By sculpture I mean that which is made by force of taking away, that which is made by means of laying on is similar to painting.
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Rome 1549

Defined by William Furlong as “a recorded space for contemporary art”, Audio Arts began in 1973 as a unique project: an audio cassette magazine dedicated to contemporary art that presents itself as a “space” for artistic intervention and production. With this format (made possible by the diffusion of the tape recorder in the 1970s) William Furlong explores the technical-acoustic possibilities offered by recording technologies, above all developing creative potential by employing the sound of the voice as the primary medium.
An extensive work of art, Audio Arts today comprises one of the most substantial archives of interviews and conversations with artists, field recordings and audio works, whose specificity consists in interweaving a unique vocabulary of human voices.
In this exhibition the manifestation of Audio Arts as an extended body of work is addressed by the dual and symbiotic relationship between the thirty-year process of recording and publishing interviews and constructing sound works such as the installations Conversation Piece and Uhms & Aghs.

Extraction, Construction, Abstraction takes its cue from the well-known definition of sculpture by Michelangelo and it develops the operative and conceptual premises, looking to Audio Arts as a plastic organism in continual expansion. Such an organism is born (to use the words of Michelangelo) from the presuppositions of “taking away” and “laying on”, and shares many of the characteristics common to such traditional media as painting and sculpture and to the procedures of contemporary visual art: montage, collage, addition, contrast, repetition, overlapping, realism, abstraction.

Opposed to ideas of documentation, the very process of physical and critical editing is, for Furlong, analogous to that of the artist in the studio: listening, cutting, selecting, splicing, adding, synthesising, subtracting and repeating. In Uhms & Aghs (1989) the removal of the pauses for thinking taken from recorded conversations creates an endless litany of uhms and aghs uttered by various people in the course of the interviews by Audio Arts. Here, fragments of speech are not assembled to convey a linear or clearly defined meaning but rather to create, as the artist suggests, “a succinct audio equivalent to thought outside of language.”

The relationship between the conventional physical space of sculpture and the acoustic/discursive environment inhabited by Audio Arts fully reveals itself in the sound installation Conversation Piece (1998). Using segments of audio interviews, this work consists of a constructed conversation between Joseph Beuys, John Cage, Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. The dialogue, “built” through the additive process, is the result of a careful montage of sentences, phrases, words, inferences, implications, the un-said, humour, wit, authority, recollection, observation, analysis, exploration, confrontation, engagement, sincerity, contradiction and irony. This process increasingly evokes a convincing and sometimes abrasive series of exchanges of ideas and thoughts on art by the four interlocutors. The sonic artefact does not document, nor represent an artistic event, but is in itself a “real” event displaced in time and space.

As Max Bruinsna observes, “Through the medium of tape recording, pre-existing sounds can be used in a way that denies, distorts or condenses their origin. What remains is just the sound, an object […] functioning as a work of art, provided with another meaning,” (Sound By Artists, 1990). Bear Pit (1986) and What are you doing taping? (1986) are two works that exemplify such a premise and introduce the third paradigm: abstraction. Abstraction as a property and ability of recorded sound to construct its own space and become an object. Kevin Concannon writes in relation to the “Collage and the Art of Sound” (1990), “speech became abstract and music became concrete.” In the plastic approach of Furlong, the voices become sculptures of sound capable of evoking multiple meanings across time and space. Whereas Bear Pit negates and distorts the original sound source to the limits of abstraction, the repeated phrase “What are you doing taping?” indicates how the act of appropriation of the voice implicit in the recording, creates the presuppositions to comprehend the very existence of sound.

Lucia Farinati, September 2006

William Furlong

Joseph Beuys with William Furlong

Diether Roth with William Furlong

Gilbert & George with William Furlong