Do You Hear What I Hear? Documentation and Assessment of Aural Elements in Media Installation Art

Amy Brost
The Electronic Media Review, Volume Five: 2017-2018


Perhaps because the visual arts predominate in museum collections, conservation documentation methods for audio in media installation art are less developed than those for video. However, the aural elements are equally complex, both technically and creatively. In works involving sound reinforcement (electronic amplification of audio signals), artists frequently work closely with audio engineers or other sound specialists to make adjustments that shape the sound within the exhibition space. This talk will propose methods for documenting these decisions and the resulting listener experience of the work. Challenges inherent to both subjective and objective methods of documentation will be discussed, drawing from the fields of acoustics, psychoacoustics, and sound engineering. In addition, condition assessment and characterization of the audio prior to installation is essential to ensure that the capabilities of the sound system are appropriate not only to the technical specifications of the digital files, but to the artist’s vision for the listener experience. This talk will include examples of inspection of audio files and streams using software applications, and examination of audio information in file metadata. Several case studies will illustrate possible application of these methods, and may include artworks with live sound performance as well as pre-recorded sound.

Amy Brost
The Museum of Modern Art
Assistant Media Conservator
Brooklyn, NY