A man in a red bell boy costume with a white megaphone

Discover the unexpected and immersive world of ambient sound in and around the Surrey Arts Centre.

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Surrey Art Gallery - 13750 88 Ave

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Exhibition Details

The relationship between furniture music, theatre lobbies, and art galleries goes back to one of background music’s founding moments. Long before the Muzak Holdings Corporation became the main supplier of ambient music to office towers in the 1970s and 1980s, the musical genre that first became known as "furniture music" had its premiere in 1917 during the opening night in of a play by Max Jacob in Paris. Erik Satie’s original score for musique d’ameublement was presented in the theatre lobby of a children’s art exhibition during that play’s intermission.

The sound installations for Open Sound 2013: Sound/Tract engage with the legacy of Satie’s early innovations along with John Cage’s minimalist background music, Brian Eno’s album Music for Airports, and other composers who have helped to define this field of ambient sound. Conscious of the relationship between the space of the lobby and acceptable sound, all three artists—Eric Paul, Ian Skedd, and Roy Caussy—subvert this background music tradition.

Ian Skedd’s sound installation, Whatever is Contained Within is Art, And Everything Else is Life, recalls two familiar forms of public broadcasting—ambient music broadcast and public service announcement—to explore how forms of sound is used to direct human behaviour. Installed in the elevator, riders hear ambient shopping music—soundtracks that translate popular songs—interspersed with spoken phrases and aphorisms borrowed from various literary, philosophical, political, and historical sources.

#gstbk by Eric J. Paul is a generative sound installation that transforms guest comments from the Surrey Art Gallery’s feedback board into a constantly evolving musical composition. The resonant tones of #gstbk echo through the outdoor courtyard, rising and falling with the sound of the wind through the trees, birdsong, water fountain, and passing automobile traffic.

In Fensong (Serpentine), Roy Caussy explores the relationship between the sounds of a protected wildlife area (South Surrey’s “Serpentine Fen”) and the sounds created by automobile and truck traffic from nearby roadways. He combined these to create a sound installation in the Art Centre’s Studio Theatre corridor.

Ian Skedd
Eric Paul
Roy Caussy

Sound Thinking 2013
The Audible Unconscious

Sound surrounds the physical spaces of our bodies and the built environments in which we live. Sound composes our everyday world and in doing so, sound floats in and out of our awareness. Sound happens as much as it is made. So much of sound, in each of these instances, is perceived in a state somewhere between listening and not-listening.

What is the sonic legacy and cultural significance of background sound and genres of music such as “elevator music” or waiting room sound, what Erik Satie called musique d’ameublement? Is distracted listening more pronounced in our current moment of ubiquitous electronic media? How has this “background” aspect of sound and forms of ambient music been used to influence and direct behaviour in modern life? How have composers of sound relinquished control of their work to other forces of sound making?

Building off of such concepts as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s notion of the “perceptual unconscious” or Walter Benjamin’s “optical unconscious,” and previous Surrey Art Gallery symposia that have considered the legacies of sound ecology and soundscape, this year’s Sound Thinking event will engage with these interconnected questions as they relate to developments in sound art today.

The symposium features musicians, sound artists, and thinkers who are recognized for their explorations of the limits of sound and listening in their respective fields of interest.

Participants: Geeta Dayal (keynote), Gregory Asch aka DJ Olive, Roy Caussy, Sarah Davachi, Eric J. Paul, Michael Red, Prophecy Sun, Joda Clement

Conveners: Constantine Katsiris & Jordan Strom

View the program and participant bios.