Thursday, May 1, 2008

Embodying Sound. An interview with Bill Furlong on Audio Arts

Art, Event, Sound Art, aesthetic, interview

William Furlong (1944) belongs to the generation of British artists who developed a new concept of sculpture in the 1970’s and 80’s (Gilbert & George, Bruce McLean, Paul Richards etc.). Furlong’s special contribution has been in the area of “Sound Scuplture” and, with the founding of Audio Arts (together with Michael Archer) in 1973, he began a project of mapping the territory of contemporary art in a series of cassette editions.

Since its inception in 1972, Audio Arts has grown to become the world’s most comprehensive and coherently focused sound archive of artists’ voices as well as sound art but also contains documents of important exhibitions, symposia and festivals. The cassette-magazine has been in continuous and regular publication for thirty-five years, with over twenty-five volumes of four issues each.

A small part of the vast Audio Arts archive is currently showing at Tate Britain and for the first time in U.K until the 27th of August. Four hours of recorded clips of interviews with main artist from 1973 to 2006 can be accessed here online by clicking on…

Roma 16 October 2006. An interview with BILL FURLONG

Ilari Valbonesi: Audio art. Why recording?
William Furlong: It’s difficult to say why. Certainly natural curiosity moves you towards things. I bought my first recorder in the sixties before they got popular . A small “real to real”. Somehow I’ve always been fascinated by recording. Later I started thinking about “VOICE” and discourse. The seventies were the years of conceptual art with text adding value to the actual works. As an artist I was more interested in “discussion”, the idea of language and the people that already worked in conceptual fields in Great Britain. Soon I realised there weren’t magazines capable of reporting such material inspired by conversation, sounds and discussions. The evocative force of a voice is lost with the written word as it will only ever be a written voice. Audio tapes were already a radical form of communication but only for pre-recorded music. I asked myself if it would have been possible to create a spoken magazine. Recorded voice through a production of tapes to give out. The tape was also an economic form of production and distribution.

IV: Recording as a way to distance the textuality of “art and language”. And also from Andy Warhol’s “interview” as you produced recordings.
WF: I’m glad you mentioned him. Andy Warhol, whom I interviewed and met, understood immediately the importance of recording . He recorded everything and called his recorder “my wife” . I recorded a lot to. Personally I prefer the word “conversation”. Conversing is a very creative process; it allows you to get to know the world through the people you are talking with. Therefore if you talk to someone it’s as if you are making a portrait of them: You understand their roots. Human voice is very rich, stratified, ethnic, sensual. You can talk without telling what you are thinking and vice versa…I can hold back my thoughts. For the roman exhibition I’m presenting a work called “conversation piece”. Duchamp is an other artist that understood. They knew that the voice is an important instrument to understand and communicate. It took a long time to make people understand this simple concept. We still live in an era where everything has to be documented as a will, but in the tones of a voice there are many more things than in a written page.

IV: Every body has it’s sound … does it mean that sound is a body?
WF: t’s correct to say we resonate in different ways. There is a deep truth in a voice that inspires stories, values and differences. This is why I started using voice as artistic material. A voice brings the story to the present, where we come from , what we have done , what we will do … because as we are doing this interview we are thinking of other things . voice is an expression of an entire identity. As for Joseph Beuys , voice is an “organic sculpture”.

IV: Is voice a deep material?
WF: Trough voice resonates thoughts and ideologies we carry with us .”Audio Arts” started simply as a reflection on voice as a stratified material . It started by chance, and now shows a intricate coherence . I started to use voices to unveil a complex space .

IV: How was the English audience response to audio arts in those years?
WF: The intellectual stream of “art and language” was spreading in Great Britain. But only a restricted group of art critics had understood its importance : Peter Townsend of Studio International Magazine, recently missing , the critic Caroline Tisdall, Richard Cork, or art dealers like Jack Wender and Richard Hamilton . few had understood and thought it was an important project . Acute people counting Lawrence Weiner with whom I did some recording projects in the late seventies.

IV: What type of exhibitions did you do in these years?
WF: I’m an artist with a classic and visual background. Not an “editor”. Therefore I’ve done some exhibitions where I presented my recordings , voices and combined works. The archive is a public art form. Dan Graham also has an archive. I’ve never seen the difference between an “audio arts” archive and a personal one. I don’t divide the practices . The space for “audio arts” is the same one of listening. Therefore I like the idea that sending a tape to Australia it may end up in a bedroom a museum a gallery . Sound acts on the space and needs space to be heard. To hear it’s self .

IV: Have you ever used radio as a medium ?
WF: This further extends the concept of audio as sound has no barriers it can be diffused by a small radio or an auditorium. I broadcasted in Vienna. With radio I’ve presented many of my works with sound. Interviews with artists as well as interviews with people on the street. It’s important to remember that my job is recording contemporary events , recording reality . I don’t enjoy manipulating sound , it’s identity , I’d call this recording Roma 16 October 2006, sound art museum , for ever.

IV: “Recording reality”. With a recording do you produce reality or listen to it ?
WF: A recording starts by listening to it, then I reproduce it to turn it into art.

IV: Does this imply there are different ways to listen?
WF: I’ll give you an example: when I record a conversation , I listen to it many times - when I first listen - I don’t hear everything. The human ear selects whilst the recorder holds all. Therefore listening more times is interesting because within a conversation, whilst you are talking you can only hear it once. This is the reason that I insert silence in a recording. This giving the opportunity to re listen to a conversation otherwise continuous . and it allows to produce a conversation as a “sound object”.

IV: What is the difference between a conversation on the street and with an artist ?
WF: When I conduct an interview on the street I’m interested in building a particular image, of a group of people and the atmosphere surrounding. The construction of a place and a space and those inhabiting it. That’s why I don’t ask complex questions : where are you going? where are you coming from? what do you like to eat? what are you doing tonight? and I receive answers . The voices transmit their emotional state , where they come from , their worries, their passions. Simple questions that give you a lot of material . On the other hand when I interview an artist it’s to go in depth on a study. Two are the directions of my studies . Recording is the common denominator …

“conservation pieces” is a work including recordings . Sections of conversations with Marchel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, John Cage e Andy Wahrol, edited to recreate a single conversation. I like making impossible things happen . Unpredictable . Cage wants unpredictability . A conversation is unpredictable . Duchamp talking to Beuys … it makes sense because you start believing it. There is another “pieces” where I work with sound in space entitled “what are you doing in taping?” It’s a sequence recorded in Dublin whist some kids sell newspapers on the street . A kid turns round and asks me “what” I was recording as if I was committing an appropriation : are you observing me…

IV: There is therefore a communication between time and different spaces.
WF: It refers to belief , listening is believing. a perceptive faith.

IV: Audioarts Is A Social Organism?
WF: It’s a social sculpture . That’s how the art critic Mel Gooding described theoretically this involvement of different people as a part of a sound sculpture which embodies the people I meet. An Organism which becomes a corporation of sounds.

°the italian translation of this interview was published on Teknemedia

Ilari Valbonesi @ July 5, 2007

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for more on Furlong's work visit his site at :

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