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Reviewed by:
  • Emergency Noises: Sound Art and Gender by Irene Noy
  • Florence Feiereisen
Emergency Noises: Sound Art and Gender. German Visual Culture Series. By Irene Noy. New York: Peter Lang, 2017. Pp. xxiv + 312. Cloth $82.95. ISBN 978-1787078550.

During the Enlightenment, the art world suffered from the "modern splitting of temporal and spatial art forms" (1)—as the Renaissance's unity of the arts dissolved, the visual arts were rendered silent. Traditionally, art history has followed a monosensoric approach by mainly concentrating on the visual, yet in the twentieth century, performance and multimedia art have introduced new modes of production, as well as perception peppered with sensoric experiences: artists have been adding tactile, olfactory, and sonic dimensions to their art—to much critical acclaim.

With Emergency Noises, Irene Noy pursues various sensoric avenues through the arts by studying the works of five female sound artists in West Germany. Sound art, Noy points out, is "concerned with new ways of exploring both the materiality of sound and its interconnectedness with the visual" (37), and warns that it "should not be seen as a competitor to music or the visual arts, but rather as a force that nourishes both, and as a reaction against the stereotypical narrative that depicts the modern age as almost exclusively visual" (3). Noy's choice of visual vocabulary ("seen" and "depicts") demonstrates Western society's ocularcentrism; another case in point is the fact that the book was published as volume 4 of Peter Lang's "German Visual Culture" series. Noy credits several forces that helped bring sound art to the fore and virtually into all well-known exhibition spaces: technological advances since the late nineteenth century to record, play back, produce, and manipulate sound have facilitated more experimentation with sound. The 1960s saw the commercial release of Moog synthesizers that turned many music consumers into active music producers; electronic [End Page 671] and especially minimalist music gained lots of attention. The introduction of Sony's Walkman in the 1980s—essentially taking away spatial restrictions and allowing music to be consumed almost anywhere—is just one example of how technology turned sound into a commodity that could be easily disseminated.

If sound art is not a peripheral phenomenon anymore, why then is Noy's book called Emergency Noises? Noy has surveyed the canon of sound art and concludes that female practitioners are underrepresented and underrated. (This, by the way, isn't any different in other areas of art production.) "Emergency," then, stands for the "urgency of [feminist] issues at stake" (24) in the art world and in society. "Noises" criticizes the patriarchy's perception of a woman's voice and is used here in the sense of "making noise," bringing change. The title is also a nod to Christina Kubisch's Emergency Solos performance series that is extensively described in chapter 5. By offering a gendered reading of the field of sound art, Noy seeks to make the voices of women heard (both literally and figuratively, 280).

Noy's excursion into gender studies and feminist theory is rich and informative, but several subchapters are unnecessarily extensive. Noy's strong and convincing voice is best heard in chapters 4–7, which showcase five female sound artists: Bauermeister, Kubisch, Nettesheim, von Wedel, and Westerkamp. Mary Bauermeister was a visual artist whose earlier works were accompanied by audio recordings of her collaborator and husband, Karlheinz Stockhausen, who composed electronic and serial music. The 1962 exhibition catalogue at Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum featured Stockhausen's music; parts of his scores were printed on the inside covers. However, Noy's argument that Bauermeister's "experimentation with forms and materials do give [her works] a 'sonority' akin to music" (146) is not elaborate enough to convince me that Bauermeister should be regarded as a sound artist. There is no doubt that she is an important figure in the art world: in the 1960s, Bauermeister ran the Atelier Bauermeister, an alternative artist hub in Cologne where she hosted and connected many (almost exclusively male, as Noy notes) visual and performing artists, architects, musicians, and writers, including John Cage, Nam June Paik, Otto Piene, Heinz Mack, and Arnulf Rainer. The "Urmutter of the Cologne...


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