of these technologies in performance during the same period.

In the '90's more and more artists used these techniques for creating auditory environments where the visual aspect of the installation may have equally been developed: Carsten Nicolai, Mika Vainio, Marko Peljan, Ryoji Ikeda, Angela Bulloch, David Shea and many others.

Two other significant elements characterise artists who work in this field: That they operate in an interdisciplinary and inter-artistic context, which enables them to have a very broad conception of "a work of art" as a notion and that they often operate on the basis of autonomous, self-organised groups, which produce art outside of the boundaries set by institutions. These groups however usually do not have a permanent configuration or a specific manifest, as was witnessed in art groups of earlier decades of the 20th century. It is not by accident that the creators of TONE_HOME come from the areas of music (Coti), visual communication (Voltnoi) and interactive design/ virtual architecture (Dimitris Charitos). Not by accident at all, that they often appear as DJ's or electronic experimental music composers either alone or in groups. This is another factor that brings TONE_HOME into harmony with international developments in audio-art.

Both sound and image are political elements by nature, in the sense that they take part in the communication process and therefore in the transmission of information. They exist, independent of geographical distance and physical obstacles, and they offer, through their evocative quality, the possibility of controlling or manipulate them. TONE_HOME is a political work, just like any work of art which challenges our conception of perceiving and interpreting reality through sound and image and any work that undermines our passive spectator attitudes is also political. TONE_HOME makes it clear that it is up to us to decide whether we will play an active role in perceiving reality and in the process of its interpretation.

Christiana Galanopoulou

Coti/ Voltnoi/ Dimitris Charitos would also like to thank: HSS Speakers, Christos Lainas, Lambros Sphiris, Mary Lucy, Paranoe, Nekty@VilylMicrostore, Mariloi, Patriarch Dimitrios, Κika, Andyhot, Iro laskari, BiofighterDotCom who offered their support for the realisation of TONE_HOME.