Show 019: Virtual Nature by Bill Fontana

In May 1990, ORF KUNSTRADIO, the radio-art program on the National Austrian Radio, and the WIENER FESTWOCHEN (the annual international festival of Vienna), collaborated to assist in the realisation of “LANDSCAPE SOUNDINGS / KLANGLANDSCHAFTEN”, a live sound and radio sculpture by Bill Fontana. For two weeks, 16 microphones that had been most carefully positioned by the artist captured the sound events taking place in the Stopfenreuther Au, a part of the Danube marshes near Hainburg on the Slovakian border.

By means of a collage of various transmission technologies these sound-events were delivered live to an improvised studio at the Museum of Art History and distributed to 70 speakers, again carefully placed and arranged, along the facades and in the cupolas of both the Museum of Art History and the Museum of Natural History and in the formal garden between them with its monument to the empress Maria Theresia. A stereo mix of the live signals was transmitted simultaneously and continuously to the ORF Funkhaus in Vienna where the producers were free to use the sounds at all times. Within a few days and with increasing frequency the live sounds could be heard on all of the radio channels of the Austrian National Radio. The success was so overwhelming that following a suggestion by Ernst Grissemann, the radio broadcasting director at the time, the last five minutes of the sculpture were eventually broadcast live on all ORF radio channels simultaneously: for 5 minutes the space of Austrian radio (at the time a monopoly) became the site of a live sound sculpture blotting out any other radio content.

During the 14 days of its realization LANDSCAPE SOUNDINGS developed into a project which paradigmatically touches upon some of the most important aspects of telematic/radio art: the phenomenon of simultaneity as well as the dissolution of the traditional concept of the (‘finished’) work of art; the co-authorship between artists and non-artists as well as the new definition of the role of the artist who, when preparing his work within the public, i.e. institutionalized domain, becomes an initiator, (project) manager, facilitator responsible for motivating other people involved to find, if necessary, highly unorthodox solutions.

LANDSCAPE SOUNDINGS not only highlighted the poetics of a fragile and endangered natural environment by and through the live transmissions but, by eavesdropping on nature, also adressed the surveillance character of new recording and transmission technologies which are infiltrating every aspect of the social space.

Two CDs were produced by Bill Fontana in connection with the project; LANDSCAPE SOUNDINGS, 1990 and VIRTUAL NATURE, 1994.

heidi grundmann

Bill Fontana – Landscape Soundings

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